Close this search box.

Breakdowns to Breakthroughs #3

The “Problem” with People

Call it the conundrum of plans. We believe we need them. A good plan can seem like a detailed map of where we want to go. And then we embark on the project we planned and encounter features that aren’t on the map. We might become lost and quit, or we soldier on, ignoring or trampling anything we hadn’t foreseen.

In community work, probably nothing disrupts plans more than people. The people planning the work; the people doing the work; the people meant to benefit from the work; the people observing the work. Even plans that account for all these different people are subject to failure because it’s impossible to account for an unpredictability that seems innately human. Maybe failure is the wrong word for what happens when a plan doesn’t lead to the outcome it intended.

As we’re learning, “community” is not, as it’s easy to assume from our vantage, a monolithic, homogeneous construct. If it were, maybe plans would accurately account for everything that happens when projects are undertaken. Within a “community” people have private agendas – needs and wants that shape behavior; that is, they are human. When plans expose this human factor we think it’s not failure but progress.

Here are three examples of projects in Wellville that are evolving to address these nitty-gritty realities – the inevitable “stuff” of working with other people:

  • In Spartanburg, SC, a community engagement initiative bumps up against barriers dividing residents from the local leaders promoting “resident engagement.” Not only do we, the national Wellville team, have to forge trusting relationships with residents, we have to recognize and offer guidance to our local partners who need to do the same.
  • In North Hartford, CT, development plans for a vacated factory building hit unanticipated challenges when the organization slated to use part of the space for a health clinic has a change of heart. Rather than rushing to find a new tenant, the team is askingwhat prompted the change of heart – and how to avoid similar breakdowns – while considering new possibilities to make best use of the space.
  • And in Lake County, CA, senior leaders from the two health systems serving the region are finding it necessary to take a strategic approach to exploring how best to work together to establish a structure to support community-based initiatives that would have county-wide impact.

Planning tends to be a technical exercise. But we’re seeing that this exercise yields better results when it’s accompanied by simple allowances for the social and emotional needs – the “human factor” – of the people who will be doing and be affected by the work.

Share this article:

See More Articles

Spartanburg City Council acknowledges, apologizes for systemic racism

Last Monday the Spartanburg City Council approved unanimously a “Healing, Reconciling and Unity” resolution, acknowledging “the historical antecedents of systemic racism” and apologizing to residents for “racial injustices and long-lasting inequities that have resulted from those policies.” The unprecedented resolution also enumerates specific actions Council members will take, including to “promote racial equity through all policies approved by City Council” and “support community efforts to amplify concerns about racist policies and practices.”

Anti-Discrimination Law Passes Thanks to Hartford Students

The Hartford City Council passed the CROWN Act, which prohibits the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locks, twists or bantu knots. The bill was introduced to the Council by students in Advocacy to Legacy, a nonprofit organization that teaches individuals and communities how to advocate for themselves.

Close the gap: Racial equity is fundamental to our health

There is so much in our hearts and minds following these tumultuous past few months and intense past few days. This is a moment to consider the causes of the consequences that are now on full display. It’s time to call out what led to such health disparities and what will it take to improve outcomes for all.

All Hands on Deck

When Covid-19 hit the US, we asked ourselves: Now that everyone is just trying to stay alive and save jobs, is Wellville just a distraction? We can’t just preach about the long term and what people want to achieve by the end of the Wellville project while they are busy responding to the short term. Instead, we tried a different question: How can we build a better long-term future even as we address current needs?