Presented by Civil Space, our first product at Domain7, this episode of Change is in the Making is specifically crafted for those who steward outreach and engagement efforts: in government, the public sector, higher education, and other complex community organizations. Tim Booker, CEO of Civil Space, joins Veronica and Kevan for a thorough conversation about the mindset and methodologies that support community listening. Tune in for a deep dive into the dissonance, richness, and innovation that can arise in this vitally important stage in the Design Thinking double diamond, and the community Changemaker’s journey.
Listening to your Community
Tim is CEO of Civil Space, Domain7's civic engagement platform. Tim started his career in digital systems and analysis at a university, before working with the Vancouver Olympic Committee. He has deep experience as a leader and strategist at Domain7, using design thinking among his other skillsets to rigorously research and create integrated systems. At Civil Space, he’s brought his community-centric expertise to civic engagement, working with municipalities to understand best practice in engagement. As a frequent facilitator of technical-focused workshops, Tim integrates complex systems and ideas into tangible plans. As truly people-centric coach and leader, he enjoys teaching and facilitating in ways that can help people make true change.
Kevan brings wisdom from over a decade of experience leading award-winning digital strategies for a wide variety of institutions and businesses. A seasoned and engaging facilitator and speaker who has been with Domain7 since 2010, Kevan has helped shape our collaborative and people-centric culture. He’s studied design thinking and innovation processes at the THNK School of Creative Leadership.
Veronica: Welcome to a special episode of our podcast. Today’s episode is presented by Civil Space, our first product at Domain7. Your usual hosts at Change is in the Making — Kevan and myself — have teamed up with our colleague and friend Tim Booker to bring you this unique episode specifically crafted for those who steward outreach and engagement efforts: in government, the public sector, higher education, and other complex community organizations.
Kevan: Tim is CEO of Civil Space, our civic engagement platform for governments and other community organizations. Civil Space helps leaders listen carefully to their citizens, and engage them in a robust conversation to co-create the future of their communities. As we explored the Changemaker’s journey through the lens of Design Thinking in this season of the Change is in the Making podcast, we realized that Tim had a lot of knowledge to bring to this particular stage in the process: the first diamond. This is the step we call divergence. You can also call it listening or community engagement. It’s the part of the journey where we step back from our own change idea and lean into learning about the realities and and perspectives of others.
Veronica: Tim got his start building digital systems in a university setting, before working as a digital analyst with the Vancouver Olympic Committee. He has deep experience as a leader and strategist at Domain7 over the past decade, using design thinking among his other skillsets to rigorously research and create integrated systems that help complex communities thrive digitally and culturally. More recently, at Civil Space, he’s brought that deep community-centric expertise to the work of civic engagement, working closely with municipalities and other organizations to understand best practice in listening to and co-creating with communities. Tim, welcome to the show.
Tim: Awesome. Thanks. Hi Kevan. Hi Veronica.
Veronica: Before we jump into this stage Kevan and Tim, Tim, it’s so great to have you here. Thanks for joining us on short notice too. It would probably be useful just to back up a little bit, right? So where this is the third episode in this season, we’ve been walking through the Design Thinking process. So Kevan, will you be able to lead us through the points that we’ve taken up to now and situate ourselves in the Design Thinking process?
Kevan: Absolutely. So oftentimes, Design Thinking is seen as say an innovator’s workflow. But the way we’re looking at it this season is more of a leadership mindset, a frame for leading change through a community. So we’ve started off by exploring how it is that we show up as change leaders. So what is our personal stance when it comes to this change space that we’re in. In episode two, we explored the way we frame problems. So it’s understanding more about the problem space we’re actually stepping into. Now is a time where we get to go deep into what it means to engage with the people that find themselves in this problem space.
Kevan: The next episode after this, as we walk through this Design Thinking framework, will be how to bring those insights together, followed by a step into how we reframe the challenge and then diverge into the creation of new ideas. From there, picking some of the best ideas that we can move forward into the final step, which is prototyping. We’ll by then have wrapped up the whole arc of using the Design Thinking process as a leadership lens.
Veronica: Thanks for that, Kevan. And Tim before we started recording you were saying that you find it tricky to talk about any one part of this process without referring ahead to the ultimate goal, the ultimate purpose.
Veronica: So we’re pretty early. Right guys? We’re pretty early in the Design Thinking process here. We’ve surveyed ourselves, framed the problem. We’re just starting to get into … Kevan, you called this the oasis of listening earlier. And Tim, you were laughing and taking exception to that.
Tim: I totally disagree. Yes.
Veronica: But this is a really … I know, Kevan, this is your … one of your favorite parts, if I can quote you on that. The other day you were saying this is the part that feels so important and resonate to you. So there’s a lot to dig into here. Just starting with … okay, so why? Why is this A:challenging step and why is it so important? Why so significant to you guys?
Kevan: Yeah. Veronica, I think I was calling it the crown jewel of the Design Thinking toolkit. It’s just that the very activity of holding space to listen to the perspectives of others that is precisely where we begin to generate empathy for the people experiencing a problem and it’s on this that new ideas will be built as the foundation. It’s here that we can deliver even the promise of this whole toolkit, which is to help people feel involved in the co-creation of something. It’s really, as you said, it’s where it begins. All we’ve done so far is set the table. Now, we’re really stepping into the journey with other people. It’s the first time this gets truly collaborative and possibly co-creative is to invite, now, other people into the process and begin asking questions.
Veronica: You just said make other people feel like they are being invited in and heard. Even now as you’re describing it, Kevan, it goes beyond just giving people that feeling of inclusion. I think I’ve quoted you on this a couple times already in the series. But that idea of you can’t tokenize your listening. This is not a token listening step just to make the community feel like we’ve heard them, to warm them up. Tim, I wonder what some of what you were talking earlier alludes to that. That this isn’t just a comfortable little … Let’s just do a survey and see what people think. There’s a lot of skin in the game here.
Tim: Yeah, I think when we start to think about … from a leader’s perspective, we have a leader who is in a totally different situation to the person who’s being listened to. So when Kevan used that word oasis, I can resonate with that word from the perspective of the person who’s finally being heard, finally being understood, especially if they’re seeing a process where down the chain those insights are going to be used toward a better future for that person.
Tim: But then there’s the converse. There’s the side of the leader who’s actually doing the listening and it can be … I was conflicted when I heard the word oasis because from their side, you’re actually uncovering a whole bunch of dissonance. You’re uncovering a bunch of potentially calamity or fear or hurt or a number of things that have created a need to embark on whatever mission or project that is happening right now that’s requiring the listening that’s taking place. So there’s this holding of space and of opinions and of ideas and hopes and fears that becomes the responsibility of said leader when they’re embarking on those conversations. So necessarily that person probably won’t feel oasis-y. That person’s probably going to feel more like they’re now … if they’re taking the weight of that on, they’re holding onto these very human perspectives that articulate a different side of the problem or opportunity or challenge. That can be invigorating and great but it’s not necessarily peaceful and relaxing.
Veronica: Which is where knowing that there are more steps to this probably helps because if this was … and stop, we’re listening. Here’s a bunch of raw dissonant feedback. If you’ve listened well, it’s going to be pretty authentic and pretty challenging perhaps. Now you figure out what to do with that. If you didn’t have tools to equip you to actually string that together, weave something from that, this could be an overwhelming, panicky stage.
Tim: Yeah. Absolutely. I think to me it’s all about the payoff. So you were talking before about the idea that all these phases in Design Thinking are … they’re connected. To me, that’s where the value of the model comes in because what I see is I see … I have a background in product ownership and software development. One thing we find is that change is way easier and way less expensive earlier on in the process and also it has more of an opportunity to affect a polished, effective, final solution if connected to early on.
Tim: I think it’s similar in the space of any sort of problem solving, whether you’re doing community or public engagement or just connecting. Listening to the people who you care about in your community who you’re trying to affect change for, in that if you … if you’re going to be surprised in the process be surprised early. So I think that’s where the double diamond, model Design Thinking … thinking about diverging and understanding your problem, understanding your people early, early on is just … It’s magical because then you can be alerted to things that you had not thought of. And you will be alerted to things you haven’t thought of if you’re doing it right you have all these insights now that you can use instead of say bringing a solution to … back to the community and finding out you’re way off.
Veronica: Which ties it back to the idea … the change making journey. This is not an idea making journey, where you have your idea and you’re listening to just confirm that you’re idea was the right idea.
Veronica: As I’m listening to you, I can’t help but line it up with my personal life. We’re in families with your spouse or another family member. Sometimes you ask questions but sometimes I don’t know that I’m asking questions in order to actually change. It’s going to be uncomfortable to actually listen to the deep content, the discontent that might be there and dig into what that is with a commitment to change. Not just to confirm your own plan, which I might be guilty of from time to time.
Kevan: Veronica, I love your use of the word discontent. It’s that that you’re trying to unearth during the listening process, not just things that are uncomfortable but that’s part of it.
Kevan: I was thinking about a session that I facilitated a few weeks ago where at the end of it there was a deep sigh as one of the community members said, “Wow, I feel like I need to go grab a drink now.” Or something else that often gets said after the end of a very good community engagement listening session is, “That felt like therapy.” To have created the space for somebody to have really offloaded a bit of the trouble they’ve been carrying around with them and to have now been heard and to see that there’s a constructive endpoint for that. That that’s going into something.
Kevan: But that’s what I find intriguing is, yes, it’s insight gathering for that person doing the research, but for the people being involved, it’s also a connection making process where they are really, truly invited into a process of building something new. Tim, as you’re saying, that means hearing some of the hard stuff and looking for some of the bright spots, doing a bit of appreciative inquiry there to understand what is going wrong.
Tim: Yeah, Kevan, I think it’s true there is … there’s always going to be pain felt when you’re doing it right. Whether that’s the pain of having to wrestle with how are these two distinct or maybe three or more distinct groups, opinions, fears, ideas, how are they ever going to fit together or just having to bear the burden of hearing about a challenge that is going to be really, really difficult to meet. A lot of the cities who use Civil Space, for example, are … they’re dealing with challenges that are … whether it’s from homelessness to the opioid crisis. These are difficult things to wrestle with and come up with solutions.
But it’s necessary. Because often one of the major outcomes of an exercise of listening like this is a policy and that policy may shape a community for years and years to come. Or it could be a policy within a workplace or a higher education institute or some sort of other community organization. Even if not a policy, it could be a plan. It could be something that is providing leadership and direction for an unknown amount of time and to people who were not there to do the listening and hearing in the first place. So the opportunity to codify a direction or solution that meets all those difficult needs requires us to get into the muck to be able to understand what is really there to be met.
As a leader you’re shaping the future of people’s lives. If you work for an organization that believes in or is trying to advance something, the effectiveness of its ability to meet that for the long term.
Veronica: I love that. I saw somewhere recently the idea that with the power of online platforms these days that digital design is actually policy creation. That there’s actually policies that are being created by community listening, especially with your clients Tim, who are using Civil Space and civic engagement tools like that. But then on a more global scale, our digital is actually making such a large impact on accessibility, the way we live, social movements, politics, that the way we build something these days is actually a policy choice. So the idea of being user-centric and listening to your users on that digital side of projects as well becomes so much more important than maybe it was in the past. Everyone knows if the government’s going to craft a policy you better listen to the stakeholders in the community in order to do no harm. But we’re beginning to see the importance of that in these large online platforms as well in our digital lives.
Tim: Yeah. Absolutely. If you start to think ahead a few steps whether you’re going to do co-design with your community or whether you’re going to take away insights and do design and a solution yourself, either way if you’re going to be on your own, you better be armed with really good information about the challenges you’re trying to solve. Or if you’re going to co-design with a community, if they step into that and they don’t see themselves in the picture that you painted … Yikes. That’s a really poor starting point for working on a solution or co-creating something together. So to me, it’s just so important that we get this right at this phase in the game.
Veronica: Kevan, you and Tim talk about co-creating a lot. I know there’s a spectrum that we’ve talked about a bit at Domain7 Civil Space that’s used for community engagement, the IAP2 spectrum. Would you guys be able to unpack that for us?
Tim: Yeah. Sure. I can take that, Veronica. So the International Association of Public Participation, they have a professional association. It’s a really great model often referred to IAP2. It’s this continuum that on the left starts with informing and then it moves all the way to the right into the empowerment space and then it has involve and consult and collaborate in the middle. It’s really helpful because what it gives you the opportunity to do is to step back and be honest with yourself about what type of engagement you’re expecting from people and what you’re going to do with their input. It’s almost a promise that you’re making back to that group. It’s an opportunity to win trust and be authentic by naming what that is.
Tim: So for example, if all you’re doing is trying to say this is what we’re going to do and want you to know about it, that’s inform. They’re maybe times when that is appropriate. But if you say, “Hey, we’re doing a co-creation,” you’re alluding a collaborative type of engagement. So you better, if you want to earn the trust of the people who are going to be jumping in and participating, you better plan to use what is coming of those sessions as part of your final solution or else you now have people who say, “Hey, I jumped in. I gave my all. I thought I was being a part of making the future here. But nothing necessarily came out of it.” So I like IAP2 because it gives us an opportunity to even as leaders look at what our options are and choose the one that’s best for the opportunity and then really explicitly state that to the public.
Veronica: Yeah. So what would be some ways that you would decide, am I informing here? Am I co-creating here? Tim, I imagine that some of it is just like what’s available to you in this circumstance that you’re in, but Kevan, I know last episode we touched on the Cynefin framework. Would that have some resonance here as well and trying to decide what problem space you’re in and what depth of engagement is appropriate?
Kevan: Yeah, absolutely. I think that in many ways because we’re already on this design thinking journey and we’ve framed our problem in a certain way, It’s likely that we’ve passed a couple of gate checks that have said here is not just a place where we’re going to do some informing and not even as shallow as just involving. We’re going to go into some collaborating and some consulting and some empowering. That’s that’s why we’ve chosen design thinking. So yes, having understood what problem is at hand and having seen that a community is here that is ready to be engaged. We use not just the community informing methods or the community involvement methods. We begin to connect with them in a more deep way.
Veronica: And this is particularly resonant for social innovation, right? Where what you’re doing has such an impact on a complex large community. Kind of the, some of the organizations we work with both at Domain7 and Civil Space where you’re looking at like, Tim the other day you were talking to a school board and we work in higher education and also with community players such as architects and municipal governments and these types of, even like credit unions, these types of organizations have these large communities where you want to lean into co-creating with them. So they’re owning it, but it also is kind of a wicked challenge. Like if you’re co-creating, I think of you know Kevan, when we worked with Seattle Public Library. When you’re trying to co-create an experience for a public library for an entire city of very diverse individuals that’s multilayered, and how do you do it in a way that doesn’t just pay the idea of collaboration lip service, but actually gets in there and allows the entire city to have an effect on this? How do we diverge? What are some methods for first stepping into this successfully?
Tim: You have to consider what point in the design thing and double diamond you’re on, and it’s not necessarily that you always have to choose, you know, collaborate at the third phase for example. However, what I would say is that there are certain activities that to gather the information you like. So if we’re talking about the listening stage right now, there are some people who do not necessarily want to come out to an event and make their voice heard with everyone else listening.
Tim: They may just want to be listened to respectfully in a little more of, not necessarily an anonymous way, but a one to one type of relationship, and that would be consults on the, on the IP2 spectrum. And it’s important that if we’re looking to be inclusive and gather all different types of voices, we have to think beyond just maybe the traditional demographic breakdown. So whether that’s, you know, gender or income or geography where you live in a certain community and it may be things like introverted, extroverted. Well introverted people should get listened to as well. And so by offering different types of opportunities for people to speak up, so it may be an open town hall where people can just make their voice heard, but then maybe you compliment that with an online engagement where people can drop their opinions and feedback. You may get this different type of spread than you’ve got before.
Tim: Maybe they’re never going to be able to get out to a two hour workshop because in the evening they always have to do a part-time job, or they’re looking after their kids. And so to me, equity of access is a huge part of the listening journey, and so choosing what type of mechanism you’re going to use in terms of engagement at this point, it shouldn’t just be a race to the right on the IP2 spectrum. It should be a thoughtful consideration.
Veronica: I love that.
Tim: Of what different types of people are going to need to get their thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears across. Another thing I can think about when advising our clients as they’re thinking of setting up, in a whole engagement exercise for project. It’s a quote that I heard once from Vince Verlaine. He is at an organization in Vancouver called Modus Planning. They do a lot of community engagement and one thing he mentioned to me was this idea of depth and breadth when you’re doing community engagement planning. And so he talks about this cycle of back and forth, up and down, almost like a sinusoidal pattern from grade 12 math class. And so this idea of sometimes you need to go really wide and connect with the whole spectrum of your community and in the listening process, obviously super, super important, but we should not ignore the regular rhythm of listening to and having really deep conversations with people who are willing to, or experts in the topics.
Tim: And so to me it’s about creating this really like all encompassing 360 view of the problem that you’re then going to boil down in your second phase of the narrowing of the conversion activities in the double diamond. And if you think about what an expert in engineering or environmentalism, or someone who understands public policy planning, those people may depending on what your issue is, be able to speak in at a certain depth that you may not get if you’re only going for breadth. You want the opinions of both the experts who are really deeply understanding a topic as well as the breadth of understanding how this affects everybody in the different effects that can have across the broader community.
Veronica: That’s so interesting because I think I hadn’t even like at this stage hadn’t even thought of sort of the expert opinion, but there is like the very real need for that depth and that expertise, but I think I tend to think of that as research.
Kevan: Yeah. I think Tim and I see things even a little bit differently here. There’s an opportunity to sort of remix the design thinking framework depending on your needs. I think what Tim is describing is something that really wants to take a healthy inventory of an entire system reality, understanding technical factors, existing realities that are environmental and beyond. Sometimes the way I might view this, is focusing more on the human experience itself. So putting aside for now some of the technical considerations or our other system realities. What I want to use this phase for is connecting in a more relational way with the people experiencing something so I can understand their needs. I’m okay circling back once we get to the prototype stage to pick up a few more of the system pieces or the technical pieces. And talking with some credit union leaders recently, one of the things I said about this phase is yeah, you can refer to academic studies. You could refer to large data sets right about now and get some perspectives.
Kevan: What that does is it informs you as the leader that will have the unintended consequence of also increasing your own burden at this time of the information that you hold. What it doesn’t do is build a relationship with people who are in that problem space and as I was saying to them is, research and data does not say thank you for involving me, but data doesn’t say thank you for listening, I really feel part of this journey. Data is for you, the researcher, and you do need that. But in this part where we’re diverging widely into people’s perspectives, I want it to be mutual and two way and let the researcher go deep on the expertise at maybe even a different time when we’re getting a little bit more operationally focused. That’s just me and I know that there’s many ways to use this.
Tim: Yeah, it’s really interesting, Kevan. I think one of the reasons that I often advocate for this type of thinking early on is because, and it’s one of the reasons why we created Civil Space in the way that we did. We really see it as an opportunity to do education at the same time as you’re doing engagement, and even the way we built the tool set and the ability to embed contextual content and a platform, that’s all about this belief that you have an opportunity to educate and inform at all stages no matter what type of engagement you’re doing. You could be doing a collaborative engagement, but you could still be educating and informing people.
Here’s the risk, Kevan that I see in the approach of just bringing the experts in later is, if you listen, listen, listen early on, but then later on in the process you bring in experts and they’re going to be a big part of solving a problem, there can be this real dissonance between we really got listened to, but then we kind of got railroaded because a few people made decisions for this, for the greater whole.
Tim: Whereas if there’s an opportunity to start to bring both of those sides together early on, especially if you can even have some of those experts be involved in listening early and in partnering with solution making later and with having your community understand some of the issues that are deeper level, then later on they can see that the signature of how the problem was solved, connecting back to the conversations that happened early on and they can in their mind start to connect the dots between, yeah. I heard early on that we’re going to have say an issue like an environmental issue with the stream that we want to build a park through and since that was identified and I had heard about that, I have a less of a problem with the fact that I’m not going to get the baseball field I want now later in the process, because it’s not like I said baseball field and they heard baseball field, but then later on in the process, no baseball field.
Tim: It’s, I actually was there when we as a community, were learning about all these different pieces, whether it’s an environmental, technical, engineering, social, like there’s all sorts of expertise that can be added or information that can be introduced into the process at some phase, and I would advocate for doing that type of education. And so as a leader you may want to get pre-educated even earlier so you can bring all that to the table almost as a gift to the community to say, hey, now you can better understand the issue because if we’re going to be co-creating later, you’re going to have to get into this space, and then people feel like they’re getting it and they’re part of it and it’s consistent all throughout instead of something like almost a rug being pulled on from out from under them at the end.
Veronica: It kind of reminds me of challenges we have with politics just to go there. Where I have a, I know a lot of people who say, well I don’t even really want to vote if I don’t feel informed on the issue. Like sometimes I think it can be hard for people to give you feedback when they don’t feel like they have the context or that they don’t quite know what their opinion is. They know what their lived reality is, but it might be hard to find the words around this specific issue if they’re not informed. Like even with Brexit, right? There was a very simple question without a lot of context and what we’re seeing now is sort of the political and social fallout of trying to understand the context kind of after the fact of a decision.
Veronica: Now we’re not talking about a vote, we’re not talking about something quite that linear or yes or no, but as I consider that like this is something that I talked about with my friends a lot is how do you inform a populace without biasing them? Like it’s almost impossible to do that. And when we’re wanting the human experience, we do want to come in with a really open posture. Right? So providing like I think I’m curious Tim, how do you provide enough context to inform people without trying to like nudge them into one direction or another and to make them feel like they’re actually like, their honest feedback is actually welcomed here?
Tim: So to me it’s about posture. This is something that if you’re having an in-person event with a facilitator, the posture of that person and the openness that they show to different people’s ideas or their efforts to draw out different ideas and opinions is really, really important. When we think about that in a digital environment, it’s a little bit different but you can apply some of the principles. Even if you do something as simple as never just have an information gathering or feedback experience that is purely quantitative, because if you’re making it quantitative, especially if you’re not providing other options, you’re limiting people’s opinions or ideas only to a few things that you predetermined are allowable responses. So often we invite our clients to pair quantitative and qualitative, so there’s an opportunity to say, if I want to look at my data or I want to do some comparisons between this question, that question, I have like quantitative data and that’s really helpful.
Tim: But then as I want to dive deeper into whatever question I’m asking, I can start to hear peoples more long form responses on whatever issue that I’m asking about. And to me that’s the experience to kind of, even with individuals to go deep and wide in that like why did I have this dataset, but deep in that I’m going with individuals into their more personal experiences. As for biasing your information, That’s a really tricky one. Personally, I think it would be a giant leap forward if organizations just all did a better job at providing context when they’re gathering feedback.
Tim: I guess that’s still does leave a little bit of the, it leaves a little bit up to the goodness and ethics of the person who was setting it up in the first place.
Veronica: That’s a tricky, it’s a tricky question. It’s, I feel like it’s where so much of our pain and our political arena comes from is context being informed versus soundbites, these types of things.
Tim: Alternative facts.
Veronica: Alternative facts. Yes.
Kevan: I think what comes to mind there too is just knowing why you’ve got into the listening process to begin with. Again, if we checked our problem space before we started, we would know where we’re trying to get to. If this is a problem that you already know the solution to, please don’t use this process. If you already know what to do and you already have the expertise in data and it’s just a matter of doing it, then do it. If you’re truly curious about new directions that may emerge and you want input so that you can find an alternative approach. That’s why we’re listening. That’s why we’re engaging. That’s why we’re using design thinking as a lens for change leadership, because we believe that alternative approaches that have not been explored or found yet are possible. And so any degree of education you’re trying to do is only so that you can truly get to the other side
Kevan: Of divergence, you want to see what will emerge. So, if you have any sense of bias of the intended direction, you’re probably misapplying the tool kit anyway.
Veronica: That’s a really good distinction. That what we’re talking here is not community listening to choose between options A, B and C. Like you said, Tim, you don’t want to just provide multiple choice. What we’re doing here is discovery, innovation, it’s creativity. It’s going to feel a little free wheeling. It’s not quite so tidy and organized as well, “take your pick of these future roads that we’ve already delineated.” It’s about emergence, that’s a really good distinction.
Kevan: It’s a beautiful reminder. A word that I love is that word. We mentioned it last episode too, but it’s helpful to contextualize. What is in between divergence and convergence, is emergence. Is this is the part as we crack open widely the perspectives of others and we listen and we explore. It’s here, it’s right here in this Grown Zone that new things can emerge, and that’s what we want to create the space for. Not just try to clomp it down and pre-decide. Otherwise, we’ve spoiled our very opportunity that Tim brought up at the beginning.
Veronica: I love that you brought the Grown Zone back into it because it can feel so uncomfortable to just see what’s going to come to the surface. There is a loss of control there. Which is really…it can feel really good too, right? It’s not always going to feel hard, sometimes it’s just this beautiful surprise.
Kevan: Yeah, I would say too is… Well, I’ll just to try to capture a perspective from Tim before he steps out. If you know that what you’re going to be doing is gathering divergent perspectives and it’s going to take a lot from you as a leader, and it’s going to require you gathering so many different diverse perspectives. What is it that can first clue you in to the fact that this is your opportunity, that this is worth going down this path? The point that you recognize that there’s an opportunity to listen, how do you know it’s your opportunity and what can you first do to start choosing a different way of engaging?
Tim: Oh wow. Well, there can be many different indicators that you have an opportunity to engage differently. Everything could be going along tickety-boo. Everyone could be happy, but, there’s still could be opportunity to do things better. There still could be untapped people, resources, ideas, opportunities that you could be accessing to improve. So, when I say my next piece, don’t shut out the idea of optimizing something great. But, to me if there’s already discontent and issues bubbling to the surface around a certain issue, or arena, or topic, then to me that is clear evidence that there’s an opportunity to dig in, listen, understand the challenge better and then go after new, or divergent solutions to the challenge.
Tim: I know that’s pretty helpful, cause it pretty much means always.
Kevan: No, it doesn’t to me. To me it says, that moment you start to sense some rumbling, it is the chance, is the chance to tune in to those voices. Which is a bit counter intuitive cause often in organizations and in leadership we would love to minimize the voices of grumbling. But here you’re saying, that’s your sign. That’s your first clue that something is worth exploring here, is if people have something to say.
Tim: Yeah, Kevan, what’s interesting there is that I think that this isn’t a challenge for most groups. I think that most groups, the issues that there’s an opportunity to go after something, it’s obvious. People often know their employee’s, their community members often know “this is a challenge here.” And sometimes it’s unsaid, or unarticulated because of politics, or other reasons, but, in general we have this churn in our stomach around certain ways things currently are. Where we know there’s a better way it could be, even if we don’t know what that is yet.
Veronica: I love that it re-frames what can be seen as negativity within a company. I find it can be such a tricky space when you know there’s something can be improved. Where it’s like “Well, we don’t want to be just complainers. We don’t want to be the negative voice in our company,” but what if instead that was the bread crumbs that our curiosity should follow into an opportunity to really, really listen, really engage.
Tim: Well, listening opportunities like this are a great chance for a leader to create an organized opportunity to fan that discontent and to hear from people. Often it can be the chaos of unsolicited voices, I say unsolicited with air quotes. That can make things feel a bit like things are out of control. And exercise… this is an opportunity for a leader of a community, whether it’s an office, or a larger workplace, or a community, a city, a country, to be able to say, “I hear that there’s something going on. I do want to listen, and I’m going to put together a program to do that. That is going to be far better than just trying to detect the rumblings that are happening,” and far more effective at the rumblers actually feeling heard, and that there’s going to be forward momentum towards something.
Veronica: And then you’re not just going on “Well, I’m sort of hearing,” or “there’s a lot of, sort of, rumbling about this, or that” and it kind of stays beneath the surface. But you’re bringing it up to the light and giving it structure and substance. I love that.
Kevan: So good. Tim, I believe that’s all the time we have for today. I just wanted to say thank you for being part of this episode with us. It’s been really great to get your perspectives through the journey you’ve been on with Civil Space, and to hear about that in this context.
Veronica: Yeah, thanks so much.
Tim: It was awesome to be here. Thanks Veronica, Thanks Kevan.
Veronica: That brings us to the end of our episode today. If you’re curious about community engagement and effective listening you might want to explore a list of related resources we’ve curated for you on our website at domain7.com/podcast. Where you can also get in touch with us, sign up for our newsletter, or, follow us on social channels.
Kevan: If you work in government or community organizations and you’d like to learn more about Civil Space, you can get in touch with Tim. His address is Tim@civilspace.io. That’s Tim@civilspace.io.
Kevan: You can also visit Civil Space and request a demo at CivilSpace.io. And, if you’d like to explore divergence and community listening with our team, in person, we offer monthly workshop experiences in our Vancouver studio. You can visit domain7.com/events to learn what’s coming up this month.
Veronica: This episode was planned and written by Kevan Gilbert and myself. With additional ideation and input from Tim Booker. It was produced by Kurt Wilkinson. Our team lead Sarah Butterworth helps create this space for creative endeavors, like this podcast, and the Domain 7 culture as a whole provides incredible support.
Veronica: Domain 7 is a global agency working to transform systems and culture for people-centric methods. You can learn more about us at domain7.com.
More from Season 2
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