Structuring Engagement: The 5 Stages of Community Life

As we began to work with our clients utilizing Yankelovich’s “Learning Curve”, Rich Harwood released another analytical framework titled “The 5 Stages of Community Life“, which we have juxtaposed with the Learning Curve in the image above.

In the first stage of the Harwood framework, called “The Waiting Place”, people feel disconnected and community discussions are infrequent and divisive.  In this stage the community has neither the skills nor the interest to engage in productive dialogue.  In the “Impasse” stage, people feel an urgent need to address problems but the old patterns of interaction inhibit collaboration.  This would represent a point in the Learning Curve, where consciousness has been raised, but the public does not have the skills to navigate the barriers identified on the curve.  In the “Catalytic” stage, people begin to take risks and collaborate in new and inventive ways.  This would reflect growth in the pragmatic thinking skills that Yankelovich identified.  In the “Growth” stage, a general civic spirit is emerging while capacities to cooperate and solve problems expand.  This is the stage where deliberative dialogue may begin to be productively used. Finally, in the “Sustain/Renew” stage, the civic spirit is strong and people believe they can tackle and resolve difficult issues.  In this stage, pragmatic thinking and collaborative skills are  deeply embedded in the community’s culture and unproductive conflict is minimized.  Note that communities don’t necessarily move in a linear fashion, and progress along the 5 stages continuum may be forwards or backwards.  Also different communities within the broader community may be at different stages.

As you consider these 5 stages of community life, ask yourself where your community (or each community within the community) fits in.  Is the community moving into a more cooperative stage of life or are they regressing into impasse or worse?  If they are regressing, why might this be happening?  Are there certain groups or people responsible for either creating conflict or promoting collaboration in the community?  Who and how? If your community is advancing to more cooperative stages, what steps have been taken that have led the community into dialogue?  What can you do to build on that foundation and encourage your community to continue to build and use the skills needed to work through difficult issues?

Next week we will discuss our own addition to the above illustration — the ways of working toward resolution.

One response to “Structuring Engagement: The 5 Stages of Community Life

  1. Pingback: Collaboration and Coordination | The Blog for Building Dialogue

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