Lessons on Community Building from Get Together
October 24, 2019
The new book Get Together is a great field guide for people who build community. The book features everything from a running group in Queens New York, to Weight Watchers, to Toronto’s infamous Choir Choir Choir, a group that gathers people together to sing popular songs in bars.
The book offers extremely useful lessons for community park groups who make awesome things happen in city parks.
Here are some key insights you can use right away.
The authors of Get Together suggest that before putting out the call for a meeting to make the park better, you need to ask yourself two critical questions:
- Who do I want to get together?
- Why are we coming together?
In our experience, these are the right questions to begin with. Here’s some practical advice you can use to find your answer to the ‘who.’
- Find people who share your passion for the park and the community: The best people for this are the ones who already show up. They come to your community clean-ups, local events, parent-council meetings and park consultations. In short: If they already give their energy to the cause, chances are they’re the right kind of people to team up with for your park project.
- Find people you can work with: When you’re starting a group you’ll likely be connected to people for the long haul. If you have experience working with them or have seen them in action you’ll have a better sense of whether your work styles gel.
- Challenge your group to diversify: Even if your group starts out being homogeneous, it doesn’t have to stay that way. There’s nothing wrong with asking ourselves, “who isn’t here?” and asking the people in your group to carve out a definite plan to welcome people who represent your broader community.
In Get Together the authors emphasize:
“Thriving communities demand a shared purpose, an answer to the question ‘why are we coming together?’
This leads us to a very critical point:
- Make your ‘why’ something positive and aspirational: We’ve seen groups form around advocacy campaigns such as “stop the golf course” or “stop the condo from being built.” What we’ve seen is that over time, having a purpose that pits your group against something makes it difficult to keep momentum going in the long term. You’re much better off with a positive, aspirational ‘why’ that galvanizes people. As an example, “Our community brings nature-focused events to Forest Park so we can make the most of the park’s great natural features.”
The authors of get together remind us that :
“as your community swells beyond its early membership, the challenge will be to make sure your people stick together.”
We know this is a big challenge for community park groups. How do you keep attracting volunteers one, two, three years on? The book offers some creative solutions that can be applied to park groups.
- Create your origin story: This may seem unimportant at first glance, but the story about how your park group got started will help galvanize and attract people to your group. Don’t let it be boring! Here’s more detail about how to go about creating your story.
- Keep Track of your Community: The book is loaded with excellent advice for how to track your community using data. Not google type data, but simple data you can collect by working with your core group and the people who come out to your events. The more you know about them, the better you can serve them. The authors advise you: “keep track of the root cause of people’s motivations.” You need to ask questions of your community again and again via email, in person interviews, coffee chats, etc. This chart is super helpful!
- Cultivate new leaders: One of the best pieces of advice in the book is that: “growing a community isn’t about management. It’s about developing leaders.” The book describes these potential leaders as “a small set of fanatics” who get the bulk of work done. That’s a very apt description, and based on that, you should be able to identify the people who you should be working with on the future of your organization. Find the keeners and support them at every turn. That way, you won’t be pushing a rock uphill all by yourself. It’s too difficult to do this alone. Find these people and invest your time in building their future with the group.
The advice from the book boils down to this: be deliberate about cultivating community. As you likely already know, building a community is not a naive Field of Dreams: “if we build it they will come” endeavour. It takes time, work and lots of effort. However, if you start by grabbing a copy of Get Together, you’ll do a better job of making best use of your energy and intentions to make your park awesome.