Every community is entirely unique. Each is distinctive. This work is about exploring, understanding and evolving that distinctiveness, so that members of each community can deepen their understanding of the unique essence of their particular place . . . and to see that essence as the core instrument for developing any community’s quality of life. In other words, such a regenerative process aligns community members (and project teams, when applicable) around what makes that community singular in a way that can grow the community’s viability and vitality indefinitely. An effective regenerative and integrative process invites community members (and design team members, again when applicable) to serve as authentic co-creators: they co-create and own any given program or project’s purpose, rather than being told what it is; they participate in defining an aim and value-adding processes that benefit all key stakeholders, rather than working only on fragments; they develop place-sourced principles to guide decisions, rather than arguing over opinions; and they participate in exploring concepts and strategies for design, rather than poking holes in a solution that is presented to them for critiquing.

We have found through our experience facilitating such regenerative and integrative processes on hundreds of projects, that this approach is the key to achieving cost-effective ecological and economic effectiveness, high performance, genuine community engagement and program/project fulfillment. This process can reconcile (by harmonizing, instead of compromising) ostensibly conflicting points of view by working from the core issues that underlie a community’s core way of processing, its core purpose and the core value that community delivers to the larger living systems in which it is nested – for ecological and socio-economic systems.

One of the obstacles in working with the many, seemingly irreconcilable problems facing our communities is that we are taught to believe that ‘compromise’ offers the highest potential in the process of social discourse. In other words, we tend to believe that the best solutions are ones whereby we all lose a little, or at the extreme, some issues or perspectives have to be abandoned in the face of majority opinion.

Compromise can be a worthwhile pursuit when we all realize that the nature of community engagement requires a level of responsibility to respect and serve each other. However, when there are limited resources, such as time, money and/or will, a process that results in ‘reconciliation,’ or harmonization (instead of mere compromise), offers new energy, inspiration and potential that serves as a catalyst for more sustainable and systemic transformation – and develops a deepening love of (and caring for) the place where inhabitants live and work.

In order to begin a reconciling process, it is necessary to sort out the many confusing levels of perspectives each of us brings to the conversation. More conventional community dialogue typically creates lists of personal biases, design ideas, solutions, opinions and ideas from various community stakeholders as if all of these are applicable to the unique situation at hand and with the assumption that we all understand the underlying philosophic beliefs, philosophy, perspectives and aspirations of the people offering the ideas. A process that manages the levels of these conversations (i.e., Beliefs, Philosophies, Principles, Concepts, Strategies and Design) provides a framework for sorting out automatic and reactive ideas, while focusing abstract thinking in a way that helps validate and make coherent and concrete the ideas expressed – and helps build the will of community members to engage and participate in developing them.

Concurrent with this type of dialogue structure is the need to work collectively from the core of the issue faced by the community. Instead of assuming that we need to compromise around every idea and thought, we engage the community in exercises to uncover and align around the core purpose behind those ideas. By clarifying the core of an issue in the context of the unique essence and distinctiveness of each community, residents find that they have room to maneuver in shaping the outcomes of their concerns and can thereby focus on heretofore unrealized potential.

We find that co-designing a series of workshops with each particular community has served as an effective process in helping dozens of communities realize such potential, in our work from small towns on Long Island to larger city-wide organizations to Metro Vancouver. One pattern that has emerged from this work is that when a given project is being pursued, the first three workshops include full community participation to fully develop a concept, while subsequent project team workshops are aimed at developing that concept. Preparatory conference calls with the community’s core project team members are convened to design the purpose, outcomes and agenda for each workshop. The number of workshops and their content are tailored to each community’s needs and aim, but generally speaking, the process begins with a series of three critical workshops:

Workshop #1 – Alignment:
A 1 to 1-1/2 day community-focused workshop with the project/community stakeholders that begins with a brief educational presentation by 7group’s facilitators regarding integrative design and regenerative thinking, followed by exercises aimed at identifying and aligning around what system the community is trying to transform (or trying to actualize) and imaging how that system works when it’s working well (its Potential), followed by exercises that align community members around a philosophy (or approach) for working with that system, then developing value-adding processes that must be delivered in balance to all key sets of stakeholders, along with principles for delivering these. Through this framework, participants co-create a unified Project Purpose Statement.

Workshop #2 – Goal-Setting: 
A second 1 to 1-1/2 day community-focused workshop with the project/community stakeholders, after a period of research and analysis informed by Workshop #1, aimed at establishing initial performance goals and direction, along with identifying integrative design opportunities and regenerative potential. The early focus is on creating a caring team atmosphere, encouraging integrative and regenerative systems thinking, clarifying any programmatic requirements and identifying project goals for affecting ecological and socio-economic systems.

Workshop #3 – Concept: 
A third 1 to 1-1/2 day community-focused workshop with the project/community stakeholders ( again after a period of research and analysis informed by Workshops #1 and #2), to develop an initial program/project concept based upon the principles, goals and initial thinking established at the prior Alignment and Goal-Setting workshops. This workshop includes a free-flowing exchange of design ideas and concepts aimed at further developing potential. The workshop begins by addressing targeted effects on nested systems and developing strategies – what needs to be put in place before any design can commence effectively, followed by alignment around a concept to pursue with design activities.

At this point, design can begin (and subsequent workshops planned) from a principle-based set of aligned beliefs, philosophy and principles that can produce place-sourced and community-driven outcomes in service to developing the community’s capacity to serve its inhabitants and to transform the targeted larger system.

We invite you to come along with 7group as we seek to regenerate your community. Visit our latest Your Community web page for more information and examples of our work.

We will continue unveiling the specific areas where we can help you to seek the “difference that makes a difference” in the words of Gregory Bateson. Our fondest desire is to help you to manifest the life affirming change you wish to see in the world. Visit sevengroup.com.

What do you seek to transform?