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Posts Tagged ‘John McKnight’

In John McKnight and Peter Block, recent book, Abundant Community, they state,

Volunteerism was never designed to be efficient, only satisfying.   Systems were never designed to be satisfying, only efficient.

This simple truth speaks to something that I have come to know in my heart over the last few years working in volunteer management.  As I have often described it to people, instead of trying to figure out how I can do the same or more with fewer people, I actually look for ways to involve more people in the work.  If your goal is to mentor a child, do you really want to do that efficiently?  If volunteers are seen as resources, then the standard view of creating an efficient program would be to reduce the number of volunteers it takes to mentor a child, or to get more mentoring out of each volunteer.

But a mentoring relationship is not a system, it is a building block of community.  The rules are different and we can not use the same language to talk about mentoring as we use to talk about manufacturing.  It is too easy to confuse not only why we do what we do, but the beauty in HOW we do it.  We build community through making connections between people and between associations.  More connections, stronger connections, are better.  Taking more time with one another leads to higher quality relationships.

I refuse to be efficient in volunteering.  Can anyone give me a reason why I should accept this language and concept of efficiency for volunteering and community building?

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Peter Block and John McKnight

Peter Block and John McKnight

Today I had the pleasure of being part of a discussion group with John McKnight of the Asset-Based Community Development fame.  He and Peter Block (one of my favorite authors) have just come out with a new book, The Abundant Community.  (note: the book just came out so I have not read it yet but plan to do so as soon as I’m done with school reading)

McKnight focused much of the conversation on the importance of associations for democracy and strong communities.  In this context he is referring to groups of people (usually neighbors) who get together to identify the issues in their communities, figure out how to solve community problems, and organize the community to implement those solutions.  McKnight argues that associations are one of the defining features of the US and were identified as such as far back as Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.  Robert Putnam, in his book, Bowling Alone, brought to light the fact that associational life as we have known it for centuries in the US is on the decline (and has been since the 1960s).

With McKnight and Block’s new book they hope to demonstrate that associations are not just nice to haves, but are essential to a community’s core functions.  They outline six areas in which associational life is key to community health:

  1. Personal wellness – 90% of an individuals health is based on life factors, including their connections to their family and neighbors.
  2. Safety – community policing and National Night Out are just a couple of examples of the role neighbors play in safe neighborhoods.
  3. Economy – the majority of jobs are related to local businesses
  4. Environment – the decisions we make at a local level are key in grassroots change
  5. Food – McKnight cited the importance of local grown food
  6. Children – it takes a village to raise a child

I appreciated McKnight’s key arguments, but it left me wondering about the difference between networks and associations.  One of McKnight’s arguments for associations is that institutions have reached the limits of what they can do for us.  This is the same argument that I hear Beth Kanter and Allison Fine making in the Networked Nonprofit.  It seems like everywhere I turn these days I am reading about how powerful social change and social movements happen through networks.  I don’t hear the word association used at all.  Are networks the same as associations?  If not, why not?

The way that I live my life as member of the millennial generation, I live it through networks.  Using social media, I keep in contact with people that I have met throughout my life.  If I switch jobs, move to a new city, or just have a question about how to do something, I turn to my network.  I reinforce my relationships with people through face to face interaction, but the online networks like Facebook and LinkedIn make it possible to maintain those connections between face to face gatherings.  I may join an association for a short period of time, but with my greater need for flexibility and my penchant for moving regularly, I am less likely to invest time and make a commitment to an association.  When I speak to the interservice club council and others like them, they are very frustrated by young people like myself who are not joining local associations.  The advice that I and others have given these groups is to be more like a network.

So now we get back to the question from my recent post about free agents, How does the connection someone has with their online networks affect their relationship to local in person networks?

Or to put it another way, are networks and the free agents that thrive in them the answer to Robert Putnam’s concerns about the unraveling of associational life?  If not, what are we missing and how can we build those features into a way of connecting with one another that embraces both the best of the social web as well as lessons from centuries of voluntary associations?

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