Volume XVI | Issue 2 | Fall 2016

Growth-from-within transformation

Community Building Approach looks different in every community

What do The LEGO Movie and the Ford Institute’s approach to community building have in common?

Lots, according to the Foundation’s first Community Building Approach (CBA) working group. As the 13 graduates of the Ford Institute Leadership Program worked to put the CBA mission into words, the movie analogy kept coming up.

In an open letter members wrote to future working groups, they explained the analogy.

“In the beginning of that film, Emmet is an ordinary construction worker. Everything about his life ... is carefully prescribed,” they wrote. He is   building his world according to somebody else’s blueprint. But by the end of movie, Emmet has been transformed into a “master builder.” He has vision. He has become a co-maker of his world.

It is this kind of transformative, growth-from-within process that is at the heart of the Community Building Approach. 

Multi-step process

Rural communities across Oregon and Siskiyou County, California, are implementing this process as they build on the skills learned and experience gained through participating in the Ford Institute’s leadership opportunities.

CBA is a multi-step process that provides a framework in which community members learn to listen to each other, identify and engage residents, assess which skills and training are needed, develop networks and communication systems, create and manage action plans, and celebrate change. 

“Community building requires us to be intentional about engaging with those we might not be hearing, and to be willing to listen and be influenced by their input,” says Amy Carlson, director of Rural Programs for the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. “The ultimate result is more relevance and impact.”

The process looks different in different communities. In Coos Bay, for example, the year-old New Community Coalition uses CBA principles to promote community collaboration. 

“It’s a grassroots movement led from community members gathering for conversation, often facilitated, to identify who is doing what around issues and ideas for improvement,” says community leader Char Luther.

NCC organizes community meetings for diverse stakeholders to generate ideas, resources, opportunities and needs to solve locally identified issues through a collaborative approach. 

At a series of Chat & Chew gatherings, for example, participants identified large issues — affordable housing, volunteer recruitment and management, and access to community resources. Breakout groups addressed each of these,  followed later with outreach to stakeholders and information holders.

Town Hall meetings featuring a panel of drug abuse experts initiated action around the large heroin/opiate problem in Coos County. The initial gatherings soon gave way to monthly meetings where different sectors gathered to share knowledge and expertise. “Projects were developed, services expanded, information was discovered,” Luther says. 

Rebuilding leadership

In the Mt. Hood area, CBA is helping volunteers rebuild community leadership; Clackamas County dissolved an advisory council representing five areas after a series of raucous public meetings.

“We hope to use the Community Building Approach as our guiding light, customizing it as necessary to suit the needs of our community,” says community leader Becky Downard. “We have started by using the principles of the CBA (building on what we have, being profoundly inclusive, keeping our community’s needs at the center of the work, and ensuring all voices are heard) to guide our work.”

The Community Building Approach has been particularly effective on the issue of inclusiveness, Downard says. “In the past, a few powerful voices drowned out the less-assertive voices, and entire segments of our community were not represented,” she says. “Through using the CBA, we hope to unite our community, and the communities which surround us, to open lines of communication, to engage those who have been hesitant to get involved in the past, and to move forward with impactful work to address the challenges our communities face,” Downard says. 

Back in Coos Bay, Luther says, “Every community member, through CBA, can become a social entrepreneur doing something to make a positive impact on the community.”

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