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  Community: The Structure of Belonging

Peter Block - Community: The Structure of BelongingIn this session, Paul Born interviews Peter Block about his most recent book, Community: The Structure of Belonging. Peter talks in a very personal way about who he is, what led him to this work and his thoughts about why we need to "give voice" to a new narrative for community. He shares his ideas about the essential ingredients needed to create this new narrative and how it can help to transcend the isolation and polarization that dominates many of our communities, leading us to acknowledge the ways in which we are inter-dependent.

Peter Block is an author, consultant and citizen who has spent much of his life curious about power; how it is used, abused and shared. After many years working within organizations, he was introduced to the work of civic and community engagement by a group of city managers. Shifting how communities see themselves and function is now the focus of much of Peter's work.

Learning Objectives:

  • To explore the meaning of community
  • To appreciate the impact of isolation on ourselves and our communities
  • To give voice to a new narrative about community
  • To examine the role of questions and other structures in creating community
  • To understand the dynamic relationship between small groups and a larger whole

On this page you'll find:

Meet the Thought Leaders

Peter BlockPeter Block - Peter Block is an author, consultant and citizen of Cincinnati, Ohio.  His work is about empowerment, stewardship, chosen accountability, and community building.   His books include Flawless Consulting, Stewardship; The Empowered Manager; Freedom and Accountability co-authored with Peter Koestenbaum; The Answer to How Is Yes; and Community: The Structure of Belonging.  Peter's next book, The Abundant Community, co-authored with John McKnight, will be released in the spring 2010. 

Peter's work explores how to create workplaces and communities that work for all. They offer an alternative to the patriarchal beliefs that dominate our culture.  Peter is a partner in Designed Learning, a training company that offers workshops designed by Peter to build the skills outlined in his books.   He also serves on several boards and advisory groups, which include Cincinnati Public Radio and Elementz, a Hip Hop Center for youth. Peter began A Small Group, a civic engagement network whose work is to change the narrative within and about our cities.

Paul BornPaul Born - Paul Born is a master storyteller who infuses his work, relationships, community and life with the magic of conversation. He is the author of three books including the highly acclaimed Community Conversations and the newly released Creating Vibrant Communities which tells the story of a national collaborative that has to date helped over 147,000 people living in poverty. His Masters thesis entitled Leaderful Communities was recently published in Germany.   

Paul is the President and co-founder of Tamarack - An Institute for Community Engagement, Canada's leading authority on community change and collaborative leadership.   He has been internationally recognized, with awards from the United Nations, The Conference Board, Imagine, and the Governor General of Canada for his innovative approaches to community development.  Paul holds a Masters in Leadership, lives in Waterloo Canada.  He is a Mennonite inspired by Yoga and Buddhism, and a dad who loves to cook.

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What Is Community?

Peter's definition of community is a place - geographically bound - where people are physically connected and have an enormous incentive to pursue a common interest. Listen here as Peter describes why whatever issue we care about - whether it is reducing poverty or raising a child - cannot be addressed just by adding services.

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The Cost of Isolation

The erosion of a sense of community is well illustrated by the fact that many of us do not know our neighbours. Our modern consumer society contributes to this because we don't rely on one another if we can buy or purchase what we need.  In this clip, Peter shares his thoughts about isolation and what is happening to our sense of community.

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Creating a New Narrative for Community

The beauty of community work is seen in the commitment that those who are involved bring to it.  However, working in communities can be tough because it is difficult to move anything forward.  Peter's work has focused on understanding how to engage the disengaged because community change happens when citizens get engaged.

Listen here as Peter describes why he believes that - in addition to the “on the ground” work to improve our communities - changing our conversations and creating a new story or narrative for our communities is the core work of building communities.

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The Power of the Question

In community transformation, leadership is demonstrated by convening people together and questions become more important than answers. The right questions can and will transfer power and ownership to those who are gathered together. In this clip, Peter describes the elements and impact of powerful questions. 

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A Structure of Belonging

Peter is very deliberate in his use of the word “structure” when describing the work of citizen engagement and how people are brought together. To him, structure implies the intentional rearrangement of things. Listen as Peter describes how structure goes beyond a set of behaviours to include a set of actions that can be designed and used by anyone.  

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The Dynamic Relationship of the Small Group and the Whole

At the core, citizen engagement is about relatedness and creating connection. Nothing happens until we care about each other. For this reason, the small group is often the unit of transformation. At the same time, there is power in bringing together strangers from across boundaries…linking small groups to a larger whole. Listen here as Peter explores the dynamic relationship between small groups and the larger whole and why each is needed to sustain engagement and mobilize for change. 

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Reflection Questions

  1. What does community mean to you?
  2. What is the story or narrative of your community? 
  3. What questions would invite the creation of a new narrative for your community?
  4. What possibilities would this new narrative create?

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Links & Resources

Peter Block's Website – This website profiles Peter's work with both communities and organizations.

Community: The Structure of Belonging - Visit Amazon.ca to purchase your own copy of Community: The Structure of Belonging.

What Does Community Mean to You? – These survey results highlight the meaning of community to the members of Tamarack's Learning Community.

What Does Belonging Mean to You? – This document summarizes feedback from members of Tamarack's Learning Community to the question:  What does belonging mean to you?

A Small Group: A Civic Engagement Network – This initiative and its website, which Peter is involved with, is committed to the creation of a restorative and reconciled community. It offers "…powerful tools and strategies of civic possibility, civic accountability and civic commitment; thus increasing the power of associations to engage citizens in their efforts."

Peter Block in Engage! – This March 2010 Engage! e-magazine article highlights Peter's book and features video clips and other resources.

Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community - This article, written by Peter in 2007, expands on the notion of a “new narrative” for communities introduced in the tele-learning. It defines civic engagement as “the pursuit of accountability and commitment through a shift in the language and conversation we use to make our community better.”

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Community: The Structure of Belonging

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