Community Engagement and Employee Engagement: Facilitating Japantown Community Meetings - Novacrea Research
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Community Engagement and Employee Engagement: Facilitating Japantown Community Meetings

One of the characteristics of a best employer is to listen to employee input regularly and to solicit employee feedback before making any major changes. Likewise, before implementing major rezoning changes to a community, you want to get input from your community stakeholders such as the residents and businesses. San Francisco’s Japantown did just that before implementing a rezoning strategic plan.

A team of ASTD Golden Gate Chapter‘s Community Outreach Program (COP) volunteers designed and facilitated the first of three large-scale community meetings in Japantown last Wednesday. The City’s Planning Department and the Japantown Organizing Committee had developed a set of recommendations for revitalizing Japantown. This meeting was aimed at getting the community’s feedback and input to these recommendations.

Our team of volunteers, led by Kris Schaeffer, worked closely with Paul Lord, senior planner of the San Francisco Planning Department, and Bob Hamaguchi, Executive Director of Japantown Task Force, Inc., and his team to design a meeting that would get input from the community. Nearly 50 Japantown residents and Japanese Americans who are interested in preserving the culture and heritage of Japantown attended the meeting. At this meeting, we solicited input for land use, built form, and the future of Japan Center. There was a content leader for each of these topics.

The Facilitation Process

In the large group, everyone heard John Rahaim, Director of the San Francisco Planning Department, and Ross Mirkarimi, District 5 Supervisor, kicked off the meeting by acknowledging the impact of upcoming changes and their support for the community’s input.

Then the content leaders provided brief background information on the topic for the participants. All participants also received an information packet that contains detailed descriptions about these topics. Kris explained the meeting process before the participants broke into three smaller groups, one topic per group.

There was a COP facilitator and two recorders in each small group. The content leader reiterated the issues and opened up for input. The facilitator captured key points that we wanted input about and listed them on the flip chart so participants could refer back during the discussion. To avoid group think, participants wrote their ideas on stickies. After five minutes of writing, the facilitator asked volunteers to take turns read out his/her response and probed further if necessary. Recorder #1 collected the stickies, sorted, and posted them on a flip chart. Recorder #2 jotted down any additional responses from the participants.

After 20 minutes, the participants rotated to another group until they had a chance to learn about and provide input to all three topics. Then the participants gathered once again as a big group and hear the summaries from each topic leader.

Continual Improvement

COP volunteers conducted exit interviews with the participants to get their feedback on the meeting process, what they liked and what we could do differently for the next community meeting. Their feedback will be used to refine our design for the next meeting.

Recognition and Feedback

After the meeting, Paul Lord thanked the Japantown Organizing Committee members and all the volunteers. Paul intuitively understands the importance of being transparent in the communication process and getting community input. In a follow-up email, he wrote, “we are accomplishing a lot through your continued efforts to communicate recommendations and ideas with the greater public in Japantown…you are conducting business in a valid and transparent public process where all those who care to have a chance to participate.” [Italics mine]

This is indeed a key to sustainable engagement–whether it’s at a community level or organizational level. You need to provide opportunities for those who care to provide input and help shape the future of the community or organization.

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