The author, Paul Born, is a co-founder of Tamarack – a Canadian organisation dedicated to community development and engagement. Tamarack is highly regarded internationally in these fields and Paul Born is often called upon to share his knowledge and wisdom world-wide.
Community Conversations has a lengthy sub-title: Mobilizing the Ideas, Skills and Passion of Community Organizations, Governments, Businesses, and People. As the main title suggests, the book is firstly about conversations. The sub-title suggests the secondary theme; multi-sectoral collaboration.
Right from page 1 Born makes it clear the reason that conversation and collaboration are key ingredients not only for community development, but also for society as a whole – society today is incredibly complex. Many of the services and organisations working within our communities are set up to deal with single issues. Born notes that these organisations
“…are sorely lacking in the face of personal and community problems that are multifaceted, adaptive, and interconnected.”With such an understanding it becomes obvious why multi-sectoral collaboration is necessary. No-one has all the answers and, quite possibly, no-one even has all the questions.
But, why conversation? Why does conversation play such a critical part in solving these issues? Born, in common with many others, proposes that communities need to tap into their assets.
Ask someone to list a community’s assets and they would probably come up with a list such as: schools, museums, parks, government departments, businesses, community centres and other resources. Born writes a similar list. He then notes that
“…most often it is not the organizations but the people who lead them that represent the true, untapped asset.”The Stranger Asset
What happens when people get together? They talk, they converse. They share ideas, they mutually create new ideas. This is why Born declares conversation to be crucial.
But, warns Born, don’t bring just the usual suspects to the community conversation. Be open to the “unusual stranger.” The stranger may be
“…a homeless person on the street, someone with a disability, or an unusually entrepreneurial government bureaucrat.”In other words, bring those who may not normally be part of such community conversations – people and communities often overlooked or excluded.
Community Conversations is a simply written book, yet full of sage advice about how to create the space within which stimulating and effective conversations and collaborations can emerge.
For example, Born suggests that there are three skills necessary for advancing collaboration:
- systems thinking,
- opportunistic resilience (aka “seeking early wins”)
In the second half of the book Born tells ten stories of conversations that he has been involved with and describes in brief how each of these conversations were set up. Many of these techniques may be known to community development facilitators: e.g. Future Search, Open Space, Conversation Cafes. What is useful here is that Born tells his own story about how these have been used to start and stimulate community conversations.
Even though Born doesn’t describe these techniques in detail he does provide plenty of resource references for those wanting to find out more.
One of these ten stories is less a technique and more a basis for what enables all good conversation – food. Born acknowledges that
“…the best conversations that I have been involved in usually involve food… We sit. We eat. We talk.”Indeed! Why should it be any different just because the conversation is in a community setting rather than around our family dinner table?
Yes, I would have loved to read this book four decades ago. I certainly enjoyed reading it now.
If you haven’t already got it, get it. Sit down. Have a snack nearby. Read it.
Community Conversations is available from Bank of I.D.E.A.S