One of the most important and challenging aspects inherent in community building is having a clear sense of shared purpose. Without this, community often lacks substance and lasting stability. I’ve seen this echoed through many conversations as well as my own personal experience. But how does one cultivate and communicate this understanding?
Sometimes I like to fantasize that there is some sort of obscure magical formula for bringing people together in community. But, what I find more often than not, is that much of it is just deep listening and clear communication.
My last conversation with Gabriel Mugar really brought this point home. Gabe is a design researcher at Ideo. In the past, his research has looked at how digital platforms used for knowledge production and civic engagement shape and constrain opportunities for volunteer participation and learning. His community journey started in 2004 when he founded the Transformative Culture Project as a way to harness the economic power of creative arts for youth and community development. He received his PhD from Syracuse University and was most recently a faculty member at the Emerson College Engagement Lab.
Gabe is something of a professional listener and offers some of his research refined approaches to understanding a community more deeply. We talk about the role of listening, communication, feedback, and participation in the functioning of healthy community.
Gabe shares that “the mindset that you want to have is one of being in awe of people. You should see people and their day to day routines as the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen because that’s what’s going to open up your mind to the experiences that are happening in front of you.”
Every time I speak with Gabe, I walk away with pages and pages of valuable notes that I apply to my own work. This conversation is no different and offers insight into deep listening, community design, and participation dynamics from Gabe’s many years of academic and professional research.
Please enjoy our conversation.