Starting a conversation can be daunting when it involves people from all different walks of life, different positions in the community and varying social, political and economic backgrounds. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Right?
Who starts the discussion can be as important as who brings ideas to the table.
Dr. Tom Wolff, a community psychologist, has been recognized nationally for working with communities across the country for the last several decades. He has worked with a variety of clients from individuals to government agencies. As an author, his most recent book is The Power of Collaborative Solutions – Six principles and effective tools for building healthy communities. He is also affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
He shared some of his insights and expertise.
What can journalists do to engage a community?
Wolff says to engage a community, one should start by seeing it through the eyes of its members. How do they see themselves within their community?
“The problem is the usual subjects who are used to being in a room together and used to playing the power games and used to finding ways to not be address the issues.” Wolff says, “rarely do we include the very people that are most affected by the issues. And getting them to the room is a significant job.”
Turning the perspective around encourages people to participate. One cannot keep doing the same things over again and expect different results.
So how can journalists encourage different results?
Wolff suggests using journalists by telling the community “five years from now, a local paper is going to write a story for what you’ve accomplished, and you are giving them, [the paper], the privilege of writing the headline to your story. So what’s the headline going to say?”
What are your dreams?
Wolff says to, “Ask them – what are their dreams?” He continued, “Having a vision drives people, having a problem, you know, makes people scratch their head and discourages and they stop being involved.”
So the question then should be what they would like to see happen. Everyone can go on about what is going wrong.
Talking with others during community meetings, sharing visions and dreams, giving four or five bullet points that are most important; it is then possible to be a part of an ongoing discussion as to what the visions will become.
Where do we go from here?
Wolff shared an exercise he led in a community when people who were gathered did not know how to get the conversation headed in the right direction.
“You have 90 people, you get 10 tables, put 9 at a table and ask them a set of questions and then have them each report out their visions, and you find that they are all the same…they realize that they all share something in common. They start to talk about how you break that down, what are the bullets and what are the things we need to work on to get the visions.”
It is easy to list all the things leaders of communities do wrong, but what are their dreams? Are they similar to ours? Can we help communities see a positive change where they live and work by publishing the progress of those dreams and visions?
Working together as community members, leaders and reporters, we can strive to put the needs of the community first.
What’s your headline going to say?