The Q Campaign at The Community Builders Mel Rush, TCB PM at St. Stephen’s Terrace “I have seen that residents ….people who I don’t expect to come out will come out and share a lot. Now, because we have done it a lot and always the same way, residents come and they know what to do and they come with an idea about what they want share or to talk about.” Over the past 6 months, TSP has been working closely wiht The Community Builders (TCB) - a national Non-Profit Affordable Housing Developer with 10,000 units across the country - to integrate a Q Campaign into some of their housing communities.
The Q Campaign is an ongoing site-based resident engagement initiative to generate neighbor to neighbor connections, and a shared focus for quality of life. In our work with TCB, there are four elements of The Q Campaign that we will be integrating into up to 6 housing communities from Virginia to Chicago
The Q Contest
The Monthly Mixer
Q Leadership/Stewardship Training
The Resident Assembly
TSP currently has three of these elements underway in two CL sites, Cascade Village in Akron OH and St. Stephen's Terrace in Chicago IL, and the work has been underway for six months: the Q Contest, the Monthly Mixer and Resident Stewardship Training.
The goal of the Q Contest is to stimulate aspirational and entrepreneurial activity among residents and demonstrate a way for residents to establish preferences for action and progress in the property.
The goal of the Monthly Mixer is to provide a fun and engaging environment for residents to regularly connect as neighbors, have important conversations about the quality of life in the community and provide mutual support to each other.
The third piece, recently initiated at Cascade Village is Resident leadership/stewardship Training in conjunction with the Q Approach. The goal of this work is to offer and support an alternative leadership role for residents in being stewards of improved quality of life.
· A fourth piece, yet to be implemented at any site is The Assembly. The goal of the Assembly is to create a ‘set piece’ for regular/periodic shared decision-making and communication between residents and TCB that helps to build effective habits of co-investment and broad engagement. The Assembly is styled as a marketplace of opportunity, information, conversation and exchange around Quality of Life in the Property. What Does the Q Campaign Represent for TCB? Q at TCB is being designed explicitly around the core imperative of Community Life – to catalyze a culture shift that leads to a higher level of collective efficacy among residents - through increased levels of stewardship, mutual support and bridging. By creating a “campaign” approach, this work can be developed in a way that offers TCB several advantages:
A Communication Strategy that emphasizes our aspirations for a high Quality of Life in our TCB Community in an exciting way
A Community Building Strategy of easy to use and replicate practicesand devices that build those attributes that yield collective efficacy: trust, fair exchange, personal relationships, better ideas, the ability to work and make choices together, fun and mutual respect
A Cultural Change Strategy a commitment to practice behaviors of co-investment , collective efficacy and entrepreneurship as neighbors
In addition, the components of the Q approach are explicitly designed to be lean, easy to learn and replicate and to execute at the site level with limited staff capacity and maximum resident involvement. These are the kinds of community engagement practices that TCB will need as it tries to disseminate the CL approach throughout its portfolio. Where Does this Approach Come From? “Q” is an approach developed by Bill Traynor and Frankie Blackburn at Trusted Space Partners, the practice components of which have been developed in a wide range of low income communities and distressed neighborhoods around the country: Lawrence, MA, Silver Spring MD, Atlanta, GA, Cleveland OH, Boston MA, Tampa, FL, Washington DC, and now currently in development through TCB at St. Stephens Terrace in Chicago, and Cascade Village in Akron OH. Fundamentally, “Q” is a commitment to struggle for more/better quality of life in places and within populations and situations where high quality of life is neither expected nor previously delivered. Most importantly, in the Q approach, this commitment to quality of life starts with the individual and the people around them – friends, neighbors, family - and the expectation that we can generate more quality of life right where we live, if we get busy connecting with and supporting each other in better ways. The Q Campaign at St. Stephen’s Terrace The Q Campaign came from a desire at St. Stephen’s to use the pivotal moment of new TCB ownership and significant capital investment to catalyze a culture shift at St. Stephen’s, accompanied by a ‘perception shift’ in the larger community, whereby residents participate – with each other and with TCB – to play a more active role in contributing to quality of life and the stewardship of community life in the Terrace. The elements that have begun to be implemented at the Terrace are the Monthly Mixer and the Q Contest. The Monthly Q Mixer The Q Mixer at the Terrace is a highly ritualized 1 and ½ hour format that features maximum resident involvement and ownership. The format has 6 components in which staff and later residents are trained to execute.
Q the Space: Work to create an open and fun atmosphere in the space, including good food, music, decorations, comfortable seating and a welcome table.
Q The Welcome: Host an easy way for people to start informal conversation, such as a game or mixing activity that occurs while folks enjoy good food.
New and Good: People are brought into a circle to share name and something new or good that has happened in their life in the past few weeks, giving everyone the opportunity to speak or pass.
Table Talk: 20-25 minute small group conversations. Individual participants are invited to propose conversation topics that they want to have and would agree to host. 3-4 of these are selected and participants choose which conversation to participate in.
Mini-Marketplace: Convened back together in a circle, participants bid for time to make specific offers and requests of skills, talents, capacity, advice and stuff.
Bump and Spark: Fun energetic ending as people are invited to close the deal on any new matches or connections they made, and to help clean up the space.
Roles for the Mixer include welcome hosts, 1-2 activity leaders for each piece, time keepers (time keeping is fairly rigid) and recorders. All of these are clearly defined roles that can easily be done by residents. To date, there have been 5 Monthly Mixers at St. Stephen’s, the first one held in March 2013. Here are some of the vitals: Resident Participation Number of Mixers since March 5 Number of Total Participants 90 Number for Aggregate Participation 168 (average participation of 34 residents per) Almost ½ of participants were regular attendees - defined as attending 2 or more of 5 the Mixers)Importantly, staff estimate that the largest percentage of total aggregate participation has come from residents who are least likely to participate in other CL programs. (See Table Below) 1= active leader 26% 2= occasionally participate in community programs or events 34% 3= almost never participate in any programs or events 38% Staff Participation: All staff attended the first Mixer (3 PM staff, 2 CL staff), and at least one member of PM and 2 members of the CL staff has been present at each Mixer since March. Heavy staff participation at the beginning is an important part of the practice, and even as staff presence becomes less heavy over time, it is still critical that both PM and CL be present as participants. This point is articulated by Ms. Mel Rush, then the Property Manager for the Terrace, “…staff has to be there for this to work. And I don’t just mean community life staff I mean all the staff. The staff has to drive it and set the tone…model it. Before we started doing this there was kind of an “us/them”… now we are all one staff even with maintenance.” Impact The following is current testimony from Terrace staff as to how they are witnessing the impact so far. “We know it is having an impact because residents tell us it is having an impact There are new participants each month, not just the same old crowd There is a steady flow of relatively new residents (1-8 months) and existing residents (5-20 years) Increasingly, residents learning each other’s names, nicknames and kid’s names · Staff rarely has to pitch most of the conversations each month, residents are bringing the topics to the table themselves and the topics are astounding. Here are some of the table topics of note:
1. Women – how we can support each other and stop tearing each other down 2. The condition of the property and taking ownership over the care of property 3. Parents – how do we work together to take care of our kids? 4. The Boston marathon bombing 5. Will we ever have a female president? 6. What is the definition of community? 7. Dreams – what is your dream, your passion? 8. Introduction and invitation to the new community garden 9. Youth * (this is a recurring topic) a. How to keep youth safe in the summer, b. How to support our young men, etc. Table topics also included one about frustrations with St. Stephens. This one was big, it could have gone in a very different direction, but we gave the group an opportunity to talk and air out some of their frustrations – with management, with neighbors, with little kids in the neighborhood – and they reported back that it was just nice to be able to talk about it with others. It never blew up or dragged down the energy of others. This was a good lesson for staff.
In all of this we see increased bridging (new folks, existing residents, different social circles coming together, bridging between staff and residents)
I see stewardship (the topics and the fact that people are stepping up to host speaks for itself. Also there are a group of residents ready to be trained to run the Mixer and participation in other programs and events has been stronger (notably the women’s group/cooking club, the community garden project, support of our new young men’s basketball team, etc)
I see mutual support (the night we had to close down early because of the shooting, I have never seen one group of people come together and take action so quickly, so selflessly)”
TA/Prep and Staff Time: Staff time in preparation and outreach for the first Mixer was significant but diminished just as significantly with successive Mixers. According to staff, as the Mixer becomes established the time commitment steadily declines. Principal organizer at the Terrace, Julianna Stuart says this...”each month I spend roughly 1-2 hours doing outreach – mostly now it is creating the flyer, random conversations on the fly and just plugging Mixers at events that I am already attending, and another 2-3 hours (at MOST) doing prep over the course of the week leading up to the Mixer -printing materials, purchasing food and supplies, talking to folks about leading different pieces of the Mixer, etc). And of course, I commit 4 hours or so the night of the Mixer as both a meeting organizer and a participant. One great thing about this approach is that the time dedicated to roll out at the beginning is FAR greater than is necessary to sustain it.” Much of the TA and staff work to set up the mixer happens on the front end – creating buy in and then training and supporting staff to do the first mixer. There can be resistance or nervousness about trying this approach. What if no one comes? How can we have a resident meeting with no substantive agenda? We already do a mixer and no one comes. How do we convince people to come out? These concerns and questions need to be worked through and that takes some conversation. The fact that TCB now has a track record of success – however modest – in doing these in a tough environment, should help us to get passed some of these early fears more easily. The biggest investment is in teaching the staff the mechanics of the mixer. Doing it well, doing it the right way and doing it the same way all the time is critical to its success. However, we experimented with an intensive 4 hour prep and training session with staff and residents where we essentially role played the full mixer 3 times. First a read through led by the TA provider, Second a full role play led by the TA provider followed by in depth Q&A. Third a full role play with staff and residents playing out the various roles. Plan Going Forward The plan is to make the Q Mixer a fixed part of the landscape of resident engagement, and transition residents into activity leader and steward roles. One expectation is that with more residents taking on roles, the on-going staff and TA commitment will decrease, though it is likely to continue to require 2-4 hours per mixer. This will be done gradually and carefully and will start with a resident training on September 10th 2013. The Q Contest The Q contest was designed to generate more resident awareness, excitement and involvement in the process of remaking the Terrace. The idea was to invite residents to submit the best “Ideas for Improving Quality of Life at St. Stephen’s Terrace” To distinguish this from a suggestion box or from the routine ‘customer service’ give and take, there were elements of what made for a Quality Idea that were made known as part of the marketing and Outreach work. See Box Guidelines and an outreach strategy were developed with staff, including criteria for a “Quality Idea”that emphasized collaboration among residents and with TCB and that the person with the idea had to play a major role in making it happen. The 3 top idea winners received a modest prize (trip to amusement park) and the top winner got a commitment from TCB to help implement the idea along with a $2,000.00 budget. St. Stephen’s decided to focus the contest on ideas for the summer of 2013. Materials were developed and a process for decision-making was established and made available to residents. The process included asking resident to vote for their top choice. The staff screened the submissions for applicability and feasibility. Number of Ideas Submitted 56 Number of Qualifying Ideas 25 The winner proposed Monthly Movie Nights hosted by different groups of residents (clubs, programs, resident-led events) across the property and the purchase of a quality projector and screen. According to staff, the winner recently started a new job training class, so the project will be implemented this fall.