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When to Include Community in Community Planning?

This may seem like a trick question, yet often the community is invited into community planning too late.

Community members are the experts in their community: they live there, may work there, and experience the day-to-day in their bones. They have the great ideas of what they want, and can be the most valuable change-makers at the table. And they are the most inspired to have the hard discussions that lead to solutions, and to carry them out.

We all know change isn’t easy; change at the community level can be even more complicated. Your community change initiative will be more successful when committed partners consider the facts, think things through, and offer their perspectives and innovative ideas. All of this will be especially helpful when the unexpected occurs.

Some of you know that I’m a great cook as well as a facilitator. I’m going to let you in on two special sauce ingredients for community change:

Discussing the needs of the community

Special sauce ingredient # 1:

Fully include the community as well as outside experts, when special knowledge, experience or skills are needed, throughout the entire process.

A client calls me in. “We want to do X. We will get a group of experts and come up with ideas. Then we will bring in the community and ask them to weigh in and tell us what they like or don’t like.”

Me: “Why not include the community right from the start? They can participate in all meetings; they have unique expertise and interest, and ideas.”

--> When the community isn’t involved from the beginning and you follow a path laid out by “experts,” you will eventually run into the realities that were not uncovered because the community wasn’t involved from the start. A waste of time, money and creates distrust.

Often the client will say, “Let’s do a focus group” (or needs assessment/ photo voice exercise), and then we will take this information and use it to help us plan.

After the community participates, they are never consulted again. The community feels used, dismissed, and distrust grows.

--> I never understand why this approach is taken; you’ve just engaged community members and then set them aside, yet they are your best partners with the most interest in the success of the change.

Planning for a better system

Special sauce ingredient # 2:

There are well-tested tools that are available to help you succeed. Use them.

Why not benefit from the experience of community change agents? Many planners, funders, project managers, social change agents, and community members haven’t been taught to lead change with community as full partners. The Technology of Participation Facilitation Methods (ToP) ™were developed and have been used in communities around the world for over 50 years. In fact, these are skills that all community members can practice to help navigate change through mastery of shared group processes to help groups find shared understanding, consensus and plan together for the future.

The next Philly-based course will take place May 22nd and 23rd. This is a small investment towards developing a skill set for real, respectful community participation. ToP provides structured methods to enhance one’s facilitation and leadership skills to help groups work, think, talk and plan together in a very efficient way.

I’ll leave you with this very appropriate quote from a book I am reading called, Courageous Philanthropy, Going Public in a Closely Held World, by Jennifer Vanica:

"Don’t do about me without me."

This quote is attributed to the very wise grandmother, of San Diego community member, Marisa Aurora Quiroz. More about this book in future blog posts.

Author’s note: I write this post from Israel, where I am celebrating with my daughter, Kali, as she finishes her Master’s Degree in the "GLOCAL" Program in International Community Development, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I'm very impressed with her cohort who practiced community engagement in their international internships. We’ve had many inspired discussions on this topic of mutual interest. Kali is a skilled community facilitator and I’m excited for her future.

Glocal cohort 8 graduation, March 2019


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