Belonging & Community
By Pat Mobley
My first posting this year provided a few practical guidelines while either developing or implementing your municipality’s economic development program. These were business marketing, targeting, and culture (Gordon, 2012; IEDC, 2006). My second posting focused on measuring your economic development program’s performance and how the ubiquitous “# of jobs” is used as the penultimate metric when in fact the number of jobs is only an output instead of a goal (Ammons, 2011). The thread here is that developing assets versus advantages and thinking about your economic development program as something imbedded in broader, longer-term community development leads to citizens increasing their sense of belonging.
The isolation within our communities is something public service professionals deal with every day. Varying interest groups engage in contest for limited resources. Public service professionals are demeaned by the labels of bureaucrat, takers, and out-of-touch (Yang, 2005). Citizens’ participating in civic associations is a luxury where real hourly earnings capture dramatically less of the productivity gains of the past 30 years leads to economic security further out of reach (Economic Policy Institute, 2012). These factors and many others make it difficult to see past the next project deadline or “problem” that needs to be “fixed.”
I highly recommend reading Peter Block’s book about belonging and community (2009). Great, another book suggestion that I’ll never have time to get to it. Well, make time. It’s that good. If you don’t want to take my word for it, the ICMA focused on his work in their Leading Ideas series. Here are a few thoughtful nuggets from Block’s work to help break out of the isolating, linear service delivery model.
- Start talking about the possibility of community not the problems. In fact, ban the word problem.
- The past is the past. It’s gone. Recommit to create a future distinct from the past.
- The whole “limited resources” and “do more with less” is, candidly, bullshit. These notions and common phrases only further support a fragmented and adversarial community. “We have all the capacity, expertise, and financial resources that an alternative future requires” (Block, p. 178).
- “The future hinges on the accountability that citizens choose and their willingness to connect with each other around promises they make to each other” (Block, p. 178).
- “Leadership is convening and held to three tasks: shift the context within which people gather; name the debate through powerful questions; listen rather than advocate, defend, or provide answers” (Block, p. 179).
Comments or questions: contact Pat at [email protected].
Ammons, David and Morgan, Jonathan. (2011). State-of-the-Art measures in economic development. Public Management, 93(5), 6-10.
Block, Peter. (2009). Community: The structure of belonging. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc
Economic Policy Institute. (2012). [Graph illustration of cumulative change in total economy productivity and real hourly compensation of production/nonsupervisory workers, 1948–2011]. Retrieved fromhttp://stateofworkingamerica.org/chart/swa-wages-figure-4u-change-total-economy.
Gordon, Gerald. (2012). Lessons of local economies: What’s obvious may not be. Public Management, 94 (6), 6-9.
International Economic Development Council. (2006). Introduction to economic development. Washington, DC: Shari Garmise, Swati Ghosh, Corky Neale, and Shari Nourick.
Yang, Kaifeng. (2008). Cooperation with trust? Public Administration Review, 68 (6), 1164-1166.
Yang, Kaifeng. (2005). Public administrator’s trust in citizens: A missing link in citizen involvement efforts. Public Administration Review, 65 (3), 273-285.