The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.
– Thomas Berry
Developing community connections and reciprocal
interrelationships in each unique place
Every community is entirely unique. Each is distinctive. Our work is about exploring, understanding and developing that distinctiveness – or essence – so that every project and community can serve as an instrument for developing reciprocal interrelationships with the living systems upon which that community’s quality of life depends. In other words, a collaborative regenerative development process connects community members with project teams in alignment around how any project (or developmental program) can contribute to the community’s viability and vitality indefinitely. An effective regenerative process invites all stakeholders to become authentic co-creators, so that:
they co-create and own the project’s purpose, rather than being told what it is;
they participate in defining project goals that benefit all stakeholders, rather than having to be convinced that the project has value;
they develop principles to guide decisions, rather than arguing over opinions; and
they participate in exploring conceptual design options, rather than poking holes in a design solution that is presented to them.
We have found through such regenerative thinking on hundreds of projects that this approach is the key to achieving cost-effective ecological effectiveness and genuine community engagement in the vitality of their place. Through these experiences, 7group has developed a regenerative process that is tailored to each unique project and community. This process reconciles (through harmonizing, instead of compromising) ostensibly conflicting points of view:
by working from the core issues that stakeholders truly care about,
by aligning around the core principles that underlie any project’s purpose,
by deepening all stakeholders’ understanding of the essence of their community,
by revealing reciprocal interrelationships between each community and the larger living systems in which that community is nested, and
by building stakeholders’ capacity to actively engage their role in serving the health of the place-specific living systems upon which their community’s livelihood depends.
Metro Vancouver was charged with designing a new home for the Lions Gate Secondary Wastewater Treatment Plant that would upgrade an essential service, improve marine water quality and contribute to development on Vancouver’s North Shore for its residents. 7group worked with Metro Vancouver to co-create and facilitate a series of twelve community workshops that were convened over a two-year period to employ an integrative process and develop regenerative thinking for this $525-million project (renamed the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant).
Working in a highly collaborative way with a very large number of stakeholders (including nine municipalities, local businesses, residents, technical experts, local governments and First Nations), 7group led a community-sourced process that changed the paradigm of how such critical urban infrastructure can positively coexist with, and be an amenity for, the communities it serves, thereby creating urban infrastructure as an enhancement to the urban fabric, rather than an interruption to the public realm. In fact, these workshops served to shift the entire project team’s thinking by seeing the community as a valuable contributing resource, rather than a group to whom they must present and gain reluctant “buy-in” (or an obstacle to be managed). As a result, the community’s paradigm for the project shifted from building a hidden utility to “creating a fresh-water and energy generation plant” that belongs to its unique place, is secure but visually open to the community, and provides such fabulous landscaping and amenities that it serves as a place where people want to hold weddings. This process also produced another outcome: the first project in Metro Vancouver’s history to receive unanimous Board approval.
Mastics Moriches Shirley Community Library (MMSCL)
The Mastics Moriches Shirley Community Library (MMSCL) was created by the voters of the William Floyd School District in 1974. As a major community resource, MMSCL found itself at a crossroads in 2014, and the Board of Trustees was looking for the community’s help to make a decision on how best to proceed, given the facility’s dire need for renovation, repairs and asbestos abatement. 7group was contracted to facilitate a series of six community-sourced workshops with the project team, the Board and the community to determine and align around the best course of action for engaging the library project. This was especially important in this particular place, since as a public project on Long Island, community referendum is required for funding. Several hundred community members attended these workshops and aligned around their need to re-conceptualize and develop the MMSCL. They shifted their thinking from building a building to “developing an epicenter for community collaboration, professional development and personal growth”. As such, the project served as an instrument for enriching and engaging residents as essential members of an interconnected community collectively working together to improve their quality of life. They enthusiastically engaged in a co-creative process aimed at leveraging diversity (over 26 languages are spoken in this community) by co-creating the following Principles as their “guides to action” for delivering value-adding process to five sets of key stakeholders:
- Focus on educational opportunities for personal and community growth
- Create and operate a green smart building
- Strengthen community collaboration through clear two-way communication/constant feedback
- Focus on creation of a healthful environment
- Welcome and anticipate present and future needs for community development
- Constantly improve flexibility (adaptability to change) and versatility
- Improve accessibility with location and proximity in relation to population
- Evolve the principal of equality through education, empowerment (empowers you) and enrichment (enriches your life)
- Contribute to the improvement of living systems (the lifeshed) cost-effectively
- Aim for net-positive energy, water, nutrients
- Supply all energy needs with renewable, non-polluting, locally available energy sources
- Develop through collaborative strategies with Community (input/outreach)
- Provide return on investment
Learn more on MMSCL’s “Envision Today – Invest in Tomorrow” website.
Spillian Master Plan
Spillian is a 33-acre historic estate, built by the Fleischmann’s Yeast Family in the 1880’s as part of a summer retreat in the Catskills. Crowned by a museum-quality stick style mansion, it now is the home of a center created to help people “imagine past what they think is possible”. 7group has been working with Spillian and the surrounding community since 2015, when they embarked on a master planning effort to guide Spillian’s future evolution through a regenerative process aimed at realizing the potential of this unique place and community. This regenerative planning process builds our ableness to think systemically and holistically about the larger living systems in which each place is nested and our role in transforming those systems. Key stakeholders from five core groups attended the community-sourced workshops facilitated by 7group (Customers, Co-creators/designers, Earth Systems representatives, Community, and Investors). Each stakeholder in the Spillian community continues to develop their role and the value-adding processes they seek to manifest by actively engaging the following Purpose for the Master Planning effort that they co-created:
To develop an inspiring place-sourced master site plan, in a way that its process and plan embodies imaginal reveling and evolves authentic belonging, so that all stakeholders remember the genius of this place and themselves, past, present and future.
Stakeholders also developed the following Principles at these workshops to guide their decision-making and actions:
- Co-creating events enhances value for all stakeholders.
- Partnering with Place deepens lasting meaningful experience.
- Empathic imaging is a mandatory first step for manifesting change/transformation.
- Effectiveness requires co-creative contributions from all participants’ genius.
- Efforts that serve to manifest the Essence of Spillian and its Place are in service to providing what the planet needs in its current state of evolution.
Learn more about Spillian master planning event in April 2018.
Community Solar on State
Penn State University and local community groups wanted to align stakeholders around the purpose, outcomes and process for developing and installing community-led solar farming in State College, PA, called Community Solar on State (CSOS). 7group facilitated a series of four community-sourced workshops through Penn State’s Sustainability Institute’s Reinvention Fund that deeply valued the role of all stakeholders in a collaborative co-creative process, where community members clarified and aligned around the Purpose of the project at the first workshop, as follows:
To develop a community-created solar photovoltaic array, In a way that evolves transparently, enhances living systems, and values the voices of the community (both individual and collective), so that future local energy projects embed energy resilience as a cultural value that enhances the quality of life in our region and empowers imaginations in this community indefinitely.
The remaining workshops empowered community members to take action by developing leaders and vocal advocates who knew why they were involved and were excited about their role. This multi-stakeholder community engagement enabled solar photovoltaic (PV) projects in the area by reducing soft costs of PV installation associated with permitting, zoning and interconnection. The emerging outcomes of the CSOS effort also demonstrated a strong collective will to grow solar capacity within the community, as community leaders continue to seek education and generate local community advocacy surrounding solar energy in the local schools, in the surrounding area’s municipalities, and on the University campus.
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