Community Engagement

Are their issues of importance that your community needs to address? Are their conversations that your community should be having? Are all the voices in your community being heard as you work on matters important to your future? Do you believe that people care about the things they are part of creating? If yes, then the Meadowlark Institute can be of service to your community.

The Meadowlark Institute can provide your community with a program of community engagement that brings people from all walks of life from throughout your community into creative, constructive conversations about the future and what they, as citizens and residents, are willing to commit to in the community. The conversations offer people the opportunity to speak openly and without fear, be listened to authentically and respectfully, and leave feeling an ownership in the outcomes of their conversation.

Process: The Meadowlark Institute will work with your community to implement a program of public deliberation that invites citizens, residents and leaders into a democratic process of idea sharing and possibility creation regarding issues of importance to your community. Participants will be invited to a conversation that they have not had before. It will be one that has power to create something new. The conversations will be about possibilities and not just problems to solve.

The conversations will also be about accountability and commitment. The invitation, then, will be more than just a request to attend or participate in conversations; it will also be a call to create the future and to join in the work of bringing about the possibility that is declared. So, the invitation is a request not only to show up but to engage.

Significant energy will be placed on supporting small group dialogue. It is the small group that is the bridge between our own individual thoughts and the larger community. In the small group discussion we discover that our own concerns are more universal than we imagined, that we are not alone, and that others can at least understand what is on our mind. Within small group discussions we can focus the conversations on what we can do collectively for the future of the community and build ownership in the actions. In small groups diversity of thinking and dissent can be given space, the creativity of each person can be acknowledged and valued and commitments can be made without an expectation of a return.

The dialogue process will welcome everyone to join the in conversation and that they will be welcomed into a safe and inviting space. Effort will be placed on inviting those who have not been in past conversations, constantly seeking to bring people in the room who are not used to being together. The conversations can take place wherever people gather – schools, churches, cafes, food shelves, hobby or service clubs, staff or Board meetings, specifically organized public events, homes, council chambers, etc.

Each round of public engagement will set the stage for broader and deeper public engagement in the future. Public engagement processes are not only exercises in public problem solving, they are democratic initiatives that help people learn how to better reach out to and include new people, frame issues for deliberation more effectively and meaningfully, facilitate dialogue and collaboration across boundaries that have not typically been broached, and build common vision and common ground that allow different kinds of people, with different interests and experiences, to work together to make headway on common problems.

Mechanisms will be established for capturing the ideas and input coming from the small group discussions so that all participants have opportunities to contribute their ideas. The most important will be the onsite collecting of input offered at the dialogues. It is at that dialogues that people will feel the experience of their voices being heard and their ideas being collected for input into the larger collective outcome. It is this process of authentic listening and harvesting that build ownership. The resultant shared knowledge becomes the basis for wise action in the future.

Outcomes: Local civic capacity will be strengthened for the long term, beyond the life of the project. A public deliberation project whose purpose is to develop possibilities for the community's future and ownership in and commitment to those possibilities could also become a strong effort in community leadership development. As community stakeholders engage in problem solving, energy will also be placed on capacity building for future engagement.

Practically speaking, this means that local organizations gain experience in civic engagement practices. Then when the local community or organization undertakes planning processes or joins in the implementation of the outcomes of the initiative, local citizens and residents will know how to moderate the work and local leaders will know how to leverage the process to inform and facilitate actions. This kind of capacity building helps communities find resilience and overcome the adversarial forms of civic dialogue that passed for democracy in this decade.