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Community conversations provide a safe place for people in the community to come together to talk about their aspirations, concerns and how they want their community to move forward.

These are small-group moderated discussions following a model developed by The Harwood Institute over 30 years.  It has been tested and used in communities of all sizes and makeup.

Your participation allows the Westchester Library System to build its public knowledge.  Our aim is to understand the context of the lives of those within the community, root our work and decisions in what matters to people, identify key issues of concern, uncover and generate a sense of common purpose for action in the community, set realistic goals for moving ahead and making change, make our work more relevant and impactful within the community.

After a brief introduction, followed by a group review and approval of groundrules for the discussion, you’ll be given a sheet of paper with questions for your feedback. There will be time to read, consider, and jot down some thoughts.  The facilitator will ask for your responses to each question.  These will be recorded on a flip chart.  As the conversation proceeds, we’ll look for common themes.  If there are topics that emerge as most relevant to the group, we may focus the conversation on those areas.

Illustrative questions:

  • What are your aspirations for your community?
  • What challenges do we face in reaching these aspirations?
  • What needs to change in the community to reach our aspirations?

In closing, we’ll build our story:

We began by saying that we wanted a community where ____________________ (aspirations) but we face ____________________ ( challenges). So if we want to reach our aspirations, we need to create ____________________ (new conditions/change)

While these sessions will not be recorded, you will receive the summary “story” via email as a reminder of what we discussed.

When the fall 2022 series is completed, we will send a summary of all conversation themes and stories to participants that provide us with contact information.

Prior to the Community Conversation taking place online, please be sure you have downloaded the free version of zoom here.  I recommend the tutorial here.  If you already have Zoom, you may want to make sure you have the latest version; instructions for that are  here.

Still have questions?  Email out call us:  outreach@wlsmail.org or (914) 231-3227.

At the end of each conversation we work together to summarize what was said.  Here’s an example.

Our Summary – October 19:  We began by saying we want a community where its members can feel safe, resourceful, and resilient – thus better able to better work together to create and support a better community.  But we face a lack of trust, increasing isolation and fear, as well as an absence of lack of recognition of our shared human needs.  To reach our aspirations, we need to create a model of citizen-servant leadership that advances opportunities for community members to understand what the ongoing work is to evolve as humans, as individuals, and as part of a whole.  

All summaries from Wave 1 are linked here.

In 2017, the Westchester Library System launched a community conversation series intended to gather perspectives from across the Westchester community.  The program evolved quickly thanks to partner opportunities and community need during the pandemic.  Work included an exploration of criminal justice reform,  education on trauma and resilience, and health and wellness services during the pandemic.

In Fall 2022 we are returning to our original intent, which is small group community conversatons held in person (and on Zoom) to gain perspective from across the county on aspirations for our community.  It is from this base of understanding that we hope to inform future planning.  The mission of WLS is to empower lives and communities…to do that, we must listen!

Our model for community conversation is based on the work of the Harwood Institute, which is the go-to place for people and organizations looking for ways to fight against the negative conditions stifling progress in society. Tools from The Harwood Institute have been used by many communities to change the conversation and move forward to shared action.  A sample of The Harwood Institute’s tools is posted below. For a deeper dive, explore their website, which includes case studies, podcasts, and links to more information and inspiration for change. Right now, we higly recommend that you read the free (downloadable) repoprt “Civic Virus: Why Polarization is a Misdiagnosis.

Questions?  Just ASK US!

See how we described our work at the June 2022 American Libraries Association Conference.