It takes a mindshift to put citizens at the center of your work

Posted on November 12, 2020
By Heather Keam

Have you ever thought about whose role is it to build community? Whose role is it to fix the problems? Is it government, maybe social service programs? Is it groups and associations? Sometimes, I think that communities are looking for a superhero to swoop in and fix all their problems. But this superhero does not exist. What we need is a group of superheroes such as Marvel's Avengers, with each hero bringing their own gift and knowledge, and when its used as a group big changes can happen.

Hands together

As we look at community recovery planning across Canada, many organizations are asking what their role is in deepening community and how we can put citizens at the center of community building efforts. We need to think about how we shift the way we think and do to:

  • Looking at what is strong not what is wrong with a community
  • Building ownership and not buy into a program or activity
  • Realizing that residents are not recipients of service but leaders in design
  • Balancing content experts with context experts

I have had many conversations about how we can shift our mindset on how we work in community. Cormac Russell’s new book, Rekindling Democracy - A Professional’s Guide to Working in Citizen Space, stipulates that working in community is like a three-lane highway. There is a lane for government and institutions, a lane for social services and a lane for citizens. It's about respecting each other and understanding how to merge into each other’s lanes but knowing when to go back to your own lane.

Three important questions to help you shift your mindset to working in a three-lane highway:

  • What can we do for ourselves?
  • What we do that we need support?
  • What can’t we do that outside organizations are best placed to do?

If you are interested in diving deeper on how you can build your own superhero group and drive in the three-lane highway together join Cormac Russell virtually on December 2 or 3 from 9am-4pm ET for a workshop on how you can work in the citizen space. Cormac will guide organizations and professionals to shift their mindset to put citizens at the center of any authentic and powerful democratic response to challenges. 

We have booked two virtual workshops with Cormac Russell who will lead you through a learning journey to:

  • Learn about citizen- and youth-centered community development approaches
  • Gain tools for precipitating citizen- and youth-led action and community building
  • Build a Framework for place-based community building

December 2, 2020 - For organizations working with community. Learn more and Register

December 3, 2020 - For organizations working with youths. If it takes a village to raise a child…what are we doing to raise a village? Learn more and Register

Community Building, ABCD, Community Change, Heather Keam, Cities Deepening Community

Heather Keam

By Heather Keam

Heather works with municipalities and organizations to build strategies that put people at the center using Asset-Based Community Development. With over 22 years of experience in community development, she uses an ABCD approach to center people and belonging in the development of community plans and strategies through coaching and training staff teams, facilitation, and writing about ABCD and Belonging. She has a passion for the power of people and believes that people and communities are the solutions to local problems. She believes that we need to build a sense of community belonging so that people are connected to their community, and their place within it and get involved in decision-making. She also believes that municipalities need to shift the way they show up in community from doing “for” to supporting communities to do themselves.

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