Author Archive: Arthur
Unexpected and magical discussions happen when conference organizers open up the schedule to attendee ideas. The concept of open space isn’t new, but it’s not often executed well within large conferences. Among nonprofit gatherings, Independent Sector is one of the biggest, and this year they embraced the idea of crowdsourced topics through 21 Connections Sessions (pdf).
Mike Shafarenko (The Civic Commons) and I hosted a session called Engage for Impact. I say host because this was not a presentation. Even from its physical setup of a circle of chairs, it was designed to be a discussion. Three Connections Sessions happening simultaneously in each of three ballrooms.
This collaborative session by two Knight Foundation grantees will explore the evolving nature of civic engagement and the role it plays in raising awareness and scaling the impact of our programs. How are people using technology to stay engaged with community initiatives? Do traditional methods of engagement still matter? Participants will share war stories of electronic isolation and meetups-gone-bad (or good!), and the group will discuss current challenges and new ideas.
Who knew when Mike Shafarenko announced “join us over here. This is the best session at Independent Sector!” that it might just be true? I say that not because Mike or I said or did anything particularly brilliant. We weren’t there to pontificate other than maybe a brief plug for LikeMinded and The Civic Commons. I believe Engage for Impact was one of the best sessions of the conference because our circle was full of brilliant and diverse and motivated and…engaged people. They drove the conversation. Their experiences triggered the insights. Mike and I got to go along for the ride.
We covered a lot of ground in our 45 minutes together. An entire day of breakout sessions could have been built around our general topic. We had just enough time to sample a bunch of delicious morsels around engagement. Some highlights I remember:
Technology is a Tool
LikeMinded is built around the concept that technology must be a tool, not an end. Only in rare situations can technology drive a full cycle of community engagement. In all other cases, we use technology strategically to be more effective at engagement while recognizing the value of in person connection and interaction.
Engagement is Messy
Getting people together around community is not a happy campfire with choruses of Kumbaya. Engagement involves building trust, finding common ground, and overcoming profound and passionate disagreement. It’s messy and a lot of times not fun, but when it works our communities are better for it.
Engagement is an Investment
Yeah, it’s easier to assume we know what the community wants and speed forward with our plans. It’s easier to engage lightly, hear what we want to hear, validate our assumptions, and proceed as though that engagement never happened. The cost of those approaches comes later.
We heard about three affordable housing projects. In two, the developers implemented their plans without engaging the community. The third took longer to complete because the developers spent three years with the community understanding their needs. The first two projects were completed quickly and immediately ran into serious operational and community difficulties. The other project took longer to complete and has been embraced by the community. By investing time, they created a product that more closely matched the needs of the community and saved themselves time and money later.
The concept of Strategic Doing created gasps and was the big hit of the session. The concept is one we play with all the time; the name for the concept was what brought it home. Plan, yes, but get to action as soon as possible. Get to the doing, and make it strategic doing.
Looking forward to continuing this conversation. If you were in the Engage for Impact Connections Session, what hit home for you? If you weren’t able to join us in person, what are the biggest keys to engagement for you?
Ever wanted to change something in your community but didn’t know where to start? Ever done something awesome in your community and wanted to see other towns do similar things? Have you hit a dead end fixing local problems and need new ideas?
We’ve got a new program for you called LikeMinded (http://likeminded.org).
Over the past year, we’ve occasionally blogged about a mysterious “online tool for offline action.” LikeMinded is that tool. We know people are doing great work in their local communities, but stories about their work frequently stay local or go untold. LikeMinded will collect stories of local innovations, success, and sometimes even failures and help information get where it needs to go, whether that is to other community activists, potential collaborators, or the media.
Try out LikeMinded. Share your story. Spread the word about cool stories you discover. Get local leaders using it. And let us know how we can improve LikeMinded using the Feedback button on the right side of every page.
Don’t know where to start? LikeMinded team member Mat Dryhurst has created some video walkthroughs of the site for you.
Special thanks to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for including LikeMinded in its Technology for Engagement initiative and supporting LikeMinded’s creation.
A few years ago, George Draper donated his time to helped us think through our photography planning for Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp, and it allowed us capture more of the spirit of Boot Camp and create a better experience for our generous photo team.
Now, George has published some of that same great advice on using photography to tell your organization’s story.
Our everyday commitments can consume us so much that documenting our work can be an afterthought. The sentiment that “we should try to get some nice pictures” will rarely get the job done. Who is the “we”? How are we going to “try”? And, what do we mean by “nice”? George helps us answer those questions.
A photo by George Draper that communicates the inclusiveness and diversity of a non-profit alternative high school in the East Bay.
Storytelling connects us with those we serve and those who support us, and it will be an important component of our LikeMinded project. It’s about breaking a big mass of information down into its essential parts, creating an emotional connection, and wrapping it all up in a compelling composition. The best photography does the same thing.
Visual storytelling takes direction, technique and talent. We may not have the photographic technique or talent, but we can do the homework to help others tell our stories.
To help illustrate his point, here are two great images we have commissioned at Boot Camps:
This picture, captured by Dan Figueroa, goes a long way to emphasizing one of the things that makes Boot Camp special, clearly showing attendees engaged and communicating with one another in a session environment. We take great pride in our sessions being social and participatory, and feel that this image successfully communicates that message.
We have also regularly used this shot, taken by Jon Bauer at a Boot Camp a few years ago. Focusing on Gunner, a master facilitator from Aspiration Tech, this shot also goes a long way to communicating the distinctly informal, pragmatic and lively learning environments we try to create at our camps.
Do you have a photograph to point to that you feel is particularly successful in communicating an organization’s story?
We’re buzzing here about being included in the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Technology for Engagement Initiative, which is “supporting projects that use digital technology to help people take action in their community.” We’re psyched that Knight Foundation will support our Knowledge Sharing Program in its first set of projects and that we’re surrounded by so many admirable and talented fellow grantees: Jumo, Code for America, Community Planit, and CEOs for Cities.
This grant will support our work on a knowledge sharing service for three years. It will allow us to build on the research we’ve done this year about how stories of neighborhood solutions can reach changemakers other communities. Already, we are working with user experience expert Jordan Kanarek to refine the features and functions our community requested in the research and to roll it all into one easy-to-use service. We are forging partnerships with representatives of all constituencies in communities – government, business, and nonprofits – to help them find new audiences for stories of what works in community change. Our hope is that this online tool for offline action helps folks like you and me be more impactful on the local issues we care about and to connect with people of like minds to make great things happen.
We’re looking forward to seeing our fellow grantees thrive and collaborating with them. We’re also looking forward to connecting with the 26 Knight Foundation Communities, forging deeper ties with the eight Knight Foundation Resident Communities, and sharing the great work being done by local leaders there.
We’re also looking forward to learning about the next cool technology projects that Knight Foundation will support through this initiative. Maybe your project is one of them? To find out more and apply, visit technologyforengagement.org
This spring Craigslist Foundation hosted twelve discussions throughout the country about knowledge sharing. Most recently we brought it in-house so our team could weigh in using the same discussion format.
We talked about how we learn from the successes and failures of projects in other communities and whether information about neighborhood projects is flowing well from community to community. The consensus was that information wasn’t flowing freely enough, so we talked a bit more about what kind of online tools might help.
We’ve taken all that feedback and rolled it up into a short five-page summary. Hope you enjoy it. Let us know if we missed anything, and keep the great ideas coming. If you’d like to stay in touch about our program research or knowledge sharing, join our Lab mailing list.
This week I was privileged to join about a dozen community advocates and techies to hear about IBM’s latest Smarter Planet and Smarter Cities initiatives. The timing was great. Since IBM is a sponsor of the US Open golf tournament, they decided to host the gathering at Pebble Beach in a sponsor tent along the 18th green. I had never had the chance to see Pebble Beach, so it was a double treat for me.
The idea behind Smarter Cities parallels some of the things we’re exploring with our Knowledge Sharing Project. Basically, how does the world improve when data is more free and travels where it needs to go? Even more, how does the world improve when people can not only draw information from the system but feed information back in? In our case, the data is solutions to community issues. In IBM’s case, it ranges from opening up and remixing governmental data feeds in order to better inform decisionmaking to cross-disciplinary physical science initiatives.
They’re up to some cool stuff. As important, so are the other participants and a ton of other people who are rolling up their sleeves and creating online tools that can benefit us all. For example, transportation tools like CycleTracks and BikeMapper are not only helping us plan our commutes and bike trips but also helping urban planners understand the evolving transit needs of SF Bay Area.
What are your favorite new uses of open data?
We’re planning some small group discussions about online tools for knowledge sharing between community leaders. We’re looking for all kinds of community leaders, from the established and experienced to those who aspire to do something in their neighborhoods. We’re especially interested in hearing from “free agents” who aren’t attached to active community organizations.
Each meeting will be around 90 minutes long, and we’ll be scheduling them over the course of the next 3-4 weeks in NYC, DC, Portland Oregon, and the SF Bay Area.
We’ve put together a short survey to help us meet those who are interested: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NCYPYV7
Hope to see you in one of these cities.
We have set the dates for our meetings.
May 4: Washington DC and Oakland
May 5 (evening): NY
May 6 (afternoon): NY
May 6 (evening): SF
May 10: Portland, Oregon
Make sure to fill out the short survey so we know you’re interested in attending.
We’re interested in learning more about how people build stronger neighborhoods and what prevents others from joining in the fun.
We’ll be exploring this topic by hosting small group discussions in Washington DC, New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Austin, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon in March and April. We hope to gain new insights about programs Craigslist Foundation can develop to support community-building and ultimately, what you would want those programs to look like.
We’d love for you to join us, especially if you’ve had any of these experiences:
- You’re actively engaged in a project to strengthen your neighborhood.
- You’ve participated in such a project in the past.
- You’d like to change something in your neighborhood, but something’s blocking you or you don’t even know how to start.
Interested in participating? Know someone who might be? Send a note to Arthur Coddington (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a few sentences about your personal experiences. We’ll keep you in the loop as the discussions are scheduled. Space is limited so please respond as soon as possible.
We also invite you to share your experiences and perspectives online at http://craigslistfoundation.uservoice.com.
Please spread the word – we know there are plenty of brilliant community leaders we aren’t connected with yet.
Last week, Ami Dar of Idealist/Action Without Borders sent out a message that surprised many. Idealist is feeling the financial pinch so much that its existence is threatened. For those of us who are huge fans of Ami, his team, and their work, this was really bad news.
In his message, Ami offered a transparent view of how economic and business conditions had challenged Idealist over the past few years and how they had adapted to survive – and how that hadn’t been enough. In the end, Ami realized that Idealist’s future lay in the hands of its community, a community of passionate people who might be able to help Idealist find sustainability again, and more importantly a community that could spread the word and find more communities of support. And so he asked for help.
From the buzz in the social media, it looks like people are spreading the word. Looks like it is translating into a huge outpouring of support. So far, people have chipped in more than $140,000 to help Idealist out.
Asking for help can be a profoundly confronting thing. It can uncover all sorts of organizational dynamics and personal insecurities. If I ask for help, do I give up my ground as an expert? What if no one wants to help? No one else is asking for help – am I the only one struggling?
An authentic appeal for help can surprise us and prove those worries unfounded. Asking for help opens up new possibilities, it shifts our relationships, it creates new upsides. And it’s one of the hardest things to do.
You will notice Craigslist Foundation asking for help often in 2010. We are thinking about how our community building mission translates into a new program slate. We are constantly reinventing Boot Camp and need to know what’s going on in the field. You hold the answers. Our job is to listen. Our hope is that through listening, we will translate our call for help into services that can offer meaningful help for those who want to strengthen their neighborhoods and communities.
This week we had some guests. Amazing, brilliant thinkers who joined us to share ideas about…ideas. Specifically, can stories and ideas about successful community change help others achieve success in their own communities? And, is that information currently getting where it needs to go?
This was part two of a dialog we began in Washington DC a few weeks ago at The Case Foundation. There, we were joined by Michael Smith, Kari Dunn, Cindy Gallop, Jessica Kirkwood, Marsha Semmel, Michael Karpman, Rhonda Taylor, Ron Carlee, and Siobhan Canty. We chatted about the need of organizations with libraries of unpublished case studies and ideas, connecting local changemakers with the big picture of systemic change, bringing essential info to people at exactly the time they need it most, and using storytellers to communicate long (or boring) case studies in more entertaining and inspiring ways.
This week, twelve more friends came together in San Francisco for a different take on the conversation: Beth Kanter, Chris Gates, Craig Newmark, Frank Schulenburg, Gwyneth Borden, John Lyman, Kate Stahnke, Matt Garcia, Pamela Wheelock, Peggy Duvette, Rob Miller, and making it all amazingly fun was our facilitator Allen Gunn. Here, we talked a lot about the importance of people over information, how to reach those who aren’t online, what motivates people to tell their success stories, which organizations have already been doing work in this area, and what audiences might be most in need of improved information flow.
We think it’s important that those engaging in community change have access to the information that helps them be especially impactful. We were flattered that these great minds took time out of their busy schedules to spend time with us and share so many ideas. And, we’re excited to continue learning about projects that share success stories and whether Craigslist Foundation might play a role in the information flow.
What do you think?