The Structure of Community

Block offers practical steps to create a truly collaborative space for participatory action research. He says,

The context that restores community is one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather than one of problem solving, fear, and retribution. A new context acknowledges that we have all the capacity, expertise, and resources that an alternative future requires. Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness. The conversations that build relatedness most often occur through associational life, where citizens show up by choice, and rarely in the context of system life, where citizens show up out of obligation. The small group is the unit of transformation and the container for the experience of belonging. Conversations that focus on stories about the past become a limitation to community; ones that are teaching parables and focus on the future restore community.[1]

Block’s methodology is an aggregate of many communicative practices. The basic methodology is similar to Palmer’s in that it invites the facilitator to design a physical space—usually a room—that is inviting, egalitarian, and “holds” a space for communicative practice. There is life-promoting art on the walls, good music playing in the background, locally-produced food on the table, and the chairs are set in a circle. The facilitator presents provocative and inviting questions and leads the group through a three-step process. First, the individuals are invited to reflect on their own answer to the question and possibly write and answer down or create some form of artifact to represent their idea. Second, the individuals are randomly grouped into triads and invited to share each of their individual ideas and work together to synthesize their ideas into one statement. Third, the triads are randomly connected to one other triad, forming a group of six. This group listens to both triad statements and works together to synthesize the two statements into one. Finally, the groups gather together as one large group and the statements produced by the group of six are presented to the large group, followed by a large group discussion.

This methodology allows for maximum individual participation in the whole process. Each voice has a chance to be heard and know that it has contributed to the final outcome of the larger group. This methodology is similar to and draws from other organizational practices similar to and including The Art of Hosting.[2] This methodology allowed my research to take on real legs as it empowered the RT to interact in communicative action.

In his introduction, Block acknowledges the fragmentation, isolation, and overall absence of belonging in our world today. He believes that it is the purpose of community to overcome this fragmentation. This sort of community “offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to the right place and are affirmed by that choice.”[3] The distinct questions facing communities today are: How will we, together, create a future that is different from our past? How will we create a community where all citizens are connected to one another and know that their safety and success is dependent on the success of others? These questions get at the heart of the suburban situation in which our research project finds itself.

Footnotes

[1] Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008), loc. 504.

[2] The Art of Hosting, http://www.artofhosting.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Hostinginahurryversion1.5ChrisC.pdf (accessed July 27, 2014)

[3] Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging, 3.