Response to Listen vs. Tell

In Listen vs. Tell I spoke of the necessary switch from telling people about our work to listening to them as a pre-requisite for effective communication. 

As happens not infrequently, Carter Gilles responded thoughtfully and at length. He has given me permission to share his expansion on my thoughts here.


Carter Gilles

This particular phrasing [Listen vs. Tell] reminded me of the work that the philosopher Carol Gilligan did I think in the 80s. She has been criticized for framing her distinction in gender terms, and this is a bit unfair (she was not giving the final word but hoping to open a conversation). Her main point was that there are two different styles that we have in acting in the world and how we self identify. For me it seems they map directly onto the distinction you are making. She makes the point that “women define who they are by describing relationships. Men define themselves by separation, or the use of “I” statements.” 

In other words, the ‘male perspective’ embodies a sort of atomic conception of how things work, where the individual and his/her actions are isolated and act on others from the outside. The ‘female perspective’ by contrast embodies a conception of our actions that specifically live in the wider context of a community or conversation. The sense things make is from the INSIDE of these frameworks.

“Listen vs. tell” seems to capture some of that emphasis in that when we base a relationship merely on our own ability to tell things to others we treat ourselves and others as separate and isolated. When we listen there is an admission that we are merely a part of some larger whole, a conversation or a community, and that the role we necessarily share with others is active and engaged. 

I know you are searching for ways to phrase these ideas and help others make better sense of what you have in mind. There are happenings in so many fields that parallel what you are attempting to do. Your allusion to the internet styles was spot on, of course. 

One other distinction I find interesting that has some relevance to your ideas is the political analysis of George Lakoff who describes two basic styles of expectation for the role of government. He suggests that conservative minded folk have a more hierarchical expectation where there are defined roles and that the duty of a government is something like a strict parent, to keep folks in line and defend the borders/ideals. Liberals by contrast are folks who expect government to function by caring for the needs of the folks represented. Rather than handing down the law, the idea is seeing what things are necessary or important from the point of view of constituents as self-described, and then building out from there. “What matters to you?” rather than “This is important despite what you think.”

How I believe this relates to your distinction is that the strict parent version defines the role of those who tell us what is important and the rest are on the receiving end, much like in your “We Tell” version. The nurturant parent model is much more concerned with getting to know the people affected and to represent their unique circumstances and beliefs.


It’s wonderful to be able to take advantage of the insights offered by people smarter than I! Many thanks, Carter

Engage!

Doug

Carter Gilles is a working artist, a longtime arts instructor, and practicing Philosopher living in Athens, Georgia.

Listen vs. Tell

Over a year ago I began presented a somewhat tongue-in-cheek means of differentiating among two vastly different styles of approaching sales, audience development, audience engagement, and community engagement–the means by which we connect with the public. It was rooted in the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, the “tell” and “interact” versions of the internet.

In sharing the concept with people I realized that basing it on Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 was confusing since Web 1.0/2.0 are not universally recognized and, to be honest, are more than a bit geeky. I revised the presentation around the true essence of the matter: telling and listening.

So here, as we all break for the Holidays, is the new version. (My coding skills are far less than excellent, so a prettier version of this can be found on pp. 2-3 of this document.)


In the past, it has been common for arts organizations to adopt an “If we present it, they will come” attitude in which they simply told people about what was happening and assumed someone would respond. But in a world where the consumer is far less predisposed to “buy” the arts than they once were, we need to build relationships with those we hope to be our supporters. We do this by listening.

The charts that follow present a comparison of how this might work in the “We Tell” and “We Listen” scenarios.

We Tell
Spoiler: Not the way we should be doing business!

Sales

Audience Development

Audience Engagement

Community Engagement

   This is what’s happening.

   Buy a ticket.

   This is what’s happening.

   This seems to us like a reason you might be interested.

   Buy a ticket.

   This is what’s happening.

   This seems to us like a reason you might be interested.

   Here’s something we think is worthwhile/relevant to you about it.

   Buy a ticket.

   Get a grant

   Find some poor people

   Tell them why what’s happening is good for them

   Be surprised when they don’t show up

It does not take much imagination to understand why one-way communication has very limited success. Two-way conversations–dialogue–should be the default mode for our interactions with the public. Something like this:

We Listen

Sales

Audience Development

Audience Engagement

Community Engagement

    This is what’s happening.

    This is why it’s going to be worth your time and money.*

    Buy a ticket.

   This is what’s happening.

   This is why it’s going to be worth your time and money.*

   This seems like a reason you might be especially interested.*

   Buy a ticket.

   This is what’s happening.

   This is why it’s going to be worth your time and money.*

   This seems like a reason you might be especially interested.*

   Here’s something that might make this even more worthwhile/relevant to you.*

   Buy a ticket.

Step 1

   Pleased to meet you.

   Tell me about yourself.

   This is what we do.

Step 2

   If we do [this thing*], will you help us make it better/be successful?

Step 3 (Post event)

   Let’s keep in touch.

*Suggestions made based on what we learn from listening.


Happy Holidays . . . and

Engage!

Doug

Photo: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by susie2778

Funding Engagement

In the relatively near future I will be facilitating a Community Engagement Network conversation addressing the topic of “Funding Engagement.” (To join the network, click here. If you are not Facebook friendly, email us at CEN@artsengaged.com) I get questions on this topic frequently and always have to gird myself before responding. So here is what I try to bear in mind in answering the questions:

If you have to have funding before you can begin community engagement work, you are not prepared for it. At a bare minimum community engagement involves getting to know new people/communities. That is not an expensive endeavor. Begin with the basics:

  • Commit: Effective community engagement demands organizational commitment. The inability to pursue it without external funding is evidence of a lack of commitment.
  • Act: Exhaust the possibilities of re-imagining and partnering on current work in ways that address the interests of communities around you.
  • Plan/Partner: Develop relationships with communities and explore mutual interests as a basis for project development.
  • Achieve Small Wins: Implement small projects to demonstrate to your organization, your communities, and to potential funders your commitment and capacity.

After this you will be ready to pursue external sources of money.

Typical arts funders fund the arts that they typically fund. (That’s a purposely circular statement.) Often, community engagement is not part of their mandate. They can be won over on the basis of expanding access and improving an arts organization’s viability, but that can involve a long-term funder education project. Perhaps there are better ways to spend your time?

Funding for community engagement often comes from sources that do not traditionally fund the arts. Their interests are those of the communities with which you will be working.

  • Success in seeking funds depends on your credibility. The “small wins” above go a long way toward demonstrating that.
  • Learn what funders are concerned with the issues that are of interest to the communities with which you are partnering. Approach these partners with your partner communities.

Granted there is at least a little hyperbole in some of the above, but the essence of it all is true. And I know nothing in the arts is easy. This is especially true of community engagement. It is new to many of us and is about dealing with people with whom we are not familiar; it can be intimidating and messy. But we owe it to the future of our organizations and the well-being of our communities to enter into this work.

Engage!

Doug

Photo:Attribution Some rights reserved by AMagill

Targets and Timeframes

I have recently found myself concerned with issues related to measuring community engagement, particularly its benefits to arts organizations. (Two-Phase Engagement; Reach and Frequency) There is a tendency among some to know that community engagement is a good thing and, therefore, to resist attempts to measure it’s impact. If I’m honest, I may sometimes find myself in that group. There are others who assume that community engagement is at best “nice” and are dismissive of its potential to yield practical benefits for the organization.

To be sustainable, community engagement must benefit the arts organization in tangible ways. To be supported institutionally, the path to ticket sales (via increased reach), funding (via money from donors, corporations, and foundations who will never support the arts status quo), and public policy (via broad-based public enthusiasm for the impact of the arts on people’s lives) must be articulated and tracked.

A principal difficulty in this is that in order to accomplish these gains we must do work in marketing, funding, and advocacy that we’ve almost never done before. That is, we must lay groundwork among people who are not already pre-disposed to value the arts. (If you believe that a viable future for arts organizations exists without reaching new communities and new funders you may stop reading now.)

As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, immediate improvements in sales, funding, and public policy are impossible when you are approaching new people who are either apathetic about or hostile to the arts. First, we must build trust and, while doing so, measure indicators of improving relationships–for example, willingness to meet, willingness to introduce others, and (eventually) willingness to work together. Clearly, that is at least a one- or two-year project. Only after the foundation is built can we begin to set goals for the more traditional measures of institutional benefit.

Don’t have the resources to devote to this? What’s your alternative? Let’s reconvene in forty years and see who is still in business.

Engage!

Doug

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by kartfamily

Engagement at the Core

This is the last of a series, introduced in Baby Steps, about arts organizations’ initial efforts in community engagement. For details about the premises upon which these posts are based, see below. The essence is that simple, inexpensive initial steps offer the best way to embark upon community engagement.

Engagement at the Core: Early Efforts
As I said in Baby Steps, the key to successful engagement “is as simple, inexpensive, and excruciatingly difficult as changing habits of mind. The essential transition is to stop seeing our work as delivering a product that should be consumed by a nameless, faceless public and to view it instead as a valuable resource for specific individuals and communities whom we know (or are getting to know).” This applies equally to early efforts and mature ones.

In addition to what has been said to this point concerning community relationships, programming, and marketing, I would suggest that in the beginning all internal stakeholders in an arts organization continue their work as is and simply imagine how a commitment to relationship building might affect and improve their results. In other words, keep it simple.

Fundraising
Fundraising is (or should be) about relationship building and so is a natural fit for community engagement. And a community engagement focus vastly improves funding prospects–not because there is so much money out there for engagement work (there is not) but because of a seldom spoken truth about arts funding. There is a finite universe of potential arts funds. Arts-friendly individuals, foundations, corporations, and government agencies represent at tiny (and, arguably, shrinking) sliver of the funding world. This is why arts organizations are so loath to share donor lists or funding source information. However, when arts organizations begin to expand their focus beyond artcentric programming and address the interests of communities, the range of legitimate funding opportunities expands exponentially. (See More Pies)

Governance
Boards are rightly understood as resource generators, although it is a profound mistake to see them as only that. Yet even here, money is not the only resource board members bring to the table. Each one has expertise and a variety of relationships. Challenging them to assist with building bridges into the many communities of which they are members could, in some cases, be even more valuable than their financial contributions. In addition, if one criteria for board membership were community connections, this might expand the pool of talent beyond the “usual suspects” and provide access to new communities. The respect a board member has in a community could carry over to “benefit of the doubt” for the arts organization, a resource money can’t buy. (See The Board as Engagers and A Board of Engagers)

Volunteers
Volunteers working directly with the public are ideally positioned to support engagement work. Docents (see Docents as Engagers), box office support, even ushers can be trained to interact with people in a way that supports relationship building processes. Asking questions and reporting back on what is heard can provide valuable insight to support engagement.

While this does not cover all aspects of arts administration, it should be sufficiently illustrative to point the way. (As one more example, altering marketing focus group meetings to become more two-way dialogues is a simple switch that can elicit both the essential marketing information and support relationships between the attendees–and the communities of which they are a part–and the organization.) Again, early work in engagement should begin with a new habit of mind applied to current practices and see where that leads.

Engage!

Doug

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Got Credit

The premises of this blog series are twofold. First, since relationship building is the core of community engagement, attempting to do too much too fast (before the relationship is established) will likely not be productive and, in fact, may be counter-productive. Second, there are many things that can be done to support engagement that do not require new personnel or new budgets. Simply re-imagining (and perhaps slightly re-tooling) things that are already being done can support engagement in very effective ways.

It should go without saying that the core of all engagement work is a strong (even if not unanimous) desire on the part of the organization to make connections with new communities.If the will to do so is lacking, the work will be at best minimally successful.