The Excitement of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning has become an essential arrow in the quiver of youth development and education. But are we doing it right?

Today, I’m in Columbus, Ohio at the Prevention Action Alliance 2017 Adult Allies Summit. I’m excited to present here, among so many people who see themselves and their work as essential to the lives of youth, because they’re taking the right tact.

As I present on youth engagement through Project Based Learning, I’m reminded of research I’ve done on youth-driven programming across the country. So often, when they’re leading projects youth choose to take action and make a difference in the world around them. They want the vibrance and vitality of leading change, creating difference and fostering transformation in their own lives and the lives of their families, communities and the world.

That’s a tremendous opportunity! Think of the differences we could make as adult allies if we simply made space for young people to lead the projects they learn from, allowing them to create positive, powerful change in the world around us! Wow! Exclamation points!

My research through The Freechild Project has shown me that Project Based Learning should have seven main components:

  1. POWERFUL Youth Engagement—At the core of all Project Based Learning should be youth themselves. Planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, decision-making and advocacy provide potential learning opportunities throughout Project Based Learning as youth are scaffolded for action and supported in transformation.
  2. REAL Learning—Project Based Learning should have meaningful, substantive learning in its core. Learning shouldn’t be fake, pretend, meaningless or inconsequential.
  3. PRACTICAL Problems—Focused on actual challenges and meeting real needs, Project Based Learning should lift the lives of youth and their communities by facing practical problems head-on.
  4. LASTING Efforts—Sustained impact should be a goal of Project Based Learning at every turn. Focused on creating real change, young people and their lives should be transformed.
  5. OUTWARD Outcomes—Looking towards the world around us, Project Based Learning should be conducted toward and presented to people who aren’t involved, including adults, youth and families.
  6. CRITICAL Thinking and Action—Project Based Learning should center on social justice through positive, powerful action. Youth should consider the roles of oppression and empowerment, and the genuine possibilities for them to change the world.
  7. AUTHENTIC Action—Keeping it real is at the center of Project Based Learning when youth focus on what actually needs changed, what problems and challenges they actually face and are trying to solve, and what difference they make.

These components can allow the adult allies of youth—including youth workers, counselors, teachers and others—to enact meaningful, positive and powerful transformation in the lives of their participants. I’ve also learned that only then can we see the all of the positive outcomes that Project Based Learning fosters, including skills focused on Project Management; Time Management; Organization; Teamwork; Research; Procurement, and; Problem-Solving. Other outcomes include knowledge about Social Change; Community Building; Project Design and Implementation; Leadership; Social Justice; Courage in Action; and Creating the Future.

If there are higher goals for youth engagement, I still haven’t seen them!

If you want, I hope you’ll share your knowledge and ideas about Project Based Learning in the comments section below.

 

You Might Also Be Interested In…

Elsewhere Online

  • THE FREECHILD PROJECT—Freechild supports youth and adults working together to change the world in positive, powerful ways. My 15-year project with examples, resources and more.
  • EDUTOPIA—Our vision is of a new world of learning based on the compelling truth that improving education is the key to the survival of the human race. Lots of Project Based Learning resources.

 

How to Recruit Youth Today

TPOYEadvert

Youth have many choices to make today.

Let’s say that you’re 18 years old. You left school before graduating, and your friend’s mom is letting you stay in their garage.

You have many choices, and they’re stacked like this:

  • Apply for jobs
  • Break into a car to steal something
  • See if your old girlfriend wants to have sex

What’s going through your mind right now?

Curiosity floods your brain. Even if you’re not sure you can get a job, you know its something you should do, compared to stealing something or having sex. You know what the right thing to do is, but you’re not sure why this job application would be different from any others.

If you truly wanted immediate satisfaction, you’d find an easy car to break into, right? Or you’d give that girlfriend a call. You wouldn’t even take a glance at the job form.

But that’s not how we are built when we are young people.

Years ago, I consulted with an organization that taught youth adult living skills for students who dropped out of high school. They would take high risk (high hope) youth around local colleges and show them three types of programs: One offered job training and job placement; another offered a GED, job training and placement; and another that helped them earn a diploma, get into college, through college and placed in a career. And then they were asked if they were interested in the college program.

You bet they were. You would be, and so would I—we’d all be curious about what allowed people to get into and through college if we never knew it.

Youth choose your program in a vacuum or by comparison

Simply opening a youth program doesn’t make youth attend it. We’re clear on that, right?

That’s because youth choose your program in a vacuum or by comparison.

Let’s look at choosing youth programs in a vacuum.

Say a teenager decides to smoke weed in her free time. She’s been taught about the dangers of drugs, has a stable home with two parents and has a bright future ahead of her.

She’s not asking why at this point in time, because she has a of joint in her hand given to her by her best friend who is sitting right across from her, so she’s making a decision in a vacuum.

The same vacuum concept applies to your youth program, too.

Let’s say you’re passionate about using theater to empower youth. You launched an afterschool drama program for teens in your neighborhood that lasts two hours every night, and youth aren’t showing up.

Sure, they looked at the flyers you posted around the neighborhood and sent home to parents. If they talk to you, you’re incredibly exciting.

When you pour over your grant application and promotional materials, everything screams for youth to come through the door, and yet they aren’t. They are working in a vacuum.

However, when youth look at your program flyer, they see the date and time and think of all the other things they could do, even if we don’t acknowledge those things. Youth who sit on the couch watching TV are choosing that, as are youth who spend hours surfing the Internet with no purpose.

Would you have more youth showing up if they could playing video games? Theoretically speaking, yes. So why not add video game time? Or better yet, offer video games and offer pizza every day? Would you have more youth show up then?

You see what’s happening here, don’t you? As the frivolous things increase, your desire for the program goes down. That’s because you’re no longer working in a vacuum – you’re working on comparison.

You’re comparing your original program focused on theater with every other activity that was added onto it. And you compared your interest in theater to your interest in video games and pizza.

Right now, if you’re still determined, you’ll not only focus on theater, but you might even choose a specific style of theater you’re passionate about, like street performing or children’s theater.

But there’s a reason for that, and its called—and it’s called comparison.

Two distinct choosing phases

When young people choose anything, they’re almost always going through two distinct phases. The first phase is when they consider choices in a vacuum. Youth have been told to go to a program by their mom or teacher, but they have no clue why they should attend.

With all these options staring at them, young people simply pick the most immediate thing that fulfills their needs.

Using the ever-popular Maslow’s Hierarchy as a framework, it’s easy to understand why, after they have their survival and safety needs met young people aren’t automatically selecting to spend their time in your program.

You could start promoting your program on the basis of belonging. You could start telling them what it will do for their esteem. You might even appeal to their desire to make their hopes come true through your program.

But when you start illustrating those benefits clearly, young people are no longer working in a vacuum. Instead, they are comparing the benefits of what your program offers with what they’re doing with their time right now. They are comparing your organization to their friends, families and neighborhoods. They are even comparing the benefits of your program against each other by choosing which is more important to them according to Maslow’s Hierarchy.

If you make the case, at some point they will compare playing video games, eating pizza or smoking weed to your program—along with everything else at hand. Then it dawns on them that the most unusual thing they can choose, your program, is also the most beneficial—but now it doesn’t seem so unusual.

The best thing to do—attend your program—is now the most obvious thing to do, and they will choose it, but only in comparison.

So, how should you promote your program?

If your program operates where few others do, you can stop trying to be everything to every youth all of the time. Instead, focus on one thing and do that thing excellently.

If you’re competing for the attention, energy and time of young people then you’ll have to play by their rules. Listen to them, validate what they’re saying, authorize them to do something, take action and reflect on it with them.

However, if you have a lot of time where you’d offer your program regularly and you’re looking for something else to do to serve youth, then you can have several versions of your program or other programs to offer. Young people can then move from comparing your program to other programs in the neighborhood toward comparing your program to other programs you offer.

For example, if you run a theater program, young people can choose from your agency’s theater program, which is short and fun, and your fiscal education program, which is longer and more intellectual.

Even in a very competitive neighborhood where your program is competing with other youth programs, gang membership, ample youth jobs and sitting around the house, you want to create a situation where they have stopped considering everything else and are now choosing from your organization’s range of programs.

If you’re offering a program where there’s nothing else like it in your community, then there’s still a reason for creating a comparison structure.

Youth will look around and choose whether to get involved based on how you appeal to their needs according to Maslow’s Hierarchy — even if they’re comparing apples to oranges.

For example, if you were to recruit for a program on outdoor education and a program on service learning, they aren’t particularly similar. Yet, the benefits of one program influences how youth look at the benefits of the other program.

And even if a young person selects one program your organization offers this time, next time they may move to your program, depending on your ability to benefit them.

Create that comparison

Whether you’re recruiting youth for a photography course, youth employment program, interpretive dance workshop, or GED classes, the one factor to remember is that young people either choose in a vacuum or in a comparison structure.

You want to get them to compare. Once you’ve gotten them to pay attention to your program, you should then have a series of benefit comparisons on your own flyer and website.

Create that comparison. Even if you don’t have a range of programs yet, get started moving in that direction today.

When you do, you can still list (or decrease) the list of benefits to appeal to youth. Remember that they want to make choices, and they do not want to be told what to do.

It’s at that point that youth comparing benefits becomes a strategy, by discouraging them having a knee-jerk reaction.

And it’s at that point that you getting youth through the door en masse. That will make you—and the youth you work with—a lot happier.

The Freechild Project Youth Political Action Institute

The Freechild Project’s training for youth on politics training is customized to meet the needs of every community we serve. Generally, it includes five areas: Motivation, Knowledge Building, Skills Sharing, Action Planning and Reflection. Each of those areas can cover a variety of issues from a number of perspectives. The length of the training varies according to location and the amount of time our partners have available. Freechild has facilitated this particular training 20 times since we were founded in 2001.
Following is our flyer about this training. Call for more information, including more about the content, costs and our availability.
The Freechild Project Youth Political Action Institiute
The Freechild Project Youth Political Action Institiute teaches basic skills and knowledge to youth, and makes action plans for change!

Promote Youth Engagement in Organizations

How to Promote Youth Engagement in Organizations

1) Share Youth Engagement.

  • Talk with your supervisor, Executive Director, board members, and other decision-makers.
  • Build support by talking to staff members about youth engagement.
  • Train young people about youth engagement, why it matters, and how they can experience it more.
  • Research resources that might help different people in different roles throughout your organization understand youth engagement more.
  • Pass along useful websites, materials, and other info with people who care or need to know.

2) Advocate Action.

  • Explore policy-making in your organization, and advocate for changes that reflect a commitment to sustained youth engagement through programs and throughout the organization.
  • Create an action plan that focuses on sustained programs and projects.
  • Be a constant and strong champion for youth engagement throughout your program or organization.
3) Facilitate Approaches.
  • Remember Gandhi’s idiom, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If you want youth engagement in your program or organization, start engaging youth personally right now.
  • Start leading activities and programs that foster youth engagement right now. Build youth engagement on the personal level for young people, then solidify it throughout your organization.
  • Strengthen your knowledge about youth engagement and then facilitate opportunities for others to learn about it.
4) Critique and Examine Outcomes.
  • Create safe space to engage diverse youth and adults in critical thinking and cultural examinations.
  • Actively engage young people and adults in frank, open conversations about the activity, program, or organization.
  • Ask questions that inquire further into peoples’ assumptions or beliefs, and foster new understanding through having everyone share their experiences and opinions as applicable.
  • Ask hard questions about beliefs, understanding, and outcomes.
  • Examine new opportunities to talk change.
5) DO IT AGAIN!
 
When you travel through each of these steps, you’ll find a variety of awards for your hard work, including youth retention, re-engagement, and much more.
Where These Came From

Recently, I’ve been working with a group of traditional, mainline youth-serving organizations. They offer services to young people living in adverse situations, including homelessness, family disruptions, addiction, and other circumstances. The activities generally fall into the realms of intervention, education, and employment.

Working with them to establish new approaches to their work, I have been slowly introduce my conceptual frameworks focused on youth engagement, especially how I wrote about the subject in my publication, A Short Introduction to Youth EngagementWhen I wrote the Short Intro…, I intentionally didn’t cover many important aspects of moving forward with the concept. Here’s one area that wasn’t addressed.

These are steps that I’ve followed for more than a decade as I’ve taught, trained, advocated for, and lived through many, many youth engagement programs and projects. They’re also what I’m using right now to help others promote this vital concept, too.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you would add, take out, or challenge in the comments section below.More Resources



Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Meet Them Where They’re At

Recently, I was called to a meeting where it was requested that we BYOD, Bring Your Own Device. It seemed ridiculous to me at first, as I thought that people who were inclined to bring their own devices already would. But when I got there, we were led through activities that could only be done online with a device. People without a device—a phone, tablet, or laptop—were left out or had to mooch off their neighbor.
There is absolutely no way I’m advocating for this in youth programs, even though I’ve seen it in some. Its ignorant, privileged, and genuinely excessive to assume that young people, no matter what social strata they’re from, have the capability to access technology in the ways adults want them to, whenever they want them to.
However, one of the most effective ways to engage young people is to meet them where they are right now, rather than insist they come to where we want them to be. This happens in one of two primary ways:
  •  Literally—Rather than have programming at your facility, have programming where young people in your community already spend their time. If they spend a lot of their afterschool time at a neighborhood park, hold programs there. If they spend time at other nonprofit programs, hold programs there. Same thing with shopping malls, gyms, even homes. 
  • Figuratively—In activities, attitudes, and culture, rather than insisting young people act like you, behave like you, think like you, and do think you do as an adult, you can meet them where they’re at by using the technology they use, interacting with the culture they absorb, and utilizing the values and attitudes they hold. 
Both of these require adults to step out on a limb. They mean that we have to step outside the relative safety of our defined programming spaces, our intentional curriculum, our social class or culturally-accepted practices, or our adult-biased attitudes. In order to do any of that, we have to acknowledge and accept that our way may not be the only way.
More importantly though, this approach shows us that we can work together with young people. That lays a foundation for establishing real partnerships with children and youth, and opens the door to creating substantive, sustainable opportunities for young people to become meaningfully involved throughout the operations of the programs that target them every day.
Learn more about me at my website, follow me on twitter, like me on facebook, and check me out on pintrest!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

10 Steps to Planning Programs With Youth

Planning youth programs for children and youth is tricky. Stuck without enough time to plan or strict guidelines for curriculum delivery, youth program workers can feel powerless over what they do with the young people they serve. In my own experience working in the field for more than a decade, I had this experience continually.

In the last decade, I’ve worked with more than 200 nonprofits across the US to help them re-envision program planning for out-of-school time programs. Organizations are wrestling because of their best intentions. My own work through The Freechild Project, along with similar programs across the country, have convinced a generation of practitioners and planners that youth programs can do more than simply deliver content to young people. Instead, they can create program content with young people, and in some instances actually position young people to generate content with their peers. This notion reflects the wisdom, “Nothing about me without me is for me.”

Aside from this ethical consideration, there is a practical basis to promoting meaningful youth involvement in youth program planning. A variety of recent research is increasingly demonstrating that there may be no parallel for ensuring program effectiveness. The most intuitive outcome is true: This approach powerfully impacts young people who participate in program planning along with youth who participate in programs planned by youth. Less obvious are the effects that youth-involved planning has on adults in the program, in the sponsoring organization, and in the surrounding community. If their activities include engaging peers in service to the broader community, young people involved in planning youth programs can actually affect the broad community beyond their programs in a variety of ways over the short and long term, including promoting lifelong civic engagement for young people, including developing strong and sustained connections to the educational, economic, and cultural values of their neighborhoods and cities. Youth programs can dream no higher goals. (See here, here, and here for some studies.)


Studying my own work, along with a vast array of literature focusing on this approach, I’ve devised some key points for engaging children and youth in program planning.

10 Steps to Planning Programs With Youth

  1. Think Sustainable—Create ways to ensure participants that being involved is going to keep happening after this planning period. From the beginning, infuse youth engagement in facilitation, evaluation, research, decision-making, and advocacy right into the culture of your program. If you must involve children and youth in a one-shot activity, let them know of opportunities for them to be involved in their lives outside your program.
  2. Clear Purpose—Establish a clear purpose for youth involvement in program planning. Let participants, organization leaders, parents, community members, and local schools know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Clarity of purpose is often missing from young people’s lives, as school is done to them, family is done to them, and stores are done to them. Your program can be done with them, and they should know why.
  3. Engage The Non-Traditionally Engaged—Create space and help children and youth who haven’t been especially engaged in your program to become involved in program planning. Both traditionally involved young people and non-traditionally involved young people can contribute to all of the various aspects of program planning. If you don’t know how to do this, get trained; if you need a reason, read this.
  4. Real Connections—When young people see themselves in your program, real connections are happening. When real connections happen, children and youth become engaged. While they may have obvious expertise or interests in a specific topic, its important for afterschool youth workers to help young people discover what they know. 
  5. Equity, Not Equality—Develop equitable roles between young people and adults. This means that programs don’t pretend all things between children, youth, and adults are 50/50 split equally, because in our adult-centered society that is simply never true. Equity allows young people and adults to enter into responsible relationships that acknowledge what each other knows and doesn’t know, and to work from that place instead of assuming everyone has equal ability and capacity. We’re all different; let’s not pretend otherwise.
  6. Grow Their Capacity—Grow the existing capacity of children and youth to become involved in planning. Both young people and adults can learn from training about work styles, assumptions, skills, and more. 
  7. Make A Clear Plan—Having a specific pathway for young people to see how their contributions affect program planning is vital. Show how their participation will affect the program. Are they contributing to an existing program? Opening a brand-new course of action and learning? Working with the same adults in new ways, or partnering with new adults? Its important to remember that creating an afterschool program plan with young people is not the culmination of work, but the starting point of an organization’s efforts to create more effective programs. A clear plan should include: 1) Next steps; 2) Roles and responsibilities; 3) program structure outline; 4) program participant evaluation. Setting priorities, using timelines with target implementation dates, and developing clear benchmarks for measuring success in each area can also enhance the youth program plan’s effectiveness.
  8. Get Systemic—Encourage active youth/adult partnerships beyond planning. Young people can be engaged in researching their community, school, nonprofit program, or anything through PAR. They can facilitate, teach, and mentor peers, younger people, and adult. They can evaluate themselves, their organizations and communities, workplaces and businesses, and other places. They can participate in organizational, family, community, or other decision-making. They can advocate for what they care about. Ultimately, they can be engaged throughout the systems that prevail in every part of their lives.
  9. Connect The Dots—Establish community/school connections if possible. Collaborations that reinforce young people’s learning and support in-school learning only benefit youth programs. The partnership established in this process can deepen efforts through the future, and mutually support young people in and out of school time.
  10. Eyes Wide Open—Open the doors to critical examination. Use critical lenses to examine your assumptions and effects in your program planning. Identifying strengths and weaknesses allow programs and organizations to improve the overall effectiveness of youth engagement, especially through your particular effort. Make space by giving young people permission and skills they need to be partners in mutual accountability with adults. In your program planning activities with youth, set clear benchmarks and agree on celebrations when they’re met and consequences that young people can see for when those benchmarks are not met.

My experience engaging young people in program planning can benefit you. What would you add to the list from your experience?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Tips on How to Survey Real People

Recently, I needed to learn some basic things from a group of people at the outset of a weekend-long training. Specifically, I wanted to find out:
  1. How capable they were at self-identifying the problems they faced; 
  2. How able they were at identifying root causes; 
  3. Whether they could determine what practical resources they needed.

To find this out, I printed three questions in circles on a 3×5″ card for respondents:

Sample 3×5″ survey card.
  1. Why are you here? 
  2. What can make you come back? 
  3. What do you need right now?


From those three questions, in addition to finding out what I sought to originally, I found what participants’ material needs were in comparison to their educational needs. I also identified how many participants actually understood why they were there.
I think surveys are an important tool for our toolkit on engaging all kinds of people, at least in a superficial, introductory way. You might decide that you can listen to people by surveying them. Here are some of my tips on surveying real people.
Tip 1) Remember the KISS Principle: Keep ISimple and Straightforward. 
Don’t over-complicate what you’re asking people. Being simple and getting straight to the point will ensure that you get answers that are… simple and straightforward. Don’t ask too many questions either. If you have to do multiple different question topics, make them visually distinct and keep them short. Also, keep the number of questions the same between each topic, like 3+3 or 4+4.

Tip 2) Make it interesting to look at.
The days of handing out lists of questions on clipboards are over. However, you don’t need to design a complicated app just to ask questions either. Keeping questions brief encourages respondents to answer how they’re most comfortable. Instructions given should be super simple, but reinforce the seriousness of the survey.

Tip 3) Avoid linear lines of questioning.
In my experience, many people don’t respond well to A-to-Z thinking, let alone attempts to force them into doing the same. Many surveys do this, either on purpose or by accident. Avoid this by keeping questions short, and removing any bias you might have about getting specific types of answers from respondents.

Tip 4) Ask broad questions about the future.
It can be challenging for people from diverse backgrounds to activate their future-thinking abilities, especially when they come from adverse situations. Because of this and other reasons, asking them specific questions about the future sight-unseen might turn them off to answering any other questions you ask. However, asking broad questions about the future may activate their future imaginations and allow them to trust you more because you believe they have something worth sharing about the future.

Tip 5) Don’t answer the question in the way you ask the question. Asking respondents, “What will you study in college?” assumes they’ll attend college and that they value it; and asking others, “What do you need to be successful?” and providing five things to choose from narrows their options and assumes they want your definition of success.

Similarly, asking questions about life assumes they think they think about life the way you do. For instance, some people have come to accept this formula:

  • Life = grades K-12 + college + career.

However, for some other people, the formula looks more like this:

  • Life = K-2 then move, 2-5 then repeat 5th grade, 5-7 then get expelled for bringing a gun to school, 7-10 then juvie for shoplifting too much, then drop out and get GED, then tech school for a quarter, then dropout to fight addiction… 

In many cases, the lives of real people are too disjunctive to attach your expectations to the questions. Don’t allow your biases to influence your survey. Try to release those and ask different questions.

Tip 6) Ask questions in bubbles or circles or triangles or… 
Organize paper and online surveys using a graphic interface in order to make them more visually stimulating to real people. However, be aware of the effects of shapes or colors on participants. Variation between the shapes might cause them to inadvertently put more weight towards the object they find more appealing or familiar. Here‘s an interesting summary of what I’m talking about.
Tip 7) Customize for your audience. 
Effective surveys for real people are like effective programs: they must be to respondents’ unique needs and capabilities. Here are some sample questions and the audiences they’re intended for:

  • “What are you responsible for right now?” —To help determine what a neighborhood group sees itself capable to doing through a community service project.
  • “Describe your life in the next 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years.” —To help a program identify what services they can provide for formerly incarcerated people in order to help them succeed.
  • “What do you need to change your life right now?” —To identify whether service industry workers see there are options between short-term and long-term planning.
  • “What’s your plan for the next three years?” —To help a GED program determine how to appeal to youth participants.
Tip 8) Let respondents know you’ll take it seriously. Rarely are interviewers held accountable to survey respondents. This is your opportunity to let them know you’re going to do something with what they say, and that you honor what they write down. Without this reassurance, respondents might reply in one of three ways:
  • Refusing—”That’s your job to decide,” or “You tell me,” respondents may protest.
  • Testing—Offering outrageous suggestions or responses to see if the interviewer is really serious about the invitation to answer the survey honestly.
  • Parroting—Repeating what the interviewer has said or guessing what they want to hear. A respondent might be asked to suggest a problem in the program and write, “We should keep our noses to the grindstone and finish the job,” even though they’re not planning to do this themselves. 
These responses are conditioned from years of not having opinions taken seriously. Challenge respondents by letting them know you take them seriously, and then follow through.
Surveying real people can be richly rewarding and almost immediately beneficial to your program, nonprofit organization, school, or other location. For more information contact us.
    Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

    Elements of Successful Community Engagement

    The nature of community programs continues to evolve.

    More than ever, nonprofits, government agencies, and other programs are being challenged to transform their goals, activities, assessments, and resources in order to motivate, educate, and engage people beyond simple participation. In a time when many communities are stuck in a malaise, community programs require a realignment to grow beyond what they’ve done.

    Appearances Matter

    People appear to have more options with what to do with their time, making it ironic they need community programs more than ever. However, the technology, recreation, sports, faith-based activities, and opportunities to earn income that were present just a decade ago simply aren’t in many communities anymore.

    Considering these dual realities of increased need and decreased opportunities, it is absolutely vital that nonprofit and government program providers get earnest about successfully engaging all people in their programming.

    After more than a decade promoting community engagement across the US and Canada, I have found what works and doesn’t work for engaging all sorts of people. These lessons have to be deconstructed and reapplied in each community, because all communities are different.

    I have read the research, worked directly with people, and struggled through many projects focused on community engagement. Following are some elements I consider essential to successfully engaging all kinds of people in community programs.

    Elements of Successful Community Engagement

    • Focused – Instead of meandering through purposeless activities and focus-less personal activities, every program session is designed to be a concise, deliberative engagement of multiple intelligences, broad perspectives, and varying experiences. Successfully engaging people remains the central goal of all activities, and is the focus of every program.
    • Supportive – Youth and adults alike are committed to working together without fear of retribution or alienation. All people are partners with each other in community programs, and everyone works together for the common cause of engaging more people throughout the community.
    • Engaging – The experiences, knowledge, ideas, and opinions of people are validated and substantiated with meaningful learning experiences that infuse everyone with a new capacity to visualize, analyze, create, and engage themselves.
    • Critical – As co-learners within a community of learners, all people provide vital insight in the learning and teaching process for their peers and facilitators in community programs. These democratic interactions are actively encouraged and supported by all members.
    • Transparent – There should be no mysteries about what the purpose of the community program is, or what the outcomes of the activities will be. Community programs should offer numerous ways to make goals, outcomes, and activities fully understandable to people.

    These are not simply the keys to successful community programs, nor to successfully engaging people. They are the elements of successfully engaging people throughout their communities all all sorts of programs. Its important to consider that these programs and their organizations are unique and different, and these elements are recognized for paying attention to that.

    With these in mind, you can go forth and make a difference in the lives of the people you serve through your activities.

    Want to talk about me doing a workshop for your organization or community? Get in touch!

     

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