Community Transformation

Invitation

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When an initiative is proposed, a key consideration for the facilitator is whether the project has the potential to positively affect the community.

When an initiative is proposed, the facilitator’s first task is to decide whether or not to accept the invitation. A key consideration is whether the project has the potential to positively affect the quality of life in the community and whether it enables the facilitator to maintain integrity with the people and place that are the context for the work being done.

The decision to go-ahead results in a written agreement that specifies the scope of work, expected outcomes, timing, phasing, and next steps. This agreement, and the thinking that goes into it, form the basis for the work ahead.

For a facilitator to maintain trust with a community of people, it’s important to engage with only those initiatives that “add volume” to the voice of the community and its values.

  • Achieve clarity regarding roles and responsibilities.
  • Assess alignment between convener’s proposed scenarios and facilitator’s thoughts on project trajectory.
  • Assess convener’s confidence in facilitator’s ability to manage the group and deliver the project.
  • Assess convener’s compatibility with facilitator regarding commitment to transparency and willingness to let participants influence the project direction and decision making.
  • Fully understand convener expectations for the proposal submission.
  • Based on understandings that have been reached, craft an agreement that solidifies the scope of work, expected outcomes, timing, phasing, budgeting, and next steps.

The facilitator needs to have sufficient insight into the issues listed below in order to move forward with confidence that the resulting process design has the potential for success.
Legislative

  • Is the enabling measure intended to create real change?
  • Is it politically and practically viable?
  • Are legislators using the measure as a placeholder to defer action to another time?
  • Is the measure a priority, or is it an initiative with which legislators have a superficial relationship?
  • Is this a starting point for subsequent legislative or regulatory efforts?
  • Is there a difference between the actual and the stated expectations of the initiative?


Executive (policy level)

  • What are the convener’s stated goals for the process?
  • Are there other, unstated desired outcomes?
  • Is there a strong organizational commitment to support the impending process at the policy level as well as the operational level?
  • Will the effort be adequately resourced for successful implementation?


Executive (staff level)

  • What do operational-level project team members want to get out of the process (besides the stated product or the higher-level policy goals)?
  • What authority resides with project staff regarding decision making and committing the organization’s human and financial resources?
  • What are the project “status report” expectations, if any? Who, at what level of the organization, expects to be kept informed of the project status?
  • What reservations (if any) do project staff members have regarding the initiative?
  • Is there “baggage” from the past regarding the convening organization or project staff that will significantly affect the working group climate?
  • Who else is being considered to facilitate the initiative? Why/why not?


Convening organization policy level and administration:

  • What areas might require policy level consultation, approval, and/or leadership?
  • Will leadership act upon or genuinely consider the working group’s findings and/or recommendations?
  • Does anyone have veto power over the group’s recommendations? If so, who? What is the likelihood of a veto? What is the process involved?
  • Will confidentiality or intellectual property issues require accommodations in process design and/or working group communication and expectations?


Facilitation team members:

  • Does this endeavor require specific political or content knowledge to successfully complete the work?
  • Is the proposed initiative something I/we can manage?
  • Is there a need for additional facilitators or recorders, or for certain skill sets (content expertise/research/report writing) to fulfill project and convener expectations?
  • Are there compatibility factors to consider?


Community:

  • How do key community stakeholders and/or informants (subject matter experts, state agency leadership or staff, prospective task force members, etc.) perceive the proposed initiative?
  • Do community stakeholders think: This will move things forward? This is doable? This is a legitimate effort? This is survivable? This is worth potential risks?

Some conveners are reluctant.
The complexity of subject matter, the mix of stakeholders, or the past history of public conduct toward the convener organization (or subject matter) can create reservations for some conveners. Exploring these concerns (“What are your major fears?”) is a prerequisite for designing a resilient process; the answers may influence a facilitator’s decision to proceed or not.

Assignment may not be a good fit.

A facilitator should reassess acceptance of work if it appears that the process is moot, information is being withheld, or the client has misrepresented the work.

Information may be ambiguous or missing.

A convener team may lack of clarity about what it wants or needs to accomplish. Alternatively, a client may already have a facilitator in mind and is not genuinely interested in attracting serious replies from others. In either case, achieving clarity about the purpose and expectations of the proposed work is an important prerequisite to moving on.

Projects may be just for show.

Facilitators need to differentiate between opportunities that could yield meaningful change and those that will have little or no influence on the issue at hand. Facilitators repeatedly aligned with these fait accompli processes may find their reputations questioned. There are times, however, when even though a project outcome is a forgone conclusion, a facilitator may decide that affording participants the opportunity to be heard and register their views “on the record,” outweighs the drawbacks of facilitating a “done deal” discussion.

In the case of the Taro Security and Purity Task Force (TSPTF), legislators and the convener staff agreed to exclude discussion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from the scope of issues to be addressed in this particular initiative. Excluding this topic enabled the TSPTF to formulate recommendations relating to a broader array of concerns to taro farmers across the state. It also lessened the likelihood of TSPTF meetings and deliberations being dominated by a volatile issue best addressed in some other forum.

Related Examples

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