• Palma Joy Strand

Our founding - and foundational - frame

Updated: May 22, 2019

Malka and I met over a project.

About 10 years ago, two colleagues and I received a grant from the Hewlett Foundation to write and produce a Civic Engagement Guide. This project captured and built on our experiences as active citizens in Arlington, Virginia. Malka was our program officer.

Over the course of numerous conversations, Malka and I realized that we have a lot in common. We care about communities and want to see them vibrant and robust. We believe that people talking to and working with each other contributes to community health, which is essential for addressing community challenges and problems.

We also discovered that we both grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area – she on the Peninsula and I in the East Bay. We both went to Stanford as undergrads. We even graduated the same year, though we didn’t know each other and had few acquaintances in common.

The project wrapped up and the grant ended, but Malka and I kept talking. Mostly, we arranged to walk up to the Dish in the foothills behind Stanford when I visited the Bay Area once or twice a year.

Over the course of those conversations, we found that with different backgrounds and experiences - Malka is a public policy person and has worked for decades as a civic engagement professional; I am a lawyer with conflict engagement training and came to the field as an active citizen – we share a deep conviction that community dynamics can either enable or disable collaboration, shared governance, innovation, and creative problem-solving.

A few years ago, we extended the conversation from our usual hike to lunch. We sketched out on the paper table-covering the social, civic networks that characterize any given region. Our doodle was a messy web of people across sectors, jurisdictions, demographic groups, and issue constituencies.

Our informal visual showed us that everyone is already connected. It showed us that disconnects between important groups can prevent necessary action. It showed us that not everyone needs to be connected to everyone else; what’s important is that key people are connected to other key people.

We realized that community dynamics are all about networks.

Because community dynamics are all about networks, they’re all about relationships.

And because they’re all about relationships, we all have the power to change them - to reach out and create new relationships; to make the effort to transform existing ones.

This is our founding – and foundational – frame.

#civicengagement #communities #networks #relationships

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