Words are important in turning aspirations to actions

Words are important in turning aspirations to actions

Posted on June 30, 2015 by Bill Little

Words are important -- and when I see the words “Aspirations to Actions,” I find significant meaning for improving our communities in this very simple phrase. Essentially, it is a calling for individuals, organizations and communities to move from dreaming, wishing and hoping to creating a better place for people to proudly call their own.

The Harwood Institute's principles are embedded in the Aspirations to Actions initiative and reflect my thinking and experience in community engagement. That’s why I like the approach.

Community initiatives can follow two paths:

1) Attempt to influence the community to support the goals and benefits of the initiative

2) Enable the community to influence the initiative and its outcomes

Aspirations to Actions follows the latter and the three distinguishing features are focusing on community vs. organization, reaching outward to understand community aspirations and concerns, and providing opportunity for continuing community dialogue, creativity, and accountability.

We are approaching the final stages of our yearlong journey. The Aspirations to Actions teams, to varying degrees, have experienced the benefits of openly turning outward to the community and engaging in meaningful community conversations with Steven Covey’s guidance in mind to “listen to understand.” Some teams are at the point of moving to action and are contemplating next steps.

In the Harwood Institute's lexicon, an Innovation Space provides the opportunity for creativity and innovation and is a critical distinguishing feature of the approach. Placed in the Cycle of Public Innovation before the planning phase, Innovation Spaces encourage reflection on what teams learn from the community and how this new knowledge meshes with, changes, or influences their prior knowledge and perceptions.

Innovation Spaces, with an emphasis on building networks, open doors for more inclusivity in the creative process and builds on the community connections started with the community conversations. It also lays the foundation for accountability back to the community, which many times is the missing link in being credible in the eyes of community members. It seems disingenuous to solicit community participation and not find a way to keep the lines of communication open.

I am a fan of the book, The Medici Effect, by Frans Johansson and the emphasis of the book is that opportunities for innovation result when people from various cultures, communities, work experiences and disciplines come together in open discussion to focus on an issue or concern.  The premise of the book is based on the experiences of the Medici family in Florence from the 13th -17th centuries. They brought artists, scientists, philosophers, and craftsmen together, creating “innovation spaces” that led to new ways of thinking and of applying knowledge.

The “connective tissue” that Debra Jacobs often describes as critical to changing our communities for the better is evident in the open linkages of diverse ideas and concepts that occurred in Florence during these years and led to the Renaissance and fundamental change throughout Europe.

We are on a learning adventure and are seeking ways to create “innovation spaces” and ways to apply the results to developing and implementing our plans for action. Doing so will help build and strengthen the connective tissue necessary for a strong community initiative. Moving to action is essential, as it was in Florence, to create new opportunities for innovation and, more importantly, to meet the expectations of a community that takes a risk to trust.


  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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