Urban Neighborhood Centers Alliance of Louisville (UNCAL) Family Strengthening Agenda Moves Forward with CogniScope™ Dialogue Process
“Whatever we do, we need to keep the focus on people. Whatever we decide to do or not to do will affect people. When an agency makes a decision to discontinue a service or create a new program that we see as valuable, we need to know its impact on people. We must have grass roots involvement in decisions. Think of it as a stakeholder community – involve all of (the stakeholders) in decisionmaking.” – UNCAL Family Strengthening Summit Participant
June had finally arrived. While most other folks were gearing up for summer weekend fun, a very special group of Louisville residents devoted most of their weekend to explore what actions they can undertake to support and promote family strengthening in their community.
These things don’t happen by chance. The Urban Neighborhood Centers of Alliance of Louisville (UNCAL) had been laying the groundwork for this for over a year. Building on the tradition of the settlement house movement, the UNCAL members had been reaching our to neighbors and their own staff to ask: What can we do together to support and strengthen families in Louisville?
A crucial step towards developing an answer came during the UNCAL Family Strengthening Summit held June 2-3, 2001 in Louisville. Thirty individuals, representing a mix of UNCAL leadership and staff, and parents and youth from the five neighborhoods where the UNCAL organizations operate, participated in the two-day event. Each of the participants was chosen from a larger group of parents, youth, and UNCAL staff and board members who have been engaged in a series of exploratory conversations on family strengthening.
The Summit’s goal was to arrive at a common ground for action that people would remain engaged in and support. This was not to be “just another meeting”. The Summit also provided opportunities for people to get to know each other, share ideas, and express their hopes and fears for Louisville’s neighborhood and families.
A facilitation team consisting of Aleco Christakis, Diane Conaway and Cesar D’Agord from CWA, Ltd. joined Elena Pell — head of the Emerging Partnerships Group — to develop and design an event that would effectively integrate the CogniScope dialogue approach into the summit framework.
Ms. Pell is spearheading the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Family Strengthening Dialogue Project to explore the use of dialogue techniques to foster greater understanding of the role of strong families in the Foundation’s Making Connections sites. Through the Strengthening Dialogue Project, Ms. Pell worked with UNCAL for the past 18 months to assist them in building momentum for a family strengthening movement in their neighborhoods.
As one of the 22 sites chosen to participate in the Annie E. Casey Foundation Making Connections initiative, Louisville neighborhood groups and organizations have received resource and technical support to promote stronger families and more connected neighborhoods. The Making Connections Initiative in Louisville provided resource support to cover the costs of this event.
The group was able to come up with, and consider, 60 actions they could take to strengthen families. By using the Cogniscope approach, they were able to quickly determine the 13 that they felt were most important, and then identify and discuss the three activities that would actually provide the most leverage in moving the overall agenda.
However, the CogniScope dialogue method didn’t just get the group to that goal, it also made sure that everyone was heard and understood in the process of getting there. As one participant stated:
“I have been to a lot of meetings, and sometimes I have a fair amount to say, but what made this special is that I really felt that I have been heard. The CogniScope Dialogue approach really works to protect people’s autonomy in which I have never before experienced. My ideas were my own, and they were understood. It was very exciting.”
The UNCAL will draw upon these insights and this group flesh out the details of an action plan. The task ahead is to find creative ways to build on the energy, insight and wisdom of this community of stakeholders who took time out of their busy lives to address this every important issue for the future of Louisville neighborhoods and community.
Family strengthening is essentially about rebuilding community in these challenging times. Strong Neighborhoods require strong families, and families require supportive neighborhoods that help them support their children’s growth and development. As one teenager that attended the Summit stated, the essence of family strengthening is “providing love and care for one another.” Using this dialogue approach, she had the chance to clarify the meaning of that statement. She talked about a situation in a Taco Bell, where she encountered a homeless person. Many adults were deeply moved as she simply described that, for her, strengthening families and neighborhoods meant the instinct to help people like family, even if they don’t own a home or anything. As she so aptly stated, “if you help them, there is an opportunity, maybe the next time you need help someone will help you.”