As mentioned in my last post, building a trusting relationship with the community in which you plan to work is arguably the most important piece to justly entering a community. On my first day on the job at Storefront, I got a glimpse of community trust. Ryan and I took a trip to Highland Park to visit the 6 Points Innovation Center (6 PIC) which is currently under construction.
There is not a community space like 6 PIC in Highland Park at this time. With this being a new establishment, there had to be some trust built with the local businesses and residents. He proceeded to tell me about how he had been working in Highland Park (before his position at Storefront) for 5 years. He knows the small business owners in the area. He knows many of the current needs of the community. He knows the history of Highland Park and the community members there know him- by name. They stop to have conversation and wave from across the street.
Storefront has helped many of the local business with facade improvements, streetscapes and helped organize community events. When the idea of 6 PIC sparked, Storefront was able to receive input from partner organizations and residents. Working in tandem became easier because the trust was there. Community members trusted that Storefront was invested. Soon, we will have offices at 6 PIC in order to be more present. Not only has there been a strong rapport built though projects and conversation but we are going to be physically present in the community. Presence is power when it comes to making an impact.
So, how do you build trust with a community? This starts with building a connection. Having a point of entry is one of the main ways to begin working with a community. Many times getting connected with a point of entry is difficult. From my experience, I have gotten to know community leaders or members simply by attending community events. Immerse yourself in the culture of the community. Sometimes being informal is a good way to begin a formal process. Remember, it is as important to make connections as it is to take care of the connections you have made. For me this means catching up for coffee to discuss current events within the community or potential partnerships. It means volunteering my time at a community event. The goal of being present at such event is so that I am more present and that I can have genuine conversations with community members. In this way, I am being intentional about my efforts to build rapport which may result to a trusting relationship.
Another important aspect of trust building is to understand where you and a community are starting from on the spectrum of trust. Sometimes you can begin work with a community at point 0. In this way, the community feels neutral about your agency in regard to trust. However, there are some communities that may not trust your organization or organizations similar to yours. Maybe you are beginning at a point of -2. In order to know where you stand with a community, it is important to examine your organization’s (and similar organizations) past relationship with the community. Maybe before trust can form, reconciliation efforts need to be made.
A commitment to service is another element of trust building that can be seen from Storefront’s relationship with Highland Park. If you say you are going to deliver a service, you should do it. Some of my mentors have stated the phrase "Under promise, over deliver." This can help you to ensure that you are keeping your promises as sometimes you're capacity to deliver could change. Also, trust building means to value the input of the community. In my last post I stressed the importance of working with communities. This looks like including community members in the planning process as well as the actual project. Not only will working together increase the bond, but it will let communities know you respect them, their knowledge and skill. Consider how one may form healthy friendships. The process is the same when building a trusting relationship with communities.
Join me on next week's post to further this conversation around trust. Before you leave, I'd like you to answer this question:
What are some ways you have built trust with the community that you work with?
Please comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Upcoming Monthly Topics:
HOW IMPORTANT ARE THE STRENGTHS? HOW IMPORTANT ARE THE NEEDS?
Understanding why recognizing resiliency is just as important as identifying the problems when assessing a community
WHAT IS AN INTERVENTION WITHOUT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT?
Examining why community engagement is the basis for an effective intervention
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT WORKED?
A summary of ways to evaluate community interventions and practice.