The paradox of bottom up community development and top down consultancy
Written by Dee Brooks
The Jeder Institute is a strengths-focused, not-for-profit, messy, imperfect, next-stage organisation, based on decades of asset-based community development and person-centred practices, blended participatory leadership approaches and is uniquely based on our own member-led horizontal governance platform.
Power and Participation
As community development workers, we invite community members in to discover ways of working together where they will openly share their skills, transparently speak their mind, be vulnerable and address conflict or differences mindfully and we even expect this to be warmly welcomed and appreciated.
Yet, as community consultancy businesses, many people still operate a traditional top down business model.
This means that there are community development workers who are working in a bottom up way in community projects and initiatives and are expecting a certain set of collaborative outcomes and results whilst they are paradoxically working in a top down way in the management of their professional businesses and expecting a different set of outcomes and results.
Although, we often hear the same words used in both sets of desired outcomes and results. See Edgar Cahn’s Parable of the Blobs and Squares, for a great example of this paradox in action.
Walking our Talk
The power of the practices and processes we apply in our community work offers a robust way of engaging within an organisational framework and can be a game changing experiment.
Try reading through your staff policies and procedures and replace the word “staff” with the word “community” and see if it still aligns with your bottom up community intent and purpose. Take your principles of community engagement and development and see if they align to your organisation’s policies and procedures.
Lesson from ABCD Learning Conversations
Lessons from Conn et al.
Community is Messy
Not unlike the message from the Blobs and Squares, we can view our community work through the lens of vertical and horizontal systems of leadership and together, discover the opportunities in the space between the two. After all, the people operating in the top down space are also our neighbours in our day to day community life.
What Can We Do?
Some ideas from our Conscious Co-Design practice might be:
- Build, nurture, maintain relationships – it takes time to build trust
- Be authentic and transparent – let community members know the framework you’re thinking might suit them, have the discussion
- Identify community leaders – they have existing, strong networks and are not always the usual suspects
- Listen deeply and ask wisely – whenever and wherever possible
- Whenever possible, practice the art of reframing – shift the language from needs to strengths
- Host conversations – experiment with asset mapping, learning conversations, story, World Café, Open Space or any other participatory method which aligns to your purpose
As our mate Mike Green says, “Starting anywhere, leads everywhere!”