The mega-importance of micro-interactions – in community building and elsewhere

I’ve just published two posts on Steps To A Humanity Of Organisation about the mega-importance of micro-interactions. Part 1 deals with micro-aggressions and how seemingly small remarks can become intolerable for those at whom they are aimed. Part 2, on a more positive note, looks at micro-solidarity and micro-affirmations and how (different) small remarks can help build and sustain relationships.

Part 1: https://markmckergow.substack.com/p/30-the-mega-importance-of-micro-interactions

Part 2: https://markmckergow.substack.com/p/31-the-mega-importance-of-micro-interactions

Steps To A Humanity Of Organisation is free to read and subscribe to. Do it today!

What does it take to raise a village? Watch this inspirational keynote video from Cormac Russell

It has often been said that “it takes a village to raise a child”. True enough. But what does it take to raise a village? That’s the topic of this recent keynote from asset-based community development (ABCD) pioneer Cormac Russell, given to the British Columbia Health Forum earlier in 2023.

Addressing health professionals, Cormac starts out wondering how to be better guests in the communities we serve. He takes time to explore five key ways in which communities are ill-served by so much of current work:

  • Communities are seen as problems to be solved
  • Money goes to services, not the community or the economically poor
  • Active citizenship is gragmented and in retreat
  • Communities are internalising the ‘deficit map’ model peddled by some professionals
  • Single-track politics and siloed approaches dominate

In so many cases, the interdependence of well-being which is so well produced by community life is lost amidst a flurry of well-meaning projects which focus on single aspects and too often come from outside the community and do not engage with it.

Cormac has the start of an answer, of course. I love his three-lane swimming pool model (which he mentions here). The first lane is what people can do for themselves to create health on their own with their neighbours. Professionals should remove the barriers to this and cheer them on. The second lane is full of things that communities can do, with a little help from professionals, who should be humble – on tap, not on top (in Cormac’s memorable phrase). The third lane will contain things that communities need professionals to do for them, with their expertise and understanding. But… we can’t see what’s in the third lane until we resource, lift up, cheer on the first two lanes.

Cormac’s speech is a committed, connected and concise statement of why ABCD has never been so vital, and how professionals can play our part in the neighbourhoods we visit and work with. Watch it now (below).

 

 

 

 

Neighbourhood democracy: Why we urgently need new models

New from me and Jenny on Substack:

https://markmckergow.substack.com/p/neighbourhood-democracy-why-we-urgently 

Jenny Clarke and I wrote this piece recently for the new In The Loop blog series by the European Consortium on Political Research. This strand is hosted by my good friend and colleague Titus Alexander, and is about how political science might help in saving democracy. (Read Titus’ introduction to the series here.)

Conventional democracy does not serve the community or neighbourhood level well. Mark McKergow and Jenny Clarke argue we must find alternative ways to facilitate inclusive action, support those seeking to make a difference (often with tiny resources), and build co-operation. Here, they set out key features of neighbourhood democracy, and suggest relevant practices as inspiration

In the UK (at least), the word ‘democracy’ implies the party-based oppositional systems we see at Westminster, the devolved nations, and in every town hall in the land. One group is in power and charged to get things done, another group opposes. Such systems are based on classical ideas of robust truth standing firm in the face of criticism; however much mud is slung, truth will prevail.

The shortcomings have rarely been clearer than in the past decade of polarisation. A deeply divided political landscape actively discourages co-operation between groups. The opposition want to take power, so they must make the others look bad. The governing side looks weak if they take up ideas from the opposition, who in turn look weak if they support a half-good idea.

Read more at https://markmckergow.substack.com/p/neighbourhood-democracy-why-we-urgently

 

Join our podcast recording on Intergenerational Working with Bella Kerr: 26 April 2023

In our latest Village In The City podcast recording Mark McKergow will be talking to Bella Kerr from the Generations Working Together. Bella is Intergenerational Development Officer She is a very enthusiastic proponent not only of getting generations working together but of making that work high-quality and mutually useful.

This is a fascinating area where a lot of very useful difference can be made with a bit of planning and forethought. Bella will be talking about her experiences as well as giving us some top tips about how to get connection going between older and younger people. There will also be lots of resource signposting.

This event takes place during Global Intergenerational Week (24-30 April 2023) so it’s a great chance to be tuning in to the possibilities offered by this kind of programme.

This will be a podcast recording on Zoom. Joining the recording means you have the chance to ask questions of our guests and share your own experiences. The session will be an hour at most.

Open to all. Please join us if you can. Register free for the Zoom call at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/podcast-recording-bella-kerr-on-intergenerational-working-in-your-village-tickets-598319438547

Bella Kerr is Intergenerational Development Officer with Generations Working Together (GWT). She works with organisations across GWT Scottish Networks as well as globally connecting and facilitating intergenerational work to connect people, locally, nationally and globally. The work connects people from different generations, assisting and supporting them to form intentional intergenerational relationships. The work also looks at Ageism and Stereotypes (between young and older people), Research, keeping up to date with new ideas and Intergenerational Housing Places and Spaces, looking at and exploring the use of community space and how we can connect across generations to interact in our local communities. GWT is FREE to join for anyone living in Scotland and membership offers information and resources and training on intergenerational work and the difference that it can make when bringing young and older people together.

Building better places: Shared ingredients for a wellbeing economy

A key discussion paper has appeared from our good friends at the Centre for Thriving Places, working with Carnegie UK Trust. Both organisations have been working to help build thriving places (where people can prosper in all kinds of ways, not simply financially) which are both fair (in terms of possibilities and opportunities for all) and also green (sustainable in the long term). The paper by Liz Zeidler and others takes in important step forward in looking at eight different models (from around the UK and internationally) and examining whether they are saying broadly the same thing.

The short answer is – YES! The paper looks at eight (count them!) models including SEED from Carnegie, Doughnut Economics from Kate Raworth and co, Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, The National Performance Framework (Scotland), The ONS Wellbeing Dashboard (UK), The UN Sustainable Development Goals, and The OECD Better Life Index. The conclusion is that, yes, all these frameworks are pointing in very much the same direction although with differences of emphasis for the various elements.

The metaphor Liz and her colleagues use in the paper is that the ingredients list for better place building is now quite well understood. The next step is to move from ingredients to recipes; how to use the various elements together in real situations to produce results which fit different places.

I would add to the metaphor by illustration. Imagine a kitchen store cupboard with basic ingredients for baking: flour, sugar, eggs, butter/vegan spread, milk, baking powder. We’ve all agreed that these are key parts of a positive and satisfying baking experience. AND the next thing is to actually make things and share how we’ve done it. So, this simple list can be the way to sponge cake, scones, pancakes, buns, cookies, muffins and more. Add some fried fruit to expand the list. Or cheese (cheese scone anyone). Add yeast for bread. These smaller special ingredients can expand the range out of all proportion to their size and cost.

And of course which recipes might be developed depends on the place in question and what the people of that place want and value. It’s time to stop producing frameworks (enough!) and start using them for real and real situations to build, learn and expand better places, thriving people and a sustainable future.

Is the relevant at the level of Villages In The City? I think it is. Connecting your efforts at a neighbourhood level with useful national and international frameworks can help bring people with you, connect local to global and also be useful if and when you seek funds. So take a look!

Download The Shared Ingredients For A Wellbeing Economy paper here (pdf, free download). 

Join the Wellbeing Economy Alliance here. 

See the wonderful work of the Centre For Thriving Places including their Thriving Places Index and Happiness Pulse here. 

 

How to organise both humanely AND effectively? Mark McKergow’s latest writing is free on Substack

Village In The City founder Dr Mark McKergow has started a new writing project on Substack. He’s building on his work in Host Leadership, Solutions Focus and Village In The City to explore how we might organise both humanely AND effectively. It’s easy to see how to be humane and ineffective. It’s even easier to see how to be effective and inhumane. But how to combine both? Mark’s career has been exploring this question from various angles in learning, coaching, organisational change and community development. Now he’s building on his 30 years of experience to put this work together in new ways, explore the gaps, look at unanswered questions and try to be as clear as possible. It’s free to subscribe and read, with new work every Wednesday. http://markmckergow.substack.com.

Creating a new inclusive event – the West End Coorie

My neighbourhood of Edinburgh West End is rather unusual. For years it has been seen as a place to shop and work, rather than a place to live. There have always been residents, of course! However, many of the glorious Georgian terraced buildings are losing their commercial tenants (lawyers and finance firms mainly) who are going to modern office space. Developers snap up the building and convert it into apartments, so the number is residents is increasing – we estimate about 8000 at the moment which is at the top end for a neighbourhood community.

When we arrived here in 2017 we found a mixed picture. There is LOTS happening – super independent shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, art galleries, even a cathedral! But none of it was aimed at, or provided for, local residents. The pandemic caused chaos for the shops and hospitality venues (they were closed, and even when they reopened there were no workers and few shoppers). However, it did allow the residents to see each other clearly for the first time – there was nobody else around! That led to the formation of a West End Residents & Businesses Facebook group, which now has close to 2500 members.

Once there is that kind of communication and connection, it becomes possible to start to do things. We’ve had residents get-togethers, street clean-ups, art gallery visits, even a community Janes Walk in 2022. I had wondered from time to time about some kind of ‘West End Weekend’ to get the locals and businesses interacting. At the end of summer 2022 I was having a coffee with Michael Apter of Paper Tiger, one of our lovely businesses, and raised the subject. He could see the possibilities right away, and we quickly started to refine it. We could ask businesses to make a modest ‘special offer’ for residents, and we give the residents stickers to wear; they could access the offers and also talk to each other!

Michael suggested making it a week rather than a weekend. I drafted up a one-pager on the idea and he gathered a few keen businesses together to sound them out. Over two years of pandemic difficulties meant that they were keen to get something going and start to wave the West End flog again. Anna Lagerqvist Christopherson offered The Green Room bar as a meeting place, and my fellow Facebook group admin Paul Hancock joined in. Someone proposed calling it the West End Coorie (Coorie is a Scots word meaning ‘to snuggle or nestle’ – a bit like the Danish ‘hygge’ and a good thing to do as winter draws in!). We agreed the basis of the event and 21-27 November for the date, and I made efforts to contact as many businesses as possible with our proposal in early October 2022.

Another aspect was to re-launch and re-energise the existing (but dormant) Edinburgh West End website and social media. Michael identified some residual money from a previous initiative, and we decided to use this to get someone engaged on social media. Katie Llewellin joined the team and played a marvellous role in getting around the businesses, while I handled the admin (keeping all the details together) and website. We designed a simple logo and ordered window stickers for the businesses and coat stickers for the residents.

We also decided to take a pragmatic view on events. I play with Shunpike Social Club street band, and getting them along was an easy decision (we perform outdoors so little infrastructure required!). We also set up Meet The Neighbours events at two cafes on different days (thank you The Green Room and Flatbread Turkish Bakery!). There were quite a few events happening that week anyway, and we asked them if we could promote them as part of the Coorie – most were very happy.

So we had candlelight concerts in the cathedral, jazz, a pub quiz. a Beaujolais Nouveau tasting and more – just by connecting what was already going on. Some of our businesses decided to hold their own events – the RIAS Architects Bookshop had a Coorie Christmas evening with mulled wine, and Union Gallery held a competition to ‘Find Archie’. Rogue Flowers held a festive wreath making workshop (with afternoon tea from their neighbours Fox & Co) which quickly sold out.

In the end we had 54 businesses participating and 17 events under the Coorie banner. You can see all the details on the Coorie webpage. We gave out hundreds of stickers, and invited anyone to be an ‘honorary Westender’ for the week (opening it up to all). I am still gathering feedback. The overall view seems to be that it was good to get the businesses working together, giving the West End something to shout about. We could have more people participating, but those residents who did get involved enjoyed it. We had a massive increase in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram engagement, and featured all the businesses involved both to residents and workers/visitors.

It’s useful to look at what led us to this particular event.

  • We used the assets we had – a lot of interesting and keen local businesses, the Facebook group to get the word out, events that were happening anyway.
  • We invented a name (the ‘Coorie’), which has local Scottish connections and is a bit distinctive.
  • We based everything on want to build connections locally (rather than simply building custom for the businesses),
  • We did our best to include everyone who wanted in – all the participating businesses volunteered to join us.
  • The whole thing is based around the ‘soft power’ of invitation and engagement.
  • We used the Skills and talents available – I can drive a simple WordPress webpage and use mail merge on Gmail (to contact the businesses), Katie was a whizz with social media as well as having great local connections, Michael and Anna were at the forefront of business activity and Paul runs the Facebook group.
  • And of course we were mostly connecting what was already there – the key thread in Cormac Russell and John McKnight’s new book The Connected Community (which also features Village In The City!).

Could it be better? Yes, certainly. We hope to do Coorie week again next year; now the idea is out there and with a longer run-up, it could certainly engage more people. We need to think about the balance of building connection between the locals and inviting in those who would enjoy what the West End has to offer. And more events would be a good way of building contact even more.

A final word to Emma, who emailed in in during the week.  “Hi I’m participating in the Coorie week I think it’s a fantastic idea and just want to congratulate you guys on the overall organisation of such a fantastic community building event.”

Here’s a video of Shunpike Social Club dancing with our audience as the sun goes down on a cold Saturday afternoon. I wrote some new words to one of our songs, now called Coorie Calypso: Coorie, Coorie, now you’re in the West End. Coorie, Coorie, everyone here is your friend!

Topic for December – Inclusive Gatherings

Our final topic of the month for 2022 is a very appropriate one for December (at least in Western/Christian countries) – inclusive gatherings.  This time of year is a traditional moment for all kinds of get-togethers for family, work and (of course) community. Once we have communication and connection. some hosts and some meeting places, the next thing is clearly to invite people to come together.  This is what our Village Builders Handbook has to say on the subject:

Having established the importance and desirability of getting people from all walks of life together from time to time, the next thing to think about is what kind of event will attract people to come out and get involved. Not every kind of event will appeal to everyone, but it’s a good start to think about broadly appealing inclusive gatherings.

Broad inclusive appeal

These events can turn into milestones in the year which happen on a continuing basis. A summer street party, a music weekend, a Christmas Fayre, a New Year / Hogmanay (as we call it in Scotland) event, a garden party, an open gardens weekend, a BBQ. It all depends where you are, what the traditions are, and what you think will get people involved and enjoying themselves together.

Lara Celini is an experienced village-builder in the Willowbrae district of Edinburgh. Some of the events she and her team have organised include:

  • A ‘big lunch’ with the street closed to traffic – which has become an annual event
  • This can also include things like making bunting sessions as part of the preparations
  • #PetsofWillowbrae hashtag on social media so that people learn the names of all the pets
  • ‘Viral kindness cards’ for people to pick up, seek help and offer support
  • Decorating windows (a popular thing in the COVID lockdown here in Edinburgh, pictures and teddy bears are popular) – see the Window Wanderland website for ideas
  • Sharing food events work very well – lots of people can contribute and enjoy!
  • Ceilidhs, barn dances and other formats which involve learning the dances which get people interacting. (Very popular in Scotland!)
  • Lantern procession – perhaps culminating in the dramatic burning of the lanterns!
  • Quizzes and other events – keep them fun (though there is definitely a place for serious quizzing too!)
  • Making ‘kindness cards’ for the local Care home, getting the children involved and engaging with seniors
  • Other creative projects such as decorating cotton shopping bags to take away and use (instead of plastic bags)
  • Jumble trail – people put out things they no longer want, and everyone roams around collecting
  • Community weeding events (‘Willowbrae Weeds You’) to maintain community ground and streets.

You can hear more from Lara on Village In The City podcast #2 – click on the link here.

In the past, churches used to also be broadly attended and bring people together. They still do, though in UK settings this is increasingly a minority interest. Village-builders should be looking to engage churches in their work – they have a role to play and can be very useful partners. There are definitely benefits to coming together from time to time to sing, hear inspiring stories, reflect on the difficult questions of life, and meet others. The Sunday Assembly movement is one organisation who support such meetings on an inclusive basis.

We heard from Rev Nick Bowry on a Village In The City call that churches are often very interested in helping to build flourishing communities and lives, whether that’s for church-goers or the wider population. In general ministers are accustomed to going out to look for partners with whom to work – if you arrive on their doorstep with an inclusive mindset and a collaborative stance, they will likely be delighted.

More focused events

Along with these broadly inclusive events, a good Village In The City will look to be offering chances for people to meet based on particular needs or interests. Examples include:

  • Newcomers get-together – a chance for new arrivals in the village to come together, meet each other, find out about local events and possibilities and say hello to the village building team
  • Laptop Wednesday – a day in the week for homeworkers to gather, work in the same space, and support each other
  • Play Street – some places support the closure of local street to allow children and families to play safely
  • Film club – a monthly chance to watch an interesting film and discuss it afterwards over a drink

This is a very short starter list!  We hope to add more as the project progresses. In general, the more specific to the locale, the better the event will be. I used to live in St George’s Avenue in north London, where the people held a street party every year on… St George’s Day!

Look for ‘excuses’

One good thing to be doing as your village comes together is to look for ‘excuses’ for events and gatherings. Although I terms these ‘excuses’, they are actually important local things or events that are worth noting, celebrating, marking, and generally getting people out for. Particularly in the British context, people love an excuse to celebrate, to get together, to suspend the usual rules of keeping oneself to oneself. So when something useful comes along, it can make very good sense to seize the moment and declare some kind of one-off event. You then have the option of considering doing it again next time/next year/whenever (or not). And… these kind of local ‘excuses’ can be a good part of starting to build an identity for your place.

Mark McKergow has found a good excuse in his own neighbourhood of Edinburgh West End – the West End Coorie!  More about this in a future blog post here.

You can download the whole Village Builders Handbook (pdf) free here.

November: The importance of meeting-places for community

Our latest theme at Village In The City is about the importance of meeting places. In many European places there are plazas, market squares, places where folk can bump into each other as well as meet in a pre-arranged way. If we are to get people talking to each other, then places to do it are (of course) vital. And these are actual physical places – it’s the proximity of others that makes a Village In The City different from other communities. Finding places where people can come freely to meet others, work together, create new options for the neighbourhood, is very important.

INDOOR SPACES

Some places already have ‘community centres’. If your neighbourhood does, have a look at it. Is it welcoming? Is it used? Is it valued. I have seen many so-called ‘community halls’ that are none of these things. How can you improve it? (This is usually more of a matter of some cleaning and Care than financial investment in the first instance.)
If you don’t have a public place, find a friendly cafe or pub that can offer space (usually in exchange for buying a coffee). There is something in it for the venue to be seen at the heart of community activities, so a good ally is very useful. Having your meetings in public is a good start – it helps your activities be visible, it saves any individual from having to open their home, and it allows everyone to participate on an equal footing. This blog by Richard Lucas has great ideas about how to find a suitable space.

OUTDOOR SPACES

It’s great if your village has an outdoor space you can use too. These are sometimes right there and obvious, in other settings a little more imagination is required. Even if land is privately owned and controlled, it is often possible to negotiate use for occasional special events.

Finding places where people can have chance encounters as well as planned events is also a good idea. Back in time people used to meet at street markets which were a key day in the week to get out and about. Many continental European cities have a continuing tradition of city squares with cafes where people can bump into each other. This is not always easy to engineer, but the opportunity to bump into others, say hello, have a chat and exchange news is key to a functioning Village In The City. Dog-walkers and people waiting at the school gates have more opportunities for this than many of the rest of us… how can you get people out and about where YOU are?

(This is a short extract from our Village Builders Handbook – free pdf download. Join the conversation in our online community at http://members.villageinthecity.net.)

NEW podcast: The journey from ‘community engagement’ to ‘community development’ at Strathcarron Hospice

NEW podcast: The journey from ‘community engagement’ to ‘community development’ at Strathcarron Hospice, what they did and some surprising and positive differences emerging. Mark talks to Susan High and Hannah Gray. Click here or better still subscribe to Village In The City podcasts at Apple, Google, Spotify, Amazon etc.

We’re talking to Susan High and Hannah Gray from Strathcarron Hospice near Falkirk in Scotland. Susan and Hannah have played a key role in moving the hospice from a ‘community engagement’ focus (a good thing in itself) to a ‘community development’ focus (even better). This work over the past 2-3 years has had eye-opening results and useful outcomes for their work both as clinicians and in the community.

This journey is described in Cormac Russell’s paper Understanding ground-up community development from a practice perspective published in the open access journal Lifestyle Medicine. It’s free to download and very well worth a read! VITC founder Mark McKergow summarises the paper and points to come of the challenges to come in his blog here.

On the call we talk about a ‘three lane model’ for community development. Lane 1: things the community can do for themselves, and the best way to support is to get out of the way. Lane 2: Things the community can do for themselves with a little help from outside. Lane 3: things the community needs outside help to do, and the best way to support is to keep focus on what the community wants, not what the experts think they ‘should’ want.

Hannah also mentions the Denny Poppies project – find out more here.

Link to the podcast https://shows.acast.com/village-in-the-city/episodes/strathcarron-hospice-moving-from-community-engagement-to-com

You can join Village In The City, access our free online community, get our handbook, blogs, resources and frameworks at http://villageinthecity.net.

NEW podcast recording: From community engagement to community development at Strathcarron Hospice

Our next podcast recording is on Thursday 10th November 2022 at 2.30pm. Mark will be joined by Susan High and colleagues from Strathcarron Hospice to talk about their journey from ‘community engagement’ to ‘community development’ over the past five years or so.

Strathcarron’s continuing journey from ‘community engagement’ to ‘community development’ was featured recently in Cormac Russell’s latest paper Understanding ground-up community development from a practice perspective published in the open access journal Lifestyle Medicine.

The paper affirms that Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) approaches are preferable Community Engagement practices, as they offer more authentic pathways toward community-centred population health and Wellbeing. The article concludes that once effective ground-up community development has been initiated supplementary efforts at reform and relief are more likely to have desired and sustained impact. VITC founder Mark McKergow summarises the paper and points to come of the challenges to come here.

We will have the chance to get the inside story on what Strathcarron have been doing from community development co-ordinator Susan High and her colleagues. We’ll discuss what made then think about this change, how they did it, the impact so far (on both the hospice and on the community), and the lessons learned so far.

This will be a podcast recording on Zoom. Joining the recording means you have the chance to ask questions of our guests and share your own experiences. The session will be an hour at most.

Open to all. Please join us if you can. Register your free place at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/podcast-recording-from-engagement-to-community-development-with-susan-high-tickets-450325374317 .

NEW podcast: Cormac Russell and The Connected Community

NEW podcast: Cormac Russell and The Connected Community. Listen wherever you get your podcasts (search for Village In The City) or at https://shows.acast.com/village-in-the-city/episodes/cormac-russell-and-the-connected-community

Join Mark McKergow and international ABCD guru Cormac Russell as they discuss Cormac’s new book The Connected Community (with John McKnight). They discuss why connecting the community is so important, the critical role of discovering what’s there already, and how to encourage neighbours to enhance their communities. Cormac reveals his ‘tapestry weaving’ metaphor for community development, which isn’t in the book! We have questions from the USA, Ghana and Ireland about the role of local government, how to get involved in ABCD in an international setting, and thoughts on violence reduction (or is it?) with lessons from the USA and Scotland.

Links mentioned during the call:

About the book:

Find out how to uncover the hidden talents, assets, and abilities in your neighborhood and bring them together to create a vibrant and joyful community. It takes a village!

We may be living longer, but people are more socially isolated than ever before. As a result, we are hindered both mentally and physically, and many of us are looking for something concrete we can do to address problems like poverty, racism, and climate change. What if solutions could be found on your very doorstep or just two door knocks away?

Cormac Russell is a veteran practitioner of asset-based community development (ABCD), which focuses on uncovering and leveraging the hidden resources, Skills, and experience in our neighborhoods. He and John McKnight, the cooriginator of ABCD, show how anyone can discover this untapped potential and connect with his or her neighbors to create healthier, safer, greener, more prosperous, and welcoming communities. They offer a wealth of illustrative examples from around the world that will inspire you to explore your own community and discover its hidden treasures.

Village In The City is a post-COVID initiative to help you build micro-local communications and communities where YOU live.

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