Friday, 19 March 2010

Building Community Resilience: Some Lessons and Practical Tips

See the previous post to get the context of all this...


So how did this little adventure in building community resilience come about?  Well, the idea was mine, actually.  I had talked about it to a couple of people three months ago and they were going to get on it and handle the details.  "Great!" I thought.  I'm an idea guy... don't have the head for details.  

Well guess what?  Those two people dropped the ball, daily life took over and the whole thing was forgotten.  So finally I went back to them and reignited the concept of the neighborhood potluck, this time putting myself in charge of going door to door to assess interest and invite people.  One of the others agreed to coordinate the menu. 

Lesson: If you really want something done, take the initiative and do it!  If you wait for others to do it, you could be waiting a while!


When I started going door to door to find out if there was enough interest to pull this off, we didn't have a firm date for the event.  Heck, we didn't even have a place to hold it!  

Thankfully, of the three possible dates we were proposing, it became very clear within days that one of them had nearly unanimous support.  Even better, one couple graciously volunteered their place to hold the party.  "Wow," I thought, "this has been so easy!"  

Well, I guess I forgot to knock wood, because with the event scheduled for 4pm on Saturday, I got an email from our hosts at 9am on Friday morning saying one of their kids had been up all night with a fever and some kind of flu.  So they had to back out.  "Do you have a Plan B?" they asked.   

After a little thought, I realized that postponing was not a viable option - once you lose momentum in something like this, you're doomed.  And one of the joys of being an expert in emergency management and disaster planning is that I spend lots of time thinking about "Plan B" in a lot of different contexts ;-)

Fortunately, I was able to sell my better half on my version of Plan B for the venue - our place!  Thank-you so much, my dearest love!  Personally I was petrified of hosting the event because I knew we had a lot of cleaning up to do.  I was very pleasantly surprised, though, when it only took about 90 minutes to clean the place, about 75 minutes to prepare our part of the potluck's food and, miracle of miracles, just 10 minutes to clean up after everyone left.

Lesson: You remember Murphy, the guy who came up with Murphy's Law?  Well this guy's still on the loose, and as long as that's the case, you'll need a Plan B.


So by Friday at noon, I had this feeling of being on top of the situation again - Plan B was in effect and all would be well.  Damn, forgot to knock wood again...

Friday evening just before supper, I'm on the phone with the couple who could no longer host the event when one of the other neighbors comes to the door.  After I get off the phone, my wife says, "Did you know the party is canceled?"   "WHAT?!" I answered.  "Who said that?"

Turns out this well-meaning neighbor had misunderstood something he'd heard in the street from somebody else.  Then he decided, unencumbered by facts and information as he was, to spread the news.  S#*t.  More damage to undo... another fire to put out.  

All day Saturday I had this sinking feeling that the whole thing - three weeks of planning - could unravel really fast, despite my best efforts at damage control.  It's tough because you have to invest in your event emotionally so that others will too, and yet you have to detach yourself from the outcome.  Whether it flies or crashes ultimately depends on everyone else, not just you.

The emotional low point was 4:05 pm, five minutes past the start time, and no one had arrived!  "Well," I thought, "at least we'll have a really clean house."  Fortunately, they all piled in over the 15 minutes that followed.  It's a very diverse group of people, ranging in age from 9 months to 90 years and including various nationalities and spiritual viewpoints. 


Building community resilience is a fantastic investment of your time and energy!  It's really easy to get trapped in the day-to-day and forget other people exist.  Don't let that happen to you. 

Once you decide to take action, remember these three lessons:

1. Take the initiative, because if you don't, no one else is likely to

2. Expect adversity and keep moving forward anyway

3. Have a Plan B in your back pocket

Strong relationships give rise to strong communities, and strong communities are the bedrock of a strong society.  As the saying goes, "think globally, act locally".  

My personal thanks to all those who made this particular adventure in building community resilience a great success!

Oh, almost forgot.  The participants had the next event planned before the night was out!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

No comments:

Post a Comment