Maintaining Community Momentum Over the Long Haul

Do you want to double, or even triple your capacity
to successfully undertake large community development initiatives?

Multi-stakeholder community development initiatives are often long term and complex in nature. The need to engage and then mobilize multiple stakeholders, particularly at different phases adds a dimension of complexity not often found in typical community programs. Support staff and leadership need to be attuned to the complicated dimensions of engagement ensuring that the initiative doesn’t stall, or worse, flame out as things seem to drag on and momentum usually found in the early stages, wanes.

Here’s how to maintain momentum:

1. Develop and share widely, the full outline for the initiative from planning through early research and preparation, to detailed study and then execution. Remember, not everyone needs to be, or wants to be, involved in every phase of the project. Identify who is critical at which stage, for what purpose and for what length of time. Communicate this to those people clearly and succinctly. Ensure their understanding of the crucial roles they need to play and then obtain their commitment. Be clear and up front with them when their duty will end.

2. Structure regular discussions, updates and informal chats with key leaders to keep them, and you, tuned in to what’s going on and what’s planned. Learn about the project’s pressure points and develop a plan for resolving these before they become toxic. Identify areas of progress and setbacks. Avoid as much as possible, large formal meetings at regular times – these quickly become tiresome with little contribution.

3. However, you should plan at least one annual coming together to welcome new participants, thank those who are moving on and celebrate the year’s successes. Everyone take a deep breath, have a bit of fun, and prepare for the next phase.

4. Have a process to thank and allow members/participants to “drop off as needed” and “reengage when ready”. Have a small memento to thank them for their efforts and contributions. If timing works, hand these out at public event/recognition celebrations – a word of warning though – don’t miss anyone!

5. Recognize, early on, that most volunteers don’t want to commit for an eternity – plan for that and establish a transition process whereby new energy is regularly brought in, mentored and trained for taking up the reins. Having a relationship with the local school system, high school and post-secondary, is a very effective way to bring new leadership candidates onto the team.

6. Don’t skimp on the staff support dedicated to the initiative – remember most of the other participants are volunteers usually working off the side of their desks. They will all give freely of their time, energy and expertise so long as you don’t take them for granted.

This process should keep your volunteers appropriately engaged and position the initiative for success over the long haul.

Watch this space for the next discussion in this series… how to effectively support volunteer leadership.

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Richard Pauls

Richard has worked directly in economic development, specializing in market research, analysis and business information in Calgary and the region for over 27 years. As a partner at Integral Strategy, he brings deep experience in business systems design, community economic development strategy, technology planning and assessment, community assessment, and community mobilization and engagement to his clients.

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