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Ways to make a Community Stronger, Wiser, More Resilient and Engaged


by Tom Atlee

Our American culture is very good at keeping us apart -- involved in our own lives, houses, subcultures -- hooked up to mass media and mass economics -- with precious little time or inclination to reach out -- to work, talk and play with people unlike ourselves, or to really engage with the place where we live. This is great for profits and bad for communities, humanity, nature and democracy.

Below are 26 ways to make a community stronger, wiser and more resilient, sustainable and engaged. There are hundreds of other approaches, but these will do for now.

The Co-Intelligence Institute is considering offering a workshop on these 26 approaches to making a better community. It would be a one-day exploratory workshop for people who might be interested in working on one or more of these approaches to improving their community. Although the Co-Intelligence Institute wouldn't lead the way on any of these projects, it could work with people who do want to take the initiative.


STRONGER - We can know a lot more about who we are, as a community, and weave ourselves together into a strong, brightly-colored fabric.

1) Asset mapping - We can systematically survey and organize the assets and capacities of individuals, informal networks, organizations and official institutions in our community. Dozens of communities already have.

2) Listening Projects - Neighbors do door-to-door canvassing that doesn't sell, recruit or educate anyone. They just listen to the ideas and concerns of their neighbors. This simple act can produce unexpectedly powerful results.

3) Neighborhood help networks - People sign on to help each other during crises or life changes (moving, serious illness, etc.).

4) Friendship Webs - We can self-organize our community using the existing networks of people who already know and trust each other. Because those networks overlap, the effort can include virtually everyone, with no central control.

5) Neighborhood Email networks and phone trees - People can reach each other rapidly and systematically to deal with a crisis or sudden opportunity, without depending on official media.

6) Affinity group networks - Affinity groups are intimate activist groups who get trained in action and decision-making. Even as they work on their diverse issues, affinity groups can prepare with each other as a network for rapid-response emergency community action, as well.


WISER - We have a lot of smart and wise individuals in this community -- but can our community as a whole exercise its collective intelligence and community wisdom? Can we use our diversity to deepen and broaden our shared understandings -- or only to divide ourselves from each other?

7) Wisdom Council - A group of a dozen randomly-selected, diverse community members are convened temporarily (like a jury) to craft a consensus statement about what the community thinks and feels, needs and wants. The process used is an advanced, highly creative form of facilitated consensus. A new group is convened once or twice a year. Results are publicized through the media, as well as to citizens and officials in every way possible, for further dialogue and action.

8) Quality of Life Indicators - Communities across the country are creating their own statistics to measure their quality of life, and then setting up the means to track these. These are far more useful than standard growth statistics (money, jobs, population, etc.), and can help us see how we are doing, collectively.

9) Future Search conferences - About three dozen diverse community stakeholders come together to reflect on their shared past, current dynamics, and future directions, and to form task groups to move the community in positive directions.

10) Open Space conferencing - A simple, powerful way for people who are passionate about a topic to organize themselves to talk about and do all the things needed to address it. A good tool for community self-organization.

11) World Cafe process - Lots of people who want to discuss a topic gather 4-6 to a table and converse in 20-40 minute periods. At the end of each period, they each move to a different table and the conversation proceeds with different people. At the end they return to their original groups and share what they learned "out in the world".

12) Handy process tools for meetings - A toolbox of ways to help everyone be heard, to organize agenda's quickly and realistically, to make circle meetings more lively and open conversations more reflective, and so on -- including understanding more about the "groan zone" that groups often encounter during participatory decision-making (see Dialogue, Consensus Process, and Facilitation)

13) Multiple-viewpoint Drama and video - Ways to explore the many diverse human perspectives in our community or in some important community event or issue, and reflect those back to the community so we can see who we are, as a community, more fully and compassionately.

14) Multiple-viewpoint "Fishbowl" process - A big circle surrounds a small circle. Spokespeople for side A sit in the middle and talk about their perspective. Then they return to the big circle and spokespeople for Side B go into the middle to talk. Then Side A again. Then Side B again. Then perhaps some folks who aren't "taking sides" get their chance in the middle, "in the fishbowl." This continues until shared understanding emerges. Can be facilitated or not, depending on the civility level.


MORE RESILIENT - As global forces -- whether meteorologic, economic or tectonic -- impact our community, how well are we prepared to survive and bounce back?

15) Community currency and barter systems - The more a community's wealth stays in the community, the healthier it will be. There are more local ways than federal dollars for community members to share what they have and can do, and get support for it.

16) Community gardens - As people grow things in a common plot of land, community grows there, too, and gardening knowledge is shared. This can also be done in networks of shared private yard gardens.

17) Community supported agriculture - Community families hire a farmer to grow what they need, and the farmer delivers it. In Tokyo, hundreds of city people go out to their supported farms each fall to work together on harvest and canning.

18) Bioregional study and practice - There is a natural coherence to ecological and cultural communities that is often ignored by political boundaries. In a watershed-based "bioregion," all life forms share certain natural constraints and opportunities, which we can understand and work with, coming home to here.

19) Nonviolent civilian-based defense (see the nonviolence page) - Harvard historian Gene Sharp discovered that nonviolent tactics and strategies were more effective than violent ones, but hardly anyone studied, trained and developed them as thoroughly as they studied and trained and strategized for war. Sharp developed ways for communities and societies to defend themselves nonviolently and effectively.

20) Emergency preparedness organizing - At best only 10% of a population prepares for inevitable disasters -- earthquakes, floods, etc. The more citizens prepare themselves and their neighborhoods, the less they have to depend on (and be controlled by) authorities in an emergency.


MORE ENGAGED - The foundation of a strong, wise, resilient community is people knowing and actively engaging with each other and their place -- simply because it feels good or meaningful to them. Everything else rests on that....

21) Arts and Recreation - Neighborhood sports teams... forums for art, music and performance... movie watching and discussion groups... ways people can actively express themselves together.

22) Dinner exchanges - People join a network of those from all over the community who invite each other to dinner to meet others unlike themselves. The network helps smoothe the way and helps people reflect on how it's going.

23) Celebrations, parties, potlucks and fairs - A hundred ways to just get together and have a good time -- usually involving food.

24) Cleanups and neighborhood aesthetics - Simple projects in which people can work together to make an obvious difference in the community.

25) Scavenger Hunts and Tours - How well do we know our community? An artist installed dozens of bronze dinosaur tracks for adults and kids alike to try to find.... Stores and schools carry a list of twenty trees or buildings to find... People offer a tour of historic sites or a local herbs tour...

26) Free school and learning exchanges - Everyone in a community knows something someone else would love to learn. It's just a matter of connecting them up, perhaps with some space to meet in....