Innovation

Making Change Through Stories, Large and Small

Storytelling and Social ChangeStorytelling 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).

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Seven Ways to Increase Community Power in Local Decision-Making

CommunityMatters®, a partnership of seven national organizations including Orton, share the belief that people have the power to solve their community’s problems and direct future growth and change.

As leaders in the fields of civic engagement and community and economic development, the partners believe that by strengthening civic infrastructure, communities can become more prosperous, vibrant places to live.

Why is civic infrastructure key? Because, like the physical infrastructure that supports a community’s built environment, civic infrastructure supports the social sphere. It consists of the opportunities, activities and arenas, both online and face-to-face, that allow people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions and celebrate community.

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Slow Democracy: Inclusion Takes Creativity

This is the second in a four-part series adapted from the book Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout (Chelsea Green, 2012).

A great example of “outside-the-box” thinking actually comes in a box.

In Essex, Vermont, “Essex Heart & Soul” is working to engage the community in dialogue about the future.

Rather than beg busy residents to attend yet another 7 p.m. meeting, leaders brought the conversation to living rooms and other gathering places across the community with—you guessed it—a “Meeting in a Box.”

It’s an actual box full of printed materials: a discussion guide, priority-setting tools, clipboards, nametags, and more.

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Bringing the Heart & Soul Principles to Life

When the Foundation was first developing its Heart & Soul program back in 2007, we convened a group of thought leaders from various disciplines to help us define how to improve community planning in America. People who have dedicated much of their lives to change-making in their fields, including social ecologist Jim Kent and landscape architect and sociologist Randy Hester, joined us one late-September day to wrestle with this question: How could we build a radically different chassis for driving community decisions—one that is citizen driven and based on what residents value most?

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Imagining North Adams

Every year, 120,000 people make a pilgrimage to the Northwestern corner of the Berkshires in Massachusetts and head for MASS MoCA.

They park next to the concrete channels of the Hoosic River and walk into a complex of historic brick mill buildings, repurposed as a world-class museum.

They spend a few hours, or a few days, exploring the cavernous galleries, and they collectively spend millions of dollars on tickets, souvenirs and gourmet food in the museum cafés.

What they usually don’t do is spend much of that time or money a block or two away—on Main Street. And it shows. While North Adams has made many efforts, and admirable progress, to reinvent itself as a vibrant arts community, its Main Street still struggles to fill up storefronts, local businesses struggle to stay afloat, and many residents struggle to find jobs and rise above the poverty line. (Check out this 2012 piece from NPR for the full story.)

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FUN: The Key to Community Participation

Our atmosphere’s getting all gunky.
And climate change makes us feel funky.
But we’ll change our fate!
Play Vermontivate!
And celebrate with Chunky Monkey!

Even if you don’t have a clue what Vermontivate! is, there’s a good bet that an initiative that plasters this limerick on their homepage has got to be fun.

Read on and you discover that Vermontivate! is a community energy game—an interactive way to get people to conserve energy. Players compete to earn points for their town. Change an old tungsten bulb to a compact fluorescent, collect points. Start composting, more points. Reduce your household consumption of paper products by half...total pointfest. Install solar panels and you’ve hit the point equivalent of the carnival strong man bell. Basically, do anything you can think of to lessen your dependence on fossil fuels to compete for the grand prize: a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream party hosted in a local gathering place.

Why play Vermontivate!? The website makes it clear: “(W)e believe that by having fun and building community, we stand a good chance of helping each other reduce the impacts of our energy consumption AND bring hope and infinite possibility to the beautiful land of Vermont. And the world.”

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Laying the Groundwork for Heart & Soul

What have residents in our Heart & Soul towns been up to this year? Here is a taste:

While Orton staff visited North Fork, Essex, Polson, Gardiner and Cortez on training and capacity building trips this year, we set up a camera and let it run. What we came away with was hours of footage of energized residents getting together and talking about what matters most and how to begin planning in ways that reflect the things that matter most.

But this is just a slice, the tip of the old iceberg. To learn more about the impressive early progress these communities have made, check out our latest newsletter online, and then follow your nose to each town's own website for more detailed information on partnerships, events, achievements and stories.

And, as always, feel free to share your own!

The Power of Partnership: CommunityMatters Bulks Up

CMPartnersHandsSlider_blog_325x225.jpgThis is an exciting month for the Orton Family Foundation and CommunityMatters®. To help you understand the significance, bear with me as I hit the reverse button.

In 2007 the Foundation held a national conference in Burlington, VT, which we named CommunityMatters. The new name reflected an important principle underlying our work—that is, the need for people across divides to come together to pursue change collaboratively. The Foundation was developing its Heart & Soul approach and others had their own ideas and methods, but CommunityMatters was about achieving greater change collectively than we could individually.

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