By Dan Kahl, Kris Hains, & Aaron Goodman
The Community Development Society (CDS) Fellows met in November to discuss the idea of innovation in community change projects. Reflecting on the article, “Should You Agitate, Innovate, or Orchestrate?” by Battilana and Kimsey, the fellows discussed the roles each of us play in initiating change and when different roles may be more effective.
Often community development organizations find it necessary to shift between the different roles, depending the on the circumstances and what is needed to accomplish the desired community change. “In reality, the boundaries between these roles may blur, with some individuals and organizations playing multiple roles either at once or sequentially. Far from being linear, the social change process may require that change makers switch back and forth among the three roles”. Recognizing that each of us are simultaneously involved in multiple community groups, the fellows identified a community they currently work with. The Fellows represent a variety of community initiatives including: the development of a stronger community of student and young professional groups in CDS; Improving the CDS experience for international members; exploring better partnerships with other associations (communities of practice) like the International Society of Quality of Life Studies (ISQUOLS); bringing effective (community of place) coalitions together like the Detroit Urban Initiative; and working to bring together and promote new communities of interest like the Community Change Network initiative.
Reflecting on these differing contexts of community encourages us to consider how the needs of the group and situation can dictate the approach to community change. Does the situation require social agitation to raise awareness? Communities may need a loud voice to bring injustice to the public stage, or to raise awareness of the need for change. Leadership of social agitation may push for change and “clear space” for important conversations. For example, the role of an agitator may be necessary in order to make some poor, underrepresented neighborhoods have equal voice in certain urban settings.
On another hand, would the community benefit from the leadership of an innovator (or multiple innovators) to design active solutions? Often communities get stuck in indecision or helplessness. The role of innovator helps to identify and design action strategies for the community to move forward. Innovative leadership is often the bridge to overcome existing barriers. The Fellows group working with International groups, for example, realizes that community development work around the world shares both differences and commonalities. Bringing people together through CDS to learn together and share ideas requires innovative strategies to bridge culture, time, language and assumptions about community.
Finally, when does an orchestrated approach to change best serve a community? Acting as an orchestrator of change is the role of planning and leading a change adoption strategy. The CDS Fellows team working to develop effective ways to partner between associations (the ISQOLS team) is an example of a broader change orchestration. ISQOLS represents a professional association focused on quality of life that is interested in creating expanded partnerships with CDS. But orchestrating a relationship between associations can be tricky. How does one orchestrate the change to share resources without losing individual identify or lose the “value proposition” to association members?
Recognizing that each of these roles for creating change serves different purposes, the CDS Fellows discussed examples and applications of each approach within the context of their situation and community. After much discussion, it was determined that similar to what happens when asserting effective leadership, the situation, context, shared goals, and needs of the participants ultimately should guide what type of role is most appropriate.
So are you an agitator, innovation or orchestrator? What role do you take on within your community?
The CDS Fellows project is coordinated through the Community Innovation Lab at the University of Kentucky.