Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Can you deliberate and still be civil?

Today I had the pleasure of discussing Peter Block's Community: A structure of belonging with a group of students from UW-Madison, and my research colleague, Rob Asen.  Rob wondered if Block was just a little too optimistic and that he didn't really allow for much deliberation in his model of community engagement.  One perceptive student referred to a section on appreciating paradox, that Block was not suggesting that a community engaging in successful discourse  had no room for disagreement.  Rob mentioned "reasonable hostility" an idea proposed by Karen Tracy, who suggests that disagreement is productive, particularly since people tend to pay more attention when there is disagreement.  In Who wants to deliberate--and why, Neblo et al argue that citizens are turned off by the adversarial nature of partisan politics; that they are interested in participating when political activity engages in deliberation. Groups like  America Speaks or Everyday Democracy practice this deliberative form of engagement.

One interesting twist on the whole idea of solving the world's problems is presented by Jane McGonigal who argues that gamers are developing the skills (including the ability to collaborate) needed to address the complex issues facing the world today.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An amazing book on community engagement

Last week I read, Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block.  It is an amazing book.  When I was working on my dissertation, one of the professors on my committee would always ask, "How do you define EFFECTIVE community engagement?"  For the longest time, I felt like I could recognize it when I saw it, but I could not describe it in the way academics like you to define things.

Block's book has helped me answer the question!  Perhaps most importantly, effective community engagement builds social capital.  In order to do this, we have to turn to different practices and structures. Public hearings that focus on problems are not the way to do it.

 Rather than focusing on problems, Block suggests that we focus on possibilities.  He asks the question, "What do we want to create together?"  People are more likely to commit to that which they have had a hand in creating.  The goal is not to generate buy in.  Instead, inviting people to help develop the solution is more like to lead to commitment.

New practices need new structures if we are going to be successful.  Public hearings are more likely to create heat than light.  Block posits that THE SMALL GROUP, one that represents the larger system is the unit of transformation.  Diverse small groups that are in conversation with the large group are the way to engage in conversations that build social capital.  He sites processes like World Cafe, Open Space Technology, and Future Search as examples of effective small group/large group processes that work.

A bonus:  If you don't have time to read the whole book, Block includes a "Book at a Glance" beginning on page 177 in the paperback edition.

Monday, March 1, 2010

MASA Spring Conference coming up!

The Minnesota Association of School Administrators Spring Conference is just two weeks away. In the latest issue of The MASA Leaders Forum, Spring 2010, I asked that you take a few moments to review the International Association of Public Participation's Core Values and Spectrum of Participation Think about how adoption of these core values challenges your notions of community engagement. How do these core values challenge your practice as an educational leader? What questions does the Spectrum of Participation raise for you? Post your responses and I will bring these postings to the conversation we have on March 19th.