Social innovation in regional areas involves listening to the particular needs and desires of the community. People respond well to being heard by someone who is authentically interested in what they have to say, and who is taking the time to build a body of knowledge about the community, the location, the place, and the thoughts of the people who live there. Acknowledging the history of a community or place will help you to stay grounded in the dynamics and current challenges within it.
What does it mean?
- It’s about people and relationships
- It’s about place, the nature that surrounds us
- It’s not a matter of time, it’s when you feel you belong
- Immerse in community
- The community takes the lead
- Embrace the diversity in the community
- Building depth in relationships
- Acknowledge that it takes time
- Don’t go to the usual suspects
- Don’t think you know everything
What does it mean?
It’s about people and relationships
People are the community. People provide the grounding and connection to the place itself.
“Being connected to community for me, it’s all about basically: this is my life. My connection to community it’s about me, it’s about my children, it’s about my family, it’s about my friends, it’s about people I went to school with… They are my connection to community. It’s about the relationships I have with people, it’s about the things we do together.” Shane Phillips, Lake Cargelligo community connector
It’s about place, the nature that surrounds us
Together with people, another important aspect is the nature that surrounds the community. In nature you find that what makes a community unique and the elements that help people feel grounded and connected. For example, Kristy shared how for her it is the river in Bourke that builds the connection to the place:
It’s not a matter of time, it’s when you feel you belong
The amount of time that you spend in a community it’s not an indication of how much you are grounded and connected. What better describes or articulates this is a sense of belonging, it is when you feel safe and comfortable in a place and around people.
Immerse in community
The first thing to do to stay grounded and connected is to immerse yourself in the community and place. Find ways to listen to the wide diversity of members of the community and be open to learn.
“You need to immerse yourself in community, there is an immersion in community and what that means. There are some people who can live in community and they don’t feel that connection, and it’s just a place where they live. They do what they need to do and then get out (…) What I see that Shane and Kristy are doing is they immerse themselves in community.” Sharon Tomas, Dubbo community
Immersion comes when you work side-by-side with the community as Annette Ohlsen, Condobolin community connector explains in the following video:
The community takes the lead
One aspect of the work of regional innovation is supporting and building the capability for community to take the lead. For innovation to really work, the community needs to lead – versus government or services leading from the outside. The community needs to decide about the approaches that have been followed and the solutions that will be implemented, and whether they are appropriate for their context or not. The community needs to feel ok to say “no more,” and to have confidence in making decisions. This capability comes from working side-by-side and sharing learning from experience.
Sharon, Dubbo community connector, and Shane, Lake Cargelligo community connector share their reflections in the following video:
Embrace the diversity in the community
There are different groups of people and personalities in community, and every community is different. Through building that connection and grounding to community we are better able to acknowledge, celebrate and embrace this diversity. Culture is extremely important aspect to consider in this process.
Building depth in relationships
Being connected to community is not only about having good relationships, it is also about the depth of those relationships. It is the trust that you have with people in the community. One mindset is to always be invitational. Inviting people to participate can create an unexpected amazing response.
One point to is consider is that there could be situations in which relationships and history can get in the way. In this situation it can be helpful to bring people from out of town to ask certain questions and to facilitate certain conversations.
“People take you personally, but our work it’s not about us, it’s about the community. A way to work through it might be having conversations one-in-one with the different people to understand their point of view, also drawing on other people that might have the relationships with different people that you don’t have the relationship with. Ensure people feel safe to be part of the conversation, do a lot of pre-planning before the meeting, talk to them and prepare them to the conversations that will be held in the group” Sharon Tomas, Dubbo Community Connector
Acknowledge that it takes time
It’s not about one meeting, it’s about hanging-out where the community would hang out.
Don’t go to the usual suspects
If we always go to the usual suspects, we’re likely to get the same answers. Community is so much broader than we might imagine. One way to get a different perspective is to get out, spend time in the cafe or at the shops, chat to people where they hang out.
Don’t think you know everything
No one knows everything about the community. Notice when there’s a preconceived idea, like: “I am going to bring this to community”. This approach often doesn’t work because community members are more likely to work with you when they feel that the knowledge, local expertise and years of being part of the community has been respected as the starting point.
If you’re new to a community, it can be helpful to get a sense of the years of history in that community and the things that have happened in the past in order to know how sensitive things can be.
“I have heard so many people say: I know what it’s wrong with this community. What do you mean you know it’s wrong with this community? It’s your second visit! They know the story the stats tell, they know the story that they previous colleague tells but they don’t know what the story is.” Shane Phillips, Lake Cargelligo community connector
- Continuous learning and curiosity
- Self-awareness: reflect about the role you play in the community: which conversations are you having? and which ones do you need to have? It is important to reflect and challenge our reflections, we need to understand how we help and hinder this process
- Cultural awareness
- Catalysing change through the right partnerships