3 Responses to “Highlights from Community Engagement Matters (Now More Than Ever)”

  1. John Stephens

    Cate – thanks for highlighting some important points about the article and March 7th panel about the article.

    I’d like your thoughts on one point by Paul Schmitz [per your summary/recollection of the panel]: “We’re colonizing communities when we import a new great model into a community rather than partner and build capacity with existing organizations that already have deep relationships in that community.”

    How does this relate to your experience?

    The tension I see is between trying to learn from the experience of other communities (whether it is a new model or not) versus focusing exclusively on a particular community and having those leaders and residents come up with what to do. I think, in general, we all look around and want to borrow or adapt good ideas, or others’ successes.

    How has your work in community action and support navigated the “let’s learn from others” vs. “we can create it ourselves” approaches?

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  2. Rick Morse

    Thanks for this great post Cate. I really like John’s question and hope that might spark some discussion. To respond to your question though, I think capacity-building programs like citizens academies and community leadership programs can be an important piece of the puzzle. I think a lot of times formal institutions want to engage citizens meaningfully and citizens themselves want to be engaged, but sometimes there is a lack of know-how, and so developing capacity to engage in meaningful and productive ways is an important investment that needs to be made. Kind of like preparing the ground before seeds are planted.

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  3. Cate Elander

    John and Rick—thanks for your responses! I think that Paul’s point about colonization of communities is an important one because often nonprofits and funders value their own knowledge and expertise over the lived experience, perspectives and knowledge of the communities in which they work. As Community Engagement Matters indicates, this either leads to nonstarter programs/initiatives, or programs that miss the mark because they don’t respond to the most urgent or relevant needs/opportunities. However, every community likely won’t have all of the knowledge and resources that they need to make meaningful changes in their own neighborhoods. So the truth is somewhere in the middle—nonprofits and communities should seek lessons learned from other communities/initiatives, gather information on models or components of models that align with the culture(s), strengths and challenges in a given community, and apply that to a planning process that is either community-led or that genuinely engages the community.

    This is where Rick’s comment comes in. Work to prepare both communities and nonprofits for meaningful collaboration is important, and needs to happen early and often. I’d add that—in my experience—there seems to be more emphasis placed on preparing community members for engagement and leadership opportunities than there is placed on preparing organizations to genuinely collaborate with and accept leadership from community members. Community Innovation Lab (http://www.emcarts.org/index.cfm?id=67902) is doing some interesting work in this area—are others familiar with additional opportunities?

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