It can be hard to put into words—the magic that happens when Community Heart & Soul™ takes hold in a town.
Sometimes we refer to “it” as the secret sauce. “It” is also the tipping point when people go from focusing on what’s wrong with their town to seeing what’s possible. “It” is when a developer senses that good things are happening in a place and decides to invest in a vacant building downtown. “It” is when a longtime resident realizes her town is worth her time and runs for city council. “It” is when storytelling builds a bridge to a group that has traditionally been isolated.
“It” is Community Heart & Soul.
The transformative power of Community Heart & Soul can be tough to describe, but the steps to get there are now clearly spelled out in our new Community Heart & Soul™ Field Guide.
After nearly a decade of listening, learning, refining, and listening some more, with our staff on the ground in small towns in New England and the Rocky Mountain West, the Orton Family Foundation is ready to share with you our field-tested method that leads to stronger towns.
Our Field Guide, available as a free download, spells out step-by-step how to inspire residents to shape the future of their communities, based on what matters most to them.
We know it works. We’ve seen the results. Here are a few examples:
The Community Heart & Soul approach sets the stage for new leaders to emerge. Liz Subin, former coordinator of Essex Heart & Soul, decided to run for state legislature in Vermont. Golden, Colorado City Councilor Saoirse Charis-Graves never envisioned herself running for office until Heart & Soul helped her see how she could make a difference.
This is a small sample of the positive results that illustrate the transformative power of Community Heart & Soul. Maybe your town is next.
To learn more, please join us for a free Heart & Soul Matters talk, Community Heart & Soul: Building a Blueprint for Successful Small Towns from 4-5 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, Nov 5. You’ll hear from me and Director of Programs Alece Montez-Griego with an overview of the approach. Heart & Soul veterans Mike Bestor, city manager, Golden, Colorado, and Delilah Poupore, executive director of Heart of Biddeford, will also be on hand to discuss how Heart & Soul has strengthened their towns. Click here to learn more and register.
Meantime, whether you are a city planner, elected official or a resident concerned about your town’s future, I hope you will take a moment to download the Field Guide and start the conversation about strengthening the social, cultural and economic vibrancy of your town.
Our Community Heart & Soul approach to planning asks folks to ask each other, “What matters most?” because we believe in the power of shared values to shape better futures. When enough people agree on the qualities of their town they care most about, everyone is better connected with each other and the community. Those strengthened ties inspire people to work together to protect and enhance what they care about. We know, because we have seen it happen.
We’ve been along for the ride as places like Polson, Montana discovered their shared commitment to a natural environment and a healthy, active lifestyle. In Colorado’s North Fork Valley, residents identified freedom, independence and personal responsibility as a key community value. Essex, Vermont’s six core values include thoughtful growth and community connections. The content may differ from place to place, but we know first hand that the positive impact on social cohesion of defining and describing shared values is universal.
Agreed-upon shared values help bind people together, and there are many, many ways that communities can uphold them to build stronger and more vibrant places. But all communities face the same challenge: They only have so much money, so much time, so many people offering their skills. With increasingly limited resources, how can communities make choices about what actions are most important?
Here are five tips for using community values to help make decisions based on what matters most:
One of the greatest barriers to change in small cities and towns is that we’re stuck. Town staff don’t always have the time or resources to implement plans or take on new ideas. Community members are invited to offer feedback on plans and policies at public hearings, but they’re rarely invited to less intimidating, formal gatherings to share ideas, much less encouraged to initiate action on those plans and policies. People are stuck in old roles, old mindsets and old habits. And the press of what needs to get done—often on a shoestring, doesn’t help make room to pick our heads up and think differently.
Being stuck plays out in many ways —the plan sitting on a shelf collecting dust; the same ten people showing up to every meeting; the vote going against a proposal after many opportunities for input.
Heart & Soul offers a path for communities to get unstuck, and also unlock the potential of residents to take action and responsibility. To counter the untouched plan, Heart & Soul ties a community vision to early and achievable actions. To involve more people, Heart & Soul insists on building trust and relationships first. And, as local officials and staff meet residents on their own turf, conversations become more genuine and concerns are aired more freely before a decision is made or a bond vote appears on the ballot.More
Many small towns throughout the United States are engaging young people in planning and community development projects in a variety of creative ways. By recognizing and valuing the tremendous energy and optimism students bring to local development efforts, these communities are building stronger and more lasting bonds between young people and their hometowns, which is particularly important in small places that are seeing their youth migrate away after high school.
Biddeford, Maine, provides a useful case study of how students can be genuinely involved in a wider community visioning process while also gaining a new appreciation for the history and potential of their hometown.More
This was originally published by Sandy Heierbacher, Director of NCDD. The Foundation is proud to re-post Sandy’s recent announcement of a national initiative to make more meaningful, broad citizen engagement the law, rather than the exception. NCDD and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC), two members of CommunityMatters Partners, are part of the working group that conceived and developed the initiative.
Most laws that govern public participation in the U.S. are over thirty years old. They do not match the expectations and capacities of citizens today, they pre-date the Internet, and they do not reflect the lessons learned in the last two decades about how citizens and governments can work together. Increasingly, public administrators and public engagement practitioners are hindered by the fact that it’s unclear if many of the best practices in participation are even allowed by the law.More
As students returned to school this fall, I began to notice things were just a little bit different.
There were all the usual signs of school starting up: sidewalks lined with young walkers, streets sprinkled with bikers, baseball hats turned backwards, colorful backpacks, glittery hair ribbons and flashy footwear.
Children not quite school-aged were walking with their older siblings, anxiously waiting for the day when it will be their turn to have a backpack over their shoulders. Flowers were blooming at school entrances, and inside, freshly waxed floors shined.
Yet something still seemed just a little bit different.More
Storytelling has caught on as a means of social change and civic engagement in the last five to ten years, and has been a popular practice for, well, pretty much forever. Consider the use of slave narratives in the US abolitionist movement, or popular theater performed from early on in the farmworker movement.
Anyone reading this blog has probably thought about how stories can motivate people to volunteer or donate money; a personal narrative tugs at your heart and compels you to help out.
Perhaps less obvious are other applications of storytelling that change the way people interact within communities: to assess a community’s needs and strengths (Orton’s Heart & Soul is a great example); to organize people in a group (consider Marshall Ganz’s “Public Narrative” method, adapted by the 2008 Obama campaign); to educate the public (such as Voice of Witness does with human rights); or to advocate a cause (examples include the grantees of the Health Media Initiative of the Open Society Foundation).More