In at least 90% of the meetings I participate in - be they community gatherings, task forces or staff teams - the dominate feeling in the room is fear. The fear ranges in levels of intensity and types for sure and includes fear of rejection, fear of losing, fear of domination, fear of looking stupid, fear of boredom, fear of losing control, fear of not understanding someone different than me. The list goes on and on.
But one result is common to all rooms filled with fear. They do not produce an abundance of creative ideas or spur on collaborative problem solving or joint action towards a shared goal. For most of my 30 year career in community development, I have been on a search for small, practical ways - ways that do not require a paid consultant or expert - to reduce the fear in rooms in order to support the development of a shared vision and action plan, one that sticks when the going gets rough.
While there is never a silver bullet strategy that works in every context, I do believe I have found a practical, simple way for sparking a shift in a fear-based social dynamic.
The story of this discovery begins about five years ago when my friend Judith Rosenberg introduced me to her way of leading small groups in providing mutual support to one another. I was most impressed with the fact that her device allowed the group to negotiate a wide range of exchanges in as little as ten or fifteen minutes. Time is always a constraint when asking folks to take risks in sharing with each other.
After trying our her method in some small teams, I and some teammates faced a difficult moment while trying to engage residents in an extremely diverse neighborhood comprised of large apartment buildings, a place where no one knows their neighbor or can speak their neighbor's language. To make a long story short, we decided to commit to a weekly gathering of residents built around dinner and the use of this simple tool designed to help people exchange tangible requests for support among one another.
The power of this tool provided the social glue needed to keep complete strangers from so many different cultures coming back time and time again (for nearly two and a half years), leading to the formation of a new network of trusting relationships across lines of difference, which in turn provided the platform for many collaborative actions to improve their community.
Over the last year, Trusted Space Partners has introduced this tool in our work in several communities and my former colleagues in Silver Spring have also been spreading its use to other neighborhoods. I believe we have enough evidence of its power in a wide range of settings to begin sharing it more widely with others. Here's an initial description, but I welcome the chance to hold a longer conversation about how it might work in your context or situation.
What is it called and what is it's primary purpose?