"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 adapt over time as we learned and innovated throughout the grant cycle was crucial to building longer term success. We were able to systematize our approach in the second year in a way that will be sustainable for us as an organization for many more years to come. Without this flexibility we might have been stuck with our original plan that was not working as successfully as we had hoped. One example of this was in the summer of 2015 we were able to host and run 25 block parties throughout the summer, utilizing our high school interns as the leaders for our summer outreach and successfully doubling our connections with community residents.
Defining goals, even if those goals need to change over time, kept us focused on the purpose behind the task at hand. We had the students work toward a goal of 100 new contacts, which was ambitious but they blew past it once they got going.
Key lessons learned:
Our approach to the Academy and Lab model simply did not work. At least in our current approach to it, there was little interest or turnout. We ended the current grant cycle, not satisfied with our current approach and still actively innovating new approaches to the work. In some ways this was a failure, in others ways it is simply part of the cycle of innovation. Our new model is just one more step in that process.
Staff capacity is crucial. Our funding did not cover a full staff position and so our project was subject to the ebb and flow of other funding, intern’s schedules, and other issues that arose. To maintain consistency and approach the work we do well, we need the capacity to do and reflect on the work without overwhelming or overburdening staff.
Reflections on the community innovation process:
“Test” is the crucial word. So often we assume we know what is best for the community and approach the work without critical thinking and open eyes and ears. We “know” what is right and we set about doing it. Instead, the model suggests we “Test and implement new ideas” Testing is a process were you are analyzing the results as you go, allowing you to make changes and tweaks and better do your work. This was and is a crucial approach to how we do community organizing. Always asking critical questions about our approach, our engagement, who’s in the room, etc.
Progress toward an innovation:
Many have pointed out the innovative nature by which we approach community organizing and block-level and neighborhood engagement. We are closer to a sustainable innovative approach to this work thanks to our time innovating through our grant funding.
What it will take to reach an innovation?:
We did achieve incremental results, but we’d like to go further and hope resources will allow us to dedicate enough staff time to oversee the full implementation of the vision and approach we were able to building with the Innovation Grant.
We are continuing our summer engagement utilizing Step-Up Interns and we hope to continue to build. To a full strong network of residents across the whole neighborhood and serve as a model for similar engagement across the northside of Minneapolis.
If you could do it all over again...:
Hire a full time outreach worker. An additional staff (we lacked the resources to hire unfortunately) would have stabilized the organization when other staff transitions, could lead engagement and would allow us to leverage even more of the opportunities we’d developed to connect with neighbors.