The residents of every community are an enormous pool of untapped power. Daily they make decisions based on their vision of the future that positively and negatively affect the community. None of those individual decisions will send a community in a decidedly positive or negative direction, but the aggregate of the multiple decisions will. As such, the way leaders engage residents may be the most important and most useful of all leadership activities. It may also be the most difficult.
In the 23rd Edition of the Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service done by Harvard University, only 30% of those surveyed said they trusted local government to do the right thing all or most of the time. In a society that is increasingly distrustful of government and institutions, now more than ever our leaders need to make positive change through civic engagement. But how can a leader productively bring a large number of community members with broadly diverging values and ideas together to create a shared vision?
In the Strengths Based Local Government Leadership Academy participants learn a civic engagement process called Appreciative Inquiry (AI) that has been used worldwide to help communities (and groups numbering as many as 3000) to reach common ground. The four-phase AI process starts with an inquiry into community strengths; an area where communities have the most consensus. It then turns to questions that reveal the most important visions for the future. The third phase focuses on what the community believes it should work on first and leads to the outline of an action plan. The final phase is directed at how the action plan will be implemented. During the academy participants not only experience the AI process, they learn the theory behind it so they can adapt it to multiple uses in their communities.
For more information, contact Chet Bowling.
(Submitted by Chet Bowling, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist.)