I attended the Coalition for a Livable Future’s annual Equity Summit. It was quite an interesting day with 300 of Portland’s incredibly engaged and thoughtful changemakers who came together to focus on regional equity.
Before I go onto the details, I want to share my (difficult) conclusion about the event. Note: I deeply, deeply respect and appreciate CLF’s work and role in this region, and I share the following as a larger picture reflection on coalitions in general. My basic conclusion is that a lot of amazing people came together for the day, but that their insights and skills were not effectively accessed. That, I think, is the often-unmet challenge of coalitions… it sounds great to all get together, but how do you build meaningful links of knowledge and action?
The goal of the Summit was to create the agenda for CLF’s work, and as such we broke up into issues areas in order to convene the leading thinkers/do-ers on each subject. I went to the Affordable Housing group, since I don’t know much about the housing scene and thought this would be a good way to hear what’s up!
While it was exciting to sit in a circle with 40 people engaged in many aspects of housing (and key institutions/ organizations), the format did not allow for deep conversation. In the first hour-long session we brainstormed ideas, and in the second session we voted on them. What was missing was the space to delve into the ideas, find out the current context, flesh out what has already been tried, what has worked or not worked, and build from woven-together knowledge. In other words, collective knowledge did not get accessed, and instead, we all simply voted without necessarily understanding the ideas. Then, we presented to the whole summit our three highest-ranked ideas as our proposal for CLF's agenda on housing.
I admire the intent of the day, and do think it is absolutely necessary to connect all of these key people in creating our regional priorities. I also recognize that it is a feat to bring together all of those busy people for a whole day, and that asking for more time wouldn’t be feasible… but, I wonder what other formats might be used. Or, maybe more people should get involved in the ongoing committees of CLF and engage more deeply…. hmmm, more questions.
One moment I very much appreciated: when the whole room was invited to stretch out into each cardinal direction, honoring the reaches of the places and concepts that we were weaving together (see photo on left, people reaching East).