The seven site teams in Living Cities' Integration Initiative convened in Washington, DC to explore how they can get dramatically better results for low-income people TOGETHER. Living Cities Staff practiced "open-sourcing social change" by reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of the event in real time.

The second day of our Integration Initiative learning community, Achieving Change: Just Do It TOGETHER, included sessions on the practice of continuous improvement and data informed decision making at the city level. Overall this learning community has me reflecting on how we design convenings to best support the work of our sites now that they are implementing their strategies and developing much more specific needs. It is always challenging for us to design a convening where everyone gets deep value because the partnerships are at different process points in their work, bring representatives with different levels of knowledge to the table, and have chosen different strategies and areas of work. As we wrapped up, our staff’s gut reactions about the success of the event seemed to be mixed, which was consistent with a quick glance at the survey responses. Here are a few things I am noodling, as well as highlight tweets from yesterday’s sessions.

Visual content encourages social media activity.

I’m relatively certain that we had significantly more participant-driven social media activity surrounding this learning community than ever before. It is possible that some margin of this increase can be attributed to the general increase in social media use across. But my hypothesis is that the increase was driven by a few other factors including: the graphic notetaker we hired to illustrate the key points from each session, the repeated mentioning of our event hashtag, and placing the hashtag on multiple powerpoint slides throughout the event. We also organized a twitter competition to encourage staff tweeting, which resulted in a rich bank of tweets that participants could easily retweet to their own followers. Lastly, we were careful to include slides that illustrated main points without being bogged down with tons of text. Participants took photos of slides and tweeted them since it was an easy way to share main ideas without doing a bunch of typing.

We might have tried too hard to be all things to all people at this convening.

We were trying to find a sweet spot between high level thinking and theory that puts the work in perspective with our broader portfolio and national trends, and providing practical content that can be taken and applied on the ground level. In my opinion, we ended up with sessions that seemed cohesive on paper but didn’t end up feeling that way in practice. It might be time for us to consider separating the content with one higher-level annual convening, and a series of smaller more content focused convenings. This would allows us to develop sessions that are more effectively targeted to different audiences.

Co-design and engagement results in trust and honesty.

Despite the mixed reviews on content, the tone of the event was notably open and nurturing. Panel discussions included tough questions and respectful push-back, and participants shared their challenges and pain points openly. Some of this can be attributed to the long-term relationship building that has taken place. But Living Cities staff actively co-designed this agenda for this learning community with the initiative directors from each city and I think that resulted in a sense of genuine partnership that made it easier for everyone to speak openly about what they are wrestling with. The kind of feedback and frank communication that resulted is invaluable to Living Cities as we strive to improve our ability to support the work being done in places. Additionally, multiple participants mentioned to our staff that it was the most valuable, safe learning environment they had ever experienced. The ability to foster such an environment is a prerequisite to maximizing cross-pollination and learning across our network that can accelerate change and dramatically better results for low-income people.

Check out some of the tweets that highlight the content from day 2 below or check out #TIILearn on twitter!

What were your reflections and insights? Share in the comments, or by tweeting #TIILearn.