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One-on-ones and 'a vision so powerful'

Related story:  'If you're really listening, it will change you'


The goal of comprehensive community development isn't to try to go it alone, like a one-man band. Instead, many leaders and groups work together toward the same goal -- and harmonize.


The goal of comprehensive community development, as practiced by the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), is to help a neighborhood's leaders join together in creating and carrying out a common vision.

"If everyone begins to come together behind a common vision," said Jim Capraro, "then you can start changing the culture.  The vision has to be big enough to include everybody else's vision."

Capraro, a senior fellow for LISC's Institute for Comprehensive Community Development, was in Boston in late May to conduct two days of training for representatives of the three convening agencies in that city's new $2.8 million Resilient Communities/Resilient Families initiative.

A veteran of such presentations in more than 50 neighborhoods across the nation, Capraro told the agency representatives:

"You want a vision that is so powerful that, when people hear it, they want to be in it."

Three neighborhoods along Blue Hill Avenue in the southern section of Boston are involved in the Resilient Communities/Resilient Families initiative.

Patrick T. Reardon

The Resilient Communities/Resilient Families initiative is focused on three neighborhoods along Blue Hill Avenue in the southern section of Boston --- Mattapan (convening agency: (Mattapan Family Service Center), Codman Square-Four Corners (Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corp.) and Roxbury/North Dorchester (Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp.).

An essential element — arguably the single most essential element — in the initiative are the one-on-one interviews that will be conducted to draw community leaders into the process of developing that common vision.

Training the trainers

In each neighborhood, anywhere from a dozen to two dozen interviewers will conduct one-to-ones with roughly 100 leaders.  But few of those leaders were actually in the meeting room in a newly built apartment building on Blue Hill Avenue to hear Capraro.

He was training the trainers, the people who will instruct and oversee the interviewers in each community. 

Paul Francois (above) and Jeff Stone are community organizers for the Resilient Communities/Resilient Families initiative.

Patrick T. Reardon

Key in the co-ordination of that effort are the newly hired community organizers — Haitian-born Paul Francois for Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp. and Jeff Stone, the former director of City-Wide Dialogue on Boston's Ethnic and Racial Diversity, for the Mattapan Family Service Center.

At the time of the Capraro sessions, Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corp. hadn't yet taken on its community organizer.  It was represented at the training by Marcos Beleche, the group's director of community organizing.

'They harmonize'

Before getting to one-on-ones, Capraro, who on behalf of LISC has helped such efforts in 12 cities and two rural areas, discussed the concept of comprehensive community development.

"In a neighborhood, a lot of things are important at the same time," he noted.  "Can you say that education is more important than stopping crime?  Or stopping crime is more important than affordable housing?"

In the past, he said, a community development corporation would focus on one of those issues.  If it tried to address others, the CDC would often take on too much and fail.

Sort of like a one-man band.

The music of a one-man band "doesn't last very long because it's too tiring to try to do it," Capraro said.  "And the one-man band doesn't make very good music, right?"

By contrast, in a symphony orchestra, each of the instruments plays its own part of the score, and the result is beautiful.  "They harmonize."

The same is true, he said, in comprehensive community development.  "The convening agency doesn't do everything.  It doesn't consume all the money.  It's co-ordinating everybody else, the way an orchestra conductor conducts everything.  He doesn't play all the instruments."

'These people don't even know each other'

But, unlike an orchestra, the organizations in a community usually aren't working from the same score.

"In most neighborhoods, these people don't talk to each other — these people don't even know each other," Capraro said.  "In most neighborhoods, we have lots of people working really hard on a lot of things, but they're not working together."

The one-on-one interviews are the means to getting them talking — initially to someone already involved in the initiative and ultimately to each other.

Once leaders are talking — and listening — to each other, hundreds of residents will be drawn into the effort.  To talk and listen to each other.  And to develop that common vision.

"It's awesome," said Rev. Zenetta Armstrong of the Church of the Holy Spirit in the Mattapan neighborhood during a break in the training.  "I understand the importance of visioning.  I see that as critical.

"I'm excited about the fact that ordinary folks will learn all these things and be empowered. The process will tap into some real heart-felt desires or dreams they have for themselves, and they'll be able to articulate that.  I see the opportunity of real transformation in people's lives.  We are going to unleash what people have kept to themselves and never had the opportunity to share."

'Two kinds of leaders'

The first step in the one-on-one effort, Capraro said, is to identify leaders, and this can be hard work since many, if not most, of the leaders will be people the organizers don't know.  Or have never even heard of.  (See sidebar for an outline of the steps in the process.)

"There are two kinds of leaders," he said.  "One is a resident leader.  The second kind of leader is someone who, by virtue of their job, has the capabilities to do things."

One sort of leader lives in the neighborhood and may be a block club president or a sports league founder.  In Mattapan or Roxbury/North Dorchester, it may be someone important in the Haitian community.  The goal is to bring in the leaders of as many constituencies in the neighborhood as possible, Capraro said.

Marcos Beleche of the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corp.

Patrick T. Reardon

Marcos Beleche of Codman Square agreed: "We have to push ourselves and say, 'We're not going to get the ones we know.  We have to get other voices.'  There's not going to be people who come out if the table's already set."

"No group should be isolated," Capraro said.  "If you're going to engage folks, you're going to engage all kinds, and it should be across all barriers — race, ethnicity, age, disabilities, whatever.  You want to make the tent as wide as it can be." 

The other sort of leader may not live in the community but works there in some capacity, such as the head of a child care service or a school principal or a hospital administrator.  These leaders and their organizations have goals for helping a neighborhood, but they usually work in isolation, knowing little or nothing about what others are doing.

"The residents can tell you what they need, but they don't necessarily know how to do it," said Capraro.  "But the people at the organizations, agencies and institutions are trying to do that every day.

"The magic happens when you get these two kinds of leaders together."

'Stare into their eyes'

The next step is to write a simple — very simple — one-on-one script.

Basically, this is simply a framing question or two to gets the leader talking about the community.  The example that Capraro offered, and has used himself, involved a SWOT framework — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  (See A script to listen with for complete script.)

The script also mentions that the leader will be invited later to attend a public meeting at which the results of the one-on-one interviews will be results — a report-back or give-back meeting.

The interview itself, Capraro said, "is an eyeball-to-eyeball relational meeting.  It's not a dialogue.  It's not a conversation. You can't influence the answer.  You can't pitch an idea or a program."

The role of the interviewer is simply to listen — and not just listen, but to appear to be listening.

"You have to consciously and purposefully listen — and communicate that you're listening," he said. "Look like you're engaged. Stare into their eyes.  Don't be distracted or look at your watch."

It's OK, he said, for the interviewer to ask "why" questions, such as: "Why do you see the diversity of the community as a weakness [or a strength]?"  These sort of questions "bring you deeper into the meaning of the answers," he said.

And, if the leader pauses, the interviewer sits quietly attentive. "You stare into their eyes and wait.  Silence is your friend," Capraro said.

Even as the interviewer listens, Capraro said, it's also important to take notes, either on a laptop or on paper, of what the leader says.  If a version of the SWOT question is used, it will be easy to label each comment as either a strength, weakness, opportunity or threat. 

It's also important, he said, to put down in a few words or a phrase or a sentence what the leader says.  These quotes are later used (without attribution) in an appendix to a report on the one-on-ones, presented at the report-back meeting — an appendix that gets high readership, Capraro said, because everyone wants to see their own words in print.

While these notes are important in preparing that later report, Capraro warned that they are secondary to the goal of getting the leader interested — and engaged — in the Resilient Communities/Resilient Families initiative.


Once the script is written, the interviewers have to be recruited. 

"They need to be good listeners and get down what the person says," Capraro noted.  "You have to be a good reporter.  It's important to get their words down.  It shows later that you were listening."

Capraro was asked if it would be smart to hire college interns to do the interviews.  "No," he said.

The idea is that, in the one-on-one, the interviewer and the leader will develop a relationship with each other that will continue — and, it is hoped, deepen — in the future.  So it's important for the interviewers to live or work in the neighborhood.

In addition, Capraro noted, "The one-on-one interviews are auditions."

Later, in talking with the steering committee and in notes on the meeting, the interviewer will pass along information about the leader's interests and enthusiasms.

The leaders who are most enthusiastic or most articulate about particular issues will be asked to speak at the report-back session.  This will further engage them in the process, he said, and will show to others that the initiative is aimed at bringing new leadership to public attention.

Capraro drew a stick-figure as an example of a handy tool for remembering those things that are most important to a leader. 

Immediately after the one-on-one, the interviewer can use such a stick figure to graphically indicate where the leaders strongest interests are.

For instance, the word "psychology" could be written near the head of the stick figure to indicate the leader's intellectual interest in that subject.  And the word "baseball" at the figure's left hand to indicate that sport as a hobby.  And the words "disabled daughter" at the heart of the figure to indicate that really moves the leader.

'Visioning is not about problem-solving'

The report-back meeting is the first public step in the process.  That is followed, later that day or — Capraro's preference — at later date, by a visioning session.  (See sidebar for an outline of the process for creating and implementing a quality-of-life plan.)

"The thing that's special about visioning is that it's not about problem-solving," Capraro said. 

"We don't ask little children, 'When you're an adult, how are you going to make sure you're not hungry?'  We ask, 'What do you want to be?' ”

For the visioning session, participants work together to conceive a common vision of what they'd like their neighborhood to be like in, say, 10 years.

The meeting concludes with a set of two or three dozen leaders being commissioned to take that vision and the results of the one-on-ones, and develop a quality-of-life plan — or, as described in some cities, a community contract.

"The plan," Capraro said, "is not the end.  It's the means.  The product is:  Implement!  Implement!  Implement! 

"The plan says who's going to do each specific thing, and the rest of us agree to help them do it.  It's not the plan that's important.  It's the performance of the contract that's important."

'All organizing is dis-organizing'

"How do we get people in the room? What would you say when you encounter cynics?" asked Kevin Johnson, community action director for the Madison Park Development Corp., a partner of Nuestra in Roxbury.

"They say, 'We've been studied.  We've been surveyed.  We've been focus-grouped.  And nothing's ever changed.'  A lot of them say, 'This is Roxbury.  Nothing good is ever going to happen here.' "

Capraro's response:  "I'd be tempted to say, 'OK, don't come.  We won't talk to you now.' "

In the long run, he said, if the initiative is successful, the cynics will want to get involved — will find it in their best interest to get involved.

But Capraro added a reminder that the Resilient Communities/Resilient Families initiative isn't simply a process that will take a lot of work.  It's also a process that, at least initially, will unsettle the neighborhoods.

"All organizing is dis-organizing," he said.  "What organizing does is create a new power structure.  Not everyone's going to be happy with what you're doing."

Posted in Engaging

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