This article was written by Amanda Bernardo, community and engagement manager at the Canada School of Public Service Digital Academy.
All around us communities are working together towards a shared goal, connecting over shared interests or uniting over a shared purpose. These communities are where collaboration comes to prosper, where ideas come to fruition, and where people gather and grow.
How we leverage these communities can make all the difference in informing our policies, services and programs, within both the public and private sectors.
In government, community can refer to the thousands of citizens we consult every day or the communities of practice we build internally as public servants to better collaborate and deliver for citizens.
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In my role as a community and engagement manager, I’ve had the chance to work with communities to advance goals on digital literacy, to develop connections for mentorship and professional development, and to understand the specific needs of an otherwise very large public service.
In doing so, for example, a vast audience of more than 280,000 public servants in Canada can be broken down into communities of practice, profession, region, needs, etc. I am then able to obtain real insights, build real collaboration and be part of real conversations.
A space for real talk
My favourite part about community building is the opportunity to have honest, transparent and meaningful conversations that sometimes get lost in the day-to-day operations. It’s amazing how community can pull these conversations out into the open and create real impact.
“It’s amazing what we can learn from each other when we create the space to do so, and how many people are in search of such spaces to be a part of”
It’s also amazing what we can learn from each other when we create the space to do so, and how many people are in search of such spaces to be a part of.
I was first introduced to One Team Government (OTG) from friends who were also working in the federal public service after feeling defeated and undervalued on a project I was working on.
I remember saying that I wished there was a community in which to have more conversations like the one my friends and I were having at the time. Why? Because I walked out of that conversation feeling better, empowered and less alone. To my surprise, such a community did exist… and it was thriving.
OTG is a community made up of people who are passionate about public sector reform, with the emphasis on improving services offered to citizens and how public servants work. Starting in London, England, in the summer of 2017, OTG has since grown to become a global community with chapters in Wales, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada.
More importantly, it has become a place where anyone, regardless of their profession, discipline or background, can talk about government. These meetups allow for a safe space for discussion and a chance for people to explore ideas, challenges, successes and failures.
The conversations I’ve since had at OTG meetups have kept me inspired – a reason I think many return regularly. They’ve taught me to think differently, to test my ideas and challenge others, to take action and find ways to bring others along for the ride.
“It’s how we choose to tap into these conversations that will define how these communities can help shape us, our work and the world around us”
Sometimes it can be hard to find the space or time within our nine-to-five to explore the topics or ideas raised in an OTG meetup, or any community meetup. But what these communities teach us is that, whether we find the time or not, these conversations are happening regardless all around us.
It’s how we choose to tap into these conversations that will define how these communities can help shape us, our work and the world around us.
Growing your community
So, what can be learned from the OTG model that can be applied to your own community efforts?
- Inclusion: Think about your goal and the people around the table who can make that goal possible. Don’t limit yourself to the obvious audiences, but rather include a diversified group of perspectives who share in your goal or could be impacted by it. Make people feel included, and their voices respected, so that they keep coming back.
- Collaboration: At OTG meetups, participants have the opportunity to suggest ideas for discussion and vote on their favourites. Together, they build the agenda for conversation in order to make each meetup relevant and personal.
- Safe space: Community participation is best when it fuels honest conversation, but to reach that goal a safe space is needed. Many OTG members return regularly to meetups as they value the opportunity to have such honest conversations. Create a space where members feel heard; set rules for engagement (e.g. respect); be transparent on how their input will be used or shared; and make it accessible for all.
But perhaps the most important lesson is to remember to engage with others working in this space!
Community engagement differs across sectors and organisations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from others working in this space. Reach out on platforms like Apolitical to those working in community engagement and set up a virtual coffee date. Because the way in which people like to be engaged often varies, and changes with time, it’s important to stay relevant and to keep learning.
Whether you are working in community engagement, part of a community of practice or a citizen looking to be heard, the benefits of engaging through communities is always there. Don’t lose sight of the value and opportunity right in front of you.
For those interested in the OTG community, come check out what OTG is all about at the upcoming One Team Government Canada Unconference taking place in Ottawa, Ontario, on December 17, 2019. The Unconference, like the OTG meetups, is participant-driven, with the agenda created by attendees at the start of the conference.
A second unconference is also taking place on the same day in Vancouver, British Columbia, led by the BCFedLeaders. Learn more about these Unconferences and register today!
However you choose to build community in your office, organisation, sector or part of the world, remember that:
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” – Margaret J Wheatley
Picture credit: Joshua Ness on Unsplash