Housing Group to Engage People in Small-Group Settings To Start A Conversation
The Woodbridge Housing Committee is planning a series of small community gatherings with the goal of feeding into a larger conversation about housing opportunities – or the lack thereof. Through SCROG, the South Central Regional Council of Governments, the committee has engaged a consultant, Ben Fink, who will coach them to lead these gatherings.
Fink’s method of engaging people and coaxing them into actual conversations around divisive topics is to engage participants to share their experiences before they are invited to share opinions. “You want to make a space for people to be able to share where people know they’re not going to be interrupted, they will be honored,” he told the committee in a virtual meeting on February 15. The intention is to create a safe space, with as close as possible to perfect equality. Everybody in the room must be willing to share, but at the same time everybody will be heard.
“You bring people in, not based on their belief, but based on their commitment to the place where they live,” he said, adding what a participant in Oxford had said to him recently in a similar exchange, “You can disagree with someone's opinions, but you can’t disagree with their experience.”
The first group to be invited into this conversation will be comprised of conservation groups – the Conservation Commission, Land Trust and the Park Association. Subsequent groups may include senior citizens; churches; the Rotary; commissions, small neighborhood groups, the historical society, and others.
The stories people share should be in response to a prompt and should be personal in nature. Example: “Tell a story about a moment when you or someone you care about struggled to make a home.” Not surprisingly, that prompt did not resonate with the folks in the meeting, who could not think of a story to share.
Fink’s method for a successful conversation is to share experiences, then present information and finally, discuss next steps. He said the sharing of personal experiences could be following a more formal “story circle” or allow for a more informal format.
The goal is to make people feel comfortable talking to each other about challenging topics that will eventually include housing.