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?

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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?

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?

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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