Pomegranate Center

Alas, Pomegranate Center, the nonprofit, has moved to the great beyond. Pomegranate Associates, LLC will carry on the work. Read more

Fellows in the Field: Denise Bijoux

by Denis Bijoux

January 9, 2015

I have just had the pleasure of attending a two day Fellows training session run by self-confessed ‘recovering artist’ Milenko Matanovič, founder of the US-based Pomegranate Center. It has been an inspiring experience!

The training was organised by Beacon Pathway because, like the Pomegranate Center, we believe that working with people at a community level is key for change and development to be relevant, useful and positive. Inviting Milenko to come and share his experience was our effort to offer opportunities for people to find out more, see successes that are directly relevant to the built environment and begin to work differently. Over three weeks, nearly 100 people in Christchurch and Auckland were able to share Milenko’s insights and tools.

So what did they learn?

The skills of what Milenko calls fierce facilitation for community engagement (as opposed to community recruitment). Milenko says “In a world of many agendas, ideologies and approaches, a facilitator’s work is to ensure that different insights contribute to, rather than extinguish, each other. Every community needs dedicated and fierce facilitators to uphold the standards of conversation that enable a collaborative culture capable of multiple victories, solutions that meet many different goals at the same time.”

Milenko offered practical tools, processes, and approaches to work with communities in ways that create healthy conditions for collective creativity. Prior to engaging with a community, the project has to be ready to go. That means that a lot of homework has to already be done; to ensure whatever is proposed can be created. This is usually done with a small steering group.

The first community meeting needs to invite as many of the local community as possible, including potential detractors. He suggests a set of ground rules to understand roles and responsibilities, keep the project on track, and prevent any one group or person derailing the process. http://pomegranatecenter.org/ground-rules/

Facilitating community collaboration takes courage, says Milenko, but there are some simple ways to start:

  1. Clarify your image of the future: Taking charge of the future means articulating a vision of how we believe it ought to be. How can your community work better? Discard the ideas that serve neither you nor your community. This will give you a new sense of purpose and direction.
  2. Walk the tightrope between the possible and the real. When you walk in balance, you are both focused on a task AND open to new ideas and approaches.
  3. Generate some passion for someone else’s passion: Taking the time to study what it’s like to stand in someone else’s shoes brings valuable new perspectives.
  4. Pledge allegiance to your community of place first, your community of interest second: Geography defines community of place. Our future depends on finding ways to collaborate with people who have divergent viewpoints.
  5. Invite “them” to your meeting: Cultivate the ability to value the ideas of the diverse people around you. This is the foundation of a healthy community.
  6. Support a cause that doesn’t benefit you or yours: Some of the most interesting, important discoveries can happen in the spaces between interests, disciplines and ideologies
  7. Consider YOUR OWN internal contradictions first — don’t play the blame game: We can’t come up with solutions by waiting for others to change THEIR behavior — especially when OUR behavior also part of the problem. Let’s assume we’ve all had a hand in creating the problem; now let’s join together to come up with a solution.
  8. Be a mentor for those who are less involved in community
  9. Have opponents, not enemies: Invite yourself to their meetings and invite them to yours. This simple practice builds bridges for a more productive and positive future.
  10. Promote the architecture of encounter: Public places can be fascinating classrooms that teach us how to be neighbours. Knowing our neighbours helps us to imagine the future together and it sets the stage for making it into reality.

Pomegranate Center primarily uses this method to create gathering places and, very quickly after the initial community meetings, professionals develop the ideas into a proposal that is refined by local people. Opportunities for some early successes are then created and the main project is completed within 3-4 months, often with many volunteers involved.

Feedback from the tour and two Fellows Trainings has been phenomenal so far, with participants readily adapting the method to a diverse range of situations:

“Milenko’s workshop has been one of the best I’ve had the opportunity to be part of. I’ve really enjoyed his approach – explaining how we come to be involved in this work, the learnings he’s got from other thinkers and writers, and the experience with the Pomegranate Center. The practical tools and opportunities during the workshop to try them out have been really fantastic. The importance of certainty, parameters, and ways of truly giving people a voice-Through assertive facilitation based ground rules is refreshing. Energising!!”

“Thank you for this excellent workshop. Full of very practical information I will take away and use in many facets of community work and development, In particular the tools of being a facilitator, and absolute need for clarity and brevity. All delivered in an engaging, enjoyable, real, interesting way. Best workshop I’ve done – FULL STOP!”

“Fabulous and inspiring process and ideas to engage communities – coupled with practical tools – and delivered in wonderful humour”

“An amazing two days, so much information and all of it is practical. I am looking forward to using this on my next project”

“Essential, useful information that will increase the likelihood of successful community participation in developing and activating a community project.”

Pomegranate Center’s process of community engagement and collaboration certainly resonated with participants. Now the trick is how we can support these fierce facilitators to practice, adapt and grow these skills, and share them with others. More on that soon.