Community Engagement Planning: SUMMARY of Meeting #5

Our planning conversations continue – and this one was a lively one, as we seek to wrap up this plan by the end of August. You can watch the whole conversation at this link. Please join us for the final meeting in this process on August 30info about that meeting is here.

For a review of our discussions thus far, the summary of Meeting #1 is here, where we considered who would be affected by our efforts to engage, and then had a general conversation about engagement. Meeting #2 is summarized here, where we considered the question, “What does engagement make possible for all those people who will be affected?” In answer to that question, three main themes arose:
1) Engagement makes possible feeling connected, valued, building relationships
2) Engagement makes possible learning and getting beyond assumptions
3) Engagement makes possible a shift in power

From there, our meetings have focused on the conditions and circumstances that would lead to those results. Meeting #3 is summarized here, and the summary for Meeting #4 can be found here. These sessions have been a deep dive into the conditions that will lead people to feel they are so much a part of Creating the Future’s community, that they will want to be involved in co-creating what’s next for this work. 

We urge you to read through those notes, as there are such rich kernels of wisdom there!


In preparation for our final meeting in this planning process, we have grouped ALL the comments in these summaries into themes, showing how Catalytic Thinking flows from vision to action. You can download that analysis here.

At the beginning of our last meeting, Hildy shared a line from the movie “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.”  In that movie, as part of a search for his family, Marcel is shown one of his videos that has millions of views – isn’t that great? Marcel responds, “But that’s an audience; it’s not a community.”

In the work of social good, we often conflate those two things. And so our conversation began there.

What is the difference between having an audience and having community?

  • An audience is voyeuristic; it’s observing something that is intended to be observed. A community is having a presence and a shared living. I’m thinking about the theater where performers are juxtaposed against audience members, but the audience members may be a community amongst themselves.
  • An audience is a transactional relationship towards achieve a goal, a purpose, or an outcome. An audience is trying to do a thing together. Communities don’t exist for a specific outcome. They exist without a goal to achieve. They exist to exist. If a community does decide to take action, it’s organic.
  • A community is self-determined, not determined by whoever is trying to sell them something.
  • Community requires having skin in the game. You feel for what happens and are invested in it. An audience is passive. You may still enjoy and get something out of being an audience, but it’s not the same as contributing.
  • It feels like these are concentric circles – community is the innermost circle, audience is bigger, then maybe an even broader circle is awareness.
  • Community just is. Community is the people who are (in most cases) at least geographically connected. If we’re going to use this idea of community, it really has to do with interdependence and the ability to affect/be affected by the people we coexist with. A smaller group of people may commune with each other, but the community just is. The earth is also part of our community, but we don’t think about that as readily.

What do we see happen in community that we don’t see in an audience?

  • People working together
  • People connecting with each other and genuinely getting to know each other
  • A community is ongoing

What needs to be in place for folks to want to be part of the conversation about what’s next for Creating the Future?

  • An invitation – an invitation in, an invitation to participate, an invitation to be heard
  • Backing up the invitation with being open and welcoming. Helping that person make a connection
  • Some new research about Student Councils has concluded that they are a complete waste of time. Everyone is spending loads of money to set them up, but they’re doing more harm than good because you are involving people without actually giving them any power.
  • People need to feel safe, included, and valued (Fritjof Capra’s Systems View of Life)
  • I’m struggling with the idea of difference between community and audience. You may shift roles or have both roles around the same thing.
  • The perceived sincerity of the invitation is important. What do I perceive the invitation as being? How sincere is the invitation and what is the outcome?
  • People have to have a sense of pride and efficacy in their life – pride, hope, aspiration, agency. If those don’t exist then people are not inclined to step into spaces. One of the conditions for this would be the dismantling of the many systems that work to disenfranchise people.
  • People in my neighborhood spontaneously began cleaning up a drainage flow. It hasn’t been formally organized, but individuals have stepped up to pick up trash, trim trees, add a bench, etc. What is it that inspired them to do this?
  • I’m thinking about an earlier point that community just is. So, rather than audience versus community, it’s making sense to me to think more about active participant versus passive participant.
  • For me to get involved with Creating the Future, I needed to hear about the work and develop trust in that work by seeing the values in action.
  • I’m thinking about Jody Wilson Raybould’s book “Indian” in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power. The systems that we are working on have a very good opportunity to make change in a different way and change is needed.
  • I was involved in Pathways Through Participation a decade ago and I think it still stands up well. It argues participation starts with 4 things: motivation, resources, opportunity and a trigger
  • I’m thinking about the earlier story of the neighborhood cleaning up a park – is the person who is picking up trash feeling like he is part of community?
  • Most of my experiences of community have started by being an audience members
  • We can have shared participation in a program, but we need ownership so the people who are working with us are not just helping us. I don’t need volunteers to help me with a program, I need people to make a particular outcome happen.
  • Maybe the concentric circles is just another way of presenting Arnstein’s ladder.
  • When we talk about volunteers, we tend to use the words “use” and “utilize.” When people talk about why they volunteer, they never use these words.

What lets you get engaged in the communities you are in?

  • Who else is in the community and whether I want to work with them. The particular topic may come along after that, but it starts with the people.
  • Participation, proximal co-existence (sharing experience), recognition that we are together (communication – verbal/nonverbal)
  • Some communities are about where I am, others are about work, still others about leisure interests. My catalyst to be involved is different for each. Self-interest is part of it for some of them, others I pay to be a part of and value them differently, others I have something to offer.
  • In a previous job, we thought of our members as a community, but they weren’t – they were a list. Members join for what they can get, but they stay for what they can give.
  • To paraphrase Robert Thurman – we feel strength when we give because we feel like we have something to give.
  • Excitement – for learning, to be a part of something, to make change, etc.
  • This could be either affirmation towards personal sense-making or affirming the choices I have already made to make sense of things. From there, opportunities to demonstrate or practice become important
  • A personal sense of history and of continuing that history. Developing a collective thought about where something came from and how it’s meaningful
  • People often get involved for reasons they can’t quite name, but they come up with reasons later on. Most people who volunteer do so because they were asked (Generosity and Philanthropy: A Literature Review)
  • Connection – it’s the relationships, the togetherness
  • People need to be invited, meaningfully and sincerely, and then so much of it is seeing who else is in the room and wanting to be a part of it
  • I’m thinking about what people are being invited to. What are we setting the conditions for them to join? Every experience and situation is different. What might drive people to be involved in one situation might be different for another.
  • Engagement is defined by the person engaging. An organization cannot say whether or not something was engaging. Someone is in community when they feel they are in community. It’s important that we acknowledge the difference between how someone is feeling versus the observable behavior we’re looking for.
  • I feel engaged when I find something and think “This might be something that fits in my wheelhouse.” It’s about when I have something to offer.
  • When we are looking at an audience, it’s about a thing, but when we’re talking about community, it’s about the people.


  • I’ve been focusing a lot on the words community and engagement. What do they mean? What else could we use to talk about this? For both of these, it seems like we’re talking about feeling a part of the work, being in relationship, being creative and inspiring creativity, fellowship.
  • I’m thinking about community begin other people that you want to be with – with whatever meaning that has for you at that time – and feeling like you can contribute something
  • I’ve appreciated the different ways we’ve talked about how being in community can allow space to be active, less active, fluid. There is something about the struggle/tension/conflict (in a good way) and the continuous learning that happens for me in community. Community is not just a place where I find 100% alignment. This kind of learning and growing requires nurturing and intentionality.
  • Some of what we’re talking about is the difference between the verb to commune and the noun community. We commune selectively with groups, but community as a noun is problematic because then we’re trying to create a container. If we’re talking about who’s affected, then that just exists. My community is the coexistence of people together in whatever the space may be. The difference comes when we start to talk about communing. Community as a noun forces us to define that thing, rather than thinking about the experience.
  • I’m thinking about the word outreach and the fact that this is “us” going out to “them.” For years, Rich Harwood has been encouraging organizations to “turn outward” because for the most part, organizations are insular, reaching out only when they want something.
  • We have to be realistic – not everyone wants to commune all of the time. A lot of people are happy being the audience sometimes and that’s ok. Coming together is episodic; it’s about where people are at. If you ask once and it doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be part of the community. I’m also thinking about audience capture, which is where influencers think that the audience wants a specific thing from them, so they become more and more extreme in providing that thing, because there is no challenge within that relationship. Being part of community is about not just being there to get what you want
  • We talk about outreach and education all the time, but we don’t talk about drawing people in. I’m also thinking about adding your talents. I need you to do what you do best.
  • I’m thinking about how we feel in these meetings. I miss not seeing some people back and would like a way to keep in contact and follow up with them.
  • I’m thinking about how special it is to be part of a community where your voice is heard and you’re hearing other voices.
  • I’m grateful for others’ reflections today. These gatherings always leave me pensive.
  • It’s a blessing to have this time to reflect on my own communities and what it is to be a part of them. I’m still thinking about the differences between audience and community and not letting myself think that audience means bad. I’m playing with that fluidity.
  • Language is so imprecise. I’m not sure what someone means and we explain it to each other and I still don’t know. When I’m in community, I can influence people and environment. When i’m in the audience, that’s not the case. I’m thinking about how being in community isn’t always being in a fun place; the dynamic tension that exists in community can lead towards growth.
  • These meetings always push my thinking. Being in community is having the ability to affect the results of what happens.

On August 30, we will wrap up our planning, designing steps that will put these conditions into action. Info about that meeting is here. We hope you will be part of that conversation!

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