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5 Takeaways from the Community Heart & Soul® Field Guide

Community-Heart-Soul Guide

Developed by the Orton Family Foundation, Community Heart & Soul brings people together to build stronger, healthier, and more vibrant communities. The method focuses on actively seeking the collective wisdom of all residents, including those whose voices are often not heard.

Community Heart & Soul works because the community works together to make it happen. The process depends upon teamwork, community involvement, and energy from within the community. The plans created and actions taken as a result of Heart & Soul® lead to positive change based on what matters most to everyone. The Community Heart & Soul Field Guide, and the resources that accompany it, provide useful information on forming a team, encouraging community volunteerism, getting the word out and engaging everyone.

Here are a few key takeaways from the Community Heart & Soul Field Guide (available as a free download).  

  1. Three Principles: Community Heart & Soul is based on three foundational principles: Involve Everyone, Focus on What Matters, and Play the Long Game. These principles emphasize the value of local knowledge, the significance of attachment to place, and the importance of long-term success.
  2. Community Heart & Soul, Step by Step: Orton field tested Community Heart & Soul over a decade and developed a roadmap for the method that isspelled out in the Heart & Soul method wheel. The wheel illustrates the four phases of Heart & Soul, beginning with Phase 1: Lay the Groundwork, and ending with Phase 4: Take Action.
  3. Community Network Analysis: Gaining a deep understanding of a community’s people, groups and organizations to see how everyone is connected, is the method’s lynchpin. Communities use the Community Network Analysis tool to understand the layers of connections between organizations like the Rotary or faith-based groups or demographic groups such as youth or parents with school-age children. The analysis also highlights missing voices for inclusion in the process. Check out the Community Network Analysis Tool Resource Guide for step-by-step information on creating a Community Network Analysis.
  4. Stories: Gathering, listening to, and sharing stories are the building blocks of engagement in Community Heart & Soul.  Collected stories provide qualitative data about what residents care about in their community and what makes them proud.  In addition to providing data, the process of gathering and sharing stories strengthens the fabric of the community by bringing people together in conversations about what they love about where they live and what they’d like to change.
  5. Heart & Soul Statements: Understanding the networks of  people through Community Network Analysis and gathering their input and stories leads to the creation of a set of statements for the community—Heart & Soul Statements. These become a guide for the next steps in the method, making plans and taking action.  The statements reflect the shared values of the community, for example: “We value the beauty of our landscape and the many opportunities we have for outdoor recreation in our parks.”  The statements become a reference point for a myriad of purposes including creating comprehensive or master plans, setting budget priorities,  development review,  and updating zoning regulations.

The Community Heart & Soul Field Guide is a practical “how to” for boosting participation and creating plans that lead to action. Perhaps the biggest take away is that Heart & Soul is a resident-driven method that is inclusive, sustainable and rooted in what matters most to all residents. 

To learn how local leaders like Jim Bennett, city manager, Biddeford, Maine, and past ICMA president; Mike Bestor, former city manager, Golden, Colorado, and ICMA member; and Kirsten Sackett, community development director, Ellensburg, Washington; put Heart & Soul into action in their communities, attend the free conference call: Heart & Soul Talks: Strengthen Your Community through Engagement, on Thursday, January 26, 2017, 3-4 p.m., ET, hosted by ICMA Partner, the Orton Family Foundation. You’ll hear how each local leader went beyond a "check the box" approach to engagement, working with residents to create ambitious plans that have led to dramatic and lasting results in their towns.