Carly Cortright, Director, Community Programs, 509.755.2489
Monday, May 17, 2021 at 3:06 p.m.
“You don’t have to move to live in a better neighborhood.”
These words are a call to action for the 29 independent neighborhood councils in the City of Spokane that strive to make their neighborhoods safer and cleaner through volunteer leadership. Each of the neighborhoods has their own set of by-laws and leadership structure, and many are registered as non-profits. Each neighborhood council also sends a representative to the Community Assembly, a coalition of the neighborhoods that serves as a forum for discussion of issues affecting Spokane residents. The Community Assembly’s core purpose is to empower participation in local government.
The question is, what’s the best way to develop effective neighborhood leaders?
Many people become involved with their neighborhood councils in response to a problem they want addressed – traffic issues, fear of crime, and neighborhood disarray are frequently cited. They might not have experience in lobbying for change or if elected to a leadership position, may not have experience in how to effectively run a meeting and solicit feedback from other stakeholders. This may then lead to frustration with City response because government regulations can be confusing and cumbersome or involve lengthy timelines. Lack of understanding the process many times contributes to lack of trust that concerns have been heard and are being resolved.
Community engagement is a critical component of government, and City Council supports leadership development to empower neighborhood councils to effectively and efficiently work with the City to solve problems. Council took action by funding a pilot program with Gonzaga University School of Leadership Studies. The program will conduct a needs assessment and develop a training program to for neighborhood council volunteers. Gonzaga’s School of Leadership Studies is known worldwide for their undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral leadership program, and their Design Thinking certificate program focuses on authentic community engagement and developing empathetic problem-solving approaches.
Gonzaga is using its Design Thinking approach to conduct a community needs assessment with the goal of developing a customized leadership training program for neighborhood councils. To get things started, the Gonzaga project team is conducting one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and surveys with community members. One of the priorities is to engage both those actively engaged with the neighborhood council system and those that are not. This data will help determine the resources civic leaders currently have to develop as leaders and what skills are needed to increase effectiveness. Additionally, the project team is exploring barriers to participation; exposure to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and assessing the level of knowledge of city government processes.
This community outreach will continue through May with a report of findings finalized by the end of summer. The next step in the process will be applying that feedback to develop the training program. Gonzaga intends to have the training program completed by the end of 2021 and ready pilot with one or two City neighborhood councils. This year’s pilot will guide the program and allow for necessary changes before full deployment to all 29 councils and the Community Assembly. Initial feedback has been positive and volunteers are excited for the opportunity.
This pilot program is a powerful example of how a partnership between public and private organizations can strengthen the heartbeat of Spokane, our neighborhoods.