Posts Tagged ‘Civic Entrepreneurship’

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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Lareese Hall is a student in the Civic Entrepreneurship in Public Institutions course that I teach at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Graduate School of Library Information and Sciences. While the rest of the class was on campus for a full-day session (this is a distance ed class that meets in person for one day during the semester) Lareese was off to a three-day Community Problem-Solving workshop designed and taught by faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

When she was selected for this prestigious program that teaches teams of civic leaders the skills they need to effect deep change, how could I refuse her request to be excused from the on-campus session? But in my classes, everyone is expected (and does so enthusiastically!) to share what they are learning so Lareese has agreed to guest blog here and share her learning with Texas Forums and the students in LIS 590 CEL.

We look forward to hearing more from Lareese. In the meantime, here’s her bio:

Lareese HallLareese Hall is the Eco.Experience Project Manager at Carnegie Science Center, where she is working to develop new visitor experiences and educational programs related to ecology and the environment. Hall has worked in non-profit, community-based programs for more than 15 years, including as Design Manager with the Riverlife Task Force here in Pittsburgh. A native of Philadelphia, she has lived in a number of urban areas including Boston, Albuquerque, Charlottesville, and Florence, Italy, and has a diverse work background in areas related to urban planning and design, conservation, and education. She holds an undergraduate degree in English from Oberlin College in Ohio and an MFA in Writing and Literature from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. She is currently a part-time student in the Library and Information Science graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh. She also has studied architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. She currently serves as a member of the City of Pittsburgh Arts Commission. In her spare time she writes fiction, paints, and is restoring an old house.

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