The sustainability of your community is likely one of your core concerns whether you are at the helm of a successful NGO or school, or simply want to ensure that your neighbourhood remains vibrant. Community sustainability is, without a doubt, central to community learning and health. However, in aiming for the goal of sustainability we sometimes get side-tracked – focusing more on maintaining what we already have than sustaining our primary goals.
By embracing change and focusing on keeping our communities dynamic, sustainability often falls into place. I have developed 15 keys to creating dynamic, healthy, learning communities. Here are the first five:
1. Know your goals
The broadest goal of many communities is often to maintain a healthy network of happy, valued and active people. This goal matters much more than whether or not this is facilitated through a community garden, a choir, a specific program, a particular office structure, and so on. While we often lament the passing of a great initiative or the retirement of a particularly wonderful leader, it is important to keep in mind that social interaction and stability can be maintained in many ways. In fact, it is more likely that it will be maintained if the community is dynamic than if we simply hang onto the projects to which we have become accustomed.
Communities often get so caught up in what they don’t have (lobbying for better education, health or transport services; improving green spaces; perfecting programming, etc.) that they often forget to celebrate what they do have. Celebration helps to create healthy minds, bodies and communication. It lifts spirits and can make people feel valued. It can make it easier to accept change when we dwell on what is positive. It can also help us to quickly prioritize and see through the fog of criticism.
3. Letting go of competition
Humans have competed with one another since the beginning their existence, so it is no surprise that competition readily develops between and within communities. Individuals aim to protect their turf, their funding, their organizations, their green lawns, their departments, their privacy, their positions, their access to resources, and so on. However, despite the fact that we have always competed, it is cooperation that often brings us our greatest success.
After all, we wouldn’t have survived as a species if hunters and gatherers hadn’t figured out how to travel and share resources together. And just ask anyone who has scaled the highest mountain peaks, landed a huge corporate contract, maintained a successful community program, or even pulled off a great dinner party. It usually wasn’t done in a spirit of conflict. And if it was, those involved likely did not end the day feeling relaxed. Keep the big goals in mind (see #1) and respect that everyone in every community has something to contribute. Know that it is okay to feel pride and a sense of accomplishment, to celebrate successes, but that these can occur separately from competition.
4. Leave room for new ideas
Help to keep room open for fresh ideas from both newcomers and those who have just had a stroke of inspiration. Being open to new initiatives involves leaving space for them. In a school setting this might mean intentionally creating some blank spaces in the timetable, to be filled with innovative approaches. If a long-standing program or initiative fades away, or a key member of the community leaves, don’t feel that the void needs to be filled right away. In fact, it is better to leave some time and space for people to assess their needs and become inspired by new situations. In all settings, this might mean making sure that everyone’s life is in balance and that people have the mental and physical capacity to consider new ideas.
It is important to create an environment where ideas are received with an open and positive mindset, and community members regard each other as skilled and knowledgeable individuals with worthwhile contributions to make.
5. Know that change is freeing
Once we accept that dynamic communities are healthy communities, we often realize that change not only helps to sustain our communities, but also brings with it a great sense of freedom. Suddenly, anything is possible. New skills can be developed and old ones appreciated. We can celebrate the past but also welcome new ideas. We let go and let things happen much more readily.
Coming soon….the next post will focus on communication-based keys that foster dynamic communities. The following post will focus on structural keys.