Last week I mentioned that I had participated in the 2014 Canadian Arts Summit in Banff. While there I learned many things about both the arts generally and the arts in Canada specifically. (Our neighbors to the north seem to have things well in hand.) However, one concept in particular leapt out at me. In a session someone mentioned the idea of tracking an organization’s “civic footprint.” (I think this came from someone in a tabletop conversation in which I participated, but forgive me, I was so taken with this that my notes indicate neither the session nor the person who presented the idea.) The point, which actually requires very little explanation, had to do with the impact of an organization on the community. I have since done a little investigation and have discovered that it appears to be somewhat more frequently used as a measure of an individual’s contribution to society, but the point is certainly applicable to organizations. Civic footprint is a good means of expressing the depth of an organization’s relationship with a community.
That concept was immediately followed by a question someone raised about how organizations find out about their communities. The precise way that was articulated was, “What mechanisms do you use to learn what a community’s issues or concerns are?” Great question! And one I need to work on as I develop means of engagement for organizations. (I’ve mentioned a preliminary one in the past: Understanding Your Community, a series of questions on the ArtsEngaged website. However, after last weekend I see the need to expand, refine, and update that list.) I’d love to hear from any readers who have answers to this question from their experience with organizations. This seems to be a very helpful addition to the work of fostering engagement on the part of organizations.
Your civic footprint results from investing in the community; however, the amount of return on that investment is dependent upon how well the organization understands its community, an understanding that can only come from spending time and effort to learn about it. So, finding better and better means of gaining that understanding is extremely important to this work.