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Centering community means reimagining our usual approach

Too often, traditional community engagement methods — like surveys, focus groups, formal convenings, and panels with community representation — focus on identifying weak spots and finding solutions to make programs work better. But these efforts rarely see the full picture. They typically result in:

  • Getting input or hiring staff from the community, but not sharing decision-making power
  • Extracting information, data, or resources without compensation
  • Limiting community solutions by under-resourcing them
  • Failing to recognize the strengths and assets that exist within communities

We must authentically engage with and recognize the assets community members bring

Wellbeing is about being whole, and to be whole, you have to be seen and heard and included. By truly centering community, the people most impacted by the issues will drive the conversation about needs, solutions, and how change happens from the beginning.

For too long, communities have endured harms at the hands of government systems, philanthropy and nonprofits. Even institutions claiming to value community input can be extractive, disrespectful and tokenizing. It’s time to shift the paradigm by holding our systems accountable and guiding authentic community engagement.

Watch the short video below where LaRae Cantley, former Senior Manager of Community & Wellbeing, explains why it’s time to move beyond community engagement methods such as surveys and focus groups to shift power by co-designing solutions alongside the community.

The Community Bill of Rights

What would it look like for government systems, philanthropy and nonprofits to meaningfully and responsibly engage with community? Community leaders across nine states developed the Community Bill of Rights — a starting point for centering community, shifting power and healing systemic harms.

Read the Community Bill of Rights and watch this video of the co-authors introducing it:

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How you can center community to create long-lasting change

Driving change that will last requires centering community. But what does that mean? What does it look like when done well? What are some of the common mistakes systems and organizations make trying to engage and center community?