ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

March 1999

Articles
Facing The Music In The Global Marketplace

Military Intelligence - Not An Oxymoron

Starting A Revolution Where Everyone Wins

The New Leadership Class


Columns
Let's Give Them Something To Talk About

by Peter Block
Features
Sorry We're Closed: Diary of A Shutdown

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Sites Unseen

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Pageturners
Book Review

 

Starting A Revolution Where Everyone Wins
AQP’s School for Managing Helps Cities and Citizens Solve Problems Together

“You can’t fight City Hall” might be a rallying cry for citizens in thousand of communities nationwide. Tired of a seemingly lack of responsiveness to their requests to fix the streets. Stop crime. Lower taxes. Many shrug and lament that “You can’t fight City Hall.”
However a small band of individuals now realize that responsibility for their community doesn’t necessarily lie with their elected officials or city staff but with the people in the next yard and across the street.
Instead of succumbing to an almost conditioned resignation that nothing can change, nothing will change and city government won’t do anything that means anything, these individuals have managed slowly and over time to change the dialogue and reweave the fabric of the governors and governed. But they didn’t do this on their own, they are all alumni of AQP’s School for Managing and Leading Change, the premiere offering of AQP’s educational curriculum.

Given the descriptions in travel brochures and the city’s own website —Fremont, California is an idyllic place. Perfect climate. With gorgeous views of Mission Peak on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, Fremont boasts a population of nearly 200,000 . Incorporated in 1956, the city developed as a collection of five small farming communities. Today, these diverse neighborhoods cover 92 square miles making it California’s fifth largest city in terms of land use.

More than a century ago, the land was originally inhabited by Ohlone Indians who lived in simple harmony with nature and minimized war by their firm commitment to the health of the land. In 1997, Fremont decided to enroll a team in the School for Managing and Leading Change, planting the seeds, much like their Ohlone ancestors did, for future growth and renewed harmony in Centerville, one of the five original farming communities.

You Want To Speak - Fill Out The Card
Claudia Albano, the city’s first neighborhood resources manager, was a part of the team. Energetic and vivacious, Albano was excited. “In my job I was trying to help grassroots leaders grow. To be able to better articulate what their issues where and to solve problems on their own. I felt the School would help me do that. Traditionally city government plays a very staid role in the community. As a citizen you work with city council, you have boards and commissions. You want to speak at a council meeting; you fill out the card, etc.,” Albano chuckles. “As long as your city is fairly affluent or you don’t have a lot of problems, this form of government probably works well. But if your community is starting to decline or experience problems, many citizens don’t know how to access their government. Citizens don’t know how to mobilize themselves or articulate their issues in a strategic way. They look for the city to solve it for them, not realizing that it’s the kind of issue that is larger than the city—larger than them.”

Albano along with the police captain, a code enforcement officer, the economic development manager and two small business owners looked to the School to help them address the issues of community involvement and empowerment. The team specifically looked at one area of Centerville - Central Avenue.

Not unlike cities in other states, Central Avenue had experienced a fair amount of crime, problems with gangs and problems between apartment dwellers and single family homeowners and a growing sense of alienation between neighbors and with the city. In fact, Fremont’s five farming communities weren’t isolated anymore. It was actually a part of larger regional economy that operates in a global economy. “Fremont is an older commodity and an older suburb. And it not as pristine or as immune to problems as I think residents used to think they were,” notes Albano.

Your Problems Are My Problems
One of the key content areas of the School is the concept of “connection before content”. In other words, people must connect with each other as people before they can hope to solve problems as a team. “The first week was exhilarating,” exclaims Albano. “We really concentrated on getting to know each other. Coming from different silos within the city organization, that was incredibly important. The program really got us to go deeper with each other beyond the usual superficiality. Those connections opened us up to the potential of everyone on the team and we really began to articulate what we wanted to do with Centerville, at least in a broad and general way.”
Bruce Young’s pet food store is located in the heart of Centerville. As a member of the School team, Young was happy to be involved and developed a key insight in the first week. “The city staff has the same problems that we do as community members. Too many times we don’t recognize that. It woke me up a bit.”

For Police Captain Ron Hunt, that first week of the School and in fact the entire program was a sort of epiphany. “I was absolutely convinced before the School that you didn’t really need to involve the community in solving its own problems. People say that cops can’t let go of that control, but I find now that I am more willing to let go. And I am absolutely convinced that you have to get the community involved. You end up with a better decision, a better program and overall a better quality of life. What has really worked for me is getting down to building relationships one-on-one. Letting go and listening is not an issue for me anymore and it’s not a threat. It really works!”

If You Really Listen—You Might Be Surprised
Part of what convinced Hunt was a community-wide, large-scale intervention organized by the School team. Using techniques learned in the School, the team brought 50 Centerville residents together in a community meeting. They broke the group into smaller groups and had them identify what they liked and didn’t like about their neighborhoods. Each group then shared their likes and dislikes with the entire meeting. These were posted on the wall. Individuals received five dots and were allowed to place their dots on what they thought were the most important issues.

As the team expected, the community identified gangs and crime as issues, as well as identifying apartment complexes where there was noise late at night. When the dots were placed, the team was stunned. “What we discovered is that even though crime and noise were important, the number one thing these citizens wanted to work on was that they wanted to beautify their neighborhood,” recalls Albano.
Consequently, the group decided to organize a clean-up day which happened to coincide with USA Today’s National “Make A Difference Day” last October. City staff and community organizers were pleased when 150 volunteers showed up to clean up Centerville—in spite of a torrential downpour. But nothing could dampen the spirits of Albano and the volunteers. “I think it really made a difference. It started to cement relationships within the community, where apartment managers who had been warring with each other and single family homeowners who are mad at apartment people and the police were all working together,” claims Albano.

Judge the Quality of Your Community by the Number of Bowling Leagues
In response to charges that this is really just a public relations ploy or a cosmetic effort at promoting community involvement, Albano responds with a resounding, “Not true! The community clean-up is only a means to an end. As a matter of fact, the issue is irrelevant. The key element is the relationships built between people—between city staff, between city staff and community members and among community members. The next time a community issue comes around, they can use those relationships and networks to be more effective in working on the issue. Many academics point out that the strongest communities are not the ones with the largest parliaments or the most people who vote, it is the ones with the most informal and social networks. The communities with a large numbers of bowling leagues, PTA’s church groups, etc.”

From a business owner and community member’s perspective, Young points out a major shift in focus. “The hard part is that people expect the city to solve their problems. Unfortunately, the two need to work hand in hand. Many citizens might say they don’t have time for this. This is for the city to do. So it’s a real swing. But it is happening in Fremont now—the community is driving issues as opposed to the city driving them.”

Some Models Solve Corruption But Disconnect People
A month later a potluck celebration dinner to honor their work turned unexpectedly somber. “After eating and passing out some awards,” recalls Capt. Hunt, “I announced that all of the area officers were not coming back. One was becoming a school resource officer, another becoming a detective. The response was shocking. People in the audience verbally cried out, ‘Oh no.’ Officers were tearing up and saying ‘I am leaving and don’t want to. I have to rotate out.’” Such rotations are common in most cities. Based on an older model to deter police corruption, cities didn’t want officers to get to know people in areas they patrolled for fear of bribes, etc. But in Fremont, the impact of officers genuinely connecting with a community is viewed by many as a big advantage. “We are looking at our labor agreements and trying to find a way to have an officer in a community for 1-2 years,” says Hunt.

The concepts and techniques the City of Fremont team developed through the School are now being transferred to other areas in the city. In fact, they have enrolled another team which will focus on developing a family resource center. One where all the social services could be accessed in one setting. Revolutionary, perhaps, but in Fremont the revolution began when a team attended the School and learned to connect with each other before solving a problem and ended one rainy day last October when 150 people began to make those connections. The result—a richer, healthier community where no one has to fight city hall.

March '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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