Engaging community members in understanding projects, decision making, and problem solving using group deliberation.
Wednesday January 18, 2017 4 – 7:00 pm
Carnegie Museum of Natural History: Center for Museum Education. Ford Mateer Classroom Room.
Green Infrastructure takes support, stewardship and buy-in to be effective long term.
This active workshop demonstrated strategies for surfacing what people know and how people are feeling about local green infrastructure. Using these tools, and insight shared by community groups and communication experts, GI groups can develop long term community investment in new projects, or solutions for problematic implementations.
Participants were asked to bring images that represent successes or challenges they have had with community engagement, and we began with a technique derived from the Photovoice method to talk with others about their experiences.
More information about photovoice can be found here: Photovoice
Photovoice uses photographs as boundary objects, tools that act as a link between people with different or opposing viewpoints. We often talk about CUSP kits as boundary objects, something that is able to start a productive conversation and be used by multiple perspectives to communicate ideas.
Joining the CUSP team to facilitate were Tom Hoffman, Conservation Program Coordinator Clean Rivers Campaign at Sierra Club, who talked about the challenges Environmentalists have in letting go of the environmental agenda, when another approach or talking point would gain more traction for their project, and Lizzie Anderson, community organizer and therapist whose work focuses on communication and “encourages engagement, curiosity, resiliency, empathy + equity.” Lizzie led several activities focused on the challenges of listening. She facilitated participants in generating a list of specific obstacles to communicating, which included maintaining focus when someone is long-winded, letting go of differences in values, avoiding jargon, having limited time to hear all of someone’s points, or having lack of empathy or understanding of others’ views. One important concept Lizzie introduced is “trust emergence” which asks that listeners devote themselves to listening while a speaker is talking, and “trust” that when it is time to respond, information that needs to be shared will “emerge” naturally. Successes to communication shared by participants included scheduling time in an outreach plan to build relationships, keeping a note card for each person to help remember important ideas they shared, seeking people out in their own environments, asking for elaboration, using a feedback loop to share back what you understood someone said, and approaching an interaction with a service mind – what can I do for you.
The last community deliberation model we practiced was Forum Theater, one exercise from Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed. Participants acted out scenarios related to failed communication around green infrastructure projects and worked together to determine better methods. Most scenarios involved a community member who felt left out of decision making and was not happy with the green infrastructure implementation. Solutions that emerged were to acknowledge and address concerns, regardless of their applicability to the project, and also use these concerns as points of connection to project. The resident who was concerned about Zika in a rain garden’s standing water, felt more at ease when the rain garden advocate agreed to monitoring the threat of Zika in the area and the amount of time water was standing in the rain garden. The resident who wanted resources to be spent on affordable housing instead of fancy gardens, was put at ease, at least temporarily when another community member acknowledged the concern as valid and then acted as a liaison for the city officials installing the project. Another solution to this situation was to look into possible collaborative efforts between city agencies to combine resources for storm-water management and housing in one application. This type of thing takes a long time, but part of doing good community engagement is involving community members from the beginning, and being patient with a slow process that will inevitably result in the longer term success of the project. Sometimes the most challenging stakeholders become the biggest advocates if they are given opportunities to feel in control of part of a project. More information about Forum Theater can be found here and the process we used is in the power point presentation attached to this website.
The tools and ideas we used in this workshop were derived from a great deal of resources available on the web. We recommend in particular the Community Toolbox from University of Kansas and Why do Community Engagement? from FRESC.
This workshop is the second of three workshops designed to give Green Infrastructure project teams tools to engage stakeholders in the communities where projects are being implemented. Information gathered through techniques used in this workshop will be useful in planning and creating permanent signage and outreach activities. The final workshop to be held later this winter will focus on creating signs and informational outreach materials.