Creating the Future’s Community Engagement Timeline

In 2022, as Creating the Future prepared to step into the final 5 years of our 10-year mission, we came to you – our community members – to determine our next steps. This degree of engagement is in our DNA, as the very first question in the Catalytic Thinking framework is this:

Who will be affected by whatever we are considering?
And what would it take for them to lead the direction we take?

Engagement in this fashion is not a thing to do, but a way of being in two-way relationship with the people we are intending to benefit. It is a reflection of the sentiment behind the disability rights movement: Nothing about us without us.

And that is the key. This is not sales or marketing. The intention is not to sell something – to convince people of something or get them to do something. It is about being in relationship, being in community with each other. Perhaps the most important goal of true engagement is therefore the engagement itself… building an engaged community.

Chronology of an Engagement Effort
The following is a chronological look at our own efforts to engage our community in deciding what’s next for our mission. These links document the process from the early stages of our planning through to the implementation plan of what our community asked us to do.

As part of this effort, Creating the Future hosted a practice cohort – a group of people who wanted to learn firsthand how to apply Catalytic Thinking to community engagement. Including all those individuals in the planning and implementation was evidence once again that there is huge value in inclusion.

We hope these steps inspire you to open the doors to your own community, so that they are participating in the strategic decisions that will affect their lives. To help facilitate your own efforts, we shared this grab bag of resources on Community Engagement during our own process, so that folks who weren’t in that learning cohort could walk alongside us in their own efforts. We hope you find it all helpful as you head out to make your own efforts as inclusive as possible.

April 2022
Announcing the Question of What’s Next
This is where it all began, the initial inquiry into what’s next for our mission – and the initial toe-in-the-water that led to our engagement effort. 

Celebration and Moving Forward
Celebrating our 1st 5 years PLUS discussing the power of including our community members in the discussion of what’s next. Questions addressed at this meeting included…

  • What have the last five years meant to you? What are you celebrating?
  • What would including the people who will be affected by our work make possible for those individuals and groups?
  • What does inclusion make possible for our work?
  • What would it take for people to be able to engage in this process?
  • What successful ways have we seen real inclusion happen?

June 2022
Who will be affected by what’s next for Creating the Future?

As we started to plan for our engagement efforts, we began with the first question of Catalytic Thinking, and played with that question in various forms…

  • Who will be affected by what’s next for Creating the Future?
  • Why is this important? What’s the big deal about community engagement?
  • What is the relationship between engagement and power?
  • What issues have you faced with engagement?

What engagement makes possible.
The questions we addressed at this conversation continued to follow the Catalytic Thinking framework:

  • What does engagement make possible for the people impacted? What has engagement made possible for you?
  • What does this type of engagement make possible for Creating the Future?

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

July 2022
Conditions for Success
Given the 3 primary goals of our engagement effort, we began by considering the conditions that will lead to that success. We chose to tackle the biggest, hairiest one – a shift in power – as our first (and perhaps most important) discussion.

  • What needs to be in place for people to feel they have agency / power to make a difference?
  • What does it take for people who have been told that they don’t have power to feel that they have the agency to step into their own power?

Conditions for Success (continued)

From our first discussion about conditions for success, it became clear what BAD engagement looks like. We started with that conversation, so that we could then pivot to focus on what GOOD would look like.

  • What do we absolutely NOT want to see in our engagement?
  • What if we turn these around? What would GOOD engagement look like?

August 2022
Devising a plan to create all those conditions for success

  • What is the difference between having an audience and having community?
  • What do we see happen in community that we don’t see in an audience?
  • What needs to be in place for folks to want to be part of the conversation about what’s next for Creating the Future?
  • What lets you get engaged in the communities you are in?

Our engagement plan (graphic of the process)
Engagement plan action steps (detail)

October and November 2022
After months of planning and behind-the-scenes work, in October we launched our engagement effort. We began with a series of videos, inviting people to say YES to the invitation to engage. We shared those in our newsletter. You can see those videos here and here.  In the newsletters with those videos, we invited people to be part of the first round of inquiry. And as you can see, we emphasized that this whole process is an exercise in democracy and shifting power (focusing back on our conditions for success).

In the online community, folks were asked to help identify key themes from all those written responses (over 70 responses when all was said and done. And we were thrilled with that response. These were not simple multiple choice questions. They were questions that required time to think and to pen a response. And over 70 of our community members shared eloquently.).

The themes they came up with were as follows:

  1. Our work is important because it helps reframe and shift mindsets, to create change in people’s lives and their work, towards creating a more healthy, humane, equitable world.
  2. Our work is important because it helps connect people with others who are practicing Catalytic Thinking.
  3. It is important to consider more effective points of entry to Catalytic Thinking and the work Creating the Future is doing.

From there, we invited community members to a series of online conversations via Zoom. 40+ people participated in those conversations. You can see that invitation and background info here.

December 2022
Conditions for success of the desired outcomes our community noted

The online conversations were a place for our community members to consider the conditions that would lead to the 3 outcomes they noted re: why our work is important. At our December Integrity Body meeting, the group discussed what we had learned from those conversations.

  • Reflections from the facilitated sessions so far. What are people saying that they need to know or have?
  • If we are about sharing a different way of asking questions, so that folks are aiming at what is possible, meeting each other where they are, trusting each other – what do folks need to know? What do they need to have in order to step into that? What must be in place for those results to be achieved?

From that discussion, we were able to distill three key conditions for success that our work needs to create for the people in our community:

  • People need to have content / curriculum for learning Catalytic Thinking – content that meets people where they are.
  • People need to have safe spaces for conversation, to practice Catalytic Thinking together and share what they’re learning / having problems with.
  • People need to see examples of what is possible – case studies to show what is possible.

What a powerful way to close the year! In 6 months time, we had used Catalytic Thinking to design a community engagement plan. We had implemented that plan with great success.

2023 and Beyond
By January of 2023, we were thrilled with what we had accomlpished. We could not arrived at such an integral turning point if it weren’t for the insights and direction laid by our community members.

We also knew that while the engagement effort was, for the most part, behind us, the big job was now to determine what actions to take. With only 4 years remaining of our 10-year mission, what would be the path to creating the spaces our community noted as our primarey conditions for success – places to learn, connect, and be inspired?

At that time, we shared with our community members that we would be taking time to ponder that questions. When we shared that in a blog post, the response was swift from just about everyone we encountered: “Wow – you’re taking slow time to think. I wish I could do that!”

That became the topic of another newsletter, again sharing what it looks like to walk the talk of our values – that it is always about the people. And that the only way we could be at our best as people would be to take our time, to thoughtfully consider our options.

The result has been energizing and invigorating. It is a path none of us could have anticipated. You can read about it here.

We hope this chronology is a helpful example of what community engagement can look like in real time. It all begins with the honest intention to connect, to be part of the community (rather than seeing the community as part of your organization). Who will be affected by whatever you are considering? And what would it take for them to lead the direction you take, in the spirit of “Nothing about us without us”?

That is what has been leading our work for the past few years, and will lead us until, at the end of our 10-year mission, we can say, “We did it – together.”

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