Monkey Mind Musings About Community

  As the holidays become a distant memory and we get back to the reality of more typical regimes, I’ve been reflecting about the upcoming year.

Rather than making resolutions which my monkey mind doesn’t always allow me to keep, I thought it might be an idea to focus on the community building work that continues to absorb so much of my energy. Here are five key learnings that have evolved for ensuring active, creative, and engaged communities. While they aren’t resolutions, they hopefully will provide direction for those wanting to make a difference in their community in 2016.

1. Community Leadership is Not a Solo Act
We want to make a difference. There is a hunger and desire among most Canadians to serve the public good and ultimately make a difference in their communities. Generally we are motivated by deep collective values and a desire to be part of something meaningful, relevant, and greater than ourselves. There is also a sense that the current system doesn’t always work and that, “We can do better”. To do better, we will need to find new ways of leading and working together, new understandings and beliefs, new ways of knowing and learning, breaking down old ways of doing things, and opening new avenues for solving problems.

2. We Need Comprehensive Community Transformation
We need to focus and invest in transformative change that will result in neighbourhoods, communities, and regions able to respond to an increasingly fast paced and complex society and economy, and work together to ensure a different kind of future. This comprehensive or community wrap-around change will require leaders working across sectors to leverage community assets and to address specific social, economic, or environmental issues. Whether it’s improving quality of life, creating jobs, enhancing main streets, utilizing technology and social media, reducing and preventing childhood obesity, ensuring safer communities, becoming more diversity-friendly etc., it is clear that large-scale community change comes from better cross-sector coordination and collaboration rather than from the intervention of individual organizations, businesses, or government departments.

3. Comprehensive Community Transformation Requires Community Building
Community building is about making sure stakeholders are empowered to control decisions, projects, programs, and policies that affect them as a community. It is also about being a catalyst for change that results in positive impact. When community building efforts take place, the results typically include:  experienced citizens taking responsibility for enhancing the quality of life in their communities, the growth of community volunteers and leaders, increased trust and collaboration, more innovative ideas and solutions being generated and implemented more quickly, and overall social, economic, and environmental impact. Perhaps more importantly, people see hope and understand that they can, and do, make a difference.

4. The Challenges of Community Building Must be Embraced
Community building is challenging to articulate and justify, despite the many leaders who understand, value, and embrace the benefits and outcomes it delivers. Even though many neighbourhoods, towns, and cities have used community building as a vehicle for strengthening both a sense of community and their capacity and resiliency to change and grow, the challenge is that it is rarely legitimized as a core service, often done off the side of the desk, and not likely to be addressed as a responsibility of those in leadership roles, as a written policy, or provided with core funding by government and foundations.  However, it has become more obvious that community is not just a “nice-to-have” but rather something essential that we all need to have. And, it’s not just about what community does for the public good. As it turns out, research confirms what we’ve always known on some level about the importance of community – people are nourished by other people. When people feel they are part of a community, there is a greater commitment and accountability to the well-being of the entire community.

5. We Need to Harness the Energy and Innovation of Citizens and Community
We need to harness the energy and innovation of front-line professionals, local government, businesses, citizens and communities. That begins with building trusted relationships with diverse individuals and their respective networks and webs.  Those relationships, networks, and webs are what ultimately will put communities and citizens in control. For each of us that can begin with something as simple as reaching out to one individual for a cup of coffee and a conversation.

Integral to all of the above will be figuring out how to get over a need for order and structure and get better at living with the reality of chaos as we find new ways of working together. And, none of that is going to happen without first ensuring we have leaders who have the ability to drive change that results in positive impact.

So as we move into a new year, may you continue to be, or perhaps become, part of the leadership that will drive change and growth in your community

Posted on 01-07-16


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