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Turn a Spark Into a Flame

The first steps to turn an initial idea into a real project

By Katya Matanovic

I am surrounded by people with good ideas. Perhaps it’s living in Seattle, a hub for nonprofits and foundations; or maybe it’s being of the Xennial generation (it’s really a thing); or it could be the speed and access to information every minute of every day. I’m not sure what it is. But a lot of my casual conversations with friends eventually meander to “I’ve got this idea…”

When the ideas are about their neighborhood or getting people together, I pay special attention because, well, it’s my job. Sometimes the ideas are big and loose and abstract – “I’ve been thinking about a connection between food and talking about racism,” – and sometimes the ideas are much more digested.

The Initial Spark

In the Pomegranate Method, we call this first tentative step into community work the Initial Spark. No project happens without it. Someone, somewhere has an idea that something needs to happen. If you are that person, we have some suggestions for how to make those first steps toward community work easier and the project better in the long run.

  1. Find your people. An idea is precious and vulnerable at the early stage. Find people who will help protect it and help you strengthen it by asking good questions.
  2. Get crystal clear with yourself about the “whats and whys” of your idea. At this stage, you don’t need to know what the final thing will look like; you need to be really clear about the intent of the project. Here are some important questions to answer at the beginning of a project:
    • What is your idea?
    • What is the history of this idea?
    • Why is this important?
    • Has this been tried? Here? Elsewhere? How did it go? What worked? What didn’t?
    • What are your project goals?
  3. Decide if this is a solo journey or community journey. Is this a project for the community, or with the community. Both are perfectly fine. But it is essential that you are clear, since from this point on, the paths diverge. So, ask yourself:
    • Is this really a community project? Or is this something I want to do on my own?
    • What is the value of engaging the broader community in this idea?
    • Are we ready to let the community guide and help create the end result?
  4. Remember there are so many – hundreds – of ways to do it right. And, isn’t that a relief? You don’t have to know everything from the outset. In fact, you shouldn’t.

When we invite others into our work, they bring ideas and solutions that we never thought of, that change how we look at it, that make it better. Community work needs flexibility of adapting to what others will bring. We don’t know who will show up, what they will need, and how the project will grow.

Holding the space for all the possibilities is one of the greatest gifts you can give a project. Eventually, you’ll need to get specific. But at the beginning, to make it a true community project, you get to hold a space for everyone to shape it and mold it and define it.

So go forth! Get those ideas out of your head and into conversations and the community. We are ready!