Building/Sharing Power

Below is a story to illustrate a bundle of intentional practices we used to build and share power inside new neighborhood networks.  A more detailed description of these practices, with some additional illustrations, follows the story.  Let us know if you have success or failure in trying out any of these in your local neighborhood. Consider posting in the blog or offering a comment to another blog post.  We all need to keep learning from each other.

Story:  A School Principal Stuck Between Competing Interests 

Ray Moreno, the youngest in a large immigrant family, knew he had not received a quality education from Silver Spring’s local schools. By the time the first of his three girls reached Piney Branch Elementary School, he was committed to making a change. As a part of the IMPACT network, he spent four years organizing fellow immigrant parents and watching system-generated initiatives do little to shift the dominant focus on serving the white, upper middle class families, even though they were the minority.  He had a trusting relationship with Bertram Generelette, the principal and himself an Afro-Caribbean immigrant, and observed his constant state of tension caught between demands for more rigor from high achieving white families, while working to build a more inclusive and equitable culture for the extremely diverse student population.

Together, Ray and Bertram and ten other diverse teachers and parents stepped outside of this never-ending struggle.  For nearly two years, with support from the IMPACT network, they created a “new room” or a new school environment where positional power was not at play and where genuine relationships were formed.  Inside this new environment, the team found the courage to reform several iconic moments in the life of the school, including parent-teacher conferences and the campaign to ensure student performance on standardized tests. They also institutionalized the practice of door knocking in the many apartment complexes surrounding the school and initiated an on-going teacher home visit project.  More importantly, each of the team members can explain significant behavioral shifts in their own way of teaching kids, holding PTA meetings, mediating conflicts and greeting people in the school hallway. The total environment at Piney Branch E.S. has begun to change. Others in the school system are taking note and spreading “the Piney Branch Action Team” story.

A Mini-Tool Book:  Building and Sharing Power

Most of us operate from a place of fear….the fear of limited positional power or the fear of losing our positional power.  This fear gets in the way of lots of positive action, individually and collectively. It can keep residents from succeeding economically and can prevent neighborhoods from flourishing.

Our Approach:

We believe that power is infinite. We call this personal power. Our primary contribution over the last twelve years has been creating opportunities for people from all walks of life to find their kernels of personal power and experiment with using and sharing these kernels for personal, economic and civic gain. Again, the formula is simple:

  • Convene a small group around a common quest.
  • Build trust among the group.
  • Identify each person’s unique power.
  • Support each other in using personal power to make progress.

Success Stories:

Network Guides Spark New Economic Empowerment

Over the last year, an extremely diverse group of 12 residents inLong BranchandWheatoncommitted to a common goal of expanding and deepening the IMPACT network into their neighborhoods to support those who are unemployed or underemployed. For example, inLong Branch, Alicia Lopez convenes a weekly gathering of ten woman who are making crafts to sell in local markets this spring and summer to generate more household income. InWheaton, Nathalie Garcia organized a bi-weekly ESOL class in her apartment building which is regularly attended by 30 Latino residents eager to learn English and secure better jobs.

Unemployed Residents Provide Real Value in Real Time

Our newest initiative is a circle of 16 residents from the Wheaton area, all of whom are currently unemployed or underemployed and seek a more stable job. In weekly meetings for six months, they are building supportive relationships with each other, establishing a clear plan of action for skill development and holding each other accountable in pursuing this plan.  They are also active members in the IMPACT network and build new confidence and relationships as they participate in steps to improve our County’s workforce support system.

Volunteer Door Knockers Gain Valuable Skills to Replicate

Since the beginning of the Neighbors Campaign in 2009, we’ve intentionally recruited and supported over 40 mainstream community leaders in the art of door knocking in apartment communities for the purpose of engaging new neighbors. This step represents the foundational moment of reaching out across our lines of difference – peer to peer – to listen, learn and act together. The vast majority of these door knockers report back that the simple experience and the chance to reflect in small teams has empowered them to take other similar bridge building steps in their leadership positions.

Teacher Home Visits Lead to Improved Educational Achievement

For nine months in 2007, a team of diverse immigrant parents interviewed over 60 teachers, parents and students asking them the simple question: what constitutes a successful multicultural teacher? Their findings, captured in a report called Silver Spring Loves Teachers, highlighted the importance of a genuine relationship between teachers and families. The report called for a pilot project to test out the value of teachers visiting the homes of their students.PineyBranchElementary SchoolinTakoma Park answered the call and with private funds raised by IMPACT, a team of teachers received small stipends to pay for their time in visiting the homes. The project continues and early results demonstrate a clear connection between visiting in the home and performance in school.

Parents and Teachers Empower Each Other in the Classroom

Each year, we support a team of 15 immigrant parents who pair up with teachers for six months to help run an after school reading program.  The parents feel more confident being in the schools and some go on to become para-educators. The teachers gain greater skill and awareness in how to teach immigrant children.

Property Managers Learn New Ways to Engage Tenants

We actively work to engage property managers as partners each time we go into a new building to knock on doors and we hold regular property manager luncheons in each neighborhood, to give these community workers a place to re-group and feel supported. A recent success story is in Essex House, a 120 unit high rise onMaple AvenueinTakoma Park.  Cherwanda, Jacqui, Loretta and Sharon are a part of a larger group of resident leaders at Essex House. In Spring 2010 when IMPACT met them, they were angry and concerned about how their building was being managed. IMPACT encouraged them to reach out to their neighbors and share their stories about life in the building. These efforts helped shape a quality of life covenant between residents and management. Both groups are now working together to make key changes in their community.

Detailed Description of Tools and Practices

Mutual Support Circles for Specific Goal:  A group of people, who live or work near each other and share a similar goal, commit to meeting regularly to build a specific skill, provide support to one another and explore collective action in connection with the shared goal. (Examples of shared goals include learning English, using a computer, searching for a job, saving money, starting a home-based business, being a good parent, managing rental housing, teaching in a diverse environment etc…..)

  • One or two people with some experience in leading meetings serve as the primary organizers. (This is often a staff person; but can also be a resident serving as a network guide and receiving a stipend).
  • Participants understand that they are committing to attending sessions for a specific period of time.
  • Sessions follow a specific flow and set of rituals; this helps everyone know what to expect and makes it easy for participants to lead sessions.
  • Organizers pay extreme attention to supporting participation which often includes providing food, childcare, translation and transportation. They are transparent in this process and work to share the tasks with the entire group.
  • The group understands the value of and spends time building relationships in and out of the sessions; the organizers are extra-vigilant in building relationships outside of sessions.

Illustrative Uses:

→ After a Neighbor’s Exchange in a large apartment complex, a group of Latino residents agree to meet twice a week to work on English skills. The property manager lets them use the complex’s party room. A younger Latino resident who is bilingual and has an engaging personality becomes the lead organizer, with backup support from IMPACT in terms of process, language skill methods etc. The group uses the mutual support tool (see page ____) with each other, in addition to time spent learning English. They enjoy socializing and are beginning to participate together in other neighborhood happenings.

→ At one weekly Neighbor Night session, where 30 to 40 people gathering on a regular basis for mutual support, many people express the need to understand how to use and access the internet and computers, in general. A smaller group commits to meeting for four weeks in a row to learn about getting and using a gmail account, as well as how to produce a resume or business cards.  The organizers of these smaller technology circles follow a similar mutual support format, in addition to finding volunteers to provide one on one support at a computer for each participant during the session.

→ In one neighborhood, a group of Latino women discover that they all have some basic skills in sewing and cooking and want to develop these into small micro-enterprises, in cooperation with each other. As a starting place, they agree to meet weekly to sew together, build certain organizational skills and develop a growing sense of confidence in taking next steps. The organizer helps them develop a decision making process and access certain resources as their shared journey unfolds.

Practical Tips:

  • It is easier to run empowerment circles in one language.  When this happens, effort is made to also provide opportunities to participate in larger groups involving multiple cultures and languages.
  • A very important nuanced detail is the careful use of resource people in the context of the circle.  The meeting rituals are very participatory and serve as an effective device for incorporating resource people as mutual learners, and not as experts.
  • Some circles are more informal and organic and some are built around a more specific program frame. In either case, organizers and participant leaders need to spend time outside the circle, planning and debriefing and adjusting.
  • It is easy to get caught up in the specific need of circle participants and lose the underlying goal of transitioning into collective action.  It helps to build in a meeting ritual from the very beginning that is devoted to learning about and reflecting on the larger societal issues at stake. Take care to keep this part in small doses, or you will quickly lose participants before relationships of trust can form.

Formal Learning Community:  This device represents a formal commitment of a group of diverse people to be in a learning community together for a long term period. (Minimum of six to nine months).

  • It works best when the participants are recruited based on clear criteria and expectations and when they share common interest in a particular place or a specific goal.
  • The most important expectation is that participants will use the learning laboratory as a place to grow personally, build relationships and spark individual action towards their common goal.
  • To create a safe and motivating environment for a diverse group of people requires extensive planning, some element of skilled facilitation and a significant investment of time on the part of the participants.
  • In some of IMPACT’s cohorts, the participants receive stipends for participating and in others, they do not.

Illustrative Uses:

→ Parent Educators – After two years of providing a parent leadership program, primarily aimed at sparking immigrant parents to take collective action to close the achievement gap, IMPACT decided to provide a nine month program aimed at supporting parents in developing confidence, both in terms of pursuing their own education goals and in supporting the education of their children.  In the first three months of the program, parents meet together to build relationships, explore their personal power and develop teaching skills. During the last six months, they work along side a teacher running an after school literacy program for immigrant children. They get to know the school and learn how to relate to teachers. In turn, the teachers develop close relationships with and learn from their parent partners.

→ Workforce Development Team – After a large door knocking campaign in several large apartment complexes, IMPACT staff bumped into a group of middle aged, African and African American renters who were either unemployed or underemployed and anxious to find better employment. They asked this group of twelve to commit to a six month process of working together to build the confidence and networks needed to secure better work. In addition to building supportive relationships, the group spent considerable time.

Practical Tips:

  • Many of the practical tips for mutual support circles apply in this context too.
  • It is also important to understand the need for a formal commitment of a period of time and to recruit and select participants in a way that emphasizes this formal commitment.
  • The payment of a stipend supports the understanding of the commitment.
  • In this kind of formal learning community, it is very important for one on one time between organizers and participants as follow up and preparation for upcoming group sessions.
  • Another important aspect of the experience is the integration of the group into the larger community network at key points along the way. (e.g. asking participants to attend on-going Neighbor Nights in their area, even if they cannot make it all the time or recruiting participants to attend key civic meetings dealing with the issue at hand).

Check Ins and Check Outs:  A “Check In” is time devoted before starting any meeting where each person shares something personal in one to two minutes.

  • It can be a simple update, a positive occurrence or a current challenge.
  • It must be personal and not work related.
  • The purpose of this small but powerful device is two fold: it helps people get their heads cleared for the meeting and it builds relationships, especially for teams who meet on a regular basis.
  • It often helps the meeting go faster, even though it requires an upfront investment of time.

A Check Out is time devoted at the end of the meeting. It can be done in a simple fashion by asking each person to share a reflection from the meeting.

Illustrative Uses:

→ Strategic Team Meetings with Government Officials:  IMPACT formed a team with key government officials in charge of delivering emergency services.  One shared goal was to shift the internal culture of the front line offices which receive and serve people in crisis.  To deal with this sensitive issue, it was crucial to build trust among the team members.  Time was limited and the government officials were not able to commit to an overnight retreat, suggested by IMPACT as a trust building tool. IMPACT staff insisted on using a “relationship building” check in at each planning meeting as a substitute and discovered that regular and repeated use led to a better meeting environment. Now, the government officials ask for the check in and have started using it in their internal meetings.

→ Staff and Board Meetings:  One of the most difficult challenges is teaching new staff and board members how to create more inclusive environments in community settings.  We have found that by using a check in at every staff and board meeting is one of the best ways of modeling and supporting new people in understanding the power of small tools like the check in. They begin to experience how a check in or check out shifts the productivity of an internal meeting, which then increases their motivation and confidence in using it out in the communities.

→ Tuesdays Together:  It is important to note that you can use this tool in many different and modified ways. At our weekly Neighbor Nights in Wheaton and in Gaithersburg, we start every meeting with a check in that asks, What is one good things that happened to you this week?  The rest of the session is devoted to mutual support among the group and many personal challenges are revealed. Starting with a positive note in a room that is so burdened by serious challenges helps create space for relationships to form and people to feel a moment of joy and fun.

Practical Tips:

  • Always review the basic guidelines for a good check in, even if most people are used to using the tool.
  • Help people realize that it not only helps build relationships but it will also help the meeting go better and be more productive.
  • Ask someone who is used to using it to go first, so they can model it for others. Try to have those first people who share take more risks to create the opening for others.
  • Make sure that the rhythm is fast; this is not a long story sharing time. Interrupt and remind people that they should take two or three minutes.

Mutual Support Time:   This is a device that at first glance seems a bit awkward and difficult to implement, but it is very effective in a wide range of settings and with diverse residents of all backgrounds. It is designed to help people feel comfortable making requests for help, sharing personal and difficult information and offering specific ideas for help even when they do not know the person they are speaking to that well.  It also provides a structure that can be managed inside a very limited time frame – even ten minutes – and helps manage the people who can talk on and on and on in a group setting. Here is how it works:

  • The person leading the circle or the meeting announces that it is Mutual Support Time and clearly states the time that will be allocated.
  • He explains the three types of ways you can use this time: (1) To make a request (2) To make an offer or (3) To make an announcement. He then explains that the group will go around the circle two times.
  • The first time participants should indicate how much of the allocated time you want to “bid for” or you can choose to pass.
  • In a group of six or eight with a fifteen minute time limit, the facilitator might offer an example of 3 minutes.
  • He also explains that during these three minutes, you can share your information and if time is left, people can respond.
  • If you run out of time, someone in the group can give up their time to you, or you and the person offering a response can agree to talk after the full group session.

We want to acknowledge Judith Rosenberg, the former Executive Director of TEAMS, a community building organization in Oakland, California, who used this device and introduced it to IMPACT.  Thank you Judith!!

Illustrative Uses:

→  We first experimented using this tool with a group of low income immigrant parents who committed to a nine month parent leadership group. Early on, we discovered that the mutual support time at each session was the primary component for the participants and it became the glue that kept them coming back to group sessions, even when it was so difficult to do so given the struggle of daily life.  The participants used this time to negotiate very practical and valuable transactions with each other. Examples include childcare swaps, assistance with an immigration issue, a ride to a job interview, help with an upcoming move, emotional support for various child rearing issue, tips on how to access certain social services, both informal and formal.

→  As mentioned above in the Building Neighborhood Networks section, we use the mutual support tool in the weekly Neighbor Nights that we host in several different neighborhoods. It is the core activity for each Neighbor Night. In these settings, we translate everything. Sometimes the circle will include 40 people and sometimes only 15. At first, we thought it would be difficult to use this tool in a setting where the participants are constantly shifting or the number can be so large. But, again, it became the glue that keeps people coming back and also the device that brings new people in the door, just by word of mouth. In this particular circle, most of the people are unemployed or seriously underemployed and a lot of the requests for support relate to job searches. Sometimes incredible information is exchanged that provides concrete and tangible help to a person and sometimes a person receives a heavy dose of empathy and emotional support.

Practical Tips:

  • One of the best aspects of this tool is that once participants go through the process several times, they can take over the facilitation of mutual support. When we also provide translation, this means there are three or four roles: facilitator, time keeper, recorder and translator. The people playing these roles really feel good about their contribution.
  • It is very important to track everything on flip chart paper if possible, starting with the time allocations per person and including the kind of requests being made.
  • We became very disciplined in tracking a weekly session of 30 to 40 people in one neighborhood and over time realized how valuable this data was in an aggregate form.
  • As is true with so many of the tools included in this booklet, it is essential for the leaders or regular network members to participate and model use of the tool in a genuine way.
  • We often had resource people or “professionals” come into our circles to make announcements or to build a connection. Instead of providing them a special set aside time to make a little speech or presentation, we insisting that they use mutual support time as their moment of sharing. This worked very well as a way to integrate those from outside the neighborhood.
  • It helps to have a dime store time keeper with a little buzzer, to help in tracking the time. There is a way to use it without being too obnoxious about it.

Story Telling:  This tool is designed to create a safe and structured time for participants to tell a part of their life story or to share a personal experience with each other.

  • The underlying theory is that the more we know about each other, the better we can understand a perspective different than ours and the more willing we are to take a risk to offer our unique perspective or gift.
  • Many times we carry stories about other people based on what they look like or where they say they are from that are simply not accurate.
  • Listening to someone’s story helps to correct these inaccurate and often damaging assumptions that we make.
  • As this deeper understanding evolves, trust forms and people are better at taking risks and finding solutions.

Illustrative Uses:

→ The  participants in the Parent Educator program, one of IMPACT’s formal learning communities, were either immigrants from Central America or East Africa, two very different cultures. In order to create an environment in which these parents could learn from each other and provide mutual support, trust across this language and cultural divides needed to be developed. At their opening retreat, each person was given 15 to 20 minutes to tell their story of immigration and having a family.  The entire process took over four hours, but completely shifted the way in which the women related to each other for the remaining nine months.

→ Some of the most popular mutual support circles are those formed in a particular apartment complex to support people learning English. The key ingredient in these circles is an atmosphere of trust and fun….a place where people can try out their new English skills without any making them feel foolish or stupid. Many of these people are used to participating in more formal English classes, but often reveal that they do not feel comfortable trying out new words or phrases in these environments. The use of sharing personal stories at each circle helps create a different and more comfortable environment.  Often the prompt for a story is very simple. For example, before jumping into the English work, everyone might share one of their favorite things to do on a free Sunday or perhaps they are asked to talk about the town in which they were born. The use of the story telling tool can be very involved or simply woven into the normal format of the evening.

Practical Tips:

  • Depending on the setting and your goal, create a very careful set of prompts to give people to use in developing their story.
  • One example of a set of prompts we used to share stories of residents who were working together as front line workers in a social service office were as follows:

–       Share a time when you experienced a crisis

–       What did it feel like to be vulnerable?

–       How did you seek help?

–       If a person helped you, what happened as a result?

  • Give people quiet time to jot down a few notes or think about what they want to say.
  • As the organizer or facilitator, share your story first and have a few others who more comfortable sharing ready to go sooner rather than later. Take some risks in revealing vulnerabilities and aspects of your story that are hard to share, as a way of encouraging others.
  • One warning about people who say they help others do story telling; some of them come out of the story telling performance world, which is related but very different. The last thing you want to do is create any tension or expectation that is a right or wrong way to tell your story.
  • Remember that you do not have devote a big chunk of time to story telling, but you can weave in the collection of stories in a regular meeting, perhaps as a add on to the check in time.
  • Check out the Map Exercise used by our friends at Lawrence Community Works as a device for story sharing at a Neighbor Circle; it works very well, especially for inexperienced facilitators. (

Overnight Retreats:   Over the years, we came to believe that overnight retreats were an essential tool in developing the kind of trusting relationships needed to form an effective formal learning community. The three key ingredients are

  • The ability to devote big chunks of group time to well-led story telling
  • The process of anticipating and planning for the retreat (including letting people vent about the commitment of time etc)
  • Considerable informal (but very intentional) time that people can hang out with each other, playing games, dancing etc.

Retreats do require lots of planning and “facilitators” who feel comfortable and have skill in creating fun, safe and productive space for participants.

Illustrative Uses:                                                         

→  As part of a large partnership with the County’s Department of Health and Human Services called the Neighborhood Opportunity Network, we created a learning community of residents we met through door knocking, network members who served as community connectors for HHS, HHS higher level staff and nonprofit staff working in the same community.  These teams referred to as Neighbor Corps committed to working in a learning community for four months around the shared goal of sparking new neighborhood networks of mutual support. One particularly successful over night retreat involved a group that included several very low income Latino residents with no documentation, a Muslim activist, a West African immigrant (also without documentation) two Chinese nonprofit staff members and two high level HHS workers. Two of the participants brought their children along on the retreat (and we provided childcare during the group sessions).   People really opened up and shared a wide range of amazing stories about their personal journeys. But, the most talked about memory of the retreat was an informal game of scrabble played in four different languages that went on and on until the wee hours of the morning.

Practical Tips:

  • It is very important to make it overnight and to hold it at a place that it far enough away that people cannot easily come and go. We made the mistake of “folding to pressure” and compromising with two full day sessions, but having them be local for years.
  • Accept that it will be harder to find a place and figure out all of the logistics; make it a group goal. Be transparent about why you are insisting on an overnight retreat.
  • If possible, plan the transportation for everyone and have everyone meet at one local spot. Make it like a party…have donuts and coffee for the road (even  if the trip is only 45 minutes) and ask a few network members or staff not involved to be there to help send everyone off.
  • Take lots of group pictures and make some them “wild and informal”; these are always the best way to explain the value of the retreat to others.

Fish Bowls:  This is a relatively simple technique to create a space for a sub group within a larger group to share and to give the larger group a chance to actively listen. We often used this technique when dealing with a group that includes people who feel less positional power than others in the room or in a room of considerable diversity.

  • A typical way to set it up is to create two circles of chairs, one an inner circle and one a large circle around the inner circle.
  • The inner circle has just enough chairs for those in the sub-group to sit in, plus one extra chair. In the beginning, a “facilitator” sits in the extra chair and explains the instructions to everyone.
  • One typical set of instructions is to pose an opening question to the sub group, and to explain that they are to talk about their response with each other.
  • The people in the outer circle can only listen.
  • If someone in the outer circle has a clarifying question (not a leading question) to ask, they can ask to sit for a moment in the inner circle and pose the question.
  • Again, the person from the outer circle is not supposed to participate in the discussion.
  • Sometimes, the facilitator will stay in the inner circle, helping guide the discussion and sometimes he/she will step out after posing the initial question.

Illustrative Uses:

→  For several years, we operated a program called the Parent Training Institute which involved about 30 to 40 parents of extreme diversity meeting once a week for two hours (with dinner and childcare) for a six week period. The goal was to increase their ability to support their child’s education and to increase their confidence in communicating with teachers and other school staff. One of the favorite sessions involved asking parents to first sit in a fishbowl, surrounded by teachers and asking them to talk honestly about their fears in reaching out to teachers. After this circle, teachers then sat in their fishbowl surrounded by the parents and talked about their fears in dealing with parents from so many different backgrounds.

→  One particularly powerful fishbowl in the history of IMPACT involved asking a group of policeman to come sit inside a group of tenant leaders from six or seven different neighborhoods.  The tenant leaders had been questioned by these police while on an opening retreat and wrote a letter expressing concerns about racial profiling. The police involved agreed to participate in a fishbowl exercise with the entire group. They sat in an inner circle and then the smaller group of tenant leaders who felt mistreated sat in an inner circle. This moment, combined with other relationship building moments, led to a new partnership with the police and one of the policeman participated in the following year’s program and is an active member of the IMPACT network.

Practical Tips:

  • Once you have explained the instructions, ask the group to explain it back to you, to make sure they understand who is talking and who is listening.
  • Prior to the exercise, you may want to ask someone who will be in the listening circle to be prepared to step in to the talking circle to ask the first question and to take some risks with their question, as a model for others to follow.
  • Take time to debrief the use of the fish bowl after you are done with it, to keep learning the benefits and the limitations and how to improve the process next time.

Kernel of Power:   Perhaps the most powerful tool IMPACT has ever used is a concept called your “kernel of power”. It is introduced in a simple book written by Kaleel Jamison entitled The Nibble Theory.

  • In this book, she begins by describing the familiar process of how we all “nibble” at each other to make ourselves feel bigger and we let others nibble us too.
  • She argues that we each have the ability to “grow our circle of power” as big as possible, while also helping others to grow their circle as big as possible.
  • She uses the metaphor of a candle and how you can light another candle’s flame without losing your own candle’s flame.
  • She posits that the best way to move into a practice of helping others to grow is to first understand your kernel of power.
  • She guides the reader through a process of figuring out what are those one or two innate qualities you were born with that represent your essence and create a feeling on confidence and strength.
  • She is careful to point out that kernels of power are the same as a natural born talent or an acquired skill.
  • They are deeper that a talent and something you have from day one.
  • IMPACT will often order a copy of this simple book – with simple illustrations and lots of white space – for each participant in a new learning community and asks them to read it before an opening retreat or a particular session.
  • We also designed several different sessions that help people identify their kernels of power.

Illustrative Uses:

→  We use the Kernel of Power session and The Nibble Theory book in the beginning of all of our long term learning and action communities. Based on feedback for over 8 years, it is the single most popular concept we use and it becomes a unifying frame for many follow up conversations about how to create environments which limit nibbling and encourage the use of our kernels of power. We repeatedly hear from former participants about how they often go back to the book for their own purposes and have used in many other community settings.

→  We also have tried delivering these sessions as a one time offering in retreats organized by community partners, including sessions conducted in Spanish. The feedback was very positive.

Practical Tips:

  • Encourage people to read the book ahead of time; it takes about 45 minutes.
  • Create a visual representation of each person’s kernel and post it for follow up sessions. (We’ve often used popcorn bags and large kernels coming out of the bag as one way to show all of the different kernels.
  • It sometimes takes a while for people to figure out their kernel of power. It is effective to revisit it at least two more times during the life of the group, as people may begin to understand their kernels differently as trust builds and colleagues provide feedback.

Hand of Support and Accountability:  We created a tool to emphasize the important role we play for each other as residents working to implement a wide assortment of  creative ideas. We describe it as an open hand reached out to another person. We draw a line down the middle of the hand and label one side of the hand as support and one as accountability.

  • This signifies that we are always providing support, while also pushing for action to take place.
  • For example, this might mean that we ask hard questions when a project is delayed, but we also offer to help get it back on track or at least provide some form of tangible support.
  • One reason resident leaders have a hard time following through on their creative and visionary ideas, is the very limited or non-existent support and accountability structure at the community level.
  • This is very different from operating inside a family, a school or a work institution.
  • We found this tool helps people be patient in a team setting, even though it can sometimes present difficult dynamics.

It also helps provide the permission needed to our teammates to push us in the direction we declare we want to go.

Illustrative Uses:

→  This tool became a key part of the language and environment of our Neighborhood IMPACT program, in which participants were expected to form small teams inside their apartment community to accomplish a specific community improvement project.  Many of these participants had never served on, much less led a team before. We kept a big poster of the hand of support and accountability up in the Neighborhood IMPACT session room and often referred to it as we talked through many real situations and obstacles.

Practical Tips:

  • It helps to introduce the concept of the hand with few words and then ask the group to talk about what they think it means.
  • It is also helpful to have a few people who have tried to lead a small community initiative talk about their stories when it comes to the support they needed and how they were held accountable and why this helped etc.

Network Mapping:  This is a commonly used tool by many in a wide range of contexts. The goal is to help an individual understand the depth and breadth of their personal network and the new opportunities flowing from the connection of their network to that of others.

  • We want to emphasize the power of using this tool especially with people who say they do not have any networks or whom we might assume have limited networks.
  • If you create a fun and lighthearted way of approaching networks, people begin to open up and discover that they have access to relationships and resources that they didn’t think they had.
  • Also, observing other people name their relationships helps people start thinking more creatively about how to use their networks.
  • And, as you keep drawing each person’s network and connecting it to the others in the room, the sum result is very powerful.

Illustrative Uses:

→  We had the greatest success with this tool in our Neighbor Corps program, a four month learning community among residents who answered our door knocks, service providers and government officials. The shared goal was to create new neighborhood networks of mutual support.

Practical Tips:

  • When you first begin to draw people’s networks, it made look messy and hard to understand. This is an important time to find someone who can re-draw the networks on a large piece of paper that you can keep posting up and re-posting up as the months go by, always adding to it when new relationships are formed.

Pledges and Covenants:   Devices like a common pledge among immigrant parents or a quality life covenant in an apartment building are useful tools for helping diverse people share space on a daily basis or provide on-going mutual support and accountability to each other. They offer an alternative to the typical step of forming an organization or team and going through the arduous step of developing a mission, vision and plan. We believe strongly in the adage: form follows function.  Supporting a group in developing a simple covenant of shared behavior is often what is most needed.  Many people jump quickly into creating a form – an organization or a committee – and then the focus becomes the details around the form and people lose sight of the underlying function.

Illustrative Uses:

→  One of the core pillars of our six week Parent Training Institute was a pledge developed by participants regarding new practices for becoming a more involved parent in the context of their child’s education. At the end of every weekly session, the parents recited the pledge together and every participant had a nicely produced copy of the pledge to post on their refrigerator etc. The pledge typically talked about checking backpacks every night, setting aside quiet reading time with their child, asking open ended questions about the day etc.  It was clear that many parents took the reading and implementing of the pledge very seriously. It also helped keep everyone involved in the program on the same page regarding program goals.

→  One night, after conducting a Neighbors Exchange in a large and extremely diverse apartment high rise, it was clear that many residents were angry with the property management company and wanted to form a residents association, primarily for the purpose of fighting the management company.  Many active staff and members in the IMPACT network had witnessed similar moments and supported the creation residents association formed in a moment of anger. Their collective experience and assessment was that most of these resident associations end up “solving” the immediate problem at hand, but never move on to support a broader and sustainable sense of community in the complex and quickly fall into dysfunction or die, until the next heated moment with the property manager. A skilled IMPACT organizer asked the residents to consider slowing the process down and spending some time sharing their stories with one another and beginning to work on a quality of life covenant that both asks for behavior changes from the management company, as well as behavior changes from residents. The short story is that a group of residents did hunker down together to build trust among themselves and begin to develop a draft covenant. They kept the property manager informed about what they were doing and increasingly involved him in their discussions as time went on. In the meantime, smaller circles formed to support parents in partnering with the local school and to support a group of residents in practicing English.  Eventually, the manager signed on to the quality of life covenant, as well as over half of the residents and a series of changes resulted and improved the overall quality of life in the building.

Practical Tips:

  • Begin this process with a smaller group of people who commit the time to building relationships and trust.
  • Use fun and engaging events (marching in a local parade together, bar b que in the summer, family game night) to get more people involved and begin to informally gather information and feedback.
  • Keep the pledge and covenant in a permanent draft form, always subject to new considerations and negotiations.
  • Use all kinds of creative means to disseminate and share the pledge or covenant.

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