Activating Social Investigation

The Obama Foundation

How can community activists and leaders deepen their empathy of communities to create more meaningful connection?

The Obama Foundation hosted its first Chicago Community Conversation, organized in collaboration with UIC, bringing together over 300 local grassroots leaders to discuss the role of citizens in creating stronger communities.

LimeRed co-facilitated a workshop at the event with UIC’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement. As a result of this workshop, attendees were equipped with methods to inspire and facilitate participatory civic action. They were also provided with tools to deepen their empathy of communities beyond their own so they can create more meaningful and relevant dialogue and impact.

Understanding the Challenge

Addressing diverse communities and needs

The Chicago Community Conversation was designed to gather community activists and leaders from a range of fields to exchange ideas and engage in dialogue. Because of this, programming had to be thoughtful and practical, as well as accessible and useful to a diverse attendee group.

It can sometimes be difficult to put theory into practice. And, since we only work with individuals and organizations who want to create social impact, we know how important it is to make seemingly abstract or complicated concepts actionable. We wanted to design a workshop experience that equipped attendees with information, ideas, and tools they could implement right away.

Social investigation through Human-Centered Design and Deliberative Democracy.

At LimeRed, we use human-centered design in all of our work. Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem-solving that starts with the people we are designing for with the intention to deliver solutions made for people’s needs.

Through working together with the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, we also gained an understanding of the concept of deliberative democracy. Deliberative democracy describes a range of engagement methods and processes focused on empowering residents to consider all options and opinions to provide meaningful input into decision-making processes that affect their community without diluting or marginalizing authentic community voice.

Since the event attendees are also working to deliver solutions to address community needs, we wanted to use and teach these complementary frameworks during the workshop session. We wanted attendees to feel empowered to leverage these concepts in their community work.

Workshop Design

Equipping local community leaders
Understanding that event attendees would be passionate, intelligent, and proactive leaders within their community, we designed the workshop to be interactive and thought-provoking. We began by presenting the deliberative democracy and human-centered design approaches and proceeded to explore their intersection through a number of facilitated activities. Participants then worked together to design engagement solutions around the challenge question:

How might we deepen our empathy of communities beyond our own so we can create more meaningful and relevant dialogue and impact?

Deepening empathy and understanding of communities
To begin discussion around this question, attendees were asked to explore the assumptions they have about communities beyond their own that wanted to engage with to create the most impact in their work. This activity helped attendees empathize with the external stakeholders they were designing for.

This was done by asking question to unpack their meaning or validity. Attendees then worked collaboratively to discuss and build an analysis of understanding. They did this by identifying patterns and themes to explore.

Generating honest ideas
Remaining solutions-focused, we facilitated new idea generation based on the themes and analysis of our assumptions and questions. In small groups, attendees provides critical feedback to each other with a focus on identifying solutions that were the most desirable, feasible, and viable to share with the larger group.

Results & Impact

Providing a space for ideation and collaboration
Our workshop, which served as a breakout session during the event, was presented twice. Nearly 100 community leaders attended our session. We provided these individuals with an open space for broad sharing of analysis, as well as smaller facilitated spaces for ideation and collaboration. During our session, we challenged participants to expand the way they think of their own community work and provided useful tools and resources to help them do so.

Methods to mobilize action
Attendees left the session with a deeper understanding of participatory frameworks to engage wider audiences. Attendees were tasked with providing desirable, feasible, and viable solutions for building empathy and engaging with diverse communities beyond their own. During small and large group discussions, attendees shared best practices and solutions around community organizing work. Ideas included reimagining community dialogues, creating community safe spaces, and developing a program to facilitate public transportation use by low-income or homeless populations.