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Full Posts:

Working Through the Community

Post:

05

Date:

Dec 4, 2000

From:

Vivian Guilfoy


Hi Mario and Greg:

Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Your work is very exciting. Overall, there are many excellent ideas imbedded in the paper. I've tried to focus less on the great things, and more on the concepts that might need some additional thinking. I won't be able to become an active member of the listserv because of travel and some other obligations, but I'd be glad to "listen in" and comment along the way if you think that would be appropriate. Here are my thoughts.

Premises:

(1) This basic premise is an excellent one. The folks in my group who work with low-income communities, low-performing schools, and individuals who face multiple obstacles in education and work have this idea as a basic tenet of their work. They often discuss what it takes to implement this "second generation" of equity--what must happen after the doors are open to move from access to outcomes. Some of the most exciting discussions are around what the outcomes could or should be; how best to define excellence and high standards; how to create environments that draw on the natural talents of the target groups; and how to help the various stakeholder groups work together to make things happen.

(2) While the statement is a strong one, it feels as though everything is included. Also, I'm not convinced that it is enough to say "the infrastructure that residents trust and that help people improve their own lives" defines the total pool of organizations that can help. The old expression "you don't know what you don't know" is appropriate here. Sometimes old stereotypes about who can do what in this new domain shut out new partnerships and ideas. Also, the notion of "stepping in" where traditional means have weakened carries a little bit of the "savior mentality" with it. Maybe the concept of "reinvigorating" or revitalizing may work better.

(3) Good statement. I might add "and strong participation of community members (students, residents, learners, workers, etc)" after clear missions.

(4) Yes. One thought is that when you say ...."in turn, enabling the people it serves to apply...." there seems to be an explicit assumption that enabling people must wait until everything else is in place. Sometimes, things move much more quickly when there is a concrete and powerful way for "the people it serves" to apply technology from the very beginning of the effort, making it come alive for all involved and helping to propel each step along the way.

(5) Important. I might amend the last sentence to include program development, along with staff and organizational development. A lot of people might think of this as the nuts and bolts of running an organization, but forget that good programming is often the driver for good organization and staffing. I'd be glad to say more about this.

(6) Balance is very important. Will you be advocating for bringing technology into the homes as an integral part of this campaign? If so, how will it link with the community infrastructure ideas? What different approaches or investment strategies will be necessary to bring both of these about?

Community Infrastructure: The Path to Closing the Social Divides

Erosion of the web of support is often cited as a real issue. But, there are two things about the web that must be faced. First of all, strengthening the community infrastructure probably has to leap beyond the traditional ideas about what each organization does. Some of the strongest groups are rooted in the old models of helping, operating as silos. It will be important to ask the question about whether or not there must be some fundamental changes in the mission of the organization, how it works with its clients and participants, and how it works with other organizations in the community to create a more "seamless" experience for the user. It is also important to identify the incentives and barriers for members of the community infrastructure to collaborate with others.

Technology as a Lever: I like the analogies you make here--especially the last paragraph.

Applying Corporate Lessons to Community Infrastructure: You might want to combine this section with the prior section. Some people in the community might not be too keen on the heading...applying corporate lessons... A stronger notion might be to talk about Exchanging Corporate Lessons and Community Lessons to create a more solid vision that enables quantum leaps......... I think it would be good to draw upon some of the examples within the nonprofit and community world that illustrate what powerful things can happen. Along those lines, I'd stay away from the phrase "life engineer" since it tends to imply the old model of fixing things, rather than empowering change. The third paragraph and the last two paragraphs in this piece hold the spirit of what I believe you are trying to convey.

A Culture of Innovation: Good ideas. In terms of the strategies proposed, I like the idea of enabling community infrastructures to raise their own vision for what is possible. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to do some peer-to-peer work, using innovative community folks with a track record in excellence to "show and tell." Investing in human capacity is critical, but I'm not sure you have to wait to develop leadership among those served until you build the capacity of organizations. Sometimes, you can identify potential leaders among those served and have them work hand in hand with the organization staff on selected joint projects that empower both. "Educating" the funders about the best mix of support and strategic investment is essential.

Sparking Catalytic Change:

(1) Making the Case. I'm not sure that the job is "persuading" low-income communities that technology can be relevantly applied. It's more likely that funders and others need to "model" effective ways to engage communities in solving problems of importance to them. The issue of relevance is quite important.

(2) Create an Academy. I believe there are a number of excellent models underway to develop leadership in technology. Some are geared for the education community; others for community technology leaders. It would be important to honor the roots of such programs and build on them, rather than "create" fresh.

(3) Create a Digital Peace Corps. Once again, it would be important to learn from similar efforts. More importantly, it would be critical to ask the question of how one would "train" the corps to do its work. There are many approaches to working effectively in the community and many definitions of what it means to "empower" people. (A number of people resent the notion that there is a group with power walking around and handing some of it to others...) More people are talking about creating the environments in which people can build their talents. There also may still be some baggage around the use of the word Peace Corps and what it implies.

(4) Imbedded in this suggestion is the call for people to be creative around implementation activities. I like that. Usually, funders and others are only interested in the initial "out of the box" innovation, and make little investment in sustainability and "continuous quality improvement." Having organizations think about their core competencies is VERY important. Often, they are spread much too thin and simply can't deliver what they want to do.

(5) There are many folks committed to developing a learning community for social entrepreneurs. The America Connects Consortium is just one of them. I'm wondering how the various efforts can distinguish themselves and/or work together. I don't have an answer, but would like to be part of the discussion.

Thanks for including me in the reviewers. Vivian

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