Editor’s Note: Debbie Deleon is the Manatee County Neighborhood Services Coordinator and a participant in the Harwood Public Innovators Lab underwritten by The Patterson Foundation for library leadership in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
You have heard you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That is exactly the way I felt. After many years attending and facilitating community meetings, I thought there was not a lot that I could learn to enhance my skills. Recently I had an opportunity to be trained by the Harwood Institute on how to conduct community conversations. It entails a series of 10 questions that are asked to participants to get their insights on community issues. We were trained to methodically go through all the questions without providing potential solutions to the issues that were brought up during the conversation. This might seem easy to do, but it really is not.
Since my job entails working with neighborhoods, we focus on problem solving. The thought of having to go through 10 questions and not provide solutions to issues did not ring well with me. However, this technique was drilled into me during the training, so although I was not sure if I could do it, I was committed to at least trying. My first conversation was with a Spanish group. I was successful in completing the 10 questions without problem solving. I must say, I really liked this new way of doing things. I had done one and it was successful, so I was ready for the next Conversation. The next one took place in another community, this time in English and it was also very successful.
I have enjoyed engaging with neighborhoods using the Community Conversation method. The biggest lesson (trick) that I learned is that if you do not interject in conversations, communities will come up with solutions to the issues. And, they are much better at coming up with solutions than an outsider. I am so happy to have learned this new method (trick) because I am really enjoying it!!