Social Street – A Hybrid Approach to Neighborhood Engagement

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As we look to build community and solve problems together, we learn quickly that communication can be an asset or a challenge. Good communication can lead to dialog and understanding, while poor communication (or none at all) can be neutral or even damaging to relationships.

For communication nerds, the term “noise” is used to describe anything that interferes with proper reception of a message. Think about how you watch video. Noise can be an interruption in your Wifi, a weather event that disrupts the signal or even a talkative person who prevents you from hearing what’s said. Continue Reading

Dorothea Dix Park: A Park for Everyone

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I’m glad to introduce Dan Parham of Neighborland as a guest blogger.

The City of Raleigh has embarked on a generational effort to create America’s next great public park. The opportunity to create a new public space of this size (308 acres) in the heart of Raleigh is unparalleled in the United States. The City of Raleigh is committed to making Dorothea Dix Park a park for everyone, a place of belonging for all individuals, families, and communities — of every economic level, background, ethnicity, race, religion, interest, and need. As Adrian Benepe from the Trust for Public Land has said, “Dorothea Dix Park is the most important and exciting park project in America today.”

Over the next year, the City is partnering with the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy and world-renowned landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh to create a visionary Master Plan for the park. Creating an iconic, inclusive, and sustainable public space requires broad, inclusive, and highly participatory community engagement.

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Filling Vacant Seats on Fayetteville City Council: What is it really about?

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Photo: Where Councilman Tyrone Williams sat until his May 2018 resignation. Credit: Paul Woolverton, The Fayetteville Observer

After several more media showdowns, Councilman Tyrone Williams officially resigned in a May 3rd letter, leaving a vacant seat in Fayetteville’s City Council.

“It is now clear to me that the facts of what happened don’t matter as much as perception,” said Williams in the letter.

In the letter Williams maintained his innocence, took shots at the media and various other community members. While all signs pointed to a dug in, trenched out, defiant stance toward resigning, to everyone’s surprise he threw in the towel, sparing the city council a long arduous process of removing him.

The council discussed the process for replacing him and sought applications to fill the seat.  I differ from many people who argue for what matters most in the who and how of filling this seat.

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Homeless “Helping” Response: Transaction or Relationship?

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Earlier this month, I attended a professional conference in Portland, Oregon. I encountered many homeless people, so it made me think about my privileged role of flying to their city, having a safe hotel room, conducting my business and leaving. What can, or should, I do?

At the conference, I posted a request for how I could donate to a Portland organization that helps the homeless. It seemed like a decent thing to do. It would be a small way of acknowledging my connection to Portland, a city I have enjoyed visiting many times.

But a colleague from Idaho, Dr. Katherine Himes, offered a story that challenged my sentiments. Am I doing something just so I feel good? Is the transaction, arms-length donation what is really needed? Continue Reading

GreensboroStronger with Community Leadership

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“We are speaking up for what we want—and what we don’t want—in our neighborhood”, stated Verna Torain, president of Cottage Grove Neighborhood Association, whose house was crushed by the tornado.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson was in her neighborhood on June 1 to kick off National Healthy Homes Month. Matthew Ammons and Michelle Miller, director and deputy director of HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes, joined Secretary Carson for the meeting with Ms. Torain, fellow neighborhood leader Almetta Tennie, hospital leaders, and Greensboro healthy housing advocates. Community leadership is rising to the challenge after an April natural disaster.

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The Spirit of Community: A Ben Franklin Circle in Weaverville, NC

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How do individual virtues relate to community action? Can we follow in the footsteps of Ben Franklin and work to improve ourselves and our communities?

I’m glad to re-post a nice reflection from Victoria Fann which first appeared here and I learned about it via the NCDD blog.

A bit of background: “Ben Franklin Circles are about bringing people together, face-to-face, to improve ourselves and the world around us,” per their mission statement.  Victoria first attended a couple meetings of a Ben Franklin Circle (BFC) in Asheville starting in September, 2017. Her circle has 8-10 people and meets monthly, Saturday mornings, rotating among people’s homes.

The circles discuss 13 virtues — similar to Franklin’s own circle of friends — to learn and support each other to be more virtuous.  The thirteen virtues include silence, sincerity, humility, frugality and justice.

Here is Victoria’s post:

My Ben Franklin Circle in Weaverville, NC has been meeting since November 2017. Since I have been facilitating groups of various kinds since 1989, stepping into the role of facilitator for this group was easy for me. We met for the first four months with me asking most of the questions, reading the quotes and gently steering the conversation if we strayed away from the topic.

This seemed to work well, but something was missing. I had a gnawing feeling that there was a better way to structure our little group. Based on some words from his autobiography, I knew that Ben Franklin would heartily agree. For example, he writes, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Involvement was precisely what we needed!

The first small step in this direction took place at our February meeting. Instead of discussing the virtues in the order listed on the Ben Franklin Circle website, I decided to write each one of the remaining virtues on small slips of paper and fold them up. I brought those papers to the meeting and placed them in a hat. At the end or our discussion, I asked a member to draw out one of the slips of paper, saying that we would discuss whatever virtue was chosen.

This felt good—so good, in fact, that at the March meeting, I decided to take this idea a step further. Prior to the meeting, I wrote out that month’s virtue questions and quotes provided by the Ben Franklin Circle website onto small slips of paper, folded them and placed them into a bowl at our host’s house. I then invited members to draw one out and read it aloud to the group to prompt our discussion. I also encouraged members to add their own questions.

Franklin’s very own group, on which the BF Circles are based, encouraged a similar involvement from the members of the group as he writes here: “I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the JUNTO; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and, to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.”

What we discovered during that meeting was that having the members chose the questions at random and read them to the group led to a much deeper level of conversation. I suspect this was because the playing field had been leveled and everyone felt more engaged and involved than when I was the one asking most of the questions. My leadership role softened as I yielded to this more community-based approach. Our trust of each other and our willingness to explore the outer edges of the virtue increased exponentially. Plus, there was almost a palpable feeling of relief among all of us once we shifted into this more egalitarian way of relating to each other. It was clear we’d been seeking it all along.

The lesson for me was a reminder of how important it is to tune into the specific needs of a situation without assumptions, agendas or formulas, but rather an open mind and a willingness to learn.

Though initially my “expertise” proved to be a hindrance, the group process itself became the catalyst that allowed the solution to emerge effortlessly.

Thank you, Ben Franklin.

Victoria Fann is a writer, transformational coach, group facilitator and workshop leader. She hosts her own Ben Franklin Circle in Weaverville, NC each month.

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My P.S.: There are about 40 Ben Franklin circles and their locations are shown here.

A Police Ride Along: Building Empathy and Accepting Nuance

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Building empathy is one of the most difficult tasks communities face. Simply put, we’re often not programmed for it. Humans have spent the vast majority of their millennia here on Earth in tightly-knit communities where social norms and even survival frequently depended on us making quick judgments about those around us, in order to sort individuals into our “in-group” or an “out-group”. This “tribalism”, however, is not simply based on racial, ethnic, religious, or linguistic divides. It also plays out in our (relatively) much more diverse and integrated modern-day communities. And few issues in urban American communities divide us more than the fault lines around law enforcement. To some, police and sheriff’s officials embody the best values of our communities: security, order, and community involvement. To others, they represent the remnants of our country’s centuries-long infatuation with racial oppression.

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Savannah’s story of community empowerment: Nice Video on Asset-Based Community Development in Action

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While Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) has been around awhile, I think the stories that illustrate the concepts and structure are very important.

I just ran across this nice video from Savannah’s experience with two neighborhoods. https://youtu.be/6rbRAQLbeRM

In under twelve minutes, the story covers from the 1970s to today: the decline and revitalization of two neighborhoods. Most importantly the story is mainly about the members of two neighborhoods in Savannah, with less attention to what city employees did or did not do.

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Are we overly focused on social media?

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Many of us were following the Facebook hearings this April in which nearly 100 members of Congress questioned Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The hearings came after news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign, accessed information from as many as 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge.

While the outrage focused primarily on consumer privacy, it also elevated interest in Facebook’s impact on civil discourse and domestic institutions around the world. We are learning more about the addictive nature and manipulative strategies of Facebook and other social media. Continue Reading

Fayetteville City Council: Self interest or effective representation?

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Fayetteville has a couple of large projects planned and moving forward mostly in District 2 for the downtown revitalization. In particular, the city plans to develop a baseball stadium to house a minor league team associated with the Houston Astros. Additionally, the seven-story, dilapidated, eyesore, The Prince Charles Hotel, has been purchased and is being restored.

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Internships in City Government: Reflections on Civic Learning

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During the Fall of 2017 I had the opportunity to spend the semester in Washington DC with 16 Wake Forest students.  I taught two political science courses on law and policy, and the students interned four days a week with various governmental and non-governmental organizations.

In an earlier post I wrote about the potential for internships to provide important civic lessons as well as providing the development of professional skills and experience. Two of the students worked for Councilwoman Mary Cheh on the DC Council,  giving them the unique opportunity to experience local government in the unusual context of the national capital.  I asked Abigail McLean (pictured above) one of those students, to reflect on her experience.  Abigail, who will graduate in May, was recently hired by Councilwoman Cheh’s office to serve on her staff.

  What interested you about this particular internship opportunity?

Abigail: The year before my internship at the D.C. Council, I interned for a congressional office on Capitol Hill. I really enjoyed this experience, but one of the things that frustrated me was the speed at which legislation moved. I could spend several days working on a project, only to never see or hear anything about it again because it simply takes so long to move legislation through. Since the D.C. Council is a smaller governing body in charge of a much smaller jurisdiction, I knew that I could contribute more to the legislative process and experience more firsthand.

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Citizens’ Academies: Low-cost, High-impact Community Engagement

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The City of Concord has one of the longest-running citizens’ academies in North Carolina, or even the United States, in its Concord 101 program, which has completed 16 sessions and reached over 300 participants. Since inception, the program has largely maintained the original format, yet adapted to expand both the content covered and the number of participants involved each year. Continue Reading

Empowering Our Community with Good Health: The Mustard Seed Story

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Gloria was worried about her blood pressure but with no insurance she didn’t know where to turn. Her neighbor said, “Go to Mustard Seed Community Health” just 3 blocks from her apartment. Dr. Mulberry listened to her and explained the benefits of nutrition and physical activity so now Gloria’s blood pressure is manageable.

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Dialogue through Simplicity: How Government Can Make Complicated Topics Easier to Grasp

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Graphic created by Wake County staff and is consistent with their efforts to communicate simply with their public.

Our understanding of government is shaped by how frequently we interact with it and how much we understand its role in society. This time of year, we’re keenly aware of what we pay in taxes but don’t always think about other government interactions. There’s a good chance public sector employees collect your trash and recycling; the street you took to work today is owned and operated by a government department; and in many places public employees recruit new jobs to the community.

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ACE Blog Draft

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This blog post was written by Becca Baas, learn more about Becca below. 

Far too often we hear about abused or neglected children – sometimes it’s the kind of story that makes you cringe, other times it breaks your heart. I worked at Onslow County Partnership for Children (OCPC), where reducing childhood abuse and neglect has always been an important part of our mission. Now, a new movement in prevention is changing our perspective on prevention. We are developing a broader approach to address the experiences and circumstances associated with abuse and neglect.

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Nothing Engages A Community Quite Like The Weather

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Community emergencies are obviously challenging and stressful, and yet they can also be opportunities for local governments to earn trust and boost engagement.

Dangerous weather is something that all people experience — together. What we learn from our organization’s ability to share information, listen, empathize, encourage and respond during a weather emergency Continue Reading

The Danger of Confederate Statues, and the Danger of Removing Them

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Five months after the Charlottesville rally and protest, the debate over what to do with numerous Confederate statues which pepper much of the South remains as strong – and as polarized – as ever before.

Just days after the massive protests and violence in the Virginia city, four Confederate monuments in Baltimore and three on the campus of the University of Texas, Austin were taken down by city authorities, with another in Durham toppled by protesters. In October, the scene was repeated in Lexington, Kentucky. Last month, two statues were removed in Memphis, while the infamous “Johnny Reb” statue expelled Continue Reading

Home Ownership and Civic Engagement: Benefits for Low-income Families

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The Great Recession and crisis of 2007-2010 raised questions about whether low and moderate-income families should be home owners, given the financial risk, or would be better off as renters. Beyond the financial arguments about property investment and equity is the question of other potential benefits in being a homeowner.

I’m glad to point readers to research by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Dr. Roberto Quercia, and his colleagues Kim Manturuk and Mark R. Lindblad, in their new book A Place Called Home: The Social Dimensions of Homeownership. They found that homeownership has important non-financial benefits for low- and moderate-income people.

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Housing Builds a Healthy Economy

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How can housing, health, and employment build a healthy economy?

What happens when housing declines?

How can we engage our community in re-building a healthy economy?

I’m glad to show the positive connections between safe and affordable housing and benefits to the community and individuals of a stronger local economy and healthier people. As the graphic above shows, what we sometimes think of as separate things – jobs and economic activity, or asthma and health care – actually link back to housing.

Here’s what I see in Greensboro – I’m eager to hear how other communities are working on similar kinds of engagement of residents, citizens, health care people, and university resources. Continue Reading

What Barn Raising Looks Like in Petaluma, California

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My last post argued that we should think of the role of local government in communities more in terms of “barn raising” than the more transactional metaphor of a vending machine. This idea was put forth in the great book Community and the Politics of Place by former Missoula, Montana mayor Daniel Kemmis, and later picked up in a popular article written by Frank Benest, former city manager of Palo Alto, California. The crux of the notion is the need for communities to move away from an “us” and “them” relationship between citizens and community organizations on the one hand, and local government on the other, and rather think of local government as a key community institution that is both part of and an extension of the community.

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The Beauty of a Co-op

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We all love a Durham Food Co-op.

The one that formerly graced the corner of Carroll and Chapel Hill Streets, adorned with the Pauli Murray poster and so delightfully dedicated to its employees? The one where neither service, sustainability, nor unexpired foods were specialties? (You know, the one that now houses The Cookery?) Yes, I love that one!

The new co-op, three blocks further west into the West End, gleaming, modern, and so sustainably run that middle class member loyalty comes, but does not go – much like the rising average median incomes surrounding it? Yes, I love that one!

The one in East Durham, that’s only open once a month, focuses on low-income membership, Continue Reading

Investing in Our Neighborhood Schools

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The elementary school to which my infant son is districted—Glenn Elementary—was one of six NC schools (and two Durham County schools) on the short list for possible takeover by the NC Innovative School District. Lakewood Elementary was the other.

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Prison, Dog Training and Three Communities: Walls are not Solid Community Separators

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In early October, I helped to celebrate the progress of service dogs being trained by inmates at the Franklin Correctional Center (FCC) near Bunn, NC.  The 18 men are trainers in At Both Ends of the Leash (ABEL), part of the work of Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws (EENP), a Carrboro, NC nonprofit that matches service dogs with people with special needs or disabilities.

EENP pups-in-training live at FCC for about 18 months, from the time they are five-months old until they are ready to be partnered with a client.  Two EENP clients were part of the October event, but will actually receive their dogs on Nov. 4th as part of formal “graduation” held at the Carrboro Century Center.

I had many powerful reactions to the demonstration of skill, and talking with the ABEL trainers.

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Enhancing Community Engagement through Positive Deviance

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Anyone who serves on a citizens board, volunteers at a house of worship, or does anything to help other people has experienced frustration. They have a problem that needs to be solved, but they just can’t seem to find a solution. People can quickly become frustrated if their partnership isn’t productive. If you’ve been stuck in a late-night meeting spinning your wheels, you know what it’s like.

A concept that began in healthcare circles decades ago may be helpful for tackling problems in other settings. The term is positive deviance, and it’s relatively simple – where some have failed at a project or task, others will find a way to succeed, even with similar circumstances and resources. These people or groups may be referred to as positive deviants. The challenge is in finding such behaviors and reproducing them for other applications.

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Internships: A job? A civic experience? Maybe some of both.

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This semester I have relocated to Washington DC in order to lead the first semester of our new Wake Washington program. My 16 students are all placed in internships across the city in national and city government, think tanks, non-profits, and consulting firms. They are also taking a course on policymaking and another one on constitutional law. Five weeks into the semester, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the value of internships both for students and for the organizations that sponsor them, with particular attention to the kind of civic learning students gain from the experience.

Often, the emphasis on internships and in internship programs is more focused on  Continue Reading

How Can Local Government Earn Trust in the Era of Fake News?

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Rebuilding trust in American democracy was a central theme among public communicators who gathered at the City-County Communicators and Marketing Association (3CMA) www.3cma.org conference Sept. 6-8 in Anaheim, Calif.

#3CMAAnnual: “How can local government earn trust in the era of fake news?”

Explaining the “why” as part of a sustained story is a better strategy than regular blurt-outs to engage with the public, said Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole in the opening conference session. Invest in the time to develop key messages. Think about the way people feel about their government. He urged local government communicators to Continue Reading

Community Engagement Transforms Housing

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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?

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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

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“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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.”

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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.

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

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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?

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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?

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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”

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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.
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

who-uses-scratch

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