From Guest Blogger, Lareese Hall
The Community Problem Solving workshop was a first for the Kennedy School – it was the first time teams of participants came to the school to work on a problem specific to our community.
Intense days left little time for much more than wandering back to your room at night and trying to do the reading for the next day. Yes, we had homework. And we had group work and, on some level, individual work. We also had roommates – from other teams. So, on a nightly basis, you were able to reflect and share with someone who was completely unconnected to your team and your stated community problem, which was helpful.
The program was carefully structured to illuminate a very specific (and truly useful) process for problem solving in a community context (which I will discuss in upcoming posts): diagnosing the issue, developing strategies for real community participation, creating valuable partnerships, understanding the politics involved, and coalition building.
Our class sessions were focused on teaching us specific skills and each class session was followed by a team session that applied what we just learned in class to our particular community problem. I will not go into copious amounts of detail here about the community problems because the problems (although important) were essentially case studies for the process.
There is a tremendous amount of value working together as a team. I am a person who often, when faced with an enormous task, prefers to dig in my heels and just do it myself. I was reminded in those few short days at Harvard, that working with other people can give you resources and strength that you can never get all by yourself – no matter how amazing you are.
We were a group of people with something in common but not a group of people who had ever worked together to get something done. It was critically important that in each of our group sessions we would choose roles as timekeeper, facilitator, and note taker – roles that shifted with each session (and we had five group sessions overall). We were fortunate that we (along with each of the other groups) were assigned a faculty member who would journey through this process with us – keeping us focused and assuring us that we were making progress (or not). There was no session where someone did not get upset or challenge someone else, but we truly made progress and learned to be better leaders.
In the end, (civic) leadership is about participating and contributing; it is not about cutting yourself off from loss, fear, or danger. As Marty Linsky (one of our professors) and Ron Heifetz state in their book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading (a book we were each given in our introductory package – and that we had to read partially for class, of course!): Leadership is worth the risk because the goals extend beyond material gain or personal advancement. By making the lives of people around you better, leadership provides meaning in life. It creates purpose.
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