Building Community Authority in Place-Based Collaboration

What is “community authority,” and what are ways to authentically build it within place-based collaborative work? In this new podcast discussion, we learn how one group in Northeast Oklahoma City changed course and reset their collective work so that they could better partner with community members and embed community authority as a part of the collaborative process.

In this discussion, we hear from Matt Biggar (Connected to Place), Vanessa Morrison (Open Design Collective), and naturalist Sean Washington as they share what they’ve learned while working with the Edwards Property Collaborative, a group working together on the future of large tract of land in Northeast Oklahoma City. We learn what happened when the original project process changed directions to better address the community’s history and desires, and how design tools like the BlackSpace Manifesto have served the group in rebuilding community trust.

A transcript of this conversation is available lower down this page.

Resources and Footnotes:

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The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0.

The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.

The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

In this episode, we’re learning about community authority, and the various ways to authentically build community authority within place-based collaborative work.

Joining us for this chat about building community authority is Matt Biggar, of Connected to Place, Vanessa Morrison of Open Design Collective, and Sean Washington who is a naturalist at the Martin Park Nature Center. Together they share what they’ve learned while working with the Edwards Property Collaborative, a large land trust in Northeast Oklahoma City. We learn what happened when the original project process changed direction to better address the community’s history and desires, and how design tools like the BlackSpace Manifesto have served the group in rebuilding community trust.

Moderating this chat is Collective Impact Forum executive director Jennifer Splansky Juster. Let’s listen in.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s podcast of the Collective Impact Forum. I’m Jennifer Splansky Juster, executive director of the Collective Impact Forum. Thank you so much for tuning in today.

We have three wonderful guests joining us today to discuss establishing community authority in place-based collaborative work through work on the Edwards Property Collaborative in northeast Oklahoma City. Joining me today we have Vanessa Morrison, Sean Washington, and Matt Biggar who will be engaging in today’s chat.

I would love to bring the three of you all into the conversation. One at a time I’d love to have you each introduce yourselves to our listeners, share a little bit about yourself and the focus on your work.

Vanessa Morrison: I can start. Hi. Thank you all for having us here. My name is Vanessa Morrison and I am an activist and educator and impact planner who works on spatial and social justice-related issues here in northeast Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City communities surrounding the area. I guess my fulltime role is at the University of Oklahoma as the associate director of the Institute for Quality Communities at the College of Architecture and I’m also the co-founder of BlackSpace Oklahoma and Open Design Collective, and through those two platforms we support spatial needs in Black communities.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Welcome, Vanessa. I’ll introduce Sean Washington.

Sean Washington: I am a naturalist and ecologist at Martin Park Nature Center, which is an environmental learning center here in Oklahoma City, the only one kind of its type that has an actual staff there and what I do is teach people about wildlife around them, create programs for people who come and engage with different aspects of the natural world, and also teach people how to attract those into their own yards and see Oklahoma’s wildlife near where they live.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Great. Thank you, Sean, and Matt.

Matt Biggar: Thanks for having us here. I’m a strategy consultant, researcher, and writer based in San Francisco. In 2016, I started my own consulting firm, Connected to Place. My specialty is designing and facilitating place-based cross-sector collaboratives for social change.

In 2018, how I got to meet eventually Sean and Vanessa, started at the Collective Impact convening, actually, in Austin. There is presented on a collaborative I’d been working on called San Francisco Children & Nature. I was one the leaders from that collaborative. I also met Louisa McCune who’s the executive director of the Kirkpatrick Foundation in Oklahoma City. She and a group of animal care professionals who were attending the conference were interested in starting a statewide collective impact initiative to end needless euthanasia of sheltered animals in Oklahoma, and I helped build that collaborative which is now called Common Bonds and has a director and a lot of operations.

So the Edwards Property Collaborative is the third collaborative that I’ve worked on in Oklahoma and with the support of the Kirkpatrick Foundation and it’s been really meaningful and rewarding to work with people like Vanessa and Sean on this urban land use collaborative.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Welcome. I actually had no idea that the connection came through with the Collective Impact Forum convening a couple of years ago down in Austin. Thank you for the shout out and so glad to help folks convene and meet each other.

But today we are focusing on the work in you all’s communities and we’re going to be talking about how collaboratives can establish community leadership within network. Another way to describe that is establishing community authority. For this discussion, how do you define community authority?

Vanessa Morrison: I think that the summary in how I see community authority is really creating space for community members to be a part of the process. My background being in planning and just in this built-environment sector, too often, historically, and even presently professionals go into communities and they kind of have these plans already, or these perceptions of what should be done and how issues should be tackled and how solutions should be developed. With that approach, there really is an exclusionary dynamic that keeps community members from being a part of the process and how their spaces are shaped, planned, designed, and informed.

To me, community authority can’t exist if there’s not spaces created for them to be a part of the process and for them to lead the process as well.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Yeah, we’ll dig in a little more, of course, to how community authority became central in the Edwards Property Collaborative work. But before we talk about that specifically, could you tell us a little more about the collaborative more broadly and some of the story of how that work has come together?

Matt Biggar: The collaborative was brought together to shape the future of this 135-acre urban nature property, referred to as the Edwards Property, and it’s also three historical buildings on it. There was a group of folks, the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City Zoo, the Oklahoma City Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, and a couple of individuals, professionals who were interested in trying to do something good with this property for Oklahoma City and the broader region.

They had been discussing things, I think mostly in 2020, and decided that they wanted to involve more people and start to build towards something with this. I should say that the property was and still is currently owned by the state of Oklahoma so part of this dynamic has been trying to find an entity to acquire the property so that it could become an asset for the city and the nearby communities.

Starting in 2021, I was brought into the conversation, as I mentioned earlier, through the Kirkpatrick Foundation because the interest to try to grow this and structure the collaborative more to have more organizations involved, to have community leaders involved, and to develop a vision for the property so then that vision might help attract someone to buy the property and to turn that into reality.

Well into 2021, we established a steering committee for this group. We started having monthly meetings and an interest in partnering with the community started to grow from the very start.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Let’s dig into that a little bit more. Tell me more about what led you to understand and follow through on elevating the role of community and community leadership and putting community authority at the center of how you approached this work.

Matt Biggar: I can start a little bit here and then Vanessa, feel free to chime in. I was here a little bit before Vanessa but not much in terms of getting involved in this collaborative.

There was three community leaders on the original steering committee. It became very clear from the first or second meeting that we had that there was a need to share the history of the community and the context and the history of disinvestment and actually quite a bit of broken trust and deep frustration with other entities outside of the community. That seemed very important to spend time and space for that to be discussed and for the other members of the steering committee to learn more about that.

Another thing that kind of steered it towards more community leadership and more community authority was an ally on another committee who was a leader in the school district and so she pretty soon into the conversation said, listening to the original plan for how we were going to do community listening sessions, said this is going to be too fast, was not going to bring the community along with us. We needed to slow down, and so that led us into having some more hard, honest conversations about the structure of the collaboratives, who would be involved, that we needed more community members on it, and so much of this centered around the concerns around we’re bringing people together but, and Vanessa mentioned this earlier, is there’s already plans? Are there already been decisions made? Is this really authentically engaging the community? So we realized we’ve got to slow down and do things differently if we were going to do this right.

Vanessa Morrison: I’ll just add to that a little bit of context about the area. Edwards Property is located in northeast OKC in Ward 7, and historically speaking, this is a very underserved marginalized and disengaged community.

In the past few years, recent years, there is almost what a lot of people are describing as renaissance happening where investment, development is coming in. There’s interest in the area for the first time in some cases the context for the first time in many, many years. There is this fear that community members are not going to be again, a part of the process in how their spaces are planned for, and also historically speaking, there have been a lot of spatial and social harms that have been inflicted on this community as it relates to urban renewal, gentrification, cultural erasure, displacement and more.

So you have this dynamic where the past has been very painful and now there’s this surge of activity and interest in the area and people are fearful that if something happens, they may be harmed again and pushed out and displace again or not be able to remain in the community or lose their identities and connections to this area. When projects are happening in northeast OKC it can be a very sensitive situation because if people don’t feel like they’re a part of it or they don’t feel like they can be informative of the process, they fear that something bad can happen again and so I think that was a pivotal moment in the collaborative to stop, pause, and really think about how do we intentionally engage community members so we’re not adding to the harm and trauma that’s already been inflicted on this community for years and years and years?

Matt Biggar: I think the moment that really strikes me with all that important background that Vanessa just shared, she and another couple of community leader who were an initial part of the steering committee, there’s definitely like this frustration that was starting to grow and tension and so we had an off-line conversation and just trying to say, hey, let’s slow down and talk about everything.

I remember one of the community leaders saying something’s just not right here, and we had to kind of un-till what was meant by that. Part of it was my own role. Like who is this outside consultant? What are you doing and are you making the decisions for this or am I here on behalf of the foundation or on behalf of the city to steer this toward the desired outcome? Again, that sounds sort of like this is being—we’re not really part of this conversation or are you really going to make us part of this conversation? Those kind of moments in a collaborative journey I found particularly important and it was really important that we try to listen to that and do things differently.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, Vanessa, for that added context, and Matt for naming some of the tensions and your role and how you experienced that and then we’ll talk a little bit about how you all came together to shift gears a little bit.

Before we do that, I want to bring Sean into the conversation. Sean, tell us a little bit how you got involved and why this project is important to you.

Sean Washington: I got involved where I was invited to one of the early meetings of the group, not early as in the beginning of it. I was around like the middle stages of it. I got invited by a member at the time and they said they’d love to hear your input on the ecology of the area and learn more about what wildlife is there and the opportunities for it to be more for wildlife.

I, being someone who lives right next to the property that we were talking about, was very intrigued to know there was even a project going on. I was already entranced with the idea of being there because huge property with tons of wildlife and every day I’d see something going in or out of there that was interesting like one time we saw beavers going underneath the road to the park, into that area.

I got involved by talking more about the ecology and the environmental importance of this area. I was also helping with directing a lot of the ideas that we had in the group around what to do and what options we had. Not really directing in like deciding what happens or what doesn’t, but sort of helping guide the group and helping all see or trying to have the same idea or if we aren’t having the same idea where it’s separating and coming to terms with a lot.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: From talking with you earlier, Sean, it seems like you also feel that there’s a deeper calling to this work for you. Could you tell us and tell the listeners a little bit more about that?

Sean Washington: Yeah, being a naturalist and a Black naturalist from Oklahoma City, especially the northeast side of Oklahoma City, that is an extremely narrow list and it’s almost nonexistent to be completely frank about it.

The main reason is there’s not much access to experiencing nature and learning that you might even enjoy being outdoors and bird watching and the sciences of being outdoors. A lot of that, because there’s not many experience or chance to experience that, many people lose out on the essential knowledge of finding out, oh, I love butterflies and that’s surprisingly a common one that many people realize is their thing.

It really is important to me that we find a way to share this space with the community because at the current state it is completely blocked off from the community that it sits in the middle of. It’s very well guarded in the sense of there are security cameras and a straight line to the police department if someone is seen on them.

I think that that raises more of the issues because a lot of the outdoor sciences have been historically excluding minorities and since it’s in a majority- mostly minority region of the city and it’s specifically excluding anyone (which has its own set of issues), I feel like that only furthers the issue and only makes it worse especially being a place so biodiverse and so beautiful that we need to share this.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: I’m so glad you mentioned, Sean. Thank you so much for weaving that into our conversation. Now that we have all three of the backgrounds and the three or your perspectives that you’re bringing, tell us more about the practices that you started doing to move your collaborative to be more centered and led by community.

Sean Washington: One of the things that was done that I personally enjoyed in the collaborative after I had joined in—when did it happen, about in May? Was that intentionally made every meeting or every sort of [sound breaks up] since it was COVID and people were trying to make sure everyone was safe, we tried to ensure everything was very community driven.

We had a few different ideas for places to meet and we ended up striking a few of them out because it’s not centered in the community so why would we meet in a place that doesn’t have to do with the place we’re trying to help? And so I think that’s really, really important that we made that in every move that we made, how was the community affected or are they impacted by what we’re—it doesn’t seem like something happening to them, something happening with them.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thanks, Sean, and I think, Matt, you were going to add to that as well.

Matt Biggar: Yeah, and I like how Sean brought up the location considerations and, yes, a lot of our meetings were on Zoom but we did have that opportunity. We definitely wanted to center in the community.

Broadly speaking, I think there were a number of things we did try to change and I would kind of categorize them along the lines of structure, process, and outcomes.

So as far as the structure of the collaborative itself, we talked about the fundamental governing entity was the steering committee, and so that initially was more institutional leaders and noncommunity members, and we shifted that over the first couple of months to be half and half so it would be half community members, leaders, and half outside the community, city stakeholders and so forth.

There was a person in particular, Katie Hawk, who was the director of communications at the Nature Conservancy, and she really took it upon herself to go out and recruit and network to try to find interested community leaders and members. She found Sean, for example, and they connected over their mutual interest in wildlife and biodiversity.

As Sean mentioned, we established cochairs of the steering committee and he is the one of the first two cochairs, and he partners with institutional leader who runs the Oklahoma City Parks and Trails Foundation. We also established a community engagement liaison position, and that was another member of the community to serve in that role. So those are the structural changes.

And then as far as the process goes, we mentioned it a couple times, and we definitely changed the timeframe. The original plan that I had constructed with the first steering committee members was going to go too fast so rather we want to focus on relationship and trust building. We had a retreat in the summer where we could all come together and just providing space for community voice and context to be shared in our different meetings as opposed to moving fast through an agenda.

We did change—as far as the process goes—changed my role. It was clear given the conversations that I was not the one to lead the community engagement process, what we called community listening sessions, but rather the pivot that the steering committee made was to seek community leaders to lead that and other parts of the project.

That led to then hiring Vanessa and BlackSpace Oklahoma to do racial equity training at that retreat I mentioned. That was the first step towards moving towards community-led consulting and planning, and that is hopefully the start of much more to come to the collaborative.

The last thing I’ll say is with outcomes. That was an important- some nuance here- but a really important pivot as well. The original task as I mentioned earlier was for the steering committee to develop a vision for the property but pretty soon it came up, well, why is the steering committee getting ahead of the community in developing a vision, and so we walked that back quite a bit appropriately and said that we’d rather come up with a collaborative framework, and in that collaborative framework steering committee members could articulate their interests for the property both in general and specific, and also design like what’s a collaborative process going to be going forward, what are the principles that are going to guide conversations, those sort of things but not a specific vision for the property.

Just to drill down on one example of how we kind of worked that so everybody felt OK about it, the specific interest of the property that the steering committee members came up with were things like urban agriculture, environmental education, arts programs, and so rather than say this is what we want to see happen, we just said, OK, here are steering committee members and organizations that can support these uses of the property, and then after there’s a community process to determine what’s going to happen at the property, we can look back at that resource to see who might be able to support it so really trying to kind of flip it around in that regard.

Vanessa Morrison: I’ll just add that I think the financial resources are such a critical component of this work because too often you have people come into a community, they extract information, they put labor on community members but there really is no honoring or recognition of their contributions, of their expertise, and of their time. You see that practice not just happening in Oklahoma City but just all over. This marginalized community needs support, an entity comes in, they’re paid, they’re compensated to come in, they’re extracting information and there’s really no position or shared power in that.

So I think the committee working to find the resources to pay for training to learn, to pause, stop, and learn, to find an identify resources to pay for engagement. The committee started off asking some of the Black members of the community to volunteer a lot of this work when this is a fulltime job, engaging and interacting with the community, collecting data, and being able to translate that from a cultural lens. That’s an expertise and that’s a skill, and too often again it’s not respected as a skill in these kind of spaces and so I think the committee transitioning that and finding the resources and coming together saying, OK, this is important to us and we’re going to bring in the financial resources to hire the skill, the expertise, and the capacity needed to do this was excellent.

I think it’s a good model that a lot of different efforts need to follow instead of again continuing this practice of where you’re extracting from a community but you’re not compensating anyone for their time and you’re not even acknowledging who they are and how they contributed to the work and the final deliverable.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you for that all of you, and, Vanessa, underscore your point around compensating members of communities for their engagement when other people around the table are there in their “day job” and usually are getting paid for their time that they’re participating so really appreciate that very specific point, and all of the specific examples all of you are giving in your responses.

Vanessa, tell us a little bit more about the BlackSpace Manifesto and how that has supported the work and what it looks like in practice.

Vanessa Morrison: The BlackSpace Manifesto is a set of principles that we follow as urbanists in this work to really keep ourselves rooted in the intention of working alongside community members and holding ourselves accountable to how we serve communities.

So BlackSpace Oklahoma is a chapter of the BlackSpace National Collective which has different affiliate chapters in about four different cities, and we are a collective of individuals who represent the Black community who have these built-environment backgrounds who are coming together to reimagine new ways that we can approach how we serve Black communities through our professions, especially getting to my point earlier, recognizing the harm that our professions have inflicted on communities, we want to reckon with that and disrupt those traditional practices that have been a disservice and have been a harm to our communities.

So the Manifesto was created by leaders of the national collective to really engage, keep us grounded and rooted in intention, and being thoughtful and collaborative, and holding ourselves accountable in a way where we are not approaching Black communities like we just know everything because we’re Black but respecting that these experiences and identities come from a diaspora, and it’s important to be sensitive and thoughtful about how we approach this work even though many of us are from the Black community. We can’t just assume that we know what’s best for every Black community so the set of principles, all of that resonates with me. Even outside of this work I find myself leaning on the tool even in other types of situations in my life, but I think the tool and being able to share this with the committee really gave us a set of values to center our efforts on and think about how we can approach this with this new process of making sure of being inclusive of community members.

There are multiple principles but I think the one that was the most prominent in this process of moving at the speed of trust, and although there was a timeline for the work and deliverables were primarily set in stone, and there was an effort to be able to move across the timeline, I think it was great how we were able to say, you know what? Let’s stop. We can just stop right here and rethink how we go about this because we’d rather build with the community than harm and disrupt trust even further.

So I think moving at the speed of trust was a good practice that we leaned on in this process to make sure that we weren’t causing the community further harm.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you for that. I’m curious if there are other principles that bubble up for you, Sean, or for Matt as having really informed the work.

Sean Washington: The one that stuck with me at least the most that informed a lot of the work that we’re doing is the principles of sharing and listening to stories, and that is something that is really important with a lot of the conversations we have not only with the steering committee and the community members and anyone else but also between steering committee members, all have different viewpoints, the history of this area and history of Oklahoma City as a whole and what impacts there are so it’s really important to think about that.

Each person has their own extremely valid reasons for what they do, and extremely valid ideas and thoughts and processes for doing whatever it is, and it’s sharing and listening to all of that that really has shaped the way we communicate with each other and with the public which not only slowed it down but has made it much more valuable.

Matt Biggar: I think to your point there, Sean, one thing I remember is as we got into this work with everyone, the story of there had been a few years before a proposed development on the Edwards property, a very substantial mixed-use, big developer, big development, and we learned that it had been defeated, that the city ultimately did not pass it, and part of that story that I don’t think everybody knew—I certainly didn’t know—was that the community had really come together and formed opposition to it fearing what would happen and that it was being imposed upon the community. So there was a sense of collective power there and so I think among other things, here’s an opportunity for the Edwards Property Collaborative to bring power together in a proactive, constructive way as opposed to just a reactive way which I know it’s often felt like to the community. So, yes, having that, honoring the past and the history of the community I think is a principle that has been really important to the collaborative, and then just trying to have good conversations around it.

Vanessa mentioned definitely some of the BlackSpace Manifesto principles the collaborative adopted, and one principle that we also used for conversations, two kind of tandem principles was assume good intentions and take responsibility for impacts, and we definitely had to utilize that when we had some tensions and some feelings that were people feeling kind of bad about some conversations, and we were able to kind of bring it around to say, you know, and I try to share it too that we may have good intentions but our impact is still very real, and it may be because of some bias that we have that we weren’t aware of, it may be because we just hadn’t put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

That was an ongoing challenge but when I think of principles, we’ve got the broader principles around how we approach the overall project but we also have the principles about how do we talk to each other effectively across lived experiences, across different identities, and build something better and more understanding.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: You’ve talked about some of the challenges early on and how those contributed to a bit of a course correction to greater community authority. Are there any other challenges that you experienced that have some reflections or lessons for others on the line for their work to reflect on?

Matt Biggar: I would say this has continued to be a dilemma for the collaborative. It’s a chicken and egg kind of thing where because of the nature of this collaborative, there is this very large property with a pretty big price tag and it’s not—the state owns it as I mentioned earlier. There was concern about going forward with community engagement before the property was acquired by someone who would honor the community engagement and the community input so the collaborative has been a bit stuck there.

I think once an entity comes forward and is perhaps aligned with the steering committee, aligned with the community, and says we’re going to buy this property, things could really take off. I hope we’ve laid a foundation for that to be possible but I think patience—we talked about patience in the process, well, just patience in getting to this next big step is tough but it does—in the meantime adequately engaging and paying for service to some of the community has yet to happen. I think if something doesn’t happen soon, that’s going to be—that could be more problematic but this is really outside of the control of most people in the collaborative.

So it’s more just a dilemma and I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of great people working in on this collaborative so it’s just maybe being transparent about it and talking about this, and just keep moving it forward.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Is there any other advice that you would like to share with folks who are listening that might be either in early stages of their collaborative or in a place where they too are considering pressing pause and doing a bit of a course correction for lack of a better term toward greater community authority?

Vanessa Morrison: I think it’s so important that you have a relationship cultivated in the communities that you’re trying to work in. I think in this work that we do, we are usually working on a deadline or a timeline or sort of working towards this end result, that we don’t make time for connection. It’s almost kind of like that aspect of community work is trivialized or diminished in contrast or comparison to other elements of like getting the project done when really that is like the foundation of being able to do a successful project, is that you have buy-in, you have relationship, and you have trust with the community.

I think with any collaborative, a best practice is really trying to create intentional time to cultivate that and even if people are familiar with each other, create space for people to connect, to learn about each other, understand each other’s intentions, and how they work and their personality, things that can help prepare the group for a journey ahead of challenges, high points, low points, and all of the different dynamics that happen when people are coming together so I think making space and time for relationship building is important, and making sure that that is also made time for the community as well, and that you have representation in your group for the communities that you’re trying to work in and serve.

Matt Biggar: Definitely, I’ve learned so much from working with Vanessa and Sean and members of this collaborative. I think everything Vanessa said is just really important there, and it almost—in terms of there’s no right way or perfect sequence for any of this work. It’s messy but it does kind of raise the issue of where do you start, and so you have—maybe it’s not as concrete as this particular collaborative where there’s an actual property and the future of the property being discussed but whatever it may be, whatever community it involves, doing as much as possible to start there first, right?

So like in this ideal sense, the first people coming together are community members and community leaders, and then following from that is, OK, we want to build something out of this, and we need certain institutional support, we need certain funding so cultivating the right funders and institutional partners from that, and then that can lead to, you know, are there gaps in what we have? Do we need an outside trainer, an outside consultant to bring in some perspective from someone where, to bring in a certain skillset? But it starts—the base, the assets, it starts with the community at the very start.

And I think, knowing what Vanessa’s working on with some other projects and some others around Oklahoma City, that that is starting to happen more and more, and I really—that whole dynamic that Sean and Vanessa speak so well about, about things being imposed on a community, from coming from outside I think we have an opportunity now to start turning that around.

And then with all that being said, the best laid plans never work out so just kind of underlining the concept about being flexible, being willing to throw out the structure, process, the roles, whatever it may be and completely repivot as necessary but then once you repivot I think it is really important to be clear about roles and outcomes because I know we would have lost a lot of people in this process if we said, OK, we’re getting rid of the vision and we’re just going to come up with a couple of ideas, well, I think a lot of the original partners might have said there’s just not much here that I’m contributing towards so you have to be just clear about where are we headed in this particular phase, checking with everybody, does this make sense, does this feel good, do you feel like this is a good use of your time.

Vanessa Morrison: I’ll also add I think, Katie and Matt, what you all did so well was kind of holding space for all of the different perspectives and emotions that people were experiencing through this process. There were some intense moments throughout this work together and I think you all did such a good job being patient, allowing for that to be aired out, affirming how people were feeling, and being fluid enough to adjust and pivot.

Sometimes when people air grievances or barriers in feeling comfortable or being able to collaborate fully or show up fully, I think sometimes it’s kind of like, OK, thanks for sharing your feelings, and it’s just on with business per usual but I think Matt and Katie did such a great job opening up space for people to lead, to be in these positions, to stop, pivot, rewind, go forward, and not just push the process forward because that’s what they were called to do.

Something else I think would be a really great practice for people who are trying to build up community authority is creating safe outlets for the relationship cultivation but also for education. That’s something that we are doing through Open Design here locally and trying to make sure that people understand process. A lot of people’s misperceptions, and mistrust and resistance comes from not really understanding how a process works and how it’s going to impact them directly, how it impacts community directly.

Also on the flipside of that with professionals—I use that term loosely coming into communities, there is a lack of understanding from their perspective as well in understanding the cultural context of the community and what are the barriers, what are the points of tension and how they should be able to navigate how they approach serving these communities and work in these communities.

So I think creating space for how do we learn about process, how can community members learn about process so they can show up fully and participate from an informed perspective, a truly informed perspective where they can speak and represent their needs fully and represent their concerns fully, and how can people coming into communities really understand cultural context and understand these spatial, social, historical dynamics in the community so when they’re building or creating or planning, they’re protecting that and honoring it in in the work that they’re doing, and then using it as a tool.

You don’t have to come in and rethink and reinvent the wheel. The wheel has already been created, you just don’t know about it. People work outside of systems and in communities every single day with little to no resources and make it work with little to nothing, and Northeast OKC has had a lot of assets that people are simply not aware of because the stories are untold or people don’t even make time to learn about it because they’re coming to that community and not necessarily with this project but in a lot of cases, people approach Black communities and marginalized communities from a deficit approach. They don’t know a thing. Oh, there’s an asset here, there’s life-giving assets for this community because there’s challenges. They just kind of come in with this lens of I’ve got to come in and fix, so you’re missing opportunities and tools and data and information that is already existing in that community because you came in thinking that you knew what was best.

So I think again making time for shared learning for community members to learn who have been disenfranchised and excluded from process and for people coming in the communities to learn from community I think is critical.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Right on. Thank you, Vanessa. A master class right there in five minutes or less than that.

I would just love to ask what you all see as the next steps for the work. Where might you see it growing and where do you think things are headed?

Sean Washington: For the last few weeks and basically months we’ve been working in smaller groups on different aspects of it. For example, the acquisition, the community engagement in different spheres of this larger project, and we are going to start coming back together, finding out what each group has found, sort of convening on what information each group has found, and sort of taking the time to move in a direction to actually push something because we have this weird balance I guess you could say or catch-22 of do we ask the community what would you like here first, or do we acquire the land and then ask which is very—it seems very simple but it’s sort of like the chicken and the egg kind of thing because in many communities like this, they are used to being asked something, like they give their opinion and then nothing comes out of it, and so you get used to not really having a voice because when they do ask you, it doesn’t wind up getting added.

It’s a very sensitive thing but I know it’s hard but because we can’t make everyone happy, we’re going to have to take one direction to go in first. We’re going to have to come together and actually figure out which direction we’re going to go in first and choose that and press forward.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, Sean. Matt, Vanessa, Sean, thank you so much for joining us today. I hope everyone enjoyed listening to such an important conversation with the wisdom that Sean, Vanessa, and Matt brought in today so thank you all.

(Outro): And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes of this podcast.

We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the pasts, present, and futures of these tribes.

The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.

This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast host. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, we hope you are safe and well.


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