We have been involved in a number of conversations lately about how to support leadership in communities so that a community is able to come to agreements on what is most urgent and coordinate their efforts to take effective action to tackle problems or respond to opportunities. There is growing recognition that the best solutions emerge when people who are directly affected by a problem are the ones making decisions about how to respond. For foundations who agree with this and want to support communities this means figuring out how to invest in a community’s ability rather than funding a specific solution or work on a problem chosen by people who are not well connected within the community. (Of course there can be many ways of thinking about what constitutes a community, e.g. a shared identity, a common purpose, or proximity. For the purpose of this conversation we want to focus on place.)
If you wanted to provide this type of support to a community what would it look like? We are interested in how to foster leadership in communities. There are a lot of different assumptions about what needs to be in place that makes it possible for a particular community to create changes that improve the lives and well being of its members. Some programs have pointed to the role of education and meaning make of common experiences, some have lifted up the role of data that gives communities a new lens of problems and progress, some programs focus on building and strengthening relationships while others are more targeted about the different parts of a community that need to be connected in order to generate a full understanding and dynamic understand that would produce a system level change. There is a lot of good experience to draw on. We would like to invite those of you who are interested in this question to join our conversation and virtual work. What would that look like?
You may also have interesting resources, evaluations, case studies that would shed light on this question. Please post them on the Leadership For a New Era site. We also are going to take first crack at developing a theory of change about building leadership capacity in communities of place and we want your help! We will post this on the Leadership for a New Era website on a wiki where you can jump in and contribute by visiting this link: http://www.leadershipforanewera.org/page/Supporting+Community+Leadership . We still have a long way to go in broadening our understanding of leadership delivery strategies. As we learn more about how change occurs in communities and what a community needs to create change we will be closer to developing leadership approaches that can contribute to a sustainable improvement in community life.