How do you create a network of like-minded, self-motivated citizen leaders to champion initiatives to shape the future of their community?
Dawson Creek is located on the Peace River in Northeastern BC Canada. It has historically been a farming community and transportation hub for agricultural commodities. In recent years the discovery of significant reserves of oil and gas south of the city has stressed the community's social and physical infrastructure. Encana Corporation, a leading energy producer, is keenly aware of the effects its operations in the area are having on the community. It invests human and financial resources to assist the town in effectively dealing with the growth and disruption from the oil and gas development. Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead believes significant changes and tradeoffs are needed to create the Dawson Creek citizens desire. He also believes more engaged citizens and stronger community leadership are key to making these trade-offs.
Objectives of the Program
With Encana’s support we approached Mayor Bumstead with the idea of running a Communities of Leaders Program with the following objectives:
1. Making progress on the stresses effecting the community.
2. Providing a unique leadership development opportunity for a diverse group of Dawson Creek citizens.
3. Creating a strong network of engaged, self-motivated citizen leaders to take action on issues of importance in the community.
Overall Program Approach
With the Mayor and council’s enthusiastic support we proceeded to design and deliver a program that was a mash-up of leadership development and human-centered design in order to:
1. Develop the leadership capacities of the participants including:
Increased personal and leadership self-awareness.
Enhanced communication skills.
Relationship and connection skills.
Convening and engaging people in the community.
Gaining support and moving ideas into action.
2. Develop new skills and tools to address complex challenges including:
Team building and collaboration tools.
Questioning and listening skills to uncover people’s aspirations and unmet needs.
Analysis tools for gaining insights from what was heard and seen.
Idea generation methods to create innovative approaches to dealing with the complex challenge.
Prototyping and testing methods to ascertain the desirability and validity of these new approaches.
Creating compelling and engaging presentations of these new approaches to gain understanding and to elicit support.
The program was a series of three 2-3 day in-person highly experiential learning sessions held in Dawson Creek. It also included individual and team coaching, individual and team homework between workshops and a participant-designed and led community forum. The design and delivery of the program was a collaboration with the unstoppable Elaine Broe, the professorial Charles Holmes, Laurie Edward and the keen staff at the Leadership Institute at the Banff Centre.
The program resulted in a range of outcomes for the participants, the mayor and the town council, as well as Encana.
The 21 participants developed their leadership, communication and convening skills to better serve their community. These included inquiry and deep listening, generative conversations, large group convening, collective self-awareness, sense making and story telling, engaging diversity, agency and co-creation, conflict resolution, and mutually reinforcing action. They gained first hand experience using human centered design skills and tools on real world complex challenges. In addition to developing a new network of like-minded citizen leaders they also formed small teams that continue to work on issues important to the community.
The mayor and town council now had 21 new citizen leaders engaged in civic affairs in the community. The participants presented the council with a deep understanding of the perceived issues and future aspirations of the citizens of Dawson Creek.
For Encana The Community of Leaders Program continued to build good will and support within the community.
By almost all measures, the Community Leaders Program was a rousing success. Participants were aware of and grateful for their own personal development throughout the program. The mayor was so pleased with the program he has become a strong advocate for it at gatherings of other mayors. Encana reports it was one of the most successful community development programs it has ever funded and cited the high level of participant engagement and ongoing impact they are having in their community.
Key Success Factors
Upon reflection the key success factors were engaging the right people, working on the right challenge and providing the participants with new skills and tools to address complex challenges.
A group of 24 participants represented a mix of diverse perspectives coming from different sectors, expertise, ethnic backgrounds and ages. Participants included seniors, youth, indigenous people, business people, educators, transient workers, healthcare providers, and a town council member. Most were not “the usual suspects”. They were people with potential. People who desired to create positive change in the community. Many had not yet found their vehicle for doing so.
The challenge was sufficiently complex that it required fresh deep insights into the perspectives of the citizens of Dawson Creek. The high-level challenge for the program was to understand the community the citizens desired to have in the future and what issues they believed needed to be addressed to attain that future.
The program focused not only on the development of the participants’ leadership capacities but also providing them with practical skills and tools to deeply understand complex challenges then generate, test and implement innovative new solutions. The development of these skills occurred while working real issues within their community such as inclusion and diversity, youth programming, indigenous relations, downtown rejuvenation, community communications and building blocks for the future.