Many community groups feel the need to do something. Preferably quickly.
To develop some kind of ‘project that the community can rally around’. That will ‘inspire people and show them we are doing something’.
But I think this is a mistake. A great big fundamental mistake. For several reasons:
- it lets many people in the community off the hook – they can, and will, wait for YOU to sort things out. This does nothing except to create a new more local group of the anointed – they may lend a hand – but they will expect you to lead.
- it further disempowers members of the community who see the power lying with you and your group, or as the latest in a long line of well meaning but powerless do-gooders.
- it is disrespectful of the community – it implies that you know what is needed to sort things out.
- it ties up resources – before you know it your are running a couple of projects and everyone is too busy to take on any more. You start to burn out while achieving little and skeptics in the community start to say ‘I told you so’…
- you alienate people – whatever project you choose you will make friends and enemies, while others will remain indifferent. You choose to work on ‘the environment’ and some will think it about ‘jobs’. You work on ‘jobs’ and others will think it is about ‘childcare’. As soon as you nail your colours to a mast, some will think they are the wrong colours on the wrong mast and just back away.
So what should we do instead?
Listen, wait, educate and facilitate.
- Listen to what community members want to do, and then help THEM to do it.
- Wait and wait and wait, until you find someone who REALLY wants to do something and invites you and your group to help. You might want to think about what you would need to be like to deserve such an invitation.
- Educate. Help local people to understand about what is happening to them and their community and why. Help them to explore the opportunities created as political, economic, social and technological change sweeps their community.
- Facilitate. Help people to do their work. Help them to associate and organise. Help them to build their power and to work on what matters most to them. Build extensive networks of people who know how to help. The Zen of facilitation means that you can maintain many projects without burning out.