For the past two years, a diverse group of Edmonton do-gooders have been getting together for a day of community building called The Good Hundred Experiment.
It’s an event I co-organize with my colleague Nadine Riopel, The Savvy Do Gooder.
The Story of The Good Hundred Experiment
In the spring of 2012, there was an election on in Alberta.
A group of young people in Edmonton wanted their generation to be more informed and involved.
They planned a viewing party for the leadership debate; something that many 20- and 30-somethings would be unlikely to check out on their own, and even less likely to discuss with friends.
By making it a social event at a bar, they got over 70 young people to show up. They made it cool and easy to engage in the political process. They achieved their goal.
Seeing this, Nadine was inspired. It reminded her that there were many ways to do good, and many amazing people finding their own paths to the change they want to see in the world every day. She decided to take a closer look at some of these folks, and at how they were generating such fantastic results.
So she started the Edmonton Do Gooder Project profile series. One of the first people on her list was me.
Hearing about the project, I was struck by how many do-gooders I’ve seen making positive things happen, in different sectors and using different approaches. But many of them don’t know each other.
Living in the same city; sometimes even working on the same issues.
And I’ve seen how so many are struggling to get over the same hurdles — not enough money, volunteers or resources to get the work done, ov erwhelmed, burnt out, and such steep learning curves.
It’s so easy to get stuck in our various silos (e.g. anarchists hang out with anarchists, academics don’t tend to mix with entrepreneurs, etc.).
I approached Nadine with the idea of bringing these people together for a day of connecting, and of working together to make each of our paths a little smoother.
And the Good Hundred Experiment was born.
Six Community Building Lessons
Lesson #1: Have a clear objective and perspective
There are few things worse than bringing together a group of amazing people and saying, “We should all do something together. What you do you all think it should be?”
That way lies madness. You can get away with that move once. Maybe twice. But after that, your credibility is gone. Those events are largely a waste of people’s time.
It’s far better for the convener to put out the word that, “We’d like to bring _____ kinds of people together to explore ________/ have ________ kind of experience/ learn how to _______.”
Something people can “get” right away.
If no one responds then it’s probably because they didn’t experience that as a real need in their community. If there’s no need, then there’s no need for a gathering. In our case, we saw the need for people to connect outside of their silos to get fresh support and perspectives. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones feeling that need. And so 60 people came out on a Saturday in October 2012.
We wanted to support do-gooders in not just meeting, but connecting. That was our promise.
Partly due to my experience as founder of the Jams project, I’m convinced of the power of bringing good people together in a good way and trusting that good things will come from that.
Funders have asked (about the Jams), “What are your outcomes? What are the deliverables from this?” “Will there be a declaration from the youth of the world? A statement of priorities? A new network?”
“Nope,” we reply. “Just friendships. And trust. And we trust that good things will come from that over time.”
And they have. There have been over 100 Jams in many countries, resulting in dozens of new projects, some new organizations and hundreds of thousands of dollars going towards good things in communities that, formerly, had not had access to those resources.
Although it’s newer, the same is true of the Good100. Projects that were just ideas have become reality (The Yeggies). Collaborations have been forged. People have found the support and encouragement to launch things they were considering (Thrive Facilitation). Others have ended up re-thinking their entire approach to their work (The Stay at Home Feminist, formerly Natural Urban Mamas). In a million ways, the meaningful interactions of Good100 have helped good people get more good done.
Lesson #2: Pick your people carefully
Over the years, I’ve learned that, outside of a clear intention based on a need in the community, 90 per cent of an event’s success is about who’s in the room.
The major reason that people decide to come to any event is because of who will be there. especially when you’re talking about bigger movers and shakers. The busier people get, the more jealously they guard their time. But if they know that the event is going to be full of people they’re inspired by and want to hang out with, they’re more likely to come.
That’s why we created an profile page where folks could see the photos and bios of who was coming. We update it regularly, so people will know with whom they’ll be spending their precious weekend.
It’s important to be really clear about who your event is for and to not imagine that it’s for everyone. At first, we kept the Good Hundred Experiment secret to make sure that everyone there would be a fit for the event — people who would both add something to, and gain something from, the conversation. We wanted people who either had a proven track record of doing good or were onto a really good idea and pursuing it with a lot of passion. We wanted an attendee list that inspired us to show up.
This also has a lot to do with respect, I think. Respecting the time of the people you’re inviting. Inviting the right people sets up the day to be a success.
For Good100 2014, we continued in this vein by introducing an application process — a way for us to reach more potential attendees while still making sure that everyone who ends up in the room can really benefit from and add to the experience.
Throughout the events and afterwards I’ve heard many people voice a feeling of intimidation — “How did I get invited here?” That’s how you know you’ve got the right people — they’re so inspired by each other.
Lesson #3: Have a clear schedule and structure, but don’t overschedule
If the focus of the day is clear, it’s much easier to create the schedule and flow of the event.
Our focus felt very clear: help savvy do-gooders in Edmonton move forward in their work. Period.
So, we create a schedule and structure of the day that we think will best facilitate that. We are constantly tinkering with it and experimenting with new activities. Most are designed to draw out the awesome in the crowd; get everyone talking about themselves and their work in a way that fosters real connection and understanding.
When you’re designing an event, it’s not always just about the schedule but about the structural and environmental pieces you put in place for people to connect.
Which is why every year, we create a wall of bios with profiles and pictures of all the attendees. It becomes a way people could learn about each other without having to go up to anyone cold. We use the #good100yeg hashtag which people use to tweet all weekend. We make sure that everyone sits with new people regularly.
Think “structure,” not just “content.”
During the Experiment I’ve seen so many people, who’ve been doing good Edmonton for years and years, meeting each other for the first time. I’ve heard important conversations that I know will lead to inspiring projects in the years to come. We’re building a fertile soil of trust and letting seeds be planted so that collaboration isn’t forced or pressured but happens organically.
Lesson #4: Uniqueness is not a weakness. Diversity makes us stronger.
To quote participant Waymatea Ellis, “Uniqueness is not a weakness.”
We work as hard as we can to make the event as diverse as possible (in terms of age, gender, ethnic background, type of work etc.).
We believe that diversity gives us more points of view. It makes us wiser and our solutions better. It helps complicate things in the most wonderful way. It gives our projects and perspective subtle nuances they would never have had before.
The groups we’ve had so far have been amazing and fairly diverse, but it’s a work in progress. We are always working on ways to bring in voices that aren’t there yet.
It’s easy to get trapped in our silos and have our events be only activists, only white people, only the hip-hop scene . . . but our communities can be explicit without being exclusive. They can be clear in themselves and honour the unique gifts they have to bring and their unique natures but also build bridges with other communities.
Bridges make communities richer.
Lesson #5: Celebration!
It can be easy to get caught up in work, work, work.
But so much of the glue that holds communities together comes from informal socialization and celebration.
The evening of our event is the Good Hundred Party. While the day’s participants are carefully selected, the evening is open to everyone.
We work hard to create a daytime structure at the Experiment that keeps people engaging with and challenging each other in an intense and productive way. We work just as hard at making the party a relaxed and laid-back environment to balance out that intensity.
I see many good folks catching up after months of being out of touch, and new connections being made.
Lesson #6: Reflection — bringing in the harvest
We take time regularly to reflect on our event. What went well? What went poorly? Ask for feedback.
At the end of the Good Hundred Experiment, we pass out index cards and invite everyone to write down, on one side, any reflections they had on the day — what they loved, what they’d change, what they’d love to see next time, etc. On the other side, we asked them to write down the specific names of everyone whom they wanted to see there next time. Many of these names are completely new to us.
A couple of weeks later, we sit down to reflect on the day and harvest the learnings from it to make sure our next event is even better.
We write it all down and make clear outlines for activities so that we could give them to any facilitator in the future and have them run it successfully. Reflection can allow you to scale what you’re doing so it doesn’t just rely on you. It allows you to create checklists, outlines and instructions so that others could step in and have a successful experience. That’s how things grow.
If you try to do it all yourself and you aren’t willing to learn from your experiences your efforts will become stale quickly and you will burn out.
It’s an exciting time for the Edmonton do-gooding community. The more we get to know each other, the more possibilities there are for collaboration. And the more we work together, the happier we’ll be.
For more reflections on the day . . .
To read reflections from other participants you can go to Nadine Riopel’s blog post You Are Not Alone, Deborah Merriam’s blog post or to the Stay at Home Feminist’s blog post.
To see more photos from past events, click here.
To apply, go to: http://www.good100.ca
For party tickets, click here.