We recently hosted a call with Meg Wheatley, who has been doing work at the intersection of community and social impact for many years.
She reminded us of a beautiful question that communities can ask as they start out: What is possible here and who cares?
I had read about this question before in a different context, but forgotten about it. Coming back to it, I found it an incredibly powerful question for any community to ask, because it combines two crucial elements.
One of the main questions we keep coming back to in our work is: what makes a community healthy? What allows a community to thrive in the long-term? How can it regenerate and sustain over time? As part of that research, I recently came back to these 10 principles by Meg Wheatley, who’s been a leading thinker and writer at the intersection of community and social change for several decades.
1. People support what they create.
2. People act responsibly when they care
3. Conversation is the way human beings have always thought
4. To change the conversation, change who is in it
Last summer I was sitting with Ankit Shah in a cafe in San Francisco. A while into our conversation a stranger, sharing a table with us, reached over and asked: “Are you the Ankit from Tea With Strangers? I met my two best friends there. I love it”.
This serendipitous moment beautifully captures the essence of Ankit’s work. He founded an organization called Tea With Strangers, which brings people together over tea and helps them have honest, meaningful conversations. The organization hopes to fertilize the soil for deep relationships and ultimately inspire a deeper and more rooted faith in humanity.
Our work with the Community Canvas has allowed me to see the state of “community building” from a bird’s eye view. Through the Canvas and the Facebook group we started I met community builders from Australia, Singapore, China, India, the Middle East, allover Europe, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Canada and unexpected places across the US. On this journey I learned two simple things:
1) There are incredibly talented community builders allover the world. There are so many people who love bringing people together and who are good at helping them build trust and belonging. As far as I can…
Over the last two weeks I participated in several community retreats. At all of these gatherings the discussion circles with the full group took longer than they had been planned for and at the end of it people were still hungry to continue talking. People had a lot they wanted to say.
At first I felt exhausted by the people who would dominate the collective space, by speaking often and in long, winding monologues. It reminded me of the underlying, unspoken power dynamics, because the people who speak a lot tend to be men, often white men.
But then I…
A few weeks ago I was part of an inspired dinner conversation where one of the guests told us that many Canadian engineers — like himself — wear an iron ring as a proud marker of their profession and reminder of their work’s ethics.
I had never heard of that. As I was digging more into this story, I realized that this is an incredibly powerful community ritual, with a rich history and the flavor of a long gone era.
A few weeks back I saw Ants Cabraal from Enspiral present at AIME 2019 in Melbourne. He gave a fabulous talk about how community can transform the ways we work together. One of his opening slides showed a big bonfire with people sitting around it and he reminded us that community and community building is as old as humanity. Ever since we learned about the power of the fire, we have been sitting around it, telling stories, building relationships, making sense of the world around us. …
I recently spoke with a UN agency who is building a global community of practitioners. In our conversations I was reminded of a particular image of “community” that I come across often in my client work:
This perspective then drives resource allocation conversations: if we want to improve the community, we should create a better gathering or increase the features of our social network.
I find this perspective limiting. I think nurturing a…
These insights come from user interviews in the last few months, the Canvas 2.0 survey and a 3 day workshop the team held in NYC in February 2019. We’d LOVE to hear any feedback or reflections you have, you can leave a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This post was collectively put together by our project team: Daniel Brooks, Chris Chavez, Erin Dixon, Michel Bachman, Sascha Mombartz, Sita Magnusson and myself.
As we are working on the next iteration of the Community Canvas, an existential question keeps surfacing: can communities even be planned? My feeling is yes and no 🙂