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#16 - Tom Fountaine on Community Engagement
Episode 1629th July 2022 • PCC Local Time • Nancy Joan Hess
00:00:00 00:54:30

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Community conversations happen all the time in various venues, but local government managers cannot take them for granted. When community engagement is waning, it is important to think about ways to bring people together.

Tom Fountaine, municipal manager in State College, Pennsylvania, knows something about the challenges of community engagement. We discovered we share an appreciation for Peter Block who wrote the book Community, the Structure of Belonging.

I invited him on to PCC Local Time to talk about the six conversations that Peter Block outlines for community conversation: these include invitation, possibility, ownership, dissent, commitment and gifts.

What was it about Peter Block’s methodology of asking questions that caught our attention and remained with us over the years? We cover quite a bit of ground. Tom is forthcoming not only with the work that has evolved from Peter Block’s ideas, but also his weaknesses when it comes to implementing some of Block’s ideas.

Perhaps it is the challenge that makes this work so compelling. If it was easy, we would not take the time to uncover what it means to engage community, both inside our organizations and in the surrounding communities with whom we partner and serve.

Tom Fountaine, LinkedIn

Website: State College Borough, Pennsylvania

Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging

Mentioned in the show: Robert Putnam

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, 2000

Better Together: Restoring the American Community, 2003

My notes with the questions I never forgot, from the Peter Block keynote from a conference in the 1990's

Show Notes:

7:08 Invitation

Leading is convening and specifically the task of leadership is convening people who are not used to talking to one another.

…we started a program around that, that in person conversation, really we have a program here called lion. It stands for living in one neighborhood.

15:40 Robert Putnam, Bridging Social Capital

18:26 Possibility

If it is achievable, it's not a possibility. That is a goal.

27:24 Ownership

The ownership versus the blame conversation.

34:33 Dissent

We must invite people in a way that they can say no, if they cannot say no, they will not be able to develop a sense of agency or purpose.

42:19 Commitment

Requires work life balance

What begins as play becomes competition. What have you learned about engagement from your work as a referee?

47:58 Gifts

To overcome isolation, we need to focus on gifts.