Community Conversations have the power to set people in motion to discover shared aspirations and common goals. In these spaces, individuals can gather to voice their thoughts and ideas for their communities. Using techniques and approaches learned from The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, The Patterson Foundation (TPF) hosted a virtual Community Conversation facilitated by Ranata Reeder, Vice President of Knowledge and Equity at The Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading team members Renee Isrel, Cinthia Peña, and Elsie Merrill—who also graduated from The Harwood Institute—shared their thoughts, ideas, and aspirations for their communities. I co-facilitated the conversation and took copious notes as each participant spoke, reflecting their points on a virtual Zoom whiteboard for continued reference.

Before our Community Conversation began, we established the following ground rules for the conversation, pertinent to creating space for constructive communication:
  1. Have a “kitchen table” conversation. Everyone participates. No one dominates.
  2. Keep an open mind. Listen carefully and try to understand the views of those who disagree with you.
  3. Focus on constructive ideas and solutions, not on complaining or blaming others.
  4. Help keep the discussions on track. Stick to the issue at hand; try not to ramble.
  5. It is okay to disagree, but don’t be disagreeable. Respond to others how you want to be responded to.
  6. Be open and candid. Treat conversations as confidential.
  7. Have fun!

During our session, prevailing themes emerged and shaped the direction of the dialogue.

It was noted how our community had grown seemingly polarized, and there’s a gap as people receive information from different sources. We began to explore how to bridge the misinformation gap for a more aligned and informed community. We acknowledged how much our world has changed since early 2020 and how that has exacerbated the gap. Others added that while the world has changed drastically in the past two years, it will look even more different in 2-5 years. The situation continues to evolve and affect our community on deep levels. To evolve intentionally, we discussed how people could keep relationships strong and healthy, keeping all informed and included in the conversations.

Another theme to note was the expansion of housing developments in the community, yet the infrastructure cannot handle the growing population size. The roads are unable to accommodate the population increase resulting in excessive traffic. With this theme, we explored questions around how to engage others in conversations on the issue. We discussed who can be invited to the conversations to help ignite change. We realized many shared concerns around this theme and were interested in further engaging in the discussion.

The conversation moved to our aspirations for our communities. One member shared, “I want to drive by office buildings and see people sitting around picnic tables, in parks, communicating with each other. COVID isn’t going away, and we must find ways to gather safely. Human connection is so important, and we need it.” Another member said, "I aspire to see a stronger, more united society fostering social interactions that build community.” Participants felt affirmation from sharing their aspirations for their communities and hearing from others.

At the conclusion of our Community Conversation, participants felt hopeful, heard, and part of the process. A stronger, more invested community membership is a direct result of Community Conversations like the one we had. There is an ignited eagerness to continue the conversation and explore what’s possible to bring change and see aspirations realized in communities.

A Community Conversation exemplifies how TPF turns outward to connect, learn, share, evolve, and strengthen people, organizations, and communities. Turning outward is at the core of TPF’s Aspirations to Actions initiative, which endeavors to provide space for the first step in building trust by strengthening connective tissue.


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