When community members realize that the vast majority of them share a basic aspiration — a sense that can be termed the “Community Spirit” — they will treat each other with more respect and consideration and feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves. This rationale, though in the context of the nation rather than the community, has recently spurred historians and commentators across the nation to call for an articulation of the current American Spirit to counter this period of deep division and alienation in our country. At a local level, communities can benefit as well from identifying a statement of what they value that helps unite their residents across their differences. They may become more engaged in improving the community and more willing to solve problems despite their differences. In this guide, the Divided Community Project suggests a process to help communities articulate their spirit.
The guide applies what was learned from other communities and from an American Spirit initiative to suggest a collaborative process that any community can use to identify and express its own spirit. Each community will select among these processes, and some communities may even find the identity so self-evident that they skip many of these steps. Erring on the side of over- inclusion, this guide elaborates on the following steps that any community can follow:
Conduct research aimed at securing answers to four key questions: What are the current challenges facing your community?
- What diverse communities of thought and experience exist within your community?
- What is special about your community in terms of history, geography, traditions, and more?
- What are some ideas for a statement of community spirit from elsewhere or from those already being floated in your community (more)?
Identify meeting participants who – when joined together – represent the diversity of views within the community, offer needed expertise and buy-in, and are good listeners, creative, and thoughtful (more).
Prepare meeting participants by providing them with materials that explain the concept a community spirit – why it matters and what about it gives it strength — and also that community’s special character and current challenges (more).
Devise a meeting agenda for a collaborative drafting of the community spirit. First, try the agenda out by facilitating short small group pilot meetings with participants who have been given the preparation materials. Then analyze the results, identifying challenges that persist despite preparation. Work with experienced facilitators to revise preparation materials and adjust the ultimate meeting plans to overcome the challenges (more).
Develop a communication strategy to try out the ideas for a community spirit that emerge from the larger meeting with a larger audience (Do the ideas for a community spirit resonate broadly and deeply?) and let others know about it (more).
The guide ends with a list of books on meeting facilitation. Click here to find: an example of a summary meeting agenda, a “behind the scenes” worksheet for facilitators that illustrates how detailed preparation can help, and a guide for co-facilitators. You can secure additional support from the Divided Community Project in the preparation, facilitation, and drafting of your community spirit and let the Project know about successes that can be shared with other communities by emailing Bill Froehlich, Deputy Director, Divided Community Project, at Froehlich.email@example.com with a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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