Almost a year ago I wrote my first blog post on the Civic Commons about Network-Centric Organizing. I boasted about the great potential it has for engaging community. Like the Civic Commons, the method of network organizing provides numerous opportunities for engagement. Choice is the operative term in this method of building community--it is all about giving people the chance to engage in ways they feel comfortable with and will continue to use. In that blog post I wrote:  

“One method of engaging the community, called Network Organizing, stems from the fields of economics and technology. The method is energizing because it goes beyond traditional organizing and it mirrors the mission and principles of the Civic Commons. Network Organizing was started by William Traynor and Jessica Andors to help people engage in civic life in a fun and productive way. The method is implemented at Lawrence Community Works, a community development corporation in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The strategies seem simple, but their networks are complex, built through purposeful opportunity. Instead of a constant stream of supply by community based organizations, institutions, or government, network organizing promotes a  “demand environment”, which is proactive. Residents develop the network and dictate the interaction with institutions to bring about change.“ 

Bill Traynor is now consulting Cleveland by working with Neighborhood Connections to facilitate network organizing as a learning partner in the Greater University Circle area. This area includes eight neighborhoods – Glenville, Hough, Fairfax, Central, Shaker Square, Buckeye, Little Italy, and University Circle and the city of East Cleveland. Neighborhood Connections launched a multi-year community engagement strategy in March with a party called “Open the Door to a Community of Aspiration” where people from all over Greater Cleveland gathered, talked and brainstormed for a truly engaging evening. There was no speech or even chairs. Attendees took action by moving from room to room brainstorming in the Heritage Lane Historic home, a previously vacant building, as the first step in a longer process to address goals identified in Greater University Circle. The goals are for Greater University Circle are to: 

    • “Re-populate  the civic landscape with residents who are able to take on leadership roles, work together to solve problems and lead the area into a place in the global economy,” and 
    • “Find a way to help many struggling families to build assets, escape poverty and build the networks of support they need to succeed.”

Neighborhood Connections invited “residents of the neighborhoods around University Circle to participate in an innovative process of building trust and power to lead themselves and their communities to renewed strength, health and connectedness...we hope to strengthen and support those networks and the people in them as they learn to cultivate environments where residents can more easily connect to one another, and to information and opportunity.”

The “Community of Practice” will use the principles of Network-Centric Organizing to increase bonds within and across the Greater University Circle area. Perhaps this strategy could be fruitful in other neighborhoods. I'd love to talk about it with some community members to find out how to make it happen. Shoot me an email at taryngress@theciviccommons.com or start the conversation! 

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Copyright © 2012 Taryn Gress; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

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