In my experience, the atmosphere and the energy radiated at the airport is always one of excitement. As I write this blogpost, a family of three just excitedly walked past me, suitcases rolling behind them, travel pillows attached to the matching backpacks they collectively wore. In contrast, moments after, a man ran by, frantically looking for his gate.
For the past few months, I’ve been traveling to the Comox Valley on a regular basis for either partner events or community meetings. Through these conversations, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the community and priorities among individuals & organizations. One of the largest lessons I’ve learned throughout this process is the importance of conducting community exploration in-person. If you’re looking to fund projects in a community you’re not a part of, go visit. Go to the local coffee shop and ask the barista about their experience living there, visit the head office of a local non-profit and ask what they would do if they had a magic wand that could solve any issues they face. Will it be awkward starting a conversation with people you don’t know? Most likely! But embrace the experience, and listen to the information being shared.
You may wonder, why should I go in-person when I can just have remote meetings? It’s easier, quicker and cheaper. Well you aren’t wrong. There’s a lot of logistics involved when traveling for community explorations. There’s also a lot of trial and error. BUT! In my experience, the information you get from in-person meetings is so much deeper than a remote meeting. To me at least, in-person meetings feel more human. You get to catch cues you might have missed online, and you also get to build a relationship with the person you’re speaking to.
I also recognize that planning these trips include a lot of logistical support and financial resources. If your organization is in the position to conduct in-person visits for community exploration, I highly recommend the experience. The information you can learn from physically visiting and exploring the space holds incredible value. However, if you do this trip, make sure you talk to people. Spark up a casual conversation, it doesn’t even have to be on the topic you’re exploring, but just see what their experience has been in general living in the area. I know for myself, sparking up conversations with strangers seemed strange, especially in a “post-pandemic” world where we just spent the past few years social distancing and maintaining our small social circles. I’ll be honest, it took some time and cliche conversation starters, For example, “this is great weather we’re having today, isn’t it?”. But speaking to people outside of the key stakeholder list you originally created is important if you’re looking to obtain a wide perspective on the context of the community.
Still unsure of the value of in-person community exploration? Keep an eye out for lesson 10, which will discuss how having a gyro at lunch, resulted in a $40,000 donation.
Please get in touch with us to share any of your experiences conducting community exploration!
All my best,