WHY COMMUNITY BUILDING, WHY NOW?
Typically, each January brings a flurry of activity related to trends research, forecasting, and strategic planning related to the upcoming year.
This year appears to have been something of an exception. It seems as if many of us are overwhelmed, too busy reacting, and/or frustrated by trying to do it within systems and institutions that are no longer relevant.
This messy, often stressful space between the old and the new, sometimes results in us choosing to hunker down, click our heels, and hope for the best by sticking to what we know. It is scary though because future-focused thinking has never been as important to our individual, social, economic, and environmental wellbeing.
Future-focused leaders are often thought of as those who forecast, imagine, or create a new and improved future. However, in an world that is constantly changing, the ability to predict specific outcomes is virtually impossible given that we’re facing increasingly complex issues, ideas, and needs. That is of course assuming we have leaders - both formal and informal - who are even willing to step forward and get ready for a future described in Preparing for a World that Doesn’t Exist - Yet.[i]
Even when we do have leaders prepared to step forward who have the competencies to pay attention to and lead with foresight, it may not be enough. What is just as essential, if not more so, is ensuring community leaders have the competencies required to multiply, mobilize, and maximize diverse cohorts to work collaboratively and collectively for a better future.
Ultimately, this means futures-thinking requires a new kind of leader - meaning diverse leaders at all levels - with or without the title[ii]. These leaders must ultimately be community builders who are able to accelerate potential for social innovation, citizen-led initiatives, multi-sectoral collaboration, systems-thinking, shared leadership, responsibility, accountability, and transformative change.
So where does one begin? By working with communities across Canada who were successful in driving growth, Three Paths to Transformative Change were ultimately observed. These paths reflect the importance of diverse and shared leadership as well as the key role of smaller projects in building the trusted relationships that are an essential foundation for addressing the larger scale systemic issues that require multisectoral collaboration. While there is never one best way to approach complex issues, this framework may be a starting point for some. See Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: THREE PATHS TO TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE
Collectively these three paths have the potential to “prime the pump” in order to (1) ensure readiness for the competencies essential for future-focused leadership or, if futures thinking is already being embraced and practiced, (2) to serve as a catalyst for mobilizing others.
Why are the trusted relationships and networks that are core to community building so critical? As George Siemens (2004) has suggested with his Connectivism Theory, knowledge, learning, and sometimes unlearning, requires a diversity of opinions. Today’s learning and leadership is too complex to take place in one person’s head. Instead he suggests, “We need to rely on a network of people (and, increasingly technology) to store, access, and retrieve knowledge and motivate its use”.
However, facilitating effective networks at both the grassroots and grasstops levels of our communities requires a different set of competencies if we are to ensure leaders able to facilitate trusted relationships and the building of the collaborative and interlocking networks and webs that will be essential. It is this learning that is so critical to building the capacity for the transformational thinking and action required for the future.
As Jeremy Hemains and Henry Timms articulate in their book called New Power, “The future will be a battle over mobilization. The everyday people, leaders, and organizations [and communities} who flourish will be those best able to channel the participatory energy of those around them—for the good, for the bad, and for the trivial.”
Our experience has also illustrated that that even when a community or business leader or elected official considers themselves to be future-focused, they are often challenged in mobilizing others to ‘own’ issues as well as solutions. In our work we have observed that the grassroots leaders - often without formal titles and the majority of whom have been youth or young adults, women, citizen volunteers, or those representative of different cultures - are providing some of the most innovative and transformative work we’re seeing. This may be due in part to their not being restricted by the hierarchies, priorities, and red tape that often comes with being part of an organization or government department.
So what does that mean for you and your community?
Ultimately it means the best way to prepare for the future is to prioritize a culture of connecting and learning. Doing that will ensure community builders able to develop foundations of trusted relationships, networks, and webs that will ensure we are nimble and entrepreneurial enough to respond to whatever comes our way. It is these increasingly important, too often dismissed, “soft” community-building skills, that are the future of individual, social, economic and environmental wellbeing.
[i] Smyre, R. & Richardson, N. (2014). Preparing for a Future That Doesn’t Exist, Yet.