A person’s zip code can better predict how long they will live or what health challenges they will face than their genetic code. To people living in 80205 in Denver, that didn’t seem fair. But to see why, all one would have to do is take a fifteen-minute drive to see where children had opportunities to thrive throughout the city of Denver. East5ide Unified|Unido came together to “to ensure all children in East Denver neighborhoods are valued, healthy and thriving by removing health disparities by the time they enter school.” The Civic Canopy has been a core partner since EU’s inception in 2015. The Canopy acted as a community incubator, providing project design, facilitation and coordination as the coalition developed its shared vision and ways of working together.
A guiding value for EU since the very beginning is to be willing to “turn everything upside down” by committing to the time and effort needed to build genuine trust and respect for the views and perspective of community residents in partnership with community organizations. The Canopy brought in best practices and tools for EU members to use to clarify shared values, surface tensions and fully understand different points of view. We approached this as a commitment to building relationships and a culture for working together rather than a onetime activity or experience and tapped into community assets to foster dialogue and connection.
Strategies for high-quality conversations that have been used over the past several years include:
- using visual and tactile arts to share voices and stories, from playing the Brain Architecture Game to creating the Song of 80205 to developing an interactive EU storyboard
- capturing community conversations real-time using visual recording
- using gallery walks and world café formats so every individual has the opportunity and a variety of ways to contribute
- hosting a retreat once or twice a year as a time to slow down, build relationships and connect
Additionally, the EU has intentionally hosted a shared meal before meetings as an opportunity to connect with each other, designed purely social connection activities like attending a community cultural event together, and supported smaller group coffee connections. Annually, the EU assesses how it is doing in terms of building trust, respect, and engagement across community residents and organization partners by using an adapted version of the Collaborative Process Survey. The EU Council discusses the survey results to see what strategies might help meet future goals around community cohesion and trust.