Charles C. Weathers Sr. will be guest speaker for this week’s notes.
What a privilege to interview a nationally known speaker, author and consultant. He is a recognized authority on leadership, organizational effectiveness and peak performance. Our readers can expect education and inspiration to face challenging realities to transform their lives.
Weathers stresses that change is a reality that all communities must face.
“Economic changes, demographic, political changes and environmental changes, just to name a few, face every community in the country, and here in Newberry County it isn’t any different. The point is not whether or not we agree with the change; the point is not whether or not we like the change. The point is we must take the time to consider the change, understand the change and successfully navigate the change. The only way to navigate it is to realize it and understand it.”
The solutions are in our strengths, not our problems, deficiencies and weaknesses. This is not to say that we should ignore or deny our problems, but they should not be the focal point of our energy. Communities then succeed at generating momentum that re-ignites the spirit and essence of “belonging” resulting in increased communication, cooperation and coordination.
Engagement fosters that sense of “belonging.” There’s a place at the table for everyone. The private sector, the public sector and the not-for-profit sector all belong.
Regardless of your education level, you belong. Regardless of your occupation, you belong. When people belong, barriers come down, bridges are built, and walls tumble.
Because we begin to have constructive and courageous conversations. It’s through these conversations that we begin to realize and recognize our abilities to come together and work together. We can no longer wait for someone else to “do something.”
Real change, real progress, real results are only realized through identifying the possibilities. What if leaders set aside personal differences and focused on the greater good? What if we began to have a new conversation about the state of our community? These “what if” questions open our minds to seeing beyond our circumstances.
The shift Weathers stresses is from We Need (needs-based) to We have (resource-based). The most important resource to any community is also the most important structure that sustains a community—relationships. When we have a community where we value each other and we value our relationships, great things happen.
What is Community Engagement?
“Community engagement is the Open and Participatory process of working with and through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the well- being of those people.”
That tells me that in order to cultivate commUnity we must be open in the way we conduct business, open minded in how we develop solutions, open to the views and ideas of others, and open to taking chances and being wrong.
We’re not just looking for representation of stakeholders; we are looking for participation of stakeholders. When people come to the table, they come to work, to share, to engage, not just to sit and watch. It takes time and one step building upon the next and so on. When we work with and through people they are involved, engaged, have ownership and they are more likely sustain what they own.
Motivation for engagement
Why would the community want to be engaged?
The issue must be bigger than the individual, focus on the components that everyone can agree upon, show how the “win” or the “lose” is everyone’s win or everyone’s loss, ensure the issue transcends the normal barriers in our communities and ensure there is plenty of talking, laughing, celebrating, and when needed, crying. It’s something we want to do, not have to do.
I believe CommUnity Engagement efforts should be within a clearly defined framework. It starts with vision. I consider vision that aspirational place that does not yet exist but we, the community, are striving to get there together. It’s so inspirational and aspirational that the vision transcends race, ethnicity, religion and other socio-economic and demographic barriers. It’s that place we all strive for and we all want to see realized.
Once we define our vision, the next step is to consider the mission.
All CommUnity Engagement efforts have a mission. The mission is what we do to get to the vision. The accomplishment of the mission moves us closer to the vision. The accomplishment of the mission eventually results in the realization of the vision.
The third and final component of your CommUnity Engagement framework is values. We define values as “non-negotiable principles that we will not compromise that guide our decision-making.”
Values serve as guard rails along the side of the road. They are in place to protect us and keep us on the road of our mission. It we begin to sway and drift the guardrails are there to keep us on track.
Participation—or the lack thereof— can make or break your Community Engagement efforts. We need stakeholder participation if our community efforts are to be successful. How do we define Stakeholders? Those with a vested interest.
We believe in relationship-based stakeholder engagement.
It’s based on the 5 “i’s”—identification, introduction, interest, involvement, investment. No matter how great your cause is, no matter how significant the need is, no matter how purposeful the mission is; if you don’t know me, if you haven’t spent time with me, if you don’t know my interests, and if we haven’t been involved; when you ask me for my money, my time, my access or any other resources it does not happen.
Crossing the Stakeholder R.I.V.E.R.
Identifying and engaging stakeholders isn’t enough. There is something else. We need to understand the diverse needs and perspectives of our stakeholders.
Remember the R.I.V.E.R. if you don’t remember anything else. The acronym R.I V.E.R. stands for roles, interests, values, expectations, and rights. The smart organization considers this as they plan for the future, make decisions, and consider opportunities.
Speaking the Language
To engage your community you have to be able to speak the diverse languages of your community—I’m not talking about English, Spanish, and other languages like that. I’m talking speaking the sector languages. The point is simple if we’re going to work with different sectors we need to acknowledge they speak a different language, we need to respect the language, and we need to understand how to bridge any gaps of misunderstanding between the language we speak and the language they speak. If the vision and purpose of our efforts are bigger than the individual players, they will serve as a point of unification where different groups with different languages can agree on one thing:
We all believe this and we all want to be there.