Moving community dreams toward reality
As the executive director of a regional community development organization, I often have the privilege of hearing Beaver County residents dream about the future. I suppose it should not be surprising that people share their dreams with me since I regularly encourage them to reflect on what might be possible, about how things could be different, and about how they might contribute to initiating such change.
At RiverWise, we frequently talk about the importance of encouraging one another to dream about the future as a way of initiating action in the present. In my experience, many residents of the region are willing to dream about how we could build better communities together. Sometimes it may take a bit of encouragement to get them started. But once they get rolling, the ideas are generally numerous and wildly creative.
Dreaming is itself an immensely powerful thing. But, over time, if at least some of those dreams are never brought to life, the result can be stultifying and demoralizing. This is one of the reasons that communities learn to temper their dreaming, recognizing that doing so is one of the surest ways of protecting themselves from the disappointment that is born out of unrealized hope.
In order to safeguard residents and communities from the danger of unrealized hope, RiverWise works extremely hard to move quickly beyond dreaming to concrete action. With just a little bit of encouragement, a handful of resources, and a touch of guidance, our collective dreaming can often be channeled into productive community activity.
This week, I had the opportunity to speak to a newly formed organization about the process of translating dreams into community-focused activity. What follows is an overview of what I shared with them, and it consists of seven principles that RiverWise regularly and repeatedly employs to move individuals, organizations, and communities beyond dreams and toward action. Knowing that many of you also dream about the future of our region, I thought to share them with you here.
Seven principles for moving community dreams toward reality
1. Work to move beyond dreams to plans. For many residents, organizations, and communities it is extremely easy to get bogged down talking about possibilities. As much as possible, focus attention on actuality, constrain possibilities, make a clear and deliberate plan and get to work enacting that plan.
2. Think of your community work as an experiment. In every domain of life, the most creative and productive individuals learn through doing, failing, iterating and testing their assumptions. Communities must be willing to do the same. Thinking about your work in this way can be incredibly freeing and can teach you much about what works and what needs to be done differently.
3. Work to articulate expectations, roles, and ways of relating to one another. Bringing dreams to life in the context of a community requires open and honest communication. As dreams get translated into plans, work to articulate what is expected of those who have joined your efforts. Write these things down, talk about them, and revisit them periodically. They are the glue that holds your organization together.
4. Demonstrate success in small dreams as a way to get to big dreams. Often, dreamers fail because they try to do everything at once. Recognize that bringing a dream to life always requires slow, steady work. Break your gigantic dream into manageable steps and demonstrate success with smaller things. When done well, this will open up doors to bigger possibilities.
5. Don’t wait for the money to start making your dream a reality. Regardless of what your dream is, you probably need way less money or resources than you think to start moving toward its realization. Ask yourself how you can be moving yourself and others toward your goals even without significant resources. Demonstrate success there, and resources will inevitably follow.
6. Remember that relationships are the most valuable commodity that you will ever have. Often, early-stage initiatives fail because leaders of such projects privilege the work to the exclusion of the people and relationships required to bring such dreams to life. Enacting a dream requires that you carefully develop and nurture those relationships that are vital to your dream. Make healthy relationship management as much a priority as anything else.
7. Focus on telling your story. Dreams are meant to be shared, particularly when they move beyond dreams to enacted plans. Work to tell others about what you are doing. Invite them to participate. Show them what you are up to. Being an enthusiastic ambassador for your dream will inevitably attract others and grow your potential impact. Never fall into the trap of thinking of storytelling as unimportant or secondary. Sharing your dream as it comes to life is one of the most critical elements, so be sure never to neglect it.
Although relatively straightforward, there is nothing simple about the list recounted above. But, if and as the thoughtful leader exercises these steps, dreams can and will move beyond idea to implementation. I have seen this process replicate itself time and again at RiverWise, and only expect it to continue throughout our region in the months and years ahead.
So, in this season of perpetual frustration, give yourself — and others — permission to dream about what our communities might yet become. Together, we can work toward making those dreams into realities.
Daniel Rossi-Keen, Ph.D., is the co-owner of eQuip Books, a community bookstore in Aliquippa and the executive director of RiverWise, a nonprofit employing sustainable development practices to create a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County. You can reach Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published at https://www.timesonline.com.