"Connector Academy and Lab," a project of the Cleveland Neighborhood Association, will train residents to become leaders in their community and make change in their neighborhood. Residents will work together, learn from one another and support one another in creating innovative community-building projects.
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
Being able to try and engage in truly innovative forms of connections. Having a budget and grant with parameters that encouraged innovation allowed us to try unique ideas in an effort to reach a broader base of residents. Typically we are
restricted by the particular funding or project parameters and end up not being able to adjust and innovate on the fly with our activities. One example of this was choosing to do an entire series of events, called 30 Days of Community as a pop-up in a vacant store front. We did this in place of what is normally a more traditional annual community meeting format. This allowed us to reach many new contacts who’d never been involved or connected to the organization before. It helped us
build a base for building neighborhood leadership out of a more representative group of residents then previously.
Not having quotas to meet regarding our engagement freed us to spend the necessary time to develop relationships with residents to form the base for leadership development. There is typically undue pressure, both internally and externally, to prove that your engagement work is worthwhile and that ends up unduly prioritizing the easier to reach individuals, not necessarily an equitable approach. This manifests very simply for example in engaging through social media and email lists, which caters to those already digitally connected and “in network” over doorknocking, which can be at times slower and more tedious work, but reaches a more inclusive and less restricted group of residents.
Key lessons learned:
Some of the activities we tried simply didn’t work and even through our evaluation we couldn’t exactly land on why. This could be a failure in some sense. We offered up mini-grants to neighborhood residents and promoted them widely, basically
giving out money for residents to do something good in their neighborhood. We had a handful of people come with ideas, but none that followed through to a project they actually wanted and utilized funding for. We thought we’d have far more demand than we did and even tweaking the process some we haven’t landed on an approach that works well. This is the great thing about an innovation approach is it allows us to learn from our failures, adjust and try again. And we will!
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving:
Inclusive has been a very relevant element in our work. The history of many neighborhood organizations is that they have not been nearly as inclusive as they should be in the role of representing a board community. This element is crucial in the approach we take to all the work we do, which sometimes means our outcomes don’t look as glamorous as we’d like them to be because intentionally working on being inclusive is hard and difficult work, but it is the right thing to do.
Understanding the problem:
Our activities have helped us realize that even we individually might not know what we need. Some of the concepts about fulfilling the need haven’t resonated with as many individuals as we thought they would, even those individuals who were involved in suggesting them. We want to do trainings and leadership building in a way that is inviting and accessible to a broad range of residents and we haven’t quite landed on what that looks like just yet.
If you could do it all over again...:
Honestly, put more funds in the budget for staffing and hire someone full time. Unfortunately, our biggest roadblock to true momentum in our work has been in terms of staff capacity. We pride ourselves on doing a lot with a little and running a lean operation, but it’s hindered our ability to do consistent top notch work.
One last thought:
We are so grateful for the Bush Foundations support and collaboration on our work!