Community Engagement Transforms Housing

Tenants have courageously started to reverse the downward spiral of the Avalon Trace Apartments, with the support of Greensboro organizations. In December, they told their stories cautiously, anonymously, to university students in the compelling video (view video here). “If you could hear our voices, would we matter?”, describing the deteriorating physical conditions and negligent landlord response. But well-founded fear of retaliation and of being displaced from their homes had silenced most complaints.

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#TakeTheReign: City of Charlotte building citizen connections via social media

Earlier this year, the City of Charlotte’s Communications & Marketing (CC&M) department developed a creative social media campaign to engage the city’s digital following and better understand the topics that are important to Charlotte residents.

As the spotlight on community engagement continues to increase, there is often a simple factor that can be easily overlooked…asking the community what they want to know and how they want to be engaged.

The Campaign

Charlotte is proudly known as the Queen City so it was fitting that the campaign be called The Queen’s 2017 with #TakeTheReign serving as the call-to-action. The CC&M team recognized that 2017 was an important year for the Queen City and that the community needed to have a hand in telling her story.

With an active presence of over 140,000 Twitter followers and nearly 9,800 followers on Facebook, the city knew it had an audience that could be tapped into in a different way. While the main goal was to encourage these followers to stay connected to local government and their communities, the feedback received would also help shape how the city’s story is shared.

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A Snapshot of Police-Community Relations: Denver

Six board members, two staff members, and a dozen empty chairs were all that greeted public safety director Stephanie O’Malley when she walked into a sleek but soulless conference room in downtown Denver. For a safety department under fire for violent conditions at its main jail and allegedly flouting public records laws, and a civilian oversight agency relatively fresh from being enshrined in the city charter, this was an underwhelming sight.

Yet even in a city regarded as a national leader in holding the police and sheriff’s departments accountable, both the pace of reform and the depth of community engagement are far from consistent.

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Engaging New Residents: the Belong In Burlington Initiative, Burlington NC

Glad to introduce Rachel Kelly, Public Information Officer for the City of Burlington

It can take years for a new resident to feel like they are part of a community. The City of Burlington wanted to welcome new residents and make sure that they could immediately feel connected to their new community. To help new residents connect with their new community and ultimately become informed and engaged citizens, the City created Belong In Burlington, a new resident program that launched in January 2017.

I am glad to describe our initiative and hope to inspire other city governments and civic partners for outreach to their new residents. We have wonderful photos and videos of our gatherings.

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After #Charlottesville – What kinds of Engagement on Statues and Symbols in Passionate Debate?

White Supremacy.   Confederate Heritage.   Preserve or remove statues and memorials?

Many communities are facing passionate people and arguments about these monuments and their meaning. Some Confederate memorials have already been removed in recent days (Franklin, Ohio; Baltimore), including one in Durham toppled illegally. Other vandalism of memorials or statues have occurred in Arizona and at Duke University.

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper and legislative leaders are chiming in.

What should be done – and HOW should it be done? Continue Reading

Representative Local Government: How Do We Get There?

An important movement is growing, in Durham (NC) and across the country, to support and elect candidates from traditionally underrepresented populations to office and to better engage voters from those same populations. While this work was happening before the 2016 election, it is gaining momentum.

There are a variety of organizations working to equip black people, young people, immigrants, women, working class people, LGBTQ people, and others to run for local, state, and national office. Durham For All, a local political organization, is working to politically engage working-class people of color in order to make Durham’s local government more progressive and accountable to the needs of its working-class residents. One highly publicized example of the success of organizations like the ones linked above iis the election of Chokwe Antar Lumumba as the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.

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Finding Common Ground During a Divided Time

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, April 22, 1800

If you’re involved in community engagement in any way, thank you. Your commitment to dialogue and pragmatism is perhaps more important today than it has been in decades. Whether you serve as a volunteer, board member, advocate, whatever, please know that your work is helpful and appreciated.

After the most recent presidential election, a Gallup poll found that a large majority of Americans, 77%, felt the country was divided; that’s the highest percentage the company has ever recorded. Only one in five said they felt that Americans were unified.

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Gratitude for Local Government on Independence Day

Happy Fourth, y’all!

I had a ton of ideas saved for this next blog post. There’s a cool story about how Brownsville , Brooklyn, created a neighborhood plan through text messaging with their local government. There’s another cool series on ELGL, my favorite local gov nerd group, called “The Local Government Nerve Center,” about the importance of the often-overlooked positions of clerks and recorders in local government, including this great love letter to city recorders.

But it’s the Fourth of July, and everything smells like grill smoke, and for the past four nights we’ve all been falling asleep listening to far-off fireworks. It’s a strange holiday this year, with so much political division and screaming headlines, but that reminds me even more strongly how important it is. There’s one group of people across the country who are, unlike you and I, working on this Tuesday, and they work for your local governments (and provide one of the services few can argue with or rail against): the folks who inspect all the fireworks shows you’ll see towns and counties put on. Continue Reading

Citizen Advisory Committees and Boards: Thoughts from a Recent Workshop

We’re glad to offer some reflections here on the workshop Working with Citizen Advisory Committees and Boards we hosted at the School of Government on May 5th. The workshop consisted of a group of 28 very engaged participants from across North Carolina. These folks were a wonderful, diverse group: elected officials, city and county clerks, program managers, a council of government official, NC Cooperative Extension advisor and appointed members of citizen advisory committees or boards (we’ll use CABs here, for short). In other words, we had, in the room together, virtually all aspects of local government CABs: participants, staff support, and elected officials that create the CABs and seek to utilize their input. Continue Reading

“Universities and Communities”: Joint Course between Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State Explores the Challenges and Opportunities

Katy J. Harriger, (with Rogan Kersh and Corey Walker)

This blog was created in order to put community activists, public officials, and university teachers and researchers in conversation with each other about community engagement.  A fundamental assumption is that we all have something to learn from each other and to gain from working together.  In the spring 2017 semester, two of the universities in Winston-Salem (Winston-Salem State and Wake Forest) pursued similar goals in a team-taught class for undergraduates called “Universities and Communities”.  In this post I’ll explore the motivation and design for the course and what both professors learned from the experience. 

The course was the brainchild of Rogan Kersh, Provost and Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest and Corey Walker, Dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education and John W. and Anna Hodgin Hanes Professor of the Humanities at Winston-Salem State. The two had been “classmates” together in Leadership Winston-Salem and discovered their common interests in understanding universities and the multiple societal roles they play and have played in the U.S.   Students from both universities were recruited for the class.  Here is the course syllabus. I interviewed Dean Walker and Provost Kersh about the class.

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Panhandling: A public nuisance or the enemy of economic development?

The Fayetteville City Council adopted an ordinance in 2008 that would sometimes permit panhandling and other times make it a class 3 misdemeanor. The ordinance made it illegal for an individual to panhandle in a median, on the shoulder of a roadway, at a bus stop, ATM, downtown or after dark.

Citations have been written, arrests have been made, although, largely the ordinance goes unenforced, cases are dismissed and fees are waived.

Panhandlers are not going to pay fines……who knew?

  • So why does this ordinance exist? Is panhandling a threat to public safety?
  • Are panhandlers unsafe while engaging in their fundraising endeavors?
  • Or do people just not want to look poverty in the face?

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Using Your Senses to Love Where You Live

As I do interviews for my book This Is Where You Belong, I’m often asked, “What’s the number one thing someone can do to feel more attached to where they live?”

Most of the time, I tell them to walk.

Why? Mostly because it’s full of things that engage and delight the senses. My teenage daughter and I took a walk the other day, on a slightly-too-balmy afternoon when almost every growing thing in our neighborhood was in bloom. The air smelled gloriously of honeysuckle and lilac. We passed a handful of flowers whose names we actually knew—tulips, penstemon, bearded irises—and dozens of others we didn’t. “When we move to a new house, let’s plant some things that smell good,” Ella said. Continue Reading

To Engage or Unfollow?

My father is a republican turned independent, a former Bush voter who felt the Bern. A lot. During the most recent presidential campaign, and in the weeks and months following Trump’s election, he has been doing something that very few people in my life actually do: he has been actively debating his more conservative friends on Facebook. In our world of social media echo chambers and political bubbles, it seems that people rarely have the opportunity to exchange their opposing views on topics of substance. Some would argue (as my mother would) that debate on social media is not a substitute for real conversation, and that it’s not productive because the people involved aren’t actually hearing each other. While this may be true, the willingness to hear or read something you don’t agree with, and ask a question about it or propose an alternative view, rather than quickly making your exit or your way to the unfollow button feels like a choice worth exploring.

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Changing the Conversation

On a Monday night in late September 2016, community members filled the Charlotte City Council Chambers to capacity. One by one, they expressed fear, anger and frustration about the officer-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the state of the community. The response to what was heard both in the Chambers and during days of protests would prove to be a defining moment for the city.

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Cultivating Community Trust: Kidzu Children’s Museum’s Partnership for Outreach

This post was written by Rose Cuomo. Rose Cuomo, Kidzu’s Community Outreach and Special Programs Coordinator has been working in the museum field for over four years, holding a Master’s Degree in Museum Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History. Cuomo has been with Kidzu for 2 years and has planned and facilitated over 250 programs with children and community partners during this time. In 2016, her outreach efforts reached over 4,000 families in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area and grew the museum’s partnerships with community artists, scientists, and makers by 35%. 

As the Community Outreach and Special Programs Coordinator at Kidzu Children’s Museum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I am charged with making our educational programming accessible to all in our community. Important questions for us include: How does Kidzu make a difference and partner with our neighbors? How can I assist with making Kidzu a true “museum for all”? How can Kidzu’s programming celebrate and reflect the needs of Chapel Hill’s residents and build trust within communities? How can Kidzu best extend its reach beyond the museum walls?

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Cottage Grove neighbors are educating college students

Community residents Theresa Gregory and Sel Mpang and Community-Centered Health Coordinator Josie Williams introduce students from NC A&T State University, UNCG, Greensboro College, Elon University, and Guilford College to Cottage Grove with the absolute ground rule: the neighborhood decides. The rest of us can learn and can share but no outside organization or institution can impose what we want on the community.  Community-centered health means community led. Period.

And students are using what they learn to make enormous differences.

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Durham Budgeting Process and Neighborhood Representation

Well I have been thinking long and hard about what I wanted to talk to you about concerning community participating in the budgeting process. I must explain the current budgeting process here in Durham. We have what is called Coffee with City Council with all five PACs (Partners Against Crime) districts. PACs are supposed to be the groups that represent the different neighborhoods. There is also Council meetings with other groups, and finally we have two open public hearings in April and June. I think we have more than enough community input, but what I think is the problem is that City Council and city staff don’t often value the citizen input and therefore the recommendations aren’t funded. While there are open meetings and a transparent process, it feels more like staff “checking the box” of doing things. It is not effective for particular neighborhoods. City Council does fund great things for high income communities and businesses in certain areas but allow low income communities to get worse. In turn, businesses in those low income areas are denied resources to help grow their businesses. Continue Reading

Welcome to the city! Here’s your hat

Moving to a new city is a little like walking into a party where you don’t know anyone. In my ideal (read: imaginary) world, all the other partygoers would shout, “We’re so glad you’re here!”, then fight each other for dibs to be my new best friend. Generally speaking, this does not happen, and instead I find myself hovering near the hors d’oeuvres table, wishing someone would acknowledge my existence.

You may feel similarly lonely and awkward after a move. Over time, place attachment tends to grow naturally, yet those first few uncomfortable weeks or months can form a lasting first impression of a city. “Not very friendly,” we conclude. “Not sure I like it here.”

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Having your Say with Local Government: Approaching Elected Officials for Optimal Results

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cary,_North_Carolina

Local government tends to work quietly in the background. When streets are passable, water is safe, and trash is being collected, we don’t think much about it. All that changes when our “normal” is threatened. A political battle, a big weather event, even a computer glitch can upset services we depend on. In some
cases, the effects can be more extreme. For example, the state of Illinois has no budget at the moment, in part because of a political standoff that has lasted for months.

Live somewhere long enough, and there’s a good chance you’ll need information from your local government. Because we don’t think about local government very often, we may not know how to get started. The good news is that most of the time, you have access to your local government and to elected officials. This is a key distinction between local government and the federal government; while few of us could personally take our praise or grievances to the president or lawmakers, we can have a conversation with elected officials at the local level pretty easily. How you go about it can affect your chances of getting what you want from the conversation.

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Engaging Citizens Locally, ACC Edition: “When the ball is passed to you, be ready to shoot.”

In the wake of the recent election and political upheaval across the country, my favorite professional organization – Emerging Local Government Leaders, fondly called ELGL – issued a call for people to begin channeling that civic involvement into issues and advocacy at the local level.

It’s a simple idea, but the recent election and unprecedented civic engagement mean that more people than ever are engaging with the public service matters that affect us most. So, ELGL said:

“If you want to get involved, no matter which political party you’re from – why don’t you take another look at local government?”

ELGL has been listed as a top national professional association, providing cutting-edge resources for new strategies in local government leadership. Continue Reading

When well meaning people gather to try to solve an important social issue

When well meaning people gather to try to solve an important social issue, sometimes the people policy is aimed to assist are lost sight of in the conversations.

In a land far, far away, a place you’ve never heard of, a group of eight people gathered in a conference room to address the needs of the homeless community. The group was comprised of city and county officials, politicians and a reporter. The reporter was me. The group, with varied experience with the issue talked about the need of emergency shelter, transitional housing and permanent affordable housing.

The city doesn’t have a huge problem with homelessness as of yet, but economic development strategies carried out by city officials at the direction of city politicians will add growth to the city in the years to come and could upgrade the “small” problem to a full blown disaster.

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Dual Capacity Building: Preparing Community and Institutions for Engaged Decision Making

As 2017 begins, preparation is on my mind. My husband and I are expecting our first child, and we’re thinking about the preparations required for the new baby. Some days, we feel dizzy when we consider the areas where we need more training and education to feel truly prepared to welcome and care for this new family member.

Significant preparation is also required for meaningful community engagement. I’ve written before about the importance of going beyond asking residents for their feedback and input, and instead shifting the power balance and engaging community as equal partners and experts in work that affects them. In my work with MDC, I am working together with other colleagues to review best practice on parent leadership programs–programs that prepare parents to be strong advocates for themselves, their children, and their communities. We have identified strong programs: Parent and Family Advocacy Support Training (PFAST) and Parent As Leaders Academy (PAL) are offered here in Durham by the Strengthening Families Coalition and are focused on school-based advocacy, and Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors (APOD) is a national popular education model that cultivates advocacy and leadership with Latino families. Continue Reading

Using Public Convenings to Advance Police Community Relations – Part 2: Meeting Design Principles that Advance Understanding

davidc no smile, blue suitWe welcome Dr. David Campt to the CELE blog. David lives near Eden, NC and works across the U.S. on many community engagement projects.

This article is the second in a two-part series that reflects my experiences in designing and facilitating meetings on police-community relations. Part 1 reviewed a meeting were a group of black ministers were thinking over their options for what kind of meeting they might want to have and who might be invited. This article (Part 2) will review my approach to dialogic meeting design, including some specifics about ways to ask and sequence questions to foster engagement and empathy.

Part 1 of this blog post framed the core decisions about meeting strategy as focusing on two primary questions: 1) Who will attend the meeting? and 2) What will be the primary mode of information flow during the meeting? For the first question about meeting attendees, three options presented were civilians of color, white civilians, and police officers.  With respect to the dominant mode of the meeting, the article posited that there three primary meeting modes (download, feedback, crosstalk);  as the blog post discussed, one of these tends to be the dominant mode at any moment.

While it is certainly possible to pursue multiple goals in the same meeting – and thus use multiple modes – there are cases where it makes more sense to narrow the goals of any particular meeting. What is most important is that the meeting designer and convener push themselves to clarify their objectives. For the sake of this discussion, I will focus on a meeting that is designed to focus on building empathy between white civilians and civilians of color.  Thus, the examples provided will assume that police officers are not present in the meeting. The general approach to meeting design has been useful when police have been present.

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Book Recommendation for Better Community Engagement

Looking for a last minute holiday gift? Or maybe just a book for yourself to enjoy during whatever holiday break you may have? I’d like to give my enthusiastic recommendation of This is Where You Belong, a recently published book by our fellow blogger, Melody Warnick. Her book, written for a general audience, offers a fantastic runway to fulfilling community engagement for any and all readers. And for the readers of this blog, particularly local government and other community-based organization practitioners, her book is full of ideas for ways that you can help make community feel like home for your constituents.

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Is this any way to run an election?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/southbeachcars/8150539704/in/photolist-6Axky5-dofEB1-6EfcB6-78hQiT-dofEQm-dofF1u-dofwZc-dofwLF-dofEMs-dofExm-5C3ZJM-5C3ZEx-5C3ZPT-9RWY5h-dqeDuC-5yhFRR-8Yi5u9-6oqStP-5wjkXt-2fqC2-5xGJQV-ac55u-5zisnU-5z4oqB-7YH176-7YLgj7-5zeazF-7ZkWpL-7ZhHsT-7YHViU-7YGZAn-7Zgydh-dqm4xE-dqm6hq-5z4ouX-drrkpU-7Zgxzb-9chSab-7Zmb25-dqm6RN-dqm1BP-4SgQQR-4Sm7i5-5wjhst-5wGZco-5wCDzR-5sZUor-4WPrVx-5JoVxt-5zhH6p

I am a long time consistent voter – one of the ones that even shows up for primaries in off year local elections!  Perhaps that is not surprising since I am a political science professor.  But what might surprise you is that I had never volunteered for any “on the ground” election activities like poll greeting, poll watching, or poll assistance.   This year I decided to do that, in part because I was expecting my students to engage in some kind of political activity for class and I thought I ought to do what I was expecting them to do, and in part because I was concerned about claims that the election system was” rigged” in some way (I heard this claim from both sides of the aisle).  This blog post is a reflection on what I learned and experienced when I left the “ivory tower” and volunteered as a poll observer on election day.

cele-voting-picture-1

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Inject the Passion of Sports Fans into Community Engagement? Yes or no?

Here’s the question: is there a way to capture the passion of sports fans for the work of community engagement?

Put another way: are the goals and interactions of people who care about – and even are passionate – about their neighborhood or other community fundamentally different from the commitments of fans to their sports team?

bleacher_bums-wrigley

I’m a Chicago Cubs fan. A BIG fan.

So, the Cubs winning the World Series is a big deal to me. There was the history of failure and near misses. The legends of curses. The hope of building a good team. And the excitement – and relief – of triumphing in the tenth inning of the 7th game of the World Series. All wonderful stuff (Sorry, Cleveland Indians fans).

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This seems a long way from a stream clean-up, a neighborhood crime watch or a recreation league. Most community engagement is pretty local. The “sports heroes” are your fellow neighbors, not some highly paid athlete who jets across time zones. And the wins and losses on community challenges can sometimes be a lot fuzzier than for a baseball game of “Three Strikes and You’re OUT!”

On a similar track about community, big events, and emotions, I want to note a connection to communal grief related to mass violence, as blogged by Melody Warnick.  Melody focuses on the other end of community emotion and commemoration: Have you ever participated in a candlelight vigil in your town or another kind of community mourning ritual? Did it help?

I will focus on the passion around sports: striving, hope and happiness. Is there a way to transfer or “inject” some of that kind of passion into community engagement?

Two ideas to help start a conversation: Continue Reading

Housing or Food – How Does Our Community Solve The Puzzle?

Would you tell your children there is no food because you gave all your money to the slumlord?  Or would you buy groceries and risk another eviction, knowing that each time the money doesn’t stretch far enough to pay the full rent, that it is harder and harder to get housing?

That is the agonizing dilemma of thousands of mothers and fathers and grandparents raising grandchildren as they experience the “persistent shortage of safe affordable housing”.  Eviction, if they don’t give every penny to the landlord. Homelessness, because they can’t find anything else when wages are low and rents are rising and eviction records are counted against them. Plus, landlords may not want families with children; that is illegal discrimination but common practice.  Substandard, because that may be all someone will finally agree to rent to them.cele-child-picture

If our community had more housing, in decent condition, with rents affordable for families, then children could eat and not change schools four times a year and not go to the hospital in asthma crisis.  And parents could smile instead of being depressed and stressed as they have to choose food OR roof OR health but not all three.

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When Progress is at Odds!

I am a sixty years old black man who has been fighting for social justice and fairness for low- income communities here in Durham North Carolina for the last 27 years. I have seen a lot of changes come into our communities that at the time I felt good about, housing has been improved, we have more and better parks and playgrounds, downtown Durham has come back to life and there are more things to do, access to main highways are being improve and a lot of different jobs are coming into the area. The problem I see now is that with all of these good things happening in Durham, not many poor blacks are benefiting, in fact we are being forced out of our neighborhoods, are young blacks men and women aren’t getting the good paying jobs and the black owned businesses are dying out. Try as I can, I don’t know how to turn this around or where to start, Any ideals?

Involve Me, I Understand: Developing Leaders Through Participatory Learning

At a formative stage in my career, I was a secondary school Peace Corps teacher in northern Benin. My community lies along the Niger River. After class, teachers wearing cool, bright cotton poured three rounds of tea from a small, blue pot, while sitting on a braided plastic mat in the shade at the edge of the road. Motorcycle taxi-men napped on their “motos” in the shade of a billboard, feet propped up on the handbars, green and yellow uniform shirts buttoned once near the top. In the stiff air, goats pressed firmly against the whitewashed walls of the nearby mosque.

During my English classes, I would ask my students complex questions in basic vocabulary: Who attends school in your home? What do you know about the scars on your cheeks? What do you grow in your fields? Why is it this way? We read from a handful of textbooks – 70 students under a corrugated roof. We held debates about ideas that emerged during these lessons and then created skits to illustrate what these ideas looked like in our own lives. Finally, we acted these skits in the open-air courtyard, to classmates and relatives under the neem canopy.

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Three Things Vacations Teach Us About Creating Great Towns

I don’t think I’ve ever been on a vacation where I didn’t say to myself, “Would I live here? I would live here,” followed by some surreptitious investigation of the local real estate market.

Case in point: this summer’s Alaskan cruise. With no more than eight hours in each of the four port towns on the itinerary, I trundled down the gangway with a fierce sense of purpose and possibility. What would delight me here? In Ketchikan, it was the rivers rippling with salmon, and a meal of the world’s best fried halibut. In Juneau, it was the compact downtown so easily navigable that a twenty-minute walk encompassed a host of shops and museums.

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Using Public Convenings to Advance Police Community Relations. Part 1: Sorting Through the Options for Meeting

We welcome Dr. David Campt to the CELE blog. David lives near Eden, NC and works across the U.S. on many community engagement projects.

davidc no smile, blue suitThis two-part blog entry is intended to outline some of the key decisions that confront people considering a public meeting aimed at improving relations between the police and black communities.

  • Part 1 reviews a train of logical analysis useful for sorting out different potential stakeholder groups and different formats for a potential meeting or series of meetings.
  • Part 2 will focus on meeting design and facilitation lessons when doing a small group dialogue meeting on this topic.

 

Background and Context

Recently, I was asked by an informal group of African-American pastors in Rockingham County, North Carolina to convene what amounts of a strategic planning meeting. In light of recent national tensions between police and black communities, the pastors wanted to think through options for creating a meeting (or a series) that might improve things locally. Continue Reading

Black Lives Matter: My Fayetteville Experience of Losing Black Citizens

The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t saying that black lives are more important than white lives, or blue lives, or any other color of life.

It is a title to open a discussion on social injustices and a relevant social issue, but it makes people uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because it brings up racial inequities in the treatment of people, particularly by police officers.

Fayetteville has not seen an incident that would fetch national attention like in the case of Mike Brown, or Eric Garner, but that didn’t stop people from calling the Fayetteville Police Department (FPD) issuing over 60 death threats in 6 hours, in the wake of the Dallas shootings July 8th.

The FPD, under the guidance of Chief Harold Medlock, takes extraordinary precautions to avoid the situations that would lead to the death of a citizen, any citizen, regardless of race. But still, we are divided, on edge, and quite frankly paranoid.

So how do we open the conversation?

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The Role of Grass Roots Community Development Organizations within Community Development Initiatives

I am glad to introduce Clarence Terry and Philip Azar, who are friends, allies and leaders in Old East Durham (NC) Communities in Partnership (more about them at the end).

They write:

We have witnessed and participated in the dialogue between community, politicians, government, nonprofits and other stakeholders when a well-meaning economic development initiative came to a community they care for.  Old East Durham is a community undergoing rapid transformation, with issues of displacement and gentrification widely acknowledged.  Economic benefits for the members of the community whose profiles in material poverty were used to justify the initiative very much remain an open question.

We are aware that the portrayal in this article of politicians, government officials and nonprofits is somewhat flattened and that these stakeholders, individually and collectively, have additional incentives, but the incentives we focus on exist, dominate, and are ignored at great peril to the community. Continue Reading

Steps for Working on Police-Community Relations – Where do we Start?

In this shared blog post, Cate and John offer our thoughts on the recent and  highly publicized violence between police and residents, and the related protests in communities across the country. Some passages are individually identified, with Cate focusing on the depth of structural racism and the kind of education needed. John notes some particular outreach and dialogue efforts (as does Cate).

We want to hear from people about their communities

  • What is happening?
  • Is it working?
  • Are there tips or lessons to transfer about protest, engagement, and community policing policies?

President Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week, and he mentioned more than once the ongoing violence between people of color and police that we are experiencing almost every day in our country: Continue Reading

Citizen Referendum? I Vote “Needs Review”

We welcome a guest post from Larry Schooler, manager of the public engagement division for the city of Austin, Texas.

When is a referendum a good idea and when is it the wrong thing to do?

Citizen referenda bypass elected representatives and “the people” (or those who choose to vote and have the right to do so) decide.I am concerned that yes/no kind of referenda are not a good idea unless there is a strong lead-up for effective deliberation and the kind of question really is a yes/no choice.

I’m thinking about this based on actual or possible referenda not just for the June big event in the UK knows as “Brexit”, but also in Minneapolis, and my hometown of Austin.

  • Did the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote resolve anything? What does such a narrow margin of victory for the Leave (EU) position really mean?
  • What about the referendum in Austin, Texas, on transportation networking companies like Uber and Lyft? The measure was drafted by the companies and when it failed, two of the largest companies left the market entirely, though both sides have signaled the conversation isn’t over. What did that accomplish?
  • And what happens if a referendum moves forward in Minneapolis to require police officers to carry liability insurance? It may not even make it onto the ballot if the City Council says it’s illegal under state law, which could prolong the fight even longer in an expensively litigated process.
Slovak_referendum,_2015,_portable_ballot_box

 

 

 

 

 

It is clear that referendum measures drafted by citizens, reinforced by petition signatures, are here to stay. I think they serve as an important “check” on the power of elected officials. But a “referendum on referendums” is in order.

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One of the Most Important Things Local Officials Do That Hardly Ever Gets Noticed – The Budget

I heard a minister say once that we sometimes fixate on things that appear to be urgent while missing or neglecting things that are important. A good example is an elected official in a NC municipality (not my current employer) who questioned whether the long-observed tradition of pre-meeting dinners should continue for Council and staff. There wasn’t much time between the end of the work day and the beginning of the evening Council meeting, so providing a meal at City Hall seemed like a convenient way to solve a simple problem.

In an effort to be fiscally responsible, the well-meaning official asked about the cost of the meals (about $3,000 annually) and made a motion to end them. It seemed like a good idea, so the officials voted to do away with the practice and save a little money. A few meetings later, the meals returned after everyone agreed that they were worth the cost after all.

Compare that to a common scene in cities and towns across NC each spring and summer: multi-million dollar budget proposals–presented in public meetings–that attract little attention.

  • Maybe we as citizens are too busy to be part of the process.
  • Maybe we’re not interested.
  • But maybe, we’re not sure what to ask or where to begin.

Here’s some basic information that should provide a better understanding of how municipal budgets are created.

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A Good Place to Live – Vision and Action in Greensboro

I have been a housing activist in Greensboro for almost 30 years, creating organizations to build homes and to advocate for policies and funding that promote safe, affordable housing.

The broad impact of good places to live:

Imagine unprecedented collaboration to assure opportunities for all in our community to have good places to live.

  • Count the new jobs created by the investment in building new houses and apartments and in repairing deteriorating housing.
  • Consider the stability of employees without the stress of possible eviction or injury from dangerous housing.
  • Celebrate the academic achievements of students who don’t miss class due to housing-related asthma attacks or have to move multiple times in a school year, so they can—YES—prepare for college.
  • Calculate the property tax dollars generated by appreciation rather than decline in property values. Welcome the family values of parents and children reunited from costly foster care because they now have good homes.
  • Be relieved about neighborhood safety when blighted areas become bright spots, without boarded buildings and vagrancy.
  • Rejoice when homeless service providers not only cooperate in connecting individuals to necessary resources but when the housing resources actually exist for them to have permanent homes.
  • Do a victory dance when a person’s zip code does not determine one’s life expectancy or the number of trips to the hospital or the risk of getting arrested.

OK, now that you can imagine the transformation, let’s work to become a part of it.

I’ll talk about the opportunities and challenges in Greensboro for the quantity, quality, affordability and other success factors for housing that works for everyone. I’m glad to see engagement on critical housing and social needs with many community partners. Continue Reading

Communicating Connections Between Ideas and Actions

The reporting-back communications loop in community engagement is more important than ever. If public participation means to involve those who are affected by a decision in the decision-making process, then participants need to know how their input has affected change. The outcome of their engagement gives meaning to their participation.

The Town of Chapel Hill (pop. 59,000) embarked on a new era of community engagement when it launched the largest community planning efforts in its history in 2010 with the development of the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan.  The plan is a reflection of the people’s values, aspirations and ideas. The outreach was excellent with having achieved the goal of touching 10,000 people during the yearlong visioning process.

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Building a Better Community Through Neighborhood Leadership

Collaboration with neighborhood leaders is an instrumental component to the success of engagement initiatives for local government. The partnership, sharing of ideas and exchange of knowledge can lead to lasting benefits for the community. The City of Charlotte’s Neighborhood & Business Services (N&BS) department has spent over a decade building programs to help communities thrive through engagement, trainings, board retreats and awards.

The Neighborhood Leadership Awards only recognizes superior work in Charlotte communities, particularly those communities that receive assistance through the City’s Neighborhood Matching Grant program for projects such as community gardens, neighborhood watches or playgrounds.

However, the program is part of comprehensive approach to impact neighborhoods several other components such a semiannual board retreats for communities. Continue Reading

On the Outside Looking In: A Traveler’s Reflections on Universities and Civic Engagement in Europe

I have the good luck to be teaching a summer course in Vienna, Austria this summer.  I thought it might be interesting to talk about the role that universities in European countries play in the communities and countries where they are located. 

Community engagement has become an important issue at American universities, although, as I have written in previous posts, there remains much work to do in order to build true partnerships between communities and universities.  I wondered:

  • Are universities here in Vienna, or elsewhere in Europe, talking about these issues as well?
  • Do they approach the questions the same way we do in the United States or are they concerned with different issues?
  • What could we learn from looking at other approaches to community-university partnerships?

I’ve only been here two weeks and haven’t had time to fully explore these questions, but I will share a few preliminary observations. Continue Reading

Engaging Local Government Staff as Citizens to Support Local Farm and Food Entrepreneurs

I have spent the past few months settling in to my new role with the NC Growing Together Project, (NCGT) which aims to bring more local food products into mainstream wholesale markets across North Carolina.

One of my roles is to engage planners, economic developers, and small business assistance providers in understanding the local food supply chain in North Carolina and identifying ways to create an enabling and supportive environment for farms and food entrepreneurs.

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It’s been a really fun experiment to flip the engagement process upside down – thinking about creative ways to engage the local government staff in cities, counties, and towns in their local food system, both as citizens and as professionals. Continue Reading

Resilient Eastside: Do With Us, Not For Us

This report comes from Janet Owens, Executive Director of the Jacksonville, Florida Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)

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The word “resilient” is embodied in the mural above from Eastside Jacksonville—workers on the waterfront conducting trade and the checkerboard symbolizing the challenges they must overcome. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines resilient as “able to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.” It can also mean “beginning again when a first attempt doesn’t achieve the desired outcome.”

At this moment for East Jacksonville, “resilient” embodies the passion, drive and spirit of a coalition of residents, businesses, and community organizations in Jacksonville’s Eastside neighborhood. Together, they are charting a new course for their community–marshaling relationships and assets, bringing resilience and restoring hope to this once bustling neighborhood.

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Neighborhoods Vote to Spend $500K on 30 Projects in Greensboro

From Ranata Reeder, an update on the City of Greensboro first Participatory Budgeting process. See her first post.

In April, the last step in neighborhoods choosing particular spending priorities was conducted. Before I reveal the outcome of the vote, it is important to see the whole process of local government budget outreach.

In August 2015, the City of Greensboro embarked on its first Participatory Budgeting process. Not only was this a first for Greensboro, it is the first Participatory Budgeting process in the south. Greensboro officially made it to the PB map!

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Greensboro residents proposed ideas, developed proposals, and voted on how to spend $100,000 in each of Greensboro’s five city council districts, totaling $500,000. Continue Reading

The Power of Public Grief

For the first couple years we lived in Blacksburg, Virginia, I refused to participate in the Virginia Tech Run in Remembrance. It just felt too weird.

Every April, the university organizes a 3.2-mile run to memorialize the 32 students and faculty members killed in 2007 by a student who’d chained the doors to Norris Hall shut and sprayed classrooms with bullets. The Virginia Tech massacre remains the largest mass shooting in the country, evoked every time another monster murders a lot of people, which is far, far too often.

In Blacksburg, April 16 is a day that will live in infamy.

There are residents who still can’t help but give a PTSD-fueled shudder when they hear a cavalcade of ambulance sirens. Continue Reading

Field of Goats…A Shared Vision

Due to so many people living in urban areas, we often get stuck in a rut of only focusing on community programs within the city… Well, what about outside of the city limits? There’s a whole new world to explore, and programs to attend (Cue Fields of Dreams music). Now, just like in the movie, imagine corn fields all around you and visualize what I am about to say in a whisper, If you provide it, they will come. What do you mean?… If I provide what, who will come?… (Once again, you hear in a whisper)… If you provide it, they will come. Continue Reading

Open Budgets Ho! The Way Forward for Online Budget Engagement

In my last post I proposed a vision for open budgets and identified some of the gaps between that vision and the situation today. With the goal of increasing the legitimacy and effectiveness of public spending, I defined an open budget as one that is created through a process that ensures that it reflects the values and priorities of the whole community and designed to make a clear connection between allocated resources and expected outcomes. The post sparked a lively discussion in the comments that ranged from the serious obstacles communities face to some awesome tools and approaches.

In this post I want to reflect on how communities can make practical progress toward this vision. Rather than focus on specific tools or approaches, I will outline four guiding principles that I believe are critical to real progress. My hope is that they will spark further discussion about the best way forward.

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Cottage Grove for LIFE! Greensboro Neighborhood Redevelopment

I have the tremendous pleasure of working with the Cottage Grove Neighborhood Association and Community-Centered Health Partners as they revitalize the community, engaging outside resources to support that vision rather than to dislocate neighborhood residents.  Meet some of the amazing leaders whose energy is guiding that process to transform the neighborhood.

Photo above, left to right: Laura Tew (Cooperative Extension Master Gardener), Rev. Marvin Richmond (New Hope Community Development Group), Shorlette Ammons-Stephens (NC A&T, Center for Environmental Farming Systems), and Barry Campbell (New Hope Community Development Group).

From Decline to Rebirth

Imagine reclaiming your community’s identity after decades of being defined by others. The Cottage Grove neighborhood in southeast Greensboro bustled with shops and professionals in the 1950’s and 60’s; in 1976 the main street was renamed South English and became a cut-through from East Market to Lee Street. Business closings, little investment, and many broken promises later, neighbors formed the Cottage Grove Neighborhood Association and adopted the theme “Cottage Grove for LIFE!” to proclaim the new energy for a healthy place to live. Now they are holding outside groups—and themselves—accountable to make that happen, together. Continue Reading

Fayetteville moves to renovate parks and recreation centers: But is it enough to attract new business?

On March 15th the city of Fayetteville votes on the Parks and Recreation Bond Referendum. The referendum is for a 35 million dollar bond and intended to improve the city’s infrastructure by renovating recreation facilities across the city. Continue Reading

The Last Mile: Building Better Access in North Carolina to Enhance Civic Participation

In December, my colleague here at CELE, Brian Bowman, wrote an excellent piece about how technology can help make government more transparent and accessible. With data from the Pew Research Center, he then explored how often citizens are able to access government information on the Internet – and the many underserved groups who don’t yet receive the full benefits of technology (including older people, non-English speakers, and colorblind individuals).

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The Power of Empowerment

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), an international federation of public participation practitioners including a USA affiliate, has developed a spectrum of community engagement techniques. The spectrum ranges from “informing” to “empowering” the public.

These are wonky practitioner words; however, they actually mean a world of difference. Informing is focused on one-way communication, whereas empowering is literally giving the power of decision-making to the public.

I’ll describe a project on community empowerment, and some key lessons. First, I’ll address why empowerment is scary, often promised but not fulfilled in particular cases, and basic guiding principles for overcoming the challenges of community empowerment projects. Continue Reading

Housing First Models vs. Transitional Housing Progressions

In the traditional system, homeless individuals are moved through levels of housing that will eventually lead to independent housing. For instance, from the streets to the shelters, and from the shelters to a housing program, and from a housing program to an independent apartment. In the housing program, treatment is given to battle some factors surrounding homelessness like, substance abuse, mental health, job training, and domestic violence.

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Beautiful Budgets: Opportunities and Gaps in Online Local Budget Engagement

Over the last few years, there has been a mini-explosion of websites that use visualization and interactivity to make government budgets easier to understand and navigate. In North Carolina, 2015 saw sites go live for Asheville, Raleigh, Cary and Buncombe County. Across the country, efforts have ranged from volunteer-led open source projects like Open Budget: Oakland to government-led efforts built on commercial platforms, like Chattanooga’s Open Budget App or Ohio’s Open Checkbook. Cloud services for open budgets have been launched by commercial ventures like OpenGov and Balancing Act, and by my own non-profit organization, DemocracyApps, which developed the CommunityBudgets.org platform that hosts the Asheville, Cary and Buncombe County sites. There has also been significant legislative activity, including the Data Act at the federal level and a new North Carolina requirement (section 7.17) that local governments publish budget and spending data to a central state transparency website.

All these initiatives are very much to be celebrated. They are the leading edge of a powerful and growing trend toward greater openness in local government and promise better citizen access to the critical financial information and decision-making that underlie nearly everything city and county governments do. However, it’s important to ask just where we’re going and how we’ll know that we’ve arrived. How do we ensure that open budget efforts actually improve community engagement and outcomes over other means for learning citizens’ priorities?

Let’s begin by examining just what a public budget is and what makes it good or bad.

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The Power of Small

The highway overpass that funnels vacationers like me toward the high-end shops and million-dollar mansions of downtown Charleston, South Carolina, soars a hundred feet above a very different kind of neighborhood, a part of the city known as the Upper Peninsula. The homes here are small, interspersed among warehouses and union halls, and lived in primarily by low-income, African-American Charlestonians. With three thousand residents spread across 800 acres, the streets have a worn, slightly abandoned feel.

This is a part of Charleston that’s expected to change dramatically in the next five or ten years. As people and businesses are crowded or priced out of other parts of Charleston, the Upper Peninsula will, it’s hoped, get the spillover. Already new restaurants are being built and businesses are moving in. It’s the city’s wild frontier, and as Rachel Parris, director of development and community relations for the placemaking nonprofit Enough Pie (because they believe “there’s enough pie to go around” for everyone in Charleston), explains, “Right now we’re looking to mold that growth and shape it in a way that’s really inclusive. That’s where creative placemaking and community engagement come in.”

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Children’s Civic Engagement via the Scratch Online Platform

Our blog addressed Engaging Youth with Deliberative Problem-Solving  where students from Colorado State University reached high school students to build their interest and skills in deliberation and democracy. In April 2015, these high school students participated in the nationwide mental health conversation which took place through a virtual interface only.

Now, I’m glad to see an examination of children’s civic engagement (ages 8-16) on the Scratch online platform.

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Scratch is a creative community where children from around the world learn programming by designing and sharing interactive media projects. The researchers examined how young people related to issues of global importance, as well as with local topics and questions of community governance.  They offer a typology of the strategies the young people use to express themselves, engage with their peers, and call for action.

Courtesy of the public involvement firm Bang the Table  (based in Australia), some key points are: Continue Reading

Blog Highlights 2015 – a Sampler from the Community Engagement Blogging Team

We have gained many followers since the blog began in December 2014. In the spirit of looking back at this time of year, here is a “holiday sampler” of blog posts – many of which were authored early in the blog’s existence.

Happy holidays, and enjoy the “nibbles” of ideas, viewpoints, and challenges from the CELE blogging team.

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Dan Bagley     Turn to the Creative Conquerors

Michelle Bir  Homeless Challenges: Magnanimity and Responsibility increases Effective Engagement

Brian Bowman     Assessing Free Online Civic Engagement Tools – Three Examples

 

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Internet Access Enhances Government Transparency, but Underserved Populations Remain

In the past 12 months, roughly one in three Americans has used the Internet or a smartphone app to access government information. The Pew Research Center says this access extends to all levels of government: federal, state, and local. As residents have secured improved broadband connections, and as government websites and apps have added features and improved usability, the numbers of people communicating with government online have risen accordingly.

A Pew Research survey says people are usually trying to accomplish one of six tasks:

  • Learn about government recreational activities
  • Renew their driver’s license or auto registration
  • Research government benefits
  • Pay a fine
  • Apply for or renew a government-issued hunting or fishing license
  • Report a problem that needs repair, such as potholes

As these popular tasks show, government websites and apps are much more than one-way sources of information; they provide the opportunity (usually free of charge) to complete tasks that used to require a trip. But as websites improve in functionality, public communicators should remember that there are some populations who may need additional consideration. Continue Reading

Greensboro Budget Exercise: Broad-based Involvement and Neighborhood Choice

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Greensboro is the first city in the southeastern U.S. to try a model of outreach on city budget decisions called participatory budgeting (PB) http://www.participatorybudgeting.org/.

First used in many Brazilian communities, and more recently used in St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, New York and Vallejo (CA), PB in Greensboro is occurring through May 2016, with a recommendation to the City Council in time for their action in June on the Fiscal Year 2016-17 budget (FY16-17).

An overview, with short videos, is available at www.greensboro-nc.gov/pb.

The main steps are:

  • Residents brainstorm ideas,
  • Volunteer budget delegates have community conventions to develop specific proposals,
  • Residents attend expos and vote, and
  • The top projects win funding.
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Each of the five council districts in Greensboro has reserved $100,000 in FY 16-17. Participants in those districts will gather and decide how to spend money from a list of projects in their district.

Right now, groups are learning about the PB process and beginning to generate ideas for how to spend the money in their respective districts. Community members can also submit their ideas on ideasgreensboro.org.

Two of the leaders of Greensboro PB are Ranata Reeder and Wayne Abraham. They offer answers to three questions:

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How “Thick” or “Thin” is Your Civic Engagement Project?

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One useful way to look at different methods of civic engagement is the division between “thick” and “thin” efforts. In the words of Matt Leighninger,  Vice President of Public Engagement at Public Agenda, thick engagement “[enables] large numbers of people, working in small groups, to learn, decide, and act together,” while thin engagement involves people “as individuals rather than in groups.”

I don’t think it’s as simple as thick always being better than thin. Civic engagement is not a slice of cake. In fact, some of the best projects combine both styles of engagement, as I’ll illustrate below.

Thick vs. Thin

Thick engagements generally incorporate face-to-face meetings where participants share experiences, a number of policy options are presented and discussed, and concrete actions are subsequently planned.

Portsmouth Listens is often cited as a textbook illustration. Continue Reading

Public office terms: What is most beneficial to Fayetteville?

In Fayetteville, North Carolina there has been discussion on whether or not to expand the city council and mayoral terms from two years to four. Sitting city officials have brought up the matter at public forums. They cite the difficulty of accomplishing the city’s goals in two years, particularly for new councilmen who have a learning curve when taking office. The Cumberland County Commissioners have four-year terms and they believe that it is appropriate to mirror their structure.

Some in Fayetteville believe that extending the two-year city council terms to four years makes sense. Councilman Larry Wright of District 7, has publicly voiced his concern that a two-year term is not enough to learn the ropes of city council and then launch and fund a re-election campaign.

Councilman Mitch Colvin of District 3 stated that taxpayers make an investment to train incoming council members because they have to travel out of town for training and state conferences. So it would not make sense financially to train a new councilman every two years.

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Engaged neighborhoods can attract business – A Richmond, VA Success

In the summer of 2014, San Diego-based Stone Brewing Company sought to find a site to open an east coast production and distribution facility. Stone targeted a few cities in Virginia, Richmond being one, as possible locations.

The City of Richmond Economic Development Office, city officials, local politicians and many others worked to lure Stone Brewing to one of the two Richmond locations in which the company had shown an interest.

But it was neighborhood residents who caught the attention of Stone’s team, and who ultimately impacted the company’s decision.

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Remembering the Past, Impacting the Future in Charlotte

Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with Willie Ratchford, executive director of Community Relations for the City of Charlotte. Willie just celebrated 40 years working with the city, and I wanted to get his perspective on how community relations and engagement have changed throughout the years. I was also curious to get his take on the current role of local government considering the drastically different community landscape.

When Willie started with the city, the year was 1975. During that year Microsoft was founded, “Saturday Night Live” premiered, the Thrilla in Manila took place and the blockbuster hit “Jaws” was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard. We may have social media and 3D video games today, but one of the most popular (and odd) gifts for kids during the holiday season in that year was the Pet Rock. So yes, times have changed. Significantly.

Willie has seen a lot throughout his life and career – from the desegregation of schools to his involvement in the administration of Charlotte’s fair housing law in 1988. In 1994, Willie became the executive director of Community Relations. He felt that this role was a defining moment in his career because he had the opportunity to impact race relations in Charlotte. He firmly believes that it is the responsibility of local government to promote community harmony. Continue Reading

Local Elections: Bringing Communities Together

My colleague Melody Warnick wrote an excellent post recently  about the unique role of local elections in communities. I was so pleased to read it, recognizing myself in the lady she writes about who comes huffing and puffing up her driveway to ask her to vote for her husband for sheriff.

My husband is running for a Town Board seat in the small town where we live. It’s a non-election year, so we’re expecting about 200 people to actually vote – a little under 10% of the town’s population. We’ve made a few yard signs, put out some postcard flyers, and set up an email account…but in small town elections, it’s the other, less professional engagement activities that make local elections so different and so fun.

That’s why I believe it’s important for more people – especially younger people – to rethink local government and how they can contribute. Continue Reading

Turn to the Creative Conquerors

Who do these people think they are?! Why would citizens want to change something that works perfectly well, and has for years! Why waste time and money on something silly like a festival, or art project that will only last a day, week or month? We have bigger issues than worrying about one neighborhood’s wants. We know what’s best for our citizens and they will see it our way, or learn to deal with it.

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Gentrification and Collaborative Engagement: What If?

The following post is a short conversation between Rick and Cate, who both like to think about how broken patterns of engagement might be fixed or improved. In this case, Cate asks us to think about what gentrification might be like with authentic, collaborative engagement of long-time residents with the gentrifiers. Thinking of old and new in terms of “we” rather than “us-them.”

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Three Reasons Why It’s Hard to Vote in Local Elections—and Why I’ll Vote Anyway

The other afternoon, a woman knocked at my door. Her forehead was dewy with sweat, her chest heaving a bit with the exertion of tackling the hill in front of our house. “My husband is running for county sheriff,” she gasped, “and I hope you’ll consider voting for him.” After quickly outlining the man’s fine, electable qualities, she pressed a postcard into my hands and thanked me for my time.

No, seriously. Thank you, lady. Because unless your husband turns out to be in league with the Devil, he gets my vote.

I have a simple rule about elections: If I meet you in person, or if you send a personal emissary to my door, nine times out of ten I’ll vote for you. Human contact wins me every time. Does that make me a ridiculously easy sell? Undoubtedly. But the Doorstep Test also gauges what I feel is an important quality in a candidate: desire. I want to know how badly you want to be elected. If you’re hoofing up my street at dinnertime, the answer is probably “pretty badly.”

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Preparing Engaged Citizens for Life in Community

In past blog posts those of us in higher education have focused on issues related to disseminating research findings  and working in partnership with community groups.  In this post I want to raise another issue – one that focuses on our teaching mission.

While it often seems that the primary purpose of higher education has become only job preparation, there is another movement afoot that focuses on restoring the civic mission of higher education. When the first universities, both public and private, were established in the early days of the republic, a significant emphasis was on preparing students for life in a democratic society.

The question I’d like to discuss today is what it is institutions of higher education, whether they be community colleges or four year institutions, should be doing to prepare their students to be engaged citizens after the graduate? What skills, habits, and dispositions would those of us living in these communities want them to have and how might we best teach this?

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Homeless Challenges: Magnanimity and Responsibility increases Effective Engagement

According to the Continuum of Care Report (2015), there are 1,220 homeless, sheltered, and chronically homeless individuals residing in Cumberland County, North Carolina. Further, the statistics are broken down into every demographic you can dream up. In 2014, there were 1,229, so in a year the numbers have decreased only by 9. Thousands of dollars are poured into the homelessness issue in Cumberland County annually, without making a much of an impact. This begs the question, how can we as a society bring about meaningful, lasting social change?

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The Durham Innovation Council

I am involved with a new group forming called The Durham Innovation Council. It’s a national movement to help small businesses and people of color who want to start new businesses ,or have innovative ideals for new businesses, get support and access to services that they have had problem getting. What is different about what we are proposing to do from what other business support groups are doing is that we are a four city collaboration that shares best practices and ideals that are proven to work in poor and low income communities in the four partnering cities. We also help bring capital and mentorship to the table. The four cities are Durham, Detroit, Cleveland and New Orleans. Continue Reading

Have a Seat, Let’s Chat – “Parklets” in Charlotte

In a day where social media rules and comments are limited to 140 characters, the actual art of conversation seems to be fading. That’s why the unique idea to create parklets was quite intriguing. I’m sure you are wondering… what exactly is a parklet? Well, in a nutshell a parklet is a small public park. Part of a growing trend across the county, parklets are an extension of the sidewalk over an on-street parking space and are usually no more than two parking spaces long.

Parklets also contain green space and offer a place for the community to stop, sit and yes have conversations. Communities have become more focused on reclaiming space for public interaction and parklets are one way to accomplish that goal.

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Participation, Trust and Location-Based Social Media Government Monitoring

Social media is a growing part of the civic engagement landscape. We’ll describe how local government, especially law enforcement, could be using it in ways that pose some risk of undermining the trust and effectiveness of online methods for citizen participation.

Imagine this scene:  Your 15-year-old daughter is at a local music festival, Carolinaville Lollapalooza . She’s using Instagram and there’s a ‘selfie’ of her having fun with two young guys. You are following her instagram, so you’re a bit uncomfortable. The next picture has one of the guys with a bottle – it looks like beer – and all three of them being even more friendly.  You hope she knows when to stop.   A minute later, there’s a picture of a police officer and your daughter. Is she being arrested? What’s going on?

If public safety officials are monitoring all the Instagram feeds tagged #CarolinavilleLollapalooza, and they are using geolocation to hunt for suspicious behavior – including underage drinking – this could be the outcome of your daughter’s sharing her fun with her “new friends.”

This may seem like a far-fetched idea, but the technology is already here, and social media is raising issues about privacy, consent, and government monitoring.

For strong civic engagement, there need to be safe ways to speak out and protections from government officials poking around to “find you” for no good reason.

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Transportation and Community

A year ago I was visiting family in the Bronx, NY, and we were heading out for lunch. Someone asked, “Are we taking a cab, or the train?” Fast forward to this past weekend, and those same family member are visiting N.C. This time, when we left for lunch, the question was, “who is driving?”

The story was more than just a display of the difference in the two cities, but a difference in the culture. Transportation is as much a part of the cultural DNA, as any other facet of life. However, because the transportation culture isn’t often challenged, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.

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Building Community across Language Barriers

Quotes and sayings that reference the importance of non-verbal communications are common, i.e., actions speak louder than words. However, in communities where large numbers of people speak different languages, finding solutions for communicating effectively across language barriers is important.

East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI), Old East Durham Communities in Partnership (CIP) and other East Durham-focused groups are working toward building community among and English- and Spanish-speaking children and families. Continue Reading

Citizen Participation at the Local Level: Elected Officials, Advisory Board positions

In American media outlets, there is no shortage of news about politics at the national level. Candidates for high-profile offices do their best to be noticed by news and opinion outlets, and those outlets are happy to oblige. This symbiotic relationship leads many media consumers to pick a side and cheer for a team, much like sports fans. Positions are often painted as absolutes with few nuances.

While national politics demands much of our attention, it arguably has less effect on us than we might think. Local issues are much more likely to affect us directly.

We as residents have several opportunities to learn more, be heard, and to shape the communities in which we live.

Running for local office or sitting on a decision-making board may be the perfect way to serve as a public official.

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Conflicting Views on Confederate Flag, Memorials, Symbols: What to do in a “Post-Charleston” Environment?

There are strong feelings and many ideas about what to do with Confederate flags and memorials in the aftermath of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church murders. The Confederate battle flag and flagpole were removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds on July 10th, after emotional debate in the S.C. Legislature.

North Carolina Governor Patrick McCrory believes the state should stop issuing Sons of Confederate Veterans car license plates which feature the Confederate battle flag. One writer calls for taking down the NC Capitol Confederate Memorial. Some other local flashpoints have included the Salisbury Confederate Statue, the use of the Fayetteville Market House as a town symbol, and several reports of vandalism of Confederate statues and memorials.

On the other hand, the N.C. Legislature seeks to preserve a range of memorials and markers by restricting what state agencies and local governments can do about current statues, memorials or monuments on public property (S.B. 22 – Historic Artifact Mgt. and Patriotism Act).  [Update – on July 23, 2015, Governor McCrory signed S.B. 22 into law.

Having the “Right Conversation”

While the Confederate flag is a potent symbol, an equally important way to express community values is to seek respect and understanding as a city or state decides what to do about local memorials and displays of the Confederate flag at government institutions.

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Active Engagement for a Common Cause

Engagement and commitment are intangibles; they come from within. It’s the culmination of the psychological, social and intellectual connection one has with matters that affect their communities.

This connection is what motivates and is ultimately the driving force behind productive, progressive change. Giving people freedom to make decisions engages and empowers them and within the local community this has to occur through mutual respect, caring and group participation. The process of empowerment does not happen alone; it’s accomplished with others. So as citizens collectively engage, change becomes a part of the culture rather than temporary solutions to permanent problems.

Active community engagement represents a certain optimism that one’s effort and dedication can and will improve the social and economic infrastructure necessary for communal stability. Continue Reading

Variety is the Spice of Government: Diversity & Inclusion

I believe that including a diversity of opinions in the decision making process leads to better outcomes for governments and their citizens.  And, I think that many of my colleagues share this belief. The challenge arises when we try to define “diversity” and set performance measures to determine if we have been successful in reaching and engaging our diverse residents.

When I talk with people about diversity, I hear a lot of questions.

  • Do we limit ourselves to the standards of age, gender and ethnicity?
  • Do we expand our understanding to include sexual orientation, income levels, and marital status? Is it important to have a mixture of parents and non-parents?
  • What participation ratio is desirable for each group?
  • Can a person represent more than one category?
  • How do we avoid tokenism?

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Impacting the Community One Haircut at a Time

When we think about community engagement, many times we immediately go to the lighter side of engagement-parks, area plans, trails, and things most communities would love to discuss. But what happens when there is a need to tackle a tough and sensitive issue? Are we just as committed to engaging the community? Well, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) is certainly showing this commitment. With the recent initiative, Cops & Barbers, CMPD created a forum for open, honest dialogue on police and race relations in the African American community. The idea was simple. Meet people where they are and where they routinely go (the barber shop) and start a conversation between officers and people of all ages in the community. The response was overwhelming and exemplified community engagement at its best.

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The University as Community Partner: Translating Research

Several months ago I wrote about some of the opportunities and challenges that exist in university efforts to engage with the public and with public issues. Around the same time fellow blogger Shawn Colvin wrote about the importance of being able to translate academic research into what he called “results-oriented solutions.”

This post continues that conversation. I see rich opportunities for us to explore, across sectors, how to improve our communities by improving our communication with each other. I will also reflect on how we might overcome the barriers that get in the way of that communication.

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Community Organizing Meets Local Government Engagement

As a community organizer part of my responsibility is keeping the community updated of job opportunities that might come available for them. In order to do that, I must have the best information out there about the jobs, the applications and the hiring process. I must rely on city and county employees to give me the information and know that information is correct. I also must, when working with them, depend on them to do what they say and mean what they say. An example: There are some job opportunities coming to Northeast Central Durham with the construction of the East End Connector. I was told of the process and that there would be some help with the application process along with some screening for these jobs. I carried this information to the community in Northeast Central Durham and invited people to this event.

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More Engagement Than We Give Credit For: The Case of Citizen Co-Producers

There is a somewhat widespread notion that citizens by-and-large just aren’t that engaged in community affairs, particularly local government affairs. I often hear local government observe that when they try to engage citizens they only see a small handful of people and that there is a “silent majority” that they rarely, if ever, see. But what if engagement is more widespread than we think? I’d like to suggest that perhaps that is the case, particularly when you stop to consider co-production as a form of deep community engagement with local government.

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Engaging Youth with Deliberative Problem-Solving

The importance of engaged and informed citizenry in a democracy is undeniable. Throughout the last several years, there has been a push for more deliberative problem-solving tactics in communities across the country. Some in the deliberative community  have had conversations about helping to build a collection of what we call “super citizens”; folks who have a clear sense of what deliberation is and are energized and passionate about making democracy work on a community level.

I have been part of a faculty-college student deliberation research and action group at Colorado State University. I’m pleased that in the last year we have worked with high school students to build their interest and skills in deliberation and democracy. Continue Reading

Engaging farmers: A Neglected Aspect of the Local Food Movement’s Community Engagement Strategy

As spring arrives and we begin stopping by our farmers’ markets and roadside stands for the early local harvest, it’s a good time to revisit how community engagement is both limiting and expanding efforts to build stronger regional food systems. I will focus on an obvious – but all too often missing – link in engagement efforts: local farmers.

There’s a lot of information out there about how to engage the community in farm and food initiatives, even on my own organization’s web site: best practices for supporting farmers’ markets, the impact of CSA (community-supported agriculture) purchases, strategies for involving youth in the local agriculture arena, and building strong networks of diverse stakeholders. These efforts have raised the level of awareness about local food in many useful and relevant ways, increasing our communities’ participation in and understanding of the importance of regional agriculture.

But there’s one thing that we hardly ever see, and that’s the flipside of the local food movement’s engagement strategies: how do we make sure that the farmers who actually grow the food are being heard in these discussions?

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