The Power of Community Conversations

The World logo

It is not news that we are living in a time of polarity, where individuals and communities are drawing lines in the sand and demonizing the other “side”.   But what if it were possible to ask different questions, that sought to understand, create a dialogue and spark a powerful vision for what community could be?

Powerful questions lead to powerful conversations that are not only meaningful but are transformational because people feel seen, heard, and acknowledged and this can lead to a shift in assumptions and create new connections that might not have existed before a meaningful conversation.

Paul Born in his book Community Conversations suggests that “Conversation is not just what is said; it is also what happens between people.  Conversation is not always about an event or time; it is part of a much larger process of change.  It leads to more conversation and is part of a journey to understand.  Community conversations area a deliberate form of listening to the people in a community in an effort to learn to agree, to become committed and engaged and to create a place in which discovering the obvious is possible.”

When I read this it, it reminded me of the importance of taking time to listen and to get curious….to find out about the story behind the story….in short to get to know the person in front of me through a meaningful conversation.  My friend Noa Baum an international storyteller has said that you don’t have to accept someone else’s beliefs and values if you listen to their story, it is their story.

Just listening to other people’s stories does not have to threaten me and in the process I can learn about myself and come to understand what matters most to them.   Stories make you listen and most importantly, they open up an exchange; a dialogue and this leads to finding areas of agreement or ways to discover how to accommodate each other’s differences.

Another friend, Gerry Lantz, President of StoriesthatWork, has said as a species, we are hard wired for story and connection.  He says all we have to do is look at our language and see how story is a fundamental part of our world.  Phrases like; “You won’t believe that story”, “You want to hear the real story behind that?”; “Have I got a story for you”; “What’s his story” are all part of our culture and cultures throughout the world.

Stories connect us and help to create community whether a geographically defined community such as a village, town or city; an assisted living community, a church community, or online communities.  They all share the same attributes of belonging, connections and the sense of being part of something larger than yourself.

This intense listening and seeking to understand is the underpinning for civic engagement where people from all backgrounds have a voice in decisions and actions that affect their lives.   In the recent report by the Knight Foundation and Gallup entitled Soul of the Community it was demonstrated that when people feel greater attachment in the communities in which they live, the communities are more successful.  In short, civic engagement is a key to achieving greater community attachment and an enhanced quality of life.

Civic engagement requires more than elected officials or organizational leaders making presentations to the public and answering questions in town hall meetings.  Civic engagement means gathering multi-sector stakeholders, providing baseline data, asking questions that are not already answered, identifying community assets, inviting diverse stories and input, identifying emerging themes and providing ways to enable positive action to take root.

As Peter Block, author of “Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community” has said “We will create a future distinct from the past when we engage in restorative conversations based on accountability and commitment. Being accountable means acting as an owner and part creator of whatever you wish to improve; to care for the well being of the whole and to act as if this well being is in our hands and hearts to create.  Being committed means we are willing to make a promise with no expectation of return; a promise void of barter and not conditional on another’s action…it is a choice made in the absence of reciprocity and this is the essence of power.”

It appears that this area will become an even stronger player in the global economy and it is increasingly clear that we are part of an interconnected world.  Now more than ever, broad based civic engagement is called for to enable citizens to imagine and co-create a thriving community for the good of the whole.

 

 

 

A Report on Creating A Nurturing Community with Collective Impact

The community of Coos Bay, Oregon was inspired by a well-known educator, Dr. Stephen Bavolek who when working with community leaders challenged them to create a social environment as beautiful as the natural environment. The Oregon coast is indeed an inspiring rural place and it has many social challenges and yet the spirit of the place is quite amazing. A group of leaders launched a strategic planning process, that I facilitated, and it led to increasing levels of engagement with a commitment to move forward using the Collective Impact model from Strive Together initiative launched in Cincinnati to support cradle to career education.

Click the link below to download The Nurturing Community Coalition Strategic Framework for Positive Community Change and a Plan for Moving Forward.
Contact me if you want to engage your community in a similar effort!


FINAL Strategic Framework-Implementation Plan v.2 (5-27-2014)

Learning the Art of Leadership and Followership Through Nature

This video of starling murmurings is so inspiring; they fly at the same speed, always turn to the center and stay equal distance apart.  They change patterns and still stay connected, flying fifty times faster together then separately with constant changing direction with organic and flexible leadership…there’s a concept!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eakKfY5aHmY

When We Don’t Have the Answers

The World logo

From My Column “What if…..”  January 25, 2014 7:00 am  •  Deborah Maher,

Have you ever noticed that the contestants on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” can ask others for help and that quite often the most helpful and reliable source is the audience? The wisdom of the group demonstrates that contestants consistently get more right recommendations from the audience because the wisdom of the whole is better than the talents and abilities of just one person working alone to solve a problem.

Scott Page, Ph.D. author of the book “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Society,” has done a ton of work on the value of cognitive diversity, showing that random collections of intelligent problem-solvers can outperform collections of the best problem solvers of only one type.

Cognitive diversity comes from our DNA, background, and life experiences, and according to Page we all have different toolboxes that, when combined, enable solution-finders to create novel breakthroughs.

Of the key messages that can be taken from Page is that gaining input from diverse citizens, employees, team members and classmates when working on projects of common concern leads to greater than expected outcomes.

Individuals must strive to be their best but it is not done in a vacuum, it is done in relationship to those around us in our everyday life. Life is a team sport and we see examples of this all around us. We increasingly see the value of team accomplishments. Just look at how the Nobel Prize has evolved. Now instead of the prize going to one scientist, it goes to a team. Even when an actor is accepting an Academy award they acknowledge they did not do it alone. None of us can do it alone. We are living in a time a change where we can no longer rely on the “hero” who will save us.

The difficulty is that it is often hard to ask for help, for a number of reasons. But one that really stands out is the fear of appearing vulnerable. Somehow, we have come to believe that we must have all of the answers and if we don’t, then we are not good enough, smart enough, strong enough or worthy. These are universal fears and now, with the ever-increasing complexity we see around us, the world is calling for us to collaborate and find people with strengths that balance our strengths for the good of the whole.

Being open to ideas different than our own can be difficult because it may cause us to change, shift a perspective or even relinquish some perceived power. However, if we are open to new ideas, inputs and viewpoints, we may find our greatest insights; our “a-ha” moments.

And maybe if we are open, we might even say, “I never thought about it that way!”

The shift begins with willingness; the simple act of being willing to see different viewpoints can lead to unexpected possibilities.

Bell Hooks encourages us to go beyond our fears in her book “Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope,”  as she tells us that our “Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.”

Effective leaders are conveners who demonstrate a willingness to be open to a range of perspectives and are comfortable with not having all of the answers. They understand the importance of posing the right questions. They are inclusive, welcome new ideas and are willing to act on them.

In times of change, we must turn to each other and chart a new path together because we are going to a place we have not been before.

I wonder when you have had the opportunity to work with an inclusive leader and have experienced the power of diversity in creating a solution to a challenging problem. Drop me a line and tell me that story; what was the situation, what types of diverse people were involved, what happened?

It would be great to hear local stories of success. Thanks for your contribution!

Deborah Maher, President DFM Consulting Inc., specializes in positive organization change and leadership coaching. She is teaching a series on Positive Change at SWOCC and is currently a commissioner on the Bandon Planning Commission. You can email Maher at news@theworldlink.com.