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How This Residential Care Home Bumped Employee Engagement Into Overdrive - Triple Pundit

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Triple Pundit

How This Residential Care Home Bumped Employee Engagement Into Overdrive
Triple Pundit
Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine ...

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Profits at Home

Laird's Blog -

Have you ever noticed how people start to appear wiser the further they get from home? You may laugh, but this is a dynamic of biblical proportions. Matthew 13:57 says: … but Jesus said unto them, "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house."

It's enough to make you want to take a road trip.

In this day of upward spiraling travel costs (we really are running out of oil), it seems prudent to contemplate the future for consultants. Being one, I think about it. After 27 years of going to my clients (or to events where I can showcase my wares in workshops), I am pioneering a webinar series that will offer a half dozen of my most commonly requested workshops, plus a seventh Q&A session styled Stump the Chumps, where Ma'ikwe and I try to hit whatever cooperative process curve balls people toss our way. While being connected via video and audio is not the same thing as being in the same room, it starts to approximate it, and no one has to travel. I figure my future will definitely include more of this.

[While the webinar series was scheduled to start July 2, we aborted when the software (GlobalMeet) started spontaneously malfunctioning 20 minutes into the presentation—gremlins started arbitrarily muting the speaker and unmuting the audience. The whole series has now been moved back one week and will begin July 9, and will run every Wednesday through Aug 20. It will be live 2-4 pm Central time, and will be available as a downloadable recording to anyone who signs up. This Wed we'll be switching to Adobe Connect to frustrate the gremlins. So if you missed our opening (comedy) act last Wed, the boat has still not left the pier.]

Webinars aside, I've been aware for a long time that there's been little interest in my skills within my zip code. Yes, I've facilitated my share of meetings at both Sandhill Farm and Dancing Rabbit, but I'm almost never asked to facilitate conflicts, which is probably the number one thing I'm known for on a continental level. (On a state level, I've only been hired to facilitate five times outside of 63563 in 27 years, yet four of those were to teach about or to facilitate a live conflict.)

Of course, at Sandhill—which is a very small community, usually around six adults—it was nearly impossible for me to be sufficiently neutral (or perceived to be sufficiently neutral) to be acceptable as a conflict facilitator. But it's more than that. My community hasn't even been interested in learning my theory of working with conflict.

I recently witnessed someone in tears over his frustration at how little interest there had been among his fellow community members in taking advantage of his offer to help people be more financially successful (this guy works only 15 hours a week and generates enough surplus to make annual donations north of $20,000, so he's demonstrably good at being financially generative). While I felt his anguish, it's no longer acute for me. I'm a good bit further down that road and my disappointment is more of a dull ache because I've grown accustomed to it—and because I get plenty of work in different time zones, which satisfies my primal desire to be helpful. I've adjusted my expectations and no longer look for people to seek my talents at home.

I'm also seeing another shift. Now that I've moved over to Dancing Rabbit (to live with Ma'ikwe) I'm not centrally involved in community dynamics and people are more open to me as a result. At my new community I'm highly selective about what community issues I insert myself into, and I'm not seeking influence as I did while living at Sandhill. Oddly enough, two people at Dancing Rabbit have approached me in the last half year to be a mentor for them. This is something I very much enjoy doing yet have done precious little of my first 39 years of community living (excepting twice I served as adjunct faculty for Prescott College, guiding—by email and phone—students doing independent studies on intentional community). Having let go, the opportunities have come to me, which I experience as something of a cosmic joke (which is better, I think, than a cosmic tragedy).

While part of this may be about me (can you ever rule that out completely?), I think part of what's going on is a generic avoidance of the schizophrenic dynamic where two people are simultaneously in a peer-peer relationship (by virtue of being fellow community members) and in a teacher-student relationship. It can be awkward to navigate the shifting power gradient, and some would rather avoid it all together, accepting the price of foregoing whatever might be learned (either from the teacher, or from juggling the roles).

When the teacher comes from outside—especially from way outside— all of that awkwardness can be neatly sidestepped. The consultant goes away Monday morning. At Sandhill, I think I'm more valued for my tomatillo salsa, my skill at wildcrafting morels, and my knowledge of how to file the community's tax returns, than for my ability to be sure-footed when navigating complex community dynamics.

While it remains to be seen how my opportunities to be an honorable prophet (much less a profitable one) may diminish as gas prices soar, for now I'm savoring that I still have work all around the continent—which may be extended by my nascent career as a webinar presenter (and indefatigable blogger).

It's a quirky world out there, and every now and then you need to stop and make sure you're still heading in the direction you intended.

Would you ever live in a cohousing community? - Frederick News Post (subscription)

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Would you ever live in a cohousing community?
Frederick News Post (subscription)
Would you ever live in a cohousing community? Total Votes: 0. Yes 0 0%: No 0 0%: Not sure 0 0%. Loading… Rules of Conduct. 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language. 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of ...

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Sharing Circles and Square Pegs

Laird's Blog -

I attended a workshop recently on The Circle Way, based on the 2010 book of that title by and Ann Linnea. The workshop leaders were very promotional of groups using the Circle format to do deeper, more connected work. While I agreed with much of what they offered, their pitch reminded me of Shaklee distributors touting the universal benefits of Basic H (the miracle cleaning concentrate of the '70s) and I have the same reservations about sharing circles as I did about Basic H: although the Circle is a fine format some of the time, it isn't the best choice all of the time.

As someone who has lived in intentional community for 40 years and worked as a group process consultant for two-thirds of that time, I've been to an untold number of meetings, read gobs of books about group dynamics, and witnessed many different formats. Ever since workable models of secular consensus were first evolved to meet the emerging needs of the East Coast anti-nuclear groups of the '70s (thank you, Movement for a New Society) there has been an explosion of work done to develop cooperative processes—abandoning the arcane and susceptible-to-back-room-manipulation world of parliamentary procedure (think of all the murky and morally questionable process shenanigans that accompanied the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in 1865, as showcased brilliantly in the award winning 2012 Spielberg film, Lincoln).

Here are some trends that I can distill from the broad sweep of my immersion in cooperative dynamics the last four decades:

o  The hunger for cooperative culture (in contrast with adversarial, competitive culture) is very wide and growing. (If anything, mainstream dynamics are getting increasing shrill, uncivil, and dissatisfying.)

o  Having the intent to be cooperative is insufficient to consistently produce cooperative behavior—especially when people disagree and the stakes are high.

o  The essential difference in cooperative group dynamics is that participants have to engage productively on the energetic plane as well as the rational plane. Among other things, this means that how something gets done matters as much as what gets done. On a practical level, this means that good meetings are ones where all participants feel that their input is welcomed, heard, and respectfully treated without their needing to change personalities, or to check their passion at the door.
o  While energy work can be significantly supported by the thoughtful choice of formats, there is no single format that works best (or even well) all of the time. If, as a carpenter, you fall in love with your hammer and neglect your other tools, pretty soon everything starts looking like a nail.

Circling Back
Let's return now to Circles as a format option. Mostly I'm aware of these being used in cooperative groups as a change of pace when it's more important to focus on energy than problem solving. An example would be a Grieving Circle when a dear one departs the group (perhaps by moving away or by dying). It could also be a celebration, as in a marriage, an anniversary, or an Appreciation Circle on the eve of someone's departure. In each of these instances, there is no problem to solve; the Circle is called so that people can share their hearts and deepen their connections.

Another common use of the Circle format is when doing a check-in (and it's twin sister, the check-out). While participants may or may not actually be arrayed in a circle, the concept is that everyone will get a chance to speak in turn, one at a time, saying briefly how they're doing and perhaps naming something on their mind that they'd like to set aside to attend to the purpose of the meeting. The point is to be better connected with everyone, and to allow a graceful opportunity for everyone to energetically arrive in the room before any heavy lifting is attempted.

Circles are also employed to get at the feelings connected with a topic prior to engaging in problem solving. The concept here is to clear the air of significant distress prior to discussing what action the group wants to take—mainly to eliminate or at least diminish the distortion and brittleness that typically accompany upset or reactivity. Groups that engage directly with "what to do" and skip this clearing step (either because they are unaware of the distress or because they lack confidence in handling it well) generally suffer difficult and exhausting meetings. With the idea of streamlining the process, they inadvertently wind up getting bogged down, or suffer relationship damage that takes longer to repair than the time they thought they were saving by not attending to the initial upset. Ugh.

While there are certainly more applications of the Circle, that's sufficient to lay out common uses among cooperative group that mainly operate through open discussion.

At this point I want to introduce what Baldwin & Linnea label the Components of the Circle. In their words this is an overview of what they advocate:

The Circle, or council, is an ancient form of meeting that has gathered juman beings into respectful converation for thousands of years. The Circle has served as the foundation for many cultures.

What transforms a meeting into a circle is the willingness of people to shift from informal socializing or opinionated discussion into a receptive attitude of thoughtful speaking and deep listening and to embody and practice the structures outlined here.

Intention shapes the Circle and determines who will come, how long the Circle will meet, and what kinds of outcomes are to be expected. The caller of the Circle spends time articulating intention and invitation.

Welcome or Start-point
Once people have gathered, it is helpful for the host, or a volunteer, to begin the Circle with a gesture that shifts people's attention from social space to council space. This gesture of welcome may be a moment of silence, reading a poem, or listening to a song—whatever invites centering.

Establishing the Center
The center of a Circle is like the hub of a wheel: all energies pass through it, and it holds the rim together. To help people remember how the hub helps the group, the center of a Circle usually holds objects that represent the intention of the Circle. Any symbol that fits this purpose or adds beauty will serve: flowers, a bowl or basket, a candle.

Check-in helps people into a frame of mind for council and reminds everyone of their commitment to the expressed invitation. It insures that people are truly present. Verbal sharing, especially a brief story, weaves the interpersonal net.

Check-in usually starts with a volunteer and proceeds around the Circle. If an individual is not ready to speak, the turn is passed and another opportunity is offered after others have spoken. Sometimes people place individual objects in the center as a way of signifying their presence and relationship to the intention.

Setting Circle Agreements
The use of agreements allows all members to have a free and profound exchange, to respect a diversity of views, and to share responsibility for the well-being and direction of the group. Agreements often used include:
—We will hold stories or personal material in confidentiality.
—We listen to each other with compassion and curiosity.
—We ask for what we need and offer what we can.
—We agree to employ a group guardian to watch our need, timing, and energy. We agree to pause at a signal, and to call for that signal when we feel the need to pause.

Three Principles
The Circle is an all leader group.

1. Leadership rotates among all Circle members.

2. Responsibility is shared for the quality of experience.

3. People place ultimate reliance on inspiration (or spirit), rather than on any personal agenda.

Three Practices
1. To speak with intention: noting what has relevance to the conversation in the moment.

2. To listen with attention: respectful of he learning process for all members of the group.

3. To tend the well-being of the Circle: remaining aware of the impact of our contributions.

Forms of Council
The Circle commonly uses three forms of council: talking piece, conversation, and reflection.

Talking Piece Council is often used as part of check-in, check-out, and whenever there is a desire to slow down the conversation, collect all voices and contributions, and be able to speak without interruption.

Conversation Council is often used when reaction, interaction, and an interjection of new ideas, thoughts, and opinions are needed.

Reflection or Silent Council gives each member time and space to reflect on what is occurring or needs to occur in the course of a meeting. Silence may be called so that each person can consider the role or impact they are having on the group, to help the group realign with its intention, or to sit with a question until there is clarity.

The single most important tool for aiding self-governance and bringing the Circle back to intention is the role of guardian. To provide a guardian, one Circle member at a time volunteers to watch and safeguard group energy and to observe the group's process.

The guardian usually employs a gentle noisemaker, such as a chime, bell, or rattle, that signals everyone to stop action, take a breath, and rest in a space of silence. Then the guardian makes this signal again and speaks to why s/he called a pause. Any member may call for a pause.

Check-out and Farewell
At the close of a Circle meeting, it is important to allow a few minutes for each person to comment on what they learned, or what stays in their heart and mind as they leave. 

Closing the Circle by checking out provides a formal end to the meeting, a chance for members to reflect on what has transpired, and to pick up objects if they have placed something in the center. 

As people shift from council space to social space or private time, they release each other from the intensity of attention being in Circle requires. Often after check-out the host, guardian, or a volunteer will offer a few inspirational words of farewell, or signal a few seconds of silence before the Circle is released.
• • •Baldwin & Linnea are going well beyond suggesting that Circles be used as an occasional seasoning in cooperative meetings; they're boldly advocating that groups consider using Circles as their main mode of conducting business—that the Circle is robust enough to handle whatever comes along, and probably do it better. What's more, there are a number of groups that have accepted that invitation. 

With due respect to the ancient traditions which anthropologists inform us are the roots of Circle meetings—and which therefore testify to the vitality and resilience of that form—I want to raise questions about how far to take Circles in today's context.

Laird's Laager
I'm going to start by making some observations of contemporary Western culture, that provide a context for my recommendations regarding Circles.

1. In the sweep of human history, it's doubtful that human society has ever been more toward the "I" end of the I-we spectrum than we are today. I'm referring to how people tend to think first about how a thing impacts them as an individual, rather than how it affects the group, or the collective. There are even social and economic theories that the group is best taken care of when it's ignored and people only think and act on what's best for them.

While I think you can make the case that people are increasingly aware of the moral bankruptcy and unsustainable consequences of this approach (given how it supports gross inequality in the distribution of wealth and access to resources, and therefore widespread misery), the idea of the supremacy of the individual is not going to go away quietly.

That said, the steady rise in interest in intentional communities is testament to the appeal of purposefully trying to move back toward the "we" end of the spectrum—not to embrace the complete subjugation of the individual to the tribe, but rather to find more equilibrium.

2. Cultures that antedate post-Word War II overwhelmingly tended to be highly structured, which permitted far less latitude than we enjoy today regarding where you lived, class, sexual orientation, spiritual identification, choice of spouse, and even employment options. While there was a stronger sense of "we," it was packaged within hide-bound tradition, top-down hierarchy, and a level of xenophobia and parochialism that very few people today find appealing, or even acceptable. 

In short, we want a greater sense of connection, safety, belonging, and home, yet are unwilling to give up much individual freedom to get it. This is a challenge. A lot of us literally know who we are because we have views that differentiate us from others. Because deferring to others can be equated with loss of identity, many of us have learned at an early age that it's more important to focus on differences more than on similarities.

3. We are ritual starved. Though traditional cultures tended to offer much more ritual, in the name of religious freedom and separation of church and state people today tend to feel malnourished relying solely on Christmas trees, Fourth of July fireworks, Valentine's Day roses, and chocolate Easter eggs to connect with Spirit. While organized religion still provides an avenue for that, many are seeking to fill that void in other ways—and are not necessarily being successful in the attempt.

So here are my thoughts about the ways in which Circles are powerful, and the ways in which they are limited in their application:

o  In honoring the Circle's ancient roots, Baldwin & Linnea, they are offering a ritual-laden version with a set sequence, and defined roles that are purposefully rotated among group members. While I think the ritual will have resonance for many (addressing my third point above), some will chafe at the heavy attention to an arbitrary structure, losing sight of the prize: connection.

To illustrate my point, one of the workshop leaders (in the role of Host) took a moment to chide the other (in the role of Guardian) when that person chimed three times to indicate a shift in the process, instead of twice—even though attendees had not been told a thing about the significance of the number of chimes. You don't have to step back very far before you realize the ridiculousness of focusing attention on the number of chimes (a la the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin), when you are principally trying, in a workshop, to introduce the concepts of ritual and tone. That was an excellent illustration of how substance can be lost in attention to form.

Thus, while I think the purposeful introduction of ritual to cooperative meetings has merit, don't get hung up on the exact form it takes. Make it be your group's form—and don't take yourselves too seriously.

o  Along similar lines, you don't need to employ all of the roles outlined by Baldwin & Linnea above, nor do you need the roles to be strictly rotated among the membership. Better, in my experience, is to encourage roles to be filled as widely as possible, yet allowing members to opt out if any particular role is too uncomfortable for them.

While I'm in favor of helping people get over their anxiety about trying on unfamiliar roles and making the opportunity available to everyone, I'm not in favor of twisting arms or applying peer pressure to enforce rotations. I just tends to traumatize the reluctant and result in the group being poorly served. Yuck.

o  Not everyone is going to find Circle work appealing. Perhaps because they're uncomfortable with the unfamiliar; perhaps because the ritual overlay is too evocative of the unpleasant childhood church experience (from which they're still recovering); perhaps because the pace is maddening slow (not matching their metabolism or Latin style of expression and engagement); perhaps because it's too woo woo for hard-boiled pragmatists.

While the workshop leaders assured us that the initially skeptical will come around in time—and I buy that that will be true for some—I doubt it will be true for all. In fact, I'm confident in predicting that a good portion of initial skeptics will not come back to give it a chance to grow on them. You'll just lose them. Some pegs are simply too square to find affinity with the Circle.

o  Circle process will tend to work better among the soft-spoken (because there is protected air time), among those who take longer to process what they think and be ready to articulate what they want to share (the deliberate pace helps with that), among those more comfortable sharing at the heart level (as distinct from the head level), and among those who tend to be overwhelmed by strong feelings, especially anger and rage (because of the deliberate, reflective pace, and the emphasis on honoring requests for a pause whenever anyone wants one). 

In pointing out these tendencies, I'm not trying to favor the soft-spoken over the loud-spoken, the slow over the quick, the emotive over the rational, or the passionately expressive over the subdued. I'm only making the case that in searching for a truly level playing field, Circle ain't it, and it's naive to think otherwise.

o  If you're part of a group that uses Circle as its main way of conducting business and you're happy with what you have, by all means keep doing it. I'm a big fan of doing whatever works. If you're thinking about moving in that direction, I advise that you to consider my reservations and see if you think they have substance in the dynamics of your group.

o  Personally, I like preserving Circle as a contrast from the main way of doing business, partly because you can then be more judicious about employing it only when it's the right fit for the need (which I believe are the times when aligning energy is more important than making progress on resolving an issue), and because you'll maximize the boost you'll get from the Hawthorne Effect, the temporary uptick in enthusiasm you'll experience simply because you're doing something different.

While I don't think Circle is the one ring to rule them all, and I don't know if the Circle will be unbroken, I think it fully deserves an honored place in the pantheon of format options for cooperative groups.

Retiring with roommates: The merits of shared living as you age - Yahoo Canada Finance - Insight (blog)

Cohousing News from Google -

Retiring with roommates: The merits of shared living as you age
Yahoo Canada Finance - Insight (blog)
In Barrie, members of CARP's senior housing committee as well as local builders and community members joined forces with Solterra Co-Housing Ltd. for a new form of housing. In a nutshell, it works like this: four to six people are tenants in common ...

Nicola Inchbald, chair of the Rooftop Group and chair elect of the Matrix ... - 24dash

Cohousing News from Google -

Nicola Inchbald, chair of the Rooftop Group and chair elect of the Matrix ...
The housing association role in garden cities, community land trusts and cohousing schemes is crucial together with provision of traditional affordable and social housing programmes. To further support the 'circle of life' housing associations should ...

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Social housing e cohousing , se ne parla all'Urban center con ventotto studenti ... - gonews

Cohousing News from Google -

Social housing e cohousing , se ne parla all'Urban center con ventotto studenti ...
L'Urban Center di Pontedera organizza per i giorni 4, 5 e 6 luglio un workshop sul social housing e sul cohousing dal titolo “La casa al tempo della crisi”. Ventotto studenti del terzo anno del Corso di Laurea Magistrale in Ingegneria Edile ...

Starting with a Proposal, Revisited

Laird's Blog -

Jasen recently replied to my June 10 post Why Starting with a Proposal is Usually a Bad Idea, and he brought up points that I want to respond to, expanding on my original thinking. Jasen’s comments are in italics, and my replies follow in Roman text. (Note that when I refer to a “committee” I mean for that term to encompass anything from a single individual or manager, to a team, task force, or standing committee—any subgroup of the whole).

I personally find this challenging to hear (thank you), as I'm a proponent of crafting the proposal prior to bringing a topic for discussion to plenary. As you state, plenary time is precious so I definitely agree that some topics should be discussed openly in plenary well before a proposal is crafted by an individual or subcommittee. The challenge is determining what constitutes a good "proposal" agenda item vs. a good "discussion" agenda item. Because of the abundance of potential topics that could come to plenary, a certain amount of delegation must be done to subcommittees/individuals in order for plenary time to be effective. My instinct likely is to lean on the proposal all too often. Your post is a good reminder of this.

Re: skewing the conversation, I agree that this happens but personally believe this to be a net positive for the following reasons:

1. The proposal helps define or frame the "problem" or “issue." It gives members a lump of clay to mold.

Yes, but the danger is that you might not have all the clay you need if the plenary restricts its reply to what the committee has prepared ahead. Further, it can sometimes take more energy to change the shape of pre-molded clay than if you were starting from scratch.

2. The proposal preparation allows for research to be done prior to plenary such that knowledge/expertise can be gathered for distribution at plenary. If this is not done beforehand, the plenary is not an informed position to make the best decision.

While this is a real phenomenon, I believe it's better handled by having the need for research anticipated by a thoughtful Steering Committee, whose job it is to screen suggestions for plenary agenda topics. A competent Steering Committee will ask the sponsoring committee to conduct anticipated research as a precondition to getting time on the plenary agenda.

Further, they should insist that the presentation be tight, with a focused question. This kind of diligence should go a long toward eliminating wheel spinning at the front end of a consideration.

3. Finally, in many (most?) cases, the plenary faces a number of relatively trivial, non-fatal, and revocable decisions such that even if the proposal were skewed towards an action of some kind, that decision can be evaluated and changed at a later date based on objective desired outcomes.

I have two thoughts about this. First, why are you dealing with relatively trivial decisions in plenary? A better approach, in my view, is delegating those to committees such that if they are operating within their mandate they can make decisions without coming to the plenary at all. Many consensus groups fall into the trap of insisting that all decisions be made by plenary and that committees can only propose. While care needs to be taken to craft thoughtful mandates for committees, I urge you to consider pushing out decision-making authority to committees as much as you can stand. That way only major topics come to plenary, such as ones requiring an interpretation or balancing of values.

While committees should always be informing the whole group about what they’re doing and provide a clear opportunity for non-committee members to have input on matters that the committee has authority to act on, there is rarely justification for clogging up plenary agendas with routine matters.

Second, I agree that the plenary shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If a proposal seems good enough after thoughtful engagement, it is generally better to accept it and move on, trusting that changes in the light of better information or more complete thinking shouldn't be that difficult to effect down the road.

If you are not facing a looming deadline (which generally you aren't), another option in those moments when: a) you've done what you can on the topic; b) you've lost momentum; and yet, c) it doesn't feel "ripe," is to lay it down for seasoning and pick up again at the next opportunity—to see if anything has shifted. The important thing is to stop giving something plenary attention once forward momentum has ceased—and then not falling into the bad habit of recapitulating all the prior work when you get back to it, which means good minutes and disciplined facilitation.

Finally, if there is anguish about whether or not you have chewed on a proposal sufficiently to swallow, and are concerned about the potential difficulty of getting agreement to change it later (the interesting case would be when some in the group really like the agreement and others are quite unhappy), is to keep in mind the option of a sunset clause. This allows you to make a decision that will expire after an agreed upon trial period unless the plenary takes explicit action to continue the decision. The point is that if there is not approval to continue the agreement, then it expires.

Often, real life experience will make clear which way to go regarding a policy about which the group is in anguish over is it contemplates consequences. The sunset clause takes pressure off the group when there's fear of locking into a policy with a potentially large impact and there's uncertainty about whether you've considered thoroughly enough all reasonably likely outcomes and their consequences.

Where's the Puck Going?

Laird's Blog -

This past week I attended a nonconference hosted by the Tamarack Institute for Community Encouragement (Kitchener ON) entitled "Community: Programs and Policies." (Actually, it looked a great deal like a conference, but the organizers wanted very much for us participants to consider it a series of conversations, and not at all stuffy like a conference—which goal they largely achieved.)

In the opening plenary. Al Etmanski interviewed John McKnight (known broadly for his articulation of the theory and practice of Asset-Based Community Development). Toward the end, Al wanted to know what was ahead for John as a visionary about community organizing. As Al lives in Vancouver BC and this event was happening on Canadian soil, he phrased his query: "John, where's the puck going?" Always one to enjoy a good sports metaphor, I smiled at this colorful framing in the land where ice hockey is king.

At the front end of the event, keynote speakers McKnight and Peter Block (who joined us via webinar from Cincinnati) drummed home the message that neighborhood assets and community capacity are abundant—despite a general sense of diminishment and paucity in those arenas. The overwhelming majority of care is given not by government agencies or well-intended nonprofits, but by volunteers (93% apparently, though I have no idea how that was measured), and for those of us who want more community in our lives (is there anyone who doesn’t?) it is mainly a matter of harnessing what we already have available all around us, rather than lamenting that we don’t have more.

As you might imagine (at least I wasn’t surprised) there was an accompanying theme of engaging on all fronts—bringing policy makers, implementers, and clients to the table to make common cause. While there were some encouraging stories from places where this has been happening, by and large decisions affecting communities are made without the active involvement of all constituencies, and many people in the room were reporting fatigue and overwhelm.

Hmm. Asking overworked people to be sufficiently pumped up to go home and do more seemed uphill. In contemplating where this particular puck was going, I became interested in two leverage points, both of which I want to explore.

I. Moral Oxygen
In his closing remarks Etmanski named a handful of key concepts to hold in view as we move forward, and the one that grabbed me most he labeled "moral oxygen," by which Al meant making sure that we, as caregivers and community builders, take time for renewal and support. Given that the need is bottomless, it's not unusual to allow our giving to get out of balance with our receiving, to the point where we're running on empty.

Not only is it not much fun (both for ourselves and those around us), but it markedly undercuts our effectiveness. Truly, less can be more. And while I'm all in favor of canoe trips in the North Woods for refilling spiritual reservoirs, or reading Margaret Atwood or Robertson Davies after dinner instead of another report, I want to take this in another direction.

Community is not a spectator sport. It is something you do with others; not for them. In that regard, participants at the Tamarack event were challenged to consider how they can be part of the communities they're hoping to foster—to think of themselves as members of the family, and not just as midwives. 

While on the surface this may seem to be yet another claim on everyone's (oversubscribed) time, there's magic that can happen here. Being a member of what Tamarack Director Paul Born might style "deep community" (in contrast with shallow or fear-based community) participants can get support and sustenance even as they give it. Thus, if service providers are willing to be vulnerable and more heart-connected with their constituencies there is the prospect of being renewed in the giving, rather than having that be something accomplished only on the weekends or during holiday.

I'm hopeful that many of the good people who were touched in their hearts during the time we were together will take away the insight that this kind of connection can happen through their work—and not just at annual nonconferences in Kitchener. You can't just gulp moral oxygen once a year and expect it to sustain you for months at a time without regular replenishment, and I think the most exciting strategy is figuring out how to find oxygen in the work, rather than around the edges.

II. Harmonizing a Cappella
My second point of leverage comes from contemplating the moment when you have everyone in the room for the first time—especially when there are people present who do not ordinarily talk with one another. It seems to me prudent to anticipate that at least some of the time (if not most) the various voices will not all be singing from the same hymnal. Then what?

If the music is sour, or too off-key, people will not be inclined to come back for more. So it's important that those initial all-skate sessions go well. In the course of our four days together, there was little attention given to how to do that, or the primacy of this initial conversation going well. 

To be fair, there was one workshop on The Circle Way, that explored the power of sharing circles designed to enter heart space. This is a format that tends to be heavy on ritual and proceeds at a deliberate pace. And there was another session in memory of Angeles Arrien and her work with the Four-Fold Way (an introduction to the archetypes of warrior, healer, visionary, and teacher). These offerings are directly relevant to the question of moral oxygen, yet there was nothing focused on consensus, facilitation, conflict, or power dynamics. Were all of these so well understood among participants that no attention was needed?

Maybe. But I doubt it. In particular, I foresee three primary challenges, none of which I consider trivial. I want to explore these by walking through the hypothetical example of a rundown low-income urban neighborhood, where all parties have come together for an initial conversation about how to strengthen the community. For the sake of simplicity, let's say there are four main stakeholders: municipal government, nonprofit social service agencies, local churches, and neighborhood residents. (I know I'm oversimplifying, but it's enough complexity to illuminate my points.)

—Culture Clash
Culture can be viewed through many lenses, including racial, ethnic, national, class, and meeting. While any of these may be in play, I want to focus mainly on organizational culture—the ways in which service agencies see things differently than city hall, which sees things differently than the local churches, which is different again from the people who actually live in the neighborhood. It's not enough that everyone is in favor of strengthening the sense of community in the neighborhood. Each may be holding a different part of the same community elephant.

Agencies may be looking for a lower incidence of unwed mothers or a decrease in people receiving welfare. The municipal government may want less violent crime or fewer drug-related deaths. The churches may be aiming for higher attendance at Sunday services, or more households willing to temporarily place refugees. Residents may want a heated, well-insulated meeting space, or lighting at their playgrounds.

Each of the stakeholders comes to the table with a somewhat different agenda and is beholden to somewhat different constituencies. While these disparate goals are not mutually exclusive—no one is "wrong"—it's not obvious that the conversation won't devolve into squabbling over limited resources.

In most situations like this, the neighborhood residents will be inured to being told what they need—rather than asked their opinion and actually listened to. That is, they'll have already had a lifetime of experiences where they weren't asked what they wanted, or else weren't listened to (perhaps because the decision had already been made and the public hearing was just window dressing).

Understandably, this leads to deep discouragement about public process and cynicism about "meetings among all stakeholders." As the rep of one of those other stakeholders, it can be hard having your well-intended offer spurned and not even being given a chance to show that this time might be different. While it's not fair to judge you for the sins of those who preceded you, there's truth to the adage: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

At the outset residents are likely to be suspicious of outsiders' motives, so the current will be moving against you as soon as you put your canoe in the water. Better have your paddle out.

—Cooperation Versus Competition
Ostensibly, meetings of all stakeholders are attempts at being cooperative. But are they?

It is not enough that you intend to be cooperative. You have to understand that achieving that requires a culture shift, and unlearning deep conditioning in a competitive, hierarchic, and adversarial world. The key moment comes when someone presents a viewpoint that appears antithetical to yours and the stakes are high. Do you respond with curiosity or combativeness? Are you open to having your mind changed (based on an expanded understanding of what's going on) or do you want to win?

In general, this is where skilled facilitators earn their fees—gently, yet firmly reminding people of the way they intended to be and providing graceful, face-saving ways for belligerents to back out of dead-end confrontations.
• • •In fact, it's my sense that skilled facilitation may be needed to manage all three of the pitfalls I've outlined above. In the dynamic moment, you need the ability to reach out and show everyone that they are not just genuinely welcome at the table, but that they are seen accurately, not judged, and that no decisions will be made unless everyone signs off on them. You need to create a container in which people not only say their truth, but that they feel fully heard (note that I'm not promising that they'll get their way or that others will agree with their thinking), and that it's worth their while to make this attempt. If the first meeting goes well, the second one will be much easier.

Hmm. You might be wondering if these objectives can be managed by The Circle Way or Four-Fold Way, both of which encourage deep sharing and reflection. My experience is that they can help, but they will not work in all situations. Think back to the point about culture clashes. Slowing down and speaking deliberately can drive some people crazy, and what is meant as an even-handed circle that is open to all, will be perceived by others as a noose—choking off spontaneity, passion, and natural rhythm. Meetings should never be one size fits all, and it's incumbent upon the facilitation team to think through formats that will invite and bridge. It's OK to ask participants to stretch, but it won't work well if you're asking only some participants to stretch while others are left in their comfort zone.

What the Puck?
I admit that that's a lot to accomplish in an initial meeting, yet the good news is that it's possible. And when you think about it, can we afford to aim for anything less?


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