Creating the Future is applying Catalytic Thinking to building our Community Engagement plan. Following that framework, at our first meeting, we asked “Who will be affected by our engagement efforts, whether they are the intended audience or not?” We then took slow time discussing why engagement matters. For folks doing social change work, what is important about engagement with our communities?
At our second meeting, we picked up where we had left off, asking the next question in the framework: What does engagement make possible for all the people in that “affected” list? That discussion was energizing, joyful – engaging! Listen to it here, and get energized!!
The following is a synthesis of the discussion, with the wide-ranging questions and responses grouped into themes. For detail of all the responses, please see this post.
Catalytic Thinking encourages us to look beyond the organization doing the engaging. So often engagement is an exercise in WIIFM – what’s in it for me (i.e. the organization). Catalytic Thinking instead encourages us to focus on the people we hope to engage. And while we did ask about what engagement would make possible for us as an organization, that came towards the end of the meeting. The vast majority of our time was focused on what engagement could make possible for the people we engage.
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
1) Feeling Connected
Much of the discussion focused on issues of loneliness, alienation, and disconnection. On the other hand, if people are engaged, they will…
• Feel valued, validated, worthy
• Have a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves, a sense of unity
• Feel a sense of belonging
• They will see themselves reflected in whatever the result is of that engagement
• Build relationships with people who care about the things they care about
• Find commonalities with folks they might disagree with
• Overall, feeling energized, joyful
• “This is about being human with each other”
• “This is about being part of an ecosystem, where everything and everyone nurtures each other”
Part of the joy of engagement is feeling that we are learning, shifting our thinking.
• Engagement can provide space to slow down, to think on our own and together
• The opportunity to get beyond our assumptions. Listening to understand what matters to people vs. our assumptions about them
• Learning from others, learning from the conversation itself
3) Shifting Power
This was a big one, addressed in many different ways.
• A sense of agency, self-efficacy
• Feeling that YOU can effect change, in alignment with your values
• Building something together that makes a difference – the opposite of feeling disengaged, helpless, desperate, “I’m just one person…”
• The mutual accountability of “us together” – getting beyond savior complex
• Giving the mic to the people who are most affected. Beyond focusing on “community voice,” real engagement is about listening to those voices – they are already talking!
• Reinforces the belief that working together, we can effect change
• “When I participate, my energy and passion are evident in what happens.”
We then turned to what engagement could make possible for what’s next for Creating the Future.
Following the earlier discussion of what engagement makes possible for the folks we are engaging, the best possible outcome for Creating the Future was clear: That the engagement efforts themselves will create ripples of our mission. Simply put, we will accomplish our mission by the simple act of engaging. Co-designing and co-creating what’s next moves beyond the need for buy-in, as it is co-owned – no buy-in necessary.
Ultimately, what became clear is that the goal of engagement is an engaged community.
A place where people feel connected.
A place where people feel they are growing, learning.
And especially a place where people feel they own their community and have the power to make change.
As we continue our efforts to build our engagement plan, that is what we will be holding as our true north. That is what we will be holding space for. It seems there is nothing more important as we seek to find our role in creating a world that works for everyone.
To join that conversation and help flesh out our engagement plan, head to this link. We hope you’ll dive in with us!