The universe, our earth, our communities, and every individual are all wellsprings of amazing potential.
But the potential does not manifest itself under just any conditions. Communities are alive and like all other forms of life they are deeply interdependent upon the environment and conditions in which they exist. Supportive conditions nurture unrestrained growth. Adverse conditions restrain it. Currently we are witnessing a grave mismatch between the will to grow in our communities – those buds and sprouts we see and feel everywhere – and conditions inherited from dying social structures which are stifling that growth. Generative community building is the way to shift this dynamic that our potential may be manifested.
Our communities are rich beyond belief.
We have no lack of material resources; indeed we are swimming in too much. We have no lack of transformative ideas. We have no lack of consciousness or good will; individuals of all ages are devoting their lives to the betterment of their communities. We have no lack of people, of skills, of education, of space, of knowledge, or of wisdom. The problem is not a lack of resources.
Today our communities lack a nurturing environment that can transform their rich potential into reality.
A tomato plant can only bring forth its miraculous bounty if a sufficient number of complex and interrelating conditions are met over the course of a growing season. Plant the seeds in the cold of May and they will never germinate. Starve a transplant of needed water and nutrients and it will wither and die. Withhold a full measure of divine sunlight and no fruit will it bear. It is only when all these conditions and many more are present to nurture the growth of the plant and its fruit that its full potential can be realized.
Generative community building supports the emergence of the five key conditions necessary for the transformation of community potential into reality.
To flourish the tomato plant needs the support of an environment made up of many interrelated conditions. But the list of conditions is not endless. When certain key conditions are met, then its luscious fruit can bear forth across the globe from gardens in Iowa and balconies in NYC to greenhouses in Spain and the wilds the of Galápagos Islands. Each unique and yet each indisputably a tomato dependent upon the same set of nurturing conditions.
Communities, as living systems, also depend on supportive conditions. Transformative ideas, strong relationships, skilled individuals, ample resources –none of these are sufficient on their own to bring forth potential within a community.
FIVE CONDITIONS FOR FLOURISHING
Just like a garden, communities can only unlock their potential when a key set of conditions are present and working in harmony to support each other. We’ve distinquished five key conditions that make this nurturing dynamic possible:
Connecting is the process by which members of a community come to see and meet one another. In connecting the community is able to see itself, to see who else cares about a place or an issue or a practice. In the first instance connecting is the formation of communities, the founding of a shared identity.
The root question is who?
Grounding is the next key condition of nurturing community. In grounding community members share and learn about what brings them to a community. Why do they care? Why are they willing to show up, virtually or in person? What are the values that ground their interest in this community?
The root question is why?
On the basis of a community that has formed and grounded itself in its values informing is the process of learning about the current state of a community in all its diversity and nuance. Informing is the now-centered activity of getting the best possible picture of a community from the macro to the micro. Only on the basis of a broad and detailed picture of the now can a community make wise decisions about how to make next steps.
The root question is what?
Discussing is where facts about the now and the will to see the community unlock its potential come together. Discussing means inclusive and constructive practices that allow the community to share their visions of what is trying to be born, refine those diverse views in real potentiality, and decide on what to do next.
The root question is what next?
Finally, engaging is the concrete work of making the vision refined in discussing a reality. It means showing community members what they can do today – at a variety of engagement levels – in order to manifest their care about the community in real action.
The root question is how?
A MUTUALLY SUPPORTIVE CYCLE
The five key conditions are necessary, but not sufficient for communities to nurture their potential. The final ingredient is to bring the five key conditions into a mutually supportive cycle whereby they all interrelate and boost one another.
Because communities are also living systems, just having the right “ingredients” is not enough. Life can only emerge and thrive through a supportive, dynamic environment that is the interaction of these conditions.
What distinguishes generative communities from other contemporary forms of community building (World Cafe, Art of Hosting, etc.) as well as from experiments in new journalistic practices (solutions journalism, community journalism, etc.) is precisely this holistic focus on keeping all conditions strong and in interaction with one another.
It is only when the five conditions of connecting, grounding, informing, discussing, and engaging are present and in a healthy dynamic that we can speak of a supportive environment for the unfolding of potential within a community.
“OK, the theory is clear.
What’s the vision?”
In truth we believe that this dynamic model of generative communities using convening and narratives can be manifested in a wide variety of communities. Every organization is a community, every school is a community, every group of practitioners is a community, every city, every region, every nation is a community, and so on. In each of these communities exists huge untapped potential that could be unlocked by these practices. And in each community the manifestation of the five conditions – connecting, grounding, informing, discussing, and engaging – would look different.
Like a garden plot skillfully and lovingly prepared to receive the spring’s seeds, the conditions might be the same, but the plants that ultimately sprout and grow will be wildly different from one another.