Several members of SustNE met on August 9th to discuss in broad terms the development of a strategic plan to grow our organization and movement promoting sustainable living. While defining sustainability was not under discussion, other key considerations were. These included topics as central to the group as the defining boundaries of “northeast” Seattle, and critical as outreaching to a broader demographic, by appealing to the younger generation for example. We discussed briefly the Transition Movement, mostly by way of an overview by Leo Brodie, but didn’t delve much deeper into what it will take to advance those issues within SustNE. I got the feeling that the group senses we need to grow locally first. Still, some threads did develop which can be woven together into a greater fabric.
First and perhaps most importantly, we need to shape our strategic plan around greater outreach to the community in a way that is highly personal. As active members, everyone is in effect an ambassador for SustNE, and we need to take our message to our neighbors. This would take place by doorbelling. It was observed that there are many people who will react negatively to this approach, or may not see the relevance of our agenda. I suppose we need to thicken our skins and expect a lot of rejection, but operate with the knowledge that there are many people who are close to our point of view that only need a nudge to become involved. One of the questions we need to bear in mind is in asking what “push button” issues are there that will appeal to community. As first adoptors, our response to sustainability issues may be based in an ecological context; to others it may be more practical to couch the issues in terms of economic realities.
To successfully promote our agenda, it seems imperative that SustNE develop certain tools, primarily a brochure to be handed out, but also a well organized agenda of events and ways to become involved in community building and making lifestyle changes to improve sustainability. (Someday we’ll have to come up with a definition!) To this end, we realize that there are many alternative methodologies through which our community can take action to improve sustainability. Meetings alone won’t be enough, so part of our strategic plan must include creating pathways for a variety of activities, such as educational workshops, work parties, and informal gatherings. Our social networking site, the Ning, must be developed and explained in such a way that members learn how to become active agents in coordinating a greater variety of events at their own local area. We also live in the electronic media, like it or not, and several ideas were generated around this topic. Creating an e-mail brochure that we could share with friends, with an easy to copy webpage from the ning, seems like a great idea. A second suggestion was that we all become more involved in blogging at the ning site. This provides not only a forum for sharing ideas amongst ourselves, but also creates a window to the larger community.
There are several successful things we have already done: printing business cards, making sandwich boards, creating brochures, holding meetings and fun events. It seems obvious that we need to more of this. We can schedule work parties to make more sandwich boards, perhaps even to create kiosks that we can locate using the info we learn from our asset mapping. Clearly we just need to keep up the effort on these fronts.
Another notable observation was made: that as a dinner party group, we weren’t all from the same immediate area of northeast Seattle, but were in fact rather broadly and equidistantly spread across a good section of the heart of SustNE. This highlights the importance of Asset Mapping as a critical tool in developing a successful strategic plan. I think it was important that one of our newest members, Virginia, mentioned to importance of the most simple and obvious actions we need to take as a group. Her observations that the group take the more interest in new members, and that we prepare a list of “baby steps” that are easy for new members to accomplish, would both be strong ways for people to find a sense of accomplishment and welcome.
I think, personally, that it is important to remember that we are, at the core, attempting to mobilize a growing membership of community activists that are not only making personal lifestyle changes that promote sustainability, but also wanting to share these activities with our community. Again and again, I am made aware that our greatest strength is found in community, so with that in mind we need to actively take our message into the broader scope of northeast Seattle to search our likeminded citizens. The means to this end has multiple approaches. First we need to do more asset mapping to identify appropriate venues: church groups that may have a creation stewardship agenda, community organizations that hold meetings and publish newsletters, local gathering events like the Meadowbrook Farmers Market and Audubon plant sale.
One final lesson that I learned from this gathering was the importance of connectivity, not only between people, as we attempt to reach a broader spectrum of our community, but also the connectivity of ideas. As a multi-faceted organization that promotes itself through general meetings, neighborhood work parties, social gatherings, website content, house and garden tours, and awareness raising events; we need a strategy for coordinating activities on these multiple levels. What this requires is longer range planning of the “backbone” events: the awareness movies/discussion nights and general meetings. Then we need to find spin-off work parties or social gatherings to further the conversations and progress.
(These notes were written on Aug. 11th.)