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Focus on Flint: How Listening and Learning Drives Community Change

SESSION DESCRIPTION:

Hear about a unique initiative in Flint, Michigan that, with the help of strategic communications, brought residents to the table to voice their needs, share their concerns and craft a path beyond the city’s water crisis. Focus on Flint offers an intriguing study of community engagement and place-based philanthropy. It’s about more than putting money into a community. It’s about taking time to listen and using multiple approaches to ensure you hear from more than just the most vocal, engaged residents. A publication mailed to every address in the city, online engagement, partnerships with community leaders and outreach into every part of the city, among other communication avenues, led to a more authentic approach of listening and learning.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

  1. Ways to approach active listening that encourage more than just the most vocal, engaged audiences to participate.

  2. The importance of cultivating authentic and even critical feedback in your conversations.

  3. Community engagement should be a priority, not just a project.

Below, watch the video or read the transcript.

Watch

Transcript

Sean Gibbons:

Hey everybody, Sean Gibbons from the Communications Network. Welcome to the first special learning session we have had together with ComNetwork and V+. Everyone’s in the room. I want to tell you a condominium of things you can expect coming up in addition to today’s presentation with Carma Lewis coming in from Flint, Michigan. Marva is back with us. If you need ASL interpreting services, you can find it there. And we added closed captioning. Go ahead and crack that open and you’re welcome to follow along there. While we’re coming into the room let’s go ahead and go into the chat. You know what I’m about to ask you to do because this is the drill for you for us across the board. Enter the chat ask make sure you’re talking to all panelists and attendees or everyone. Type in your name, where you’re coming in from, so where is home right now and this idea that we borrowed from professor Brown in Houston and that’s the two word check in. In two words, how are you doing?

Let’s be in conversation with one another as we get together. My colleague is running the slide deck for us. Tristan, if you would, go ahead and hop into the screen. Go to the next slide. One thing I want to make sure you’re aware of is that everything that we have created together over the last over a month or coming up on a month, between V and V+ is up and available online and you can see how to get into all of that stuff right there on the slide.

And we have been sending you a lot of emails if you have any questions shoot us an email and you can find all of the information in the app and elsewhere, in your in box and everything you want to watch, whether it’s Stacie Abrams with the project that happened during V that’s there. You can find a special page set aside for all of the stuff that we’re creating together, most recently that was the conversation with me in bird sock and earlier on with Charles Vogl the author of “the art of community.” Let me tell you a little bit pant what we have coming up in the next couple of weeks. Tristan if you would. Next week we hope you can make time to join us because we’re excited about this. Evan participated in V and there was a session there and he is going to be in conversation with the America’s former board chair. Evan should be familiar to you. He rap the organization freedom to marry which did an extraordinary things and turned to communications research and science to drive the message around marriage equality and broke through with major quality in 2015. Before that it was Maine, Maryland, Washington state broke through in 2012 if I remember correctly. Let’s jump ahead to the next one. That’s a fantastic conversation, behind that story of how marriage quality happened. And just before Halloween if you’re doing trick or treating or whatever that looks like, Dr. Clarence B. Jones. His 90th birthday is coming up in January but he will be with us about a week prior to the election.

To reflect on all that we have been going through together over the course of this year, talking about went racial reckoning around the country and what is at stake as we head into the elections and his experience from the civil rights movement and he will be interviewed by our friend from the healing trust in Nashville and we couldn’t be more thrilled Jenny is wanting to do that. Those are things that are coming up. But right now, just before us I want to make sure that we make time for our friends karma, Sarah and Amy. Sarah is going to take it from here. For a ASL, MARVA is here and then there’s closed captioning available through the closed captioning panel that is also down at the bottom of your screen. We will take questions towards the end, if you would. Just remember we’re putting those in the Q&A box. I will scold y’all to do that later on. Looking forward to the great conversation and it begins with listening. With that I will start listening. Take it away if you would.

Sarah Schuch:

Thank you Sean. We are excited to be here, and my name is Sarah Schuch, joining today with Amy Hovey on our team at the Mott Foundation and Carma Lewis the president of Flint neighborhoods unite sod I’m very excited she could join us here today. We have a lot of good things to share, so please feel free to ask questions at the end. I’m excited about the question portion because I know we will be going through quite a bit of information. So this focus on Flint project initiative started about two years ago, maybe even a little before in this thought process, but it really showcases a great partnership between our communications team and our program team and what we’re hoping to share with you today is a little bit more about how this community engagement initiative really helped us connect with Flint residents, connect with the Flint community, and just kind of see what was to important to them to help us do our job better. So hopefully we can share some wisdom and talk through this together.

Amy L. Hovey:

Good afternoon. So happy to be here to talk about our focus on Flint project. So why focus on Flint?

Well, you know, it really comes down to us frying to do a better job at doing our job. Our overall goal is to increase the quality of life for Flint’s residents. And in order to do that job well, we felt like it was important for us to create a deeper relationship with the Flynt community, with the residents that live here in Flint. We wanted to create a more intimate relationship with them so we would hear their stories firsthand, what they think were the top priorities, how could we increase their quality of life and what were their thoughts on how to funnel that money to different projects to make that happen. We also really wanted to take the time to have them understand us a little bit better as well. Understand what the Mott Foundation is all about, how we fund programs and projects, why we do what we do and be able to create relationships so we can work together moving forward to make Flint a better plates to live.

Sarah Schuch:

And it wasn’t a short process. We definitely didn’t just throw things together. This has been going on for a while. But we knew every step of the process it was so important to hear from Flint residents. They were literally a part of every single step of the way. So it started with our focus on Flint pucks. We had 900 residents participate in quality of life survey. You know, you probably have heard of Flint, Michigan A lot of people have heard of Flint, Michigan because of the water crises because we wanted residents to be able to tell their own story about what life was like this their city, neighborhoods and communities and instead of other people telling their stories so it started with that survey that we could hear from them, and the survey along with some local, state, and national data, we created this publication to try to take a bigger look, a fuller picture of what life was like in Flint Michigan versus bits and pieces and even when we were looking for that information we realized there was no one spot to find the information. And then we mailed the publication to every mailing address in the city of cap Flint. So residents and businesses, we really wanted them to see it, you know, and to share back with us, does this actually sound like your experience?

Does this make since?

Is this a good resource for you?

But then we were able to take that publication and use it as a springboard for conversation. So whether there was so much work on the public, it didn’t become our focus at these meetings with residents. It was just kind of, hey, let’s is that right talking about this but now let’s talk about your priorities and your concerns. Are they the same as the 900 residents that participated in this survey?

And it was important. We ask simple questions: What are your priorities?

What are your concerns?

What are you seeing in your neighborhoods and your whole city that you think needs to be focused on. So as we’re going through this process, past the community conversations we didn’t actually have a plan until we got through them. We want to really let the residents guide the process. Because if we had in our mind how we thought it needed to end, I think that would have hindered us from truly listening to the residents. So when we did, we heard some of their top priorities. The Number one priority was neighborhoods, and whether that blight or safety or beautification, they wanted to make some changes that directly impacted where they lived. So we took it from there, like, okay, the next step was share your ideas, what projects, what initiatives, what would you actually like to see happen in your neighborhoods to help strengthen them?

Then okay, we have all of these ideas, so, now, what?

Then we let them vote. We said here are some grant dollars we want to put directly into your neighborhoods and we’re going to let you vote on it. It was a process and we learned a lot through it. We never learned something like this before and we didn’t know how it was going to end until we got there which was one of the fun parts about community engagement and it showed that we were truly listening to them because it’s their community, and we shouldn’t be making any decisions about Flint without hearing from the residents first.

So I just talked a little bit about these community conversations. They were the biggest part of this process by far. And we still want to continue them, but we did 30. And roughly three months’ time. Between September of last year and November we held 30 conversations. It was a progression. We started small and met with smaller intimate groups of eight to 12 resident, so he is we could really hear from them without residents and people talking over each other and not feeling like they were heard. And it was really community led. We may be asked a question or two and just kind of let them go. From there we went to larger community conversations where it was an open ended debate to businesses, business owners and residents to really just hear from them, and those probably ranged from 30 to 50 participants and then we ended in a really large community forum to kind of bring everything together, show what we learned and take the next steps. But even, like I said, the next steps always included giving back from them. It wasn’t just us with presentations. It was continued feedback. And notice here we had just over 4 hundred participants which to us it seemed like we were meeting with a lot of residents but 400 in the grand scheme of Flint’s population is not a lot. So we know there’s a gap. We know we missed people. And we know there are still residents that we need too try to reach out to. But it was just our starting point. And we got surveys pulled out at every point of the way. Not only are we talking to them and taking notes and listening to them but then we have records of here are my priorities and what I want had to do. So it’s listening and also collecting that data for us to use going forward. So going back to the beginning of doing these more intimate community conversations, it had really been awhile since the Foundation had participated in doing this in depth of community engagement. So we knew we founded to take a step back. We wanted to include everyone on our team. Have everyone involved. And we have a different amount of experience levels on our team with community engagement. Some people have done a lot of community engagement and others who were pretty new to it. So we started with bringing in a group of women, who include karma, and we will hear from her in a second, who really do a lot of community in fact in Flint. They understand the neighborhood and the venues and other groups and how they interact with one another to help give us guidance on how we approach our more intimate conversation to make sure that we didn’t step on land mines that we didn’t know existed. Because we are out there every day going, you don’t want to put this person and this person in the same room together. You won’t have a conversation. So they really kind of reviewed what we are thinking and helped us tweak so it we would be able to do it’s better. One of the things they suggested which was really super helpful to us was actually bringing in a consultant to give us training on how to fill at a time these small group sessions and it was really a little bit less about facilitation and a little bit more on how to really listen, how to meet people where they are and situations where they feel comfortable sharing their story, going to them rather than having them come to us. Also digging a little bit into implicit bias, helping us understand what implicit bias was, what we were taking into the room with our own implicit biases and how we could remove that barrier and really open our ears and listen to what people were saying to us without trying to jump ahead of them. So we really took time to make sure that we were prepared for what we were getting ourselves into and making sure that we had a process that was going to give us the results that we wanted to have. And I think it would be helpful for the audience to hear from you as someone in part of the group that gave us guidance on your thoughts when we called you. How did you feel about being asked for advice as well as some of the advice you gave us.

Carma Lewis:

I was actually excited. And I knew about all of the work that residents had already been doing. So this was their opportunity to share that information that they needed for you to know. And the way I prepare for that is I actually contacted quite a few people after I had given you guys that neighborhood leaders list. And I will tell them know, okay, my foundation is going to be contacting you because I knew that, in the community, people don’t expect to hear from anyone related to the Mott Foundation. So I wanted them to know you’re going to get that call and it’s no joke. So that way they would be ready basically for when you called and I do believe it worked.

Amy L. Hovey:

Thank you. It was such a big help.

Sarah Schuch:

And part of the preparation in getting ready was really talking about how we could reach as many people as possible. Carma mentioned the neighborhood leaders list she gave us and it was important for us to hear from as many residents as possible and also making sure it was a very diverse group that we were reaching. We knew we had people we heard from on a regular basis and we know we had our contacts in the community but we really wanted from hear from voices we have not heard from before. So we arrived of reached out to the group that example and others introduced us to and we asked them to be co hosts. And we gave them the responsibility of inviting residents to join us. So we didn’t have any hand in choosing who would show up to the meetings. It was really their decision. And that was great. I mean we got a lot of voices we had heard before. We got some critics. Even that was fortunate for us to hear and hear how they felt about us and their community. It was really important.

And reaching out to them and getting that diverse group, some of it was on us as well so it wasn’t just having these in person meetings. We have a lot of input areas online. We have our website that we created. We had a designated phone number and email, in case residents were more comfortable with that. We also most of our information whether it be fliers or up date page or our emails that we sent out were also translated to Spanish so we could reach that community as well.

And every time we had a small group or a larger group meeting we also made sure no one needed any other translation services. So when we say we wanted to reach as many residents as possible and a diverse group as responsible, we also had to make sure that we had material ready for all of those different groups.

Carma, can you talk a little bit about why do you know what is so important to bring in those community leaders and to really invite in that diverse group of residents?

Carma Lewis:

That was important because they were the ones that were actually out there doing the work in order to attempt to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods. And by going into their area, their spaces because I did receive phone calls, hey, Carma, you have to come, we’re going to meet at this particular park. By doing that, that allowed them to be themselves, their authentic selves because they’re in their own space sharing what they have with you.

Sarah Schuch:

Definitely. Thank you, Carma. So you see this information here and it just gives a little snapshot of the time of residents or the demographic that we spoke with. There’s a high demographic with our older residents and it show how active they are in our community. Times we took over a community meeting that was already happening. They’re retired and very committed. Bust it does know that, moving in order, we need to make a little bit more effort and reach out of the a little bit more for some of those specific age groups. But we are happy to see that there’s at least a mix. But when you do have your co hosts inviting for you don’t exactly know who you’re going to get to show up so that is something moving forward that will try to fill in those gaps as well: Flint has 9 wards. People do identify themselves by the community they live in or the ward that they live in so we wanted to make sure when we were reaching out to the Leaders and Reaching touts areas of the city that we were trying to touch on all. Again you will see a gab. There are two awards that are only 2 percent and 4 percent and we will work on that to make sure that we are trying to equally reach out to those areas in the city.

Amy L. Hovey:

Talk less, listen more. As Sarah mentioned earlier we had to determine the more waifs to listen. So we had the small conversations. We also had surveys that we made available online with the website that was mentioned as well. And making sure that we also had surveys available where people were. So people are at the library, people are at our community centers and the Farmers Market or at city hall. So again, trying to get to them where they already are rather than counting on them to go out of their way to come to us. So we really, really tried to make sure that we had surveys in a lot of those places. Mrs. It was mentioned having a phone line available I can say it was important who prefer to community or fill out a survey and it helps to address if there are any literacy issues to really have a lot of avenues available for people to be able to provide some input to us. This slide mentions did we shy away from critiques and, of course, we didn’t. We were prepared for them. You know, it’s important to us that we hear them and that we listen to them and are able to make some adjustments in what we do, again, so we can just basically do our job better. So we just are tried make ourselves available so people felt comfortable talking to us in the way they most felt comfortable in doing.

Here are things residents said to us in the comment areas of the surveys. What it came down to is over all people were very thankful for the community to give us some input, to have the conversations, to create the relationships which they feel comfortable now emailing us or calling us. And we feel comfortable reaching out to them to see how not that I can think are going in the neighborhoods. People were also anxious so who know that the conversations were going to lead to something. Were we going to listen to what they had to say and actually invest in fixing some of those issues that they mentioned?

That came through really clear in the surveys and in the discussions that we had, the more intimate discussions. Carma, I think the audience would love to hear what you heard from the community that maybe they didn’t share with us directly but things that kind of behind the scenes people were sharing with you?

Carma Lewis:

Yes. They were honored that well, I will use their words. “The people in the ivory tower decided to come down to their neighborhoods and talk to us.” And they are really tickled about that. And it made people happy that we’re finally appearing to come together. Our residents are accustomed to my foundation funding services through other organizations and never really communicating with the residents, and so this was very different. And to top it off, ridgeway White decided to do a Facebook Live on a cold day, which looked like a very cold day for him. Saw his breath and everything as he spoke. He did a Facebook Live announcing from would be a 1 million dollar grant for Flint and we get to decide how to spend it. And he did that at a very difficult of time in his life. And people saw that. It was being shared around social media and people saw that as him becoming more human in their eyes. And nothing you guys Koch done would top that.

Sarah Schuch:

Thank you Carma. And that transitioned well. So ridgeway white is our president and CEO and I’m going to show you the video that he put on Facebook. But it does kind of showcase the importance of having leadership involved, and he wasn’t just involved. He was excited about I. And we didn’t actually fully realize how much that the residents and the community appreciated it then until we have some of these conversations with Carma. But as a little bit of background it was just after his father and longtime Mott Foundation leader passed away and you will get a little bit of that in the video.

Hey, everyone. Ridgeway White coming to you from downtown Flint in front of the Flint sign. 20 degrees. A bit cold. I can see my breath. The reason I’m coming to you today is I’m just feeling grateful for the sun, for sure the outpouring of support for my father and my family. It’s been a tough couple of weeks. And I wanted to talk about things that I’m grateful for. First of, grateful for an event I attended, our achievement awards put on by the chamber. They did a great job recognizing people that are working every day to help improve Flint to make this is great police to live work and enjoy. Also I went to the second city show at the capital. A lot of great comedians there. Need to get more people out to the shows but definitely great things occurring there. I wanted to talk to you about focus on Flint. It’s been awhile since I talked to you about what is going on. We had over 30 community engagement sessions. I met with a lot of great people sharing ideas. Here is what we have heard: We have heard that people, Number one, are concerned about blight in the neighborhoods. Two, safety. Three, economic development. And four, education. Those are the top four priorities. This tomorrow, Saturday, November 9th we have our final sort of report out to the community and that’s what you’re going to hear. But in honor of my father and things that are going on, I want to do create a little chaos today. So what I’m going to talk about is how we can make this thing really come alive. And you know, if you’re like me, you have attended a lot of community engagement sessions and say well, what is coming of it?

So here is my thought. In honor of creating chaos, in honor of my father, we’re going to roll out a million dollars in brand making and because the Number one priority was neighborhoods and removing blight, creating safety and a great environment and improving neighborhoods, we want to hear your ideas so go to focus on Flint.org and tell us your ideas and how we can deploy a million dollars. You guys are going to vote on this and to everything, starting tomorrow running into 20/20 we will narrow down yeahs and listen to how we deploy millions of dollars in the neighborhood in a Flint. My staff will freak out when they see this message on Facebook but it’s one of those weeks and we have to do stuff like this. So we have heard you. Neighborhoods are important. And come on come tomorrow, November 9, and also go to folks on Flint.org and tell us who to you improve Flint’s neighborhoods. Bye bye.

Sarah Schuch:

So obviously it’s not the highest quality video but it didn’t matter. We didn’t know he was going to record it ahead of time. But it was perfect. And it really just show that he was invested in it. And I think it also shows the importance of being authentic. I mean, he shared pieces of his life and he shared why he wanted to do that and that was a pretty big thing to include in this process.

So he announced it. So we were going to start having people submit ideas for what they would like to see happen in their neighborhood. And once again, we didn’t fully know what this would look like but we started collecting ideas at that forum. We had it set up online. We had different options around the city for people toe submit her to ideas. Obviously this was pre COVID when things were open and community centers were open but over all we had 440 people submit 625 ideas which is a lot of ideas. So I’m like, great, what do we do now with all of these ideas?

We were able to take that list of what residents gave us and create a list of 70 potential projects from what they gave us. We took out projects that we just couldn’t fund. For example someone suggested that we decrease mortgage interest rates; right?

That’s something the Foundation can do so weed took some of those out and there are a lot of similar ideas that we wanted to combine. We kept ideas specific maybe on a certain building or part of a community but we came up with a list of 70. We thought the theme is good. Hopefully the residents don’t they didn’t seem overwhelmed. We didn’t know really how this would go. But we ceded this list. We allowed them to note. They could give up to ten projects and then at the bottom to contribute the 1 million claims and they got play were around until they hit a million. And they couldn’t go over a million. So it was kind of a game, and I think it helped them try to understand how far one million dollars would go and think the exciting part of this process is that we said we would have seven plus here because we can actually fund seven ideas and a portion of the 8th until we hit $1 million dollars. When we got our top ideas we took the average that people gave for that project. And we could have rounded but we didn’t we took exactly the residents told us and we said here is what we’re funding until we hid $1 million. So the fully funded 7 and part of the 8th. And it showed Flint residents their voice and their vote mattered. We didn’t tamper with it. We didn’t mess with it. We just kind of they had said this is what you voted and here it is.

We still have a version of the floating platform up and I’m going to show you a video that showcases that a little bit and you will also see the URL so you can check it out with the password if you want to play around with it. It’s the exact version but hidden now, so it’s not public. But you will see they can pick their ideas, move the amount, the cursor, how they saw anytime. And could only give up to $250 per project. Some started at five, some of them more than that. Too much.

Carma, as a resident, do you think people had fun with this? Was it a lot? We weren’t sure if it would be overwhelming or not.

People were surprised. They had fun with it. I had a couple of people say they went, took a look at it and had to stop and go back apt another time in order to focus on it a lot better. So people appreciated that their input went so far.

Sarah Schuch:

That’s great. And, like I said, this is the first time. We didn’t know exactly if we do it again it might look different but we just thought it was important for people to say how they wanted the money to be distributed. And something else cool about that is, we say we funded seven plus projects. There are many projects on the list that didn’t make the top that we’re still looking into. It’s not like we disregarded some of those because they didn’t make the cut. So there are still a lot of projects that residents said they were going to that we are looking into.

Amy L. Hovey:

We have learned a lot. You know, we went in, really just trying to get more information, create the relationships sold that we could do better and what we’re trying to do. And I think we are doing better because of taking the time and listening and reacting to what we heard, as Sarah said. And we couldn’t fund every single idea that came in through that million dollars granting process. But we’re certainly taking that into consideration, some of those ideas as we plan for our giving this year. There are few grants that immediately the suggestion that we were able to award, you know, people love to be sheared. Share a, what are some of the things you thought we learned?

People liked the opportunity, I think.

Sarah Schuch:

I don’t know why I should be surprised by this but I was pleasantly surprised people didn’t hold back. They told us exactly what they felt. I don’t think we were surprised but it was refreshing they could open to of up to us. They share their frustrations and sometimes it may have seen their frustrations were toward us but they weren’t. They were just happening that people were listening. And there were a lot of other organizations in the community, other foundations that were also doing these sort of community conversations so we for sure were not the first. We may have been one of the last but they still appreciated being heard and then they made it clear they wanted something to happen next. So that was always in the back of our minds that something had to be done by the end of this.

Which I think takes us to the next slide of challenges; right?

If you’re going to have these conversations with people in the ways that we did and really do this comprehensive of an outreach and we want to know what you want, you have to be prepared to act. You have to think of the challenges is making sure that people feel the impact. A million dollars seems like a lot to most community residents in Flint but a million dollars doesn’t go that far when you’re stretching it over seven projects across an entire city. So I think that’s where communication comes in. I think in a pretty big way is communicating what is being done if people can’t walk out of the door and see the immediate impact of that. I think, you know, continuing the conversation is vital. To be authentic, it can’t you have the just a onetime thing and we don’t care about what you think tomorrow. No. We have to be dedicated to doing this. This is a big time commitment. It’s worth it.

I will tell people thinking about doing this, in their own foundations, I it’s definitely worth it but you have to be ready for the time commitment that it takes to do the job well.

Sarah Schuch:

I think it’s not even the time commitment to do it but we got a lot of data and a lot of information from this. Probably way more than we thought we would get. So it’s making sure so put time aside after these community conversations and engagement sessions to know, okay, we actually have to look at all of this strategically and really take the time to understand what we heard from residents. Because a lot of times, they talked about neighborhood differently that be we would have talked about neighborhood. Necessity see it as their street, across from their house, in their immediate every day kind of environment. So it’s really being able to analyze what you’re getting from this. Part of the session though really is to talk about why community engagement should not just be a one time project, that it needs to be an ongoing initiative. Carma, as a resident as well as kind of a community advocate from your perspective why is this so important for us to not stop here?

Carma Lewis:

Well, being engaged with the community is necessary in order to continue to move forward. Because the way things happened before, without community engagement you’re relying on someone else to tell our story. And they may not have all the facts. So coming straight to us, getting it straight from the horse’s mouth, is always beneficial. And I believe the cap Flint community may be ahead of the game when it comes to community engagement because of what we have dealt with from the water crises and before the water crises. People had been tired of the same old same old. So residents started to speak up and speak out. And so by the time the Mott foundation approached us they had already been talking so it was quite natural for them to share more with you because they didn’t know when the next time may come. But as long as you keep up with that community engagement, you will find that that trust gross.

Sarah Schuch:

Carma, you mentioned this to Amy and I before as we were getting ready for the session and I always like to bring it up if you don’t. But you mentioned before that you saw kind of a ripple effect, that there’s some that the momentum was kind of contagious. Can you talk a little bit about what you meant by that.

Carma Lewis:

It was the excitement. It was because people had been out there doing that work themselves with no funding or very little funding. And Mott Foundation is kind of thought of as Flint’s grandfather or father: And once they say they’re going to do something, people tend to believe it. And then other organizations kind of hop on the bandwagon in order to start focusing on whatever it is that Mott Foundation is focusing on. And they are also approaching these residents and community groups asking what with ask we do, can we help do this?

And they’re coming from outside of the county also. So that is it’s a beautiful thing.

Sarah Schuch:

Thank you, Carma. And we’re all here because we’re communications professionals. So there was a lot of communication communicating to be done during this process. I don’t think I fully realized it when I started work with the team on this but it was so important. So, yes, we’re going to listen to the residents but making sure to continue to up date the residents was very important, because they made it very clear that he didn’t want you to do listen and go away. So we could have been doing things in the background but maybe they didn’t know about it. So what feels like over communication isn’t. That’s just a very important part to think about it. If you think you’re putting too much out there, you’re not because residents want to know that you’re still working on it, that you heard them, so there’s just a lot to be done with that. I think there’s probably more we could have done but our focus on Flint.org website was very important. We made sure to keep all of our updates in one place. But we also as we went through the process, we collected anyone’s email that wanted to give it to us and we would put an email blast out to them first. So before we put anything on social or put a press release out, before we put it out to anyone else, we put it back to our residents who have been involved in the process the whole time. So that was important. But it was just I don’t think I could have realized how important it would have been in the process. So don’t discontinue that while you you’re listening but continue to talk back with them. If you want to see any of the things we have done check out folks on Flint.org . This is our updates page. You will see everything from the latest all the way down to the first update. If someone very new to the process and can see how it all started and how far it went. And this website kind of it adjusted as we went. It didn’t start off like this. We had more pages. So feel free to see mark’s post. How were residents wanting to digest the updates and how to hear from you. So don’t underestimate your role in this, though we’re saying listen to the residents. Make sure communication is in there every step of the way as well.

Sarah Schuch:

Now, I think we’re going to take some questions.

Sean Gibbons:

And we have a number of them. Let’s get to it. And folks you can put your questions in the Q&A box which is adjacent to the chat and then you can also vote for questions. That’s what I’m going to use to guide what we get to I think we have seven right now. First one comes from our friend Susan Kirkpatrick who asks was there a particular situation or community issue that spurred all of this work to begin with?

What made y’all start taking this step forward?

Sarah Schuch:

Amy, I will start and if you want to chime in, I would love Amy chime in because I came in halfway through the process. But I do know a big part of it was seeing how everyone else was talking about Flint. We had national news and state news all talking about the Flint water crises and what that was like. And we wanted them to have a chance to tell it too so ridgeway was up spired by another program out of Canada and it inspired him to say we can do this in Flint too and own able residents to tell their story.

Amy L. Hovey:

That’s basically it. I think that the we have a change leadership at the foundation and we had a relatively new president when we got his legs under him really wanted to talk to the community, really wants to have those one on one conversations. I mean I think he would do it all himself if he could. Obviously he can’t. And he is using this team to make that happen. So it was really, you know, a mission from our leader to make this happen, and it was just very smart of him.

Sean Gibbons:

A related follow up. Were there any you just mentioned a source in Canada but were there any other organizations that you looked to as guides? It reminds me of the Brooklyn’s workshop where they wanted to ensure the residents were involved in the giving of funds?

Were there any folks that you looked to or talked to?

Amy L. Hovey:

Do you want me to say it in.

Sarah Schuch:

Go for it.

Amy L. Hovey:

We were lucky. One of our colleagues was a part of a Foundation group about doing community engagement, which I believe was led by the afford foundation. I believe so. She was pretty intimately involved with that group and their learning and learning from them so we were able to kind of take what the best practices were, learn from that group that was super helpful to us. I know that popped up as a question as well. Our community foundation in Flint does a lot of community engagement. And so they were a part of our team of advisers to help us figure out the best way to get it done.

Sean Gibbons:

Sarah, anything to add?

Sarah Schuch:

I think she got it.

Sean Gibbons:

Jessica asks, were residents compensated in any way for their time?

Sarah Schuch:

They are weren’t. You know, we went back and forth. And it was just they were excited to talk to us more than we thought to be honest. We did make sure there was a dinner and we always asked the co host dinner or snacks or whatever it might be. But we definitely had the conversation and we weren’t against that. We had some great groups of residents that were excited to talk to us but we did always make sure there was a meal or a snack, something 20 make it worth their time to come to us and something cool with that as we always reach out and said, who to you like?

Is there a local neighborhood restaurant that you would like to support?

So we obviously covered all of that. But for these rounds they were not compensated.

Carma Lewis:

Compensation was not necessary. When we’re talking about improving our quality of life, we can wait until that happens for our compensation. So as far as a gift card I mean thanks for feeding us, but we’re looking forward to the improvement.

Sean Gibbons:

That’s a question maybe we can go a little deeper there. There’s been conversations within our field in the sector about this idea, is it ethical to ask people to give you their time if you are not compensating them. But your immediate kind of answer is, no, talk to me a little bit about that. If you don’t mind.

Carma Lewis:

I’m not sure about our communities but here in our community, we have had people out there doing the work themselves in order to try to maintain properties that are owned by the government. They’re trying to make sure trash is picked up, up and down the street. They’re trying to make sure that our neighborhood is well lit and a lot of people are doing that on their own. So when another group or Foundation comes in and says, hey, we would like to help you, talk to us, let us know what you need, we’re going to start running our mouth.

So we’re not I’m not personally, I won’t even ask what is in this for me, because I’m thinking what is in it for me is no not to have to go out there and cut all of that grass.

Sean Gibbons:

Good sense. And I know the folks closest to the challenges are the opportunity sometimes are the folks you need to be talking to so it’s kind for you to make the time for over. Question: What percent of the foundation’s giving is one million. Is this in addition to the annual giving or is this part of an annual giving.

Amy L. Hovey:

Over all it’s a very small percentage of our giving because we don’t just give to Flint. We do international giving at the Mott foundation. But it was in addition to our budget for the Flint giving. So we did not take that out of money that we would typically give to Flint. It was in addition to what we typically give to Flint or what was budgeted to give to Flint.

Sarah Schuch:

That’s a good point Amy and yes, I was going to make illegitimate it. I didn’t take away from any of the grant making that was already being done in Flint and there’s even some grants that we have done recently that were right along with the residents telling us what they want to have happen. And we said this is in addition from the one million and didn’t take away from the normal grant making so it was definitely a special initiative that we wanted to see how residents would say where that money should go.

Amy L. Hovey:

And I think that’s important, Sean. Because you don’t want your current grantees to feel threatened by the community given instead of being welcomed. That’s easy to happen. Your current grantees are your voice typically what for what needs to be con in the community to increase that quality of life. Because we were doing something new and different, we really did not want people to feel like oh, well, we don’t think our grantees are telling us the right thing or they’re going to lose money based on what the community tells us they want. We really wanted it to feel like something added, something in addition to.

Sean Gibbons:

And I will take the privilege of a question because I know we have about 10 minutes left and we will get to as many as we can. But the audience here is mostly folks doing communications work. What skills did you have to bring in or what things did you have to learn?

It’s possible you may not have been so good as one thing or another, whether it’s building a new website or hosting events. These are difficult tasks. They sit in communication departments. I know Catherine Thomas is a pro’s pro and comes with that background from the woods Johnson coaching tree and there for many years. What did you and Sarah and the rest of the team dos the work what did you have to learn or what could you lien on that you had already worked on to do what you were called to do here.

Sarah Schuch:

There was a lot of stuff we had to bring in the mix and some of it was like all of a sudden we need this. And to be honest, when Weaver talking about implicit biases and those things that we learned, it wasn’t naturally our key thing to think oh, we’re creating this and we need to make sure that we have a translated version. So that was kind of you know we had specific because we have our Latinx community center that is a grantee and we work would them on a regular basis, but we might have more of a Spanish speaking community outside of that community center so it was really just making sure when we created one piece of information that we’re creating multiple versions of that so we’re reaching more of our community. And we built a micro site. So Macy on our team works with another team and it was fascinating as a communication person who I had no idea of the work and time that goes into creating that new micro site and the voting platform so that’s kind of a bit of advice. Give yourself extra time. Because if you want to get something up quickly, it may or may not happen so that was kind of something that we had to retrain ourselves. I couldn’t personally speak to how long it would take to put something on the new site, so we had to make sure and gave us plenty of time or just dial back our expectations for how quickly. As communication professionals you’re let me write this email piece or update this text or share photos but there’s a lot more moving pieces when you’re trying to make sure you’re translating everything into especially, that you are making it available not just online but in person and maybe some fliers and getting it to community centers. So I think that was the biggest thing for me was just trying to figure out, do we have a version of this and a way that will reach every part of our community?

And we had community members said that we get a lot of our information from a specific TV station, so we needed to make sure watching it in the morning so they may not be reading it. So just hearing how they get their information. And we did ask that information on the survey so we knew if we wanted to reach the community, how do we do that?

So it’s just that sort of mind set and making sure that you have multiple versions of what you’re sharing back.

Sean Gibbons:

Carma, we will put you on the spot. How did they do?

How were the communications coming out of our friends from Mott.

They did great and even shared the information in our community newspaper, it was all over social media. We had fliers, information that different locations. They hit it out of the park.

Sean Gibbons:

Can I ask a question I’m just having fun here but did they speak philanthropist or English.

Carma Lewis:

They did a lot of talking and a lot of listening. A lot of listening. I’m not sure who helped them out, that language part?

Because I was expecting it to be a little difficult but it wasn’t.

Sean Gibbons:

We sometimes use the $75 words. I can’t imagine KT let that happen in her shop but we love us some jargon.

Sarah Schuch:

You make a good point. When we had the publication a lot of work went into making sure that we were paying attention to the literacy rates in our community. And we still were trying to balance that line of is this accessible to a lot of people without feeling like we’re talking down to them. So that is important as communicators that you’re authentic in what you’re saying in a way that can reach more people but we’re still we still don’t know if we reached that with the publication. May we will do less words, more graphics, but you want to make sure that you’re reaching the community and paying attention to literacy rates and bigger words that you might be using that brew didn’t think of anything of. So it’s important to bring community members in for that as well and read what you’re putting out there to make sure it is accessible.

Carma Lewis:

I think the biggest problem was by the focus on Flint coming through the mail, some people even admitted they just kind of tossed it to the side as though it was junk mail. So that was one of the issues that I noticed. But once we actually explained what it was they went back and grabbed it.

Sean Gibbons:

Couple more questions. Allison asks did you feel it was important to for you to signal you were foundation was personally changed be I your listening?

I’m sure this is the first time Mott went out and listened but how has ridgeway been transformed by this?

Amy L. Hovey:

I think the proof is in the pudding, Sean. It’s not about what happened yet but what happens tomorrow. I think we will know we feel changed, certainly, and I feel like we are dedicated to this changed approach in some of our grant making. But we have to make that happen. I think the community, while we worked so hard to build that trust and understanding with them we have to continue to do this. I think ridgeway and our entire team have a better understanding of what is really important to the community residents in flipped. And we have a better sense of the importance of having that one on one relationship and are really dedicated to seeing that happen.

Sarah Schuch:

I would agree with Amy. We still have a lot of work to do. You saw on the slides we reach 400 people. So to say our foundation has changed is probably premature but it changes our mindset I think and how we want to approach it. And I think it just reminds us how important it is to listen. So to say we’re a changed foundation is probably a little too far but I know we are working toward that to know why this type of engagement is so important and it just kind of changes how we think about our grant making and communications.

Sean Gibbons:

This won’t surprise you to hear. But you did this. Can I borrow some?

Lisa has a question like that and asked could we see the form for input use at the community conversations and the survey?

I think Sarah you had mentioned that you might do the vote for specific projects differently. What would you change?

If it’s easier to answer offline, can Lisa shoot you on email or give you a phone call or tweet at you or any other number of things to get the answers. Share what you’re learning.

Sarah Schuch:

Absolutely. Feel free to shoot me an email.

Sean Gibbons:

Lisa if you don’t mind make sure you get in touch. Susan asked how did you engage your board to gain their support for this initiative? How did that happen?

Sarah Schuch:

I don’t think we needed to convince them. I think that is but we kept them up to date and what we were planning and it was great actually when we were working on our publication before we sent it out. We did show them a graft and they were very engaged. They were excited about what we were doing. They had some very thoughtful feedback. I think that’s the benefit and the importance of having an engaged board is they did take time to read it and look through it and give us their feedback and it did help us rethink some things before we mailed out the final draft. So Amy correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think we had to convince them but it was more or less they were working alongside us because they were engaged in the process.

Amy L. Hovey:

We have a really good set of leaders at the Mott foundation. We do. And they were excited about this work. And they also knew the potential pitfalls of doing this work so they were dedicated as we were to making sure that we did it right and that we were actually going to listen and react to what we heard. And I think that was the most important thing had to them as well and they conveyed that in us and their trust in us to do that. As Sarah said, we did not have to convince them. But they were a little concerned as we were that we do it, right, that we and then do something with what we heard.

Sean Gibbons:

A quick follow up is our question from Amy who asks: Will this change the way you all operate on the program side and Com side in the future?

Is this going to be a place you will look to as a place of learning and growth.

Sarah Schuch:

I can speak from the communications side and, yes, absolutely. Not that we weren’t authentic before but I think it really just of just teaches to us thinking about not just what we’re saying but how we’re saying it. As Carma mentioned before, so we’re not that ivory tower in downtown Flint, right, but we’re trying to really understand the residents and where they’re coming from and we’re talking to them like they’re important and this is their community and they’re involved. It’s not us making decisions and letting them know about it. It’s us taking them along the process with us. So from a communications standpoint it taught me a lot of things about creating that are very inclusive.

Amy L. Hovey:

I think that is right. I think from had a program side, I realize how valuable those relationships really are, to be on the ground, to be open, so that people see us on the streets and if they’re not seeing us, they feel free to call us. And we have had community residents call and say can you meet me for lunch. I want to talk to you about something happening in my neighborhood and typically we wouldn’t have those types of relationships so it definitely has changed us and I’m very hopeful that we’re going to continue to build those relationships and sustain them in the Flint community and reach more people. In 2021 hopefully when we get back on the ground when we’re not doing so much virtually.

Sean Gibbons:

Carma what is your take away or are you taking away? I realize it’s not done yet.

Carma Lewis:

With me I may be a little different. But I see it as it’s changed the community already. And we’re looking forward to the next time. Because the next time you’re definitely going to have more people speaking up and sharing. And I like the fact that I could walk through dune town, see somebody from my foundation, throw my hand up and they’re waving back. So we’re all we’re really all in this together now.

Sean Gibbons:

It is amazing what a little bit of trust and kindness can do. With that thank you. We’re now over time and want to be respectful and other people have things to get to and you, Amy, Sarah and Carma have been kind to share your time. We’re grateful. And on behalf of everybody with us thank you. We will have a recording available up online fairly soon so you can share that. And I suspect are you all open to it? Do you mind if people reach out and ask a few questions if they have them?

Sarah Schuch:

Not at all.

Amy L. Hovey:

Absolutely.

Sean Gibbons:

Thank you very much. I have a couple quick things to remind you if you were late to join us. If you will slow up the slides I want to remind you we will be back next we. Jessie Salazar will be in conversation with Evan wolf soon. It is not hyperbole to say he changed America. He was principally responsible for using research to reshape the way the fight or the conversation of the movement towards marriage quality occurred. Deep, interesting ways of pursuing all of that research and he’s going to talk with Jessie Salazar a week from today. And later on Dr. Clarence B. Jones who hope to bring the dream speech.

And Carma, if would you like to join us for this you’re more than welcome, he is going to reflect on what we have all been learning across the span of this year which I have has been a difficult year for so many different reasons but we’re going to talk about that as well as the vote and what is up ahead and how people can exercise their voice and use their power. And that’s Henry Olden leading that conversation, October 29th, and still more to come. Really exciting stuff between now and December. Hope you are well. Stay well. We will see you soon. And thank you very much for making the time. All of you and Amy and Sarah and Marva as well.

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