Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter
Hi--I am new to this online community. I sent the following email to Amy yesterday for feedback. She provided very helpful guidance and also suggested I post my questions here.
I appreciate your time and energy in providing insight/suggestions--I value your expertise and it will certainly be utilized.
Edited version of email to Amy:
Hi—I live in Central Virginia (Blue Ridge Mountains) and a lot of my work happens in extremely rural areas or (other end of the spectrum) Richmond area.
I am going to attempt to be detailed enough to receive helpful feedback but not so detailed as I might unintentionally identify the community. The community I am working with is an intentional community with close to 80 residents. They are from varying ethnic and racial backgrounds. Residents (excluding children) range from 19 years old to 90 years old—mostly low economic status. They have a shared common space, indoor and outdoor. The community has recently experienced multiple incidents where the police have become involved (everything from youth throwing rocks at windows to more severe criminal activities). The community is certainly naming many factors as "the problem" in addition to other community challenges (conflict amongst children and parent's inappropriate interventions, concerns for safety, not enough parking, restricted access to shared space). However, as an outsider, and what has come up the last two community events is that people don't know each other and therefore don't feel comfortable to approach people directly. There is a major fear of retaliation (somewhat legitimized by a few incidences). The extremely fascinating thing is that depending on which part of the community you live—you have a completely different perspective. I have found numerous residents "feel blessed" to live where they live. They really like their neighbors and feel supported.
I have been able to tap into those folks and they have developed action steps and left the first meeting feeling pretty excited. The next meeting included a completely different batch of residents (with only a few from the original meeting). We ate up a lot of time just orienting the new folks to the previous discussion and work done. People were exhausted by the time we broke (2 1/2 hours later) but some were happy to have "action steps."
I am going to meet with the community this week to follow-up/check-in. This has been a unique experience because other communities I have worked with have experienced significant trauma throughout all of the residents which actually made facilitating a shared vision easier (I hope that makes sense). There are just pockets in this community so the typical team decision making meeting style (identify challenge, what works well, and then develop a plan) does not appear to be addressing everyone's interest and therefore does not capitalize on their energy.
Some really great discussion came out of the last meeting. The group identified that before the community could start working on approaching particular challenges (like conflict) they had to decide on "what are our community values." They were able to say that after they decide that "respect" is a value then they could develop a plan around how they maintain respect. They also stated that before they could develop a conflict resolution plan they needed to "get to know each other" (which means something different for each resident). At the last meeting they developed a conflict agreement (they agreed to allow for a cooling off period and then address the person directly). This was not followed at all and folks are feeling a little more deflated about that action step. I see it as the foundation has not been set but it was a step they wanted included last time.
I am trying to formulate a plan for this week that reignites some energy for community action, follows up on the action plan in a way that feels supportive for the folks that didn't accomplish their steps, and explore next steps with the community. We are meeting over dinner and am looking forward to reconnecting.
To give you some background—this community has met regularly for about a year before I became involved. The previous meetings have been described as just "venting sessions" with no action or forward thinking. They were pretty excited when I became involved and after the first meeting.
I am working with a fairly (self-described:) raw and urban group. Several of them do not just want to come together to "talk and make friends" but want to "resolve issues". Certainly, I see how World Café would do both but I would like to be able to explain it in a way that varying cognitive levels would understand and varying interests ("doers" and "sharers") would be excited to participate. I guess it goes back to formulating an invitation—which I clearly would appreciate any suggestions on approach.
Specific to World Café: I understand the mechanics but I really am challenged with how to develop the question(s) that will get at the heart of this community's interest and struggle. I am also struggling with how to link concepts after the conversations so folks would see their conversations in the broader context and encourages next steps. As a facilitator, I understand synthesizing information but would love feedback from you all, the experts, on how to do this within this scenario.
I appreciate your support in helping this community move to a place of healthy change!!!
What an interesting situation to be involved in. I agree the questions are going to be crucial. I wonder if Appreciative Inquiry (AI) would give some idea about how to frame the questions. AI has been used in a range of contexts so that it can be presented not just as an "alternative" feel-good type of approach. It could give a framework so people can see that there are actions planned (e.g., possibly the 4 D-cycle: Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver).
It seems to me that the World Cafe as a process has a lot of potential for this type of situation (although I haven't been involved at this scale) as it encourages conversations that can help develop/deepen relationships but it can also be quite action oriented.
Sorry I can't give more useful feedback, but I wanted to acknowledge the work you are doing.
All the best with it.
Thanks! Any response is helpful at this point :)...