How do you know that you are reaching your whole community?

The thing I probably need to say here first is to talk a little bit more about my definition of “community”. It can mean many things but here I am talking about the entirety of the community that is encompassed in our mission and vision as an organisation.

In my professional role, our vision is for “our city to be a vibrant, creative community where everyone who wants to participate in the arts, can”. So our community is our whole city.

Even though we might break it down and start to target individual sections of our community (perhaps seeking to create more equity in opportunities for participation), they all feed into our audience of the community as a whole.

If we focused all our efforts on one group we wouldn’t be doing what we are supposed to - but we can learn a lot from the existing makeup of our organisation. From this we can see the gaps, and perhaps start to understand the impacts on this both in equal availability of opportunity for our community, but also in our sustainability as a whole.

Someone who attended one of our events recently said  “it is great to see so many young people here!”, and it is. However the fuller picture is that it is great to see so many young people joining our existing community. Our current user base has large representations of young families, and those aged 60+. The trick is to bring in additional users, without alienating the existing database - building togetherness.

In theory this is so much easier than practice and I have really struggled myself at times to juggle these. The five lessons I have learnt in my attempts are as follows:

1/ Change is inevitable, and change is hard.

2/ Growth is change, and so growth is sometimes hard.

3/ The reality is that as community organisations, we have to have both grow and change to stay viable. Evolve or die.

4/ Most members of the public won’t understand the weight of reasoning behind new developments unless you take the time to talk to them. You also won’t ever be able to understand the weight of history and emotion that comes into member’s of the publics feelings if you don’t make the time to listen to them.

5/ No one is perfect. The most we can promise to do at the end of the day is to take risk often enough to make mistakes, and to learn as much as we can from those mistakes.

I guess for me my biggest challenge is that I really love our existing users, wholly and individually. However I also realise that we can love our existing user base to the detriment of our whole community. Inherently there are always gaps between what we want to achieve and what we are actually doing - and unless we actively seek to understand and bridge those gaps, we will never truly make the difference we want to.

What do you think?

-MB

MethodsMary-Beth Acres