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2021 Engagement Workshop Video: Collaborating With Community

A discussion panel about the ways residents and government can work together to solve problems

This discussion panel features the participants listed on the opening slide. Watch the video by clicking the play arrow. Read the transcript below.

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The presentation transcript was created by an automated transcription tool. Portions have been edited for clarity or length. Anyone looking to quote or use information from the event is advised to compare the text to the video recording.

MIKE WATSON: Over the next two days we're going to explore a three-phase approach to community engagement, starting with Collaborating With Community. With local and national experts, we’ll unpack how residents and government leaders can come together to unearth solutions to community challenge. Now I’d like to please welcome Debra Tyler-Horton, State Director for AARP Georgia, who will moderate our next discussion.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you, Mike, and good afternoon. Welcome to the 2021 Livable Communities National Workshop Engaging Older Adults: Why It's Good for the Community.

I want to begin by introducing our panel:

  • Jonathan Pacheco Bell [Associate Planner, Sagecrest Planning+Environmental]. Since 2006, Jonathan has served as a street-level urban planner in Los Angeles County. He created Embedded Planning, a praxis that increases public participation for historically marginalized communities. Welcome, Jonathan. (Read an AARP Livable interview with Jonathan Pacheco Bell.)
  • And we have Doug Hooker. As head of the planning organization for the 11-county, 75-city Atlanta region, Doug oversees programs in the areas of transportation, community development, land use, aging services and more. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is a member of AARP Georgia’s Age-Friendly Metro Atlanta Advisory Council.

Thank you all for joining us this afternoon.

Now, I’d like to engage or hear from our session participants at this time. I’m going to ask a SLIDO question. Please rank in order of importance.

Our residents enhance communities through their skills and life lessons, influence and involvement. As the public dialogue focuses a lot on the needs of older adults, we don't give nearly enough attention to everything older adults contribute to their communities.

What benefits have you experienced from engaging older adults in the community?

  1. Learning from their knowledge, insights and experience;
  2. Their contributions to service and volunteering;
  3. Improved quality of decision making;
  4. The value of intergenerational participation.

Again, we ask that you please rank in order of importance. And it looks like, as we watch the results coming in — Learning from their knowledge, insights and experience — is coming in at Number 1.

Let me go to the panel — any surprises?

AMANDA O’ROURKE: No surprises to me. I think all these pieces have been our experience of the benefits of engaging with older adults. Certainly, we've had a lot of experience hearing the wisdom. I know that was highlighted in the earlier session. And a lot of knowing about the place, like those important histories of place that older adults bring to the discussion around equitable placemaking.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you Amanda. Doug or Jonathan, did you want to add anything?

DOUG HOOKER: I would echo Amanda and say that there are no surprises there for me, or I would dare to say for my team that works with older adults, as well. Even the intergenerational connections that seniors provide working with younger adults and children and communities is also part of bringing wisdom into the community and transferring it between generations. So there's no surprises that I saw in that panel responses.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you. And Jonathan, didn't want to leave you out if you had wanted to add anything.

JONATHAN PACHECO BELL: Well, I echo what my colleagues have said. I don't see any surprises, but I also want to really lift up the importance of learning from the elders’ insights, especially from storytelling. I think this is important for us in engagement.

Storytelling is a much more personal and effective way of sharing and communicating. We already do it in our daily lives, and we can tap into this for the work that we do as planners and within the planning realm. It's always so wonderful to hear stories from your elders and I think we should remember this, as we move forward in engagement. Focus on storytelling.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Well, thank you all for participating. Thank you, our panelists, for your feedback, as well. I'm going to move straight into questions for our panelists, and Jonathan I’d like to start with you.

You created Embedded Planning, a praxis that situated the work of planners on the ground, to increase public participation for historically marginalized communities through street-level engagements. One of the things that you've been known to say, and I quote, “We cannot plan from our desk.” I like that. Can you tell us a bit about what that means, and why it's particularly important when engaging older adults?

JONATHAN PACHECO BELL: Absolutely. Embedded Planning has an ironic origin. I started off as a code enforcement planner in South Central Los Angeles, an area that has long suffered from poor planning practices and over-policing.

There was a potential to continue that tradition. But I saw an opportunity as a planner on the ground going out to people's homes and businesses to do something different, and that was to turn enforcement on its head. Rather than being an enforcer, actually being an advocate, being a resource. I use that proximity by being on-the-ground to take planning to the streets.

I would respond to a code enforcement issue and turn a potentially tense conversation into an educational moment about planning. That's when the light bulb went off and I eventually said, “Hey, this is this is something new here. This is a new form of planning”.

I eventually gave it that name, Embedded Planning, because I was an embedded planner. I was situated in the community space doing the planning work on the ground. When you're in the community, you are present. You are part of the neighborhood. You're part of that daily fabric of the community life. People get to know you. People get to trust you. That's really important in the work of engagement.

The embedded planner gets to know the neighborhood, the people, the challenges. They certainly get to know the elders. They get to know multiple generations. The idea is to take your work as a planner out of the office and relocate it to the streets. It bridges the gap between planning and the people.

You can certainly do that effectively by going directly to older adults. It's a way to show that you care. It's not any type of check this box approach. You are going to the people to say, “I’m here to work with you and learn from you.”

Like Lynn Ross said earlier, this is basically “meet people where they are.” Embedded Planning is taking urban planning to the streets.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you, Jonathan. It's nothing like being right there in the community and touching people where they are. Thank you for sharing that.

Amanda, I’d like to talk to you about 8 80 Cities. It’s built on the belief that if everything we do in our public spaces is great for an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old, then it will be great for people of all ages. Can you share an example of how you bring together different generations, including older residents, to the benefit of the community? What are some unconventional strategies that 8 80 Cities has used to get people involved?

AMANDA O’ROURKE: Thanks for that question! You're going to hear a lot of cross-pollination here on the panel responding to what Jonathan was saying on the street-level piece. In terms of an example of a particular program or project that highlights this opportunity to bridge and bring people together across generations, the one that really comes to my mind immediately is our Open Streets program, which is about connecting with people right on the street and meeting people where they are.

If you're not familiar with Open Streets, the founder of 8 80 Cities Guillermo Penalosa, who started his work in Bogota, Colombia, started ciclovías, which was opening the streets to people on Sundays as a giant pop-up park. People could come gather, meet each other as equals, make eye contact, socialize, walk and bike on an existing asset in our community, our streets. It’s over 100 kilometers of streets that are open to people and closed to cars.

And every time that we do an Open Street program — and we've done it in a number of different cities — it really does attract a number of people from all ages, all abilities, all backgrounds, where people can really connect in a shared space, in a public space that belongs to everyone.

On the unconventional strategies piece, you know when we first started doing this work 15 years ago, we were really pushing against the status quo and traditional consultation approaches. Now, I don't know actually how unconventional they are. There still is a lot of work to do, but I think that this discourse and the dialogue on engagement has really gotten a lot more people-centered, more focused on equity and justice.

Lynn’s fantastic presentation at the outset really highlighted this move towards not having a one-size-fits-all approach, or as Jonathan mentioned the check box, but really trying to create conditions for building relationships. To me, that's essentially what good collaboration and community engagement is — you're building the conditions for creating good relationships with community and including older adults.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you, Amanda. We've all probably seen some of that great work in our cities. Thank you so much for sharing that.

Doug, the Atlanta Regional Commission is the official planning organization for the 11-county, 75-city region. Currently, one in eight people are age 65 or older. Between 2015 and 2050, the population aged 65 plus will grow by more than 200 percent.

I want to just say that again. That between 2015 and 2050, the population aged 65 plus will grow by more than 200 percent. Faster than all other age cohorts. By 2050, more than one out of every five residents will be 65 or older.

What have you learned about the needs of older residents through your Metro Atlanta Speak Survey and how are you engaging older adults to develop solutions and approaches to changing community needs?

DOUG HOOKER: Thank you for that question, Debra. Before I respond, let me just say it's an honor to be on this panel with Jonathan and Amanda who are great young thinkers in our work.

Our Metro Atlanta Speaks survey that we do every year always gives us some very helpful and sometimes surprising insights. Our survey has shown in the past that a large percentage of our older adults are financially vulnerable, despite the fact of having a Medicare and Social Security safety net.

They're vulnerable in the sense that, when we ask, “What would be your ability to pay a $400 emergency bill?” more than one in six — and for those who would rather have percentages rather than ratios, that's about 17 percent or more — are saying they would have to borrow money, sell or pawn an item in their home, or they wouldn't be able to do it at all if they had a $400 emergency expense. That's pretty significant.

Our survey also makes clear that transportation is very difficult for many older adults in our region. About one in three say it's harder to get around to their needed appointments. They have difficulty doing so. One thing to keep in mind is that most older adults are going to outlive their ability to drive by 7 to 10 years. Typically, on average, 7 years for men and 10 years for women. So more than half of the adults in our surveys have told us in the past that they choose to live where they can access public transit.

Other ways that we choose to use our survey results to help us engage older adults are a standing committee that we call our Advisory Committee on Aging, and also a very robust senior volunteer program.

Our Advisory Committee on Aging brings together community leaders — over 50 percent of whom are aged 60 and older. They give us advice and perspective and feedback on practically every one of our programs and plans within the aging arena.

The committee has 19 members right now and they've given us some very helpful real-world feedback on things such as how to spread the information about older adult services and supports in their communities during the pandemic period. Particularly early in the pandemic period, they gave us a lot of great advice on how to begin to change our service mix and offerings to make it more available and useful. All of us were trying to learn how to navigate the pandemic, which, of course, was even trickier for older adults before we had a vaccine possible.

Last year, we were beginning to launch our Live Beyond Expectation Strategic Plan. The purpose of the strategic plan and framework was to address the wide disparities in life expectancy that we have in our region. We got a lot of valuable impact and insights from our Advisory Community on Aging to help us shape that plan to make it meaningful and relevant to older adults and disabled residents in the region.

As I said, we have a very active volunteer program. It's our AmeriCorps RSVP, which stands for Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. We get hundreds of adults, aged 55 and older, who volunteer. We train them on a lot of different topics such as managing chronic illness, helping with wellness issues and living a healthier life. They, in turn, go out and train a lot of their older adult peers in our communities. That's been a very robust program and it gives them a way to also have a lot of peers that they can interact with throughout the week.

And finally, with regard to our CARES Act funding, we were able to start what we call a One2One program, which has been a telephone reassurance program that has linked our volunteers with so many of our socially-isolated adults during this pandemic period.

Many older adults faced loneliness and social isolation. The pandemic, of course, has exacerbated that problem. Our volunteers under this program have used their time to call their assigned person once a week or so, and often they call more than once a week. They check-in and have a general chat about how life is going and things of that nature. Those are some of the things that we've been doing.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you so much for sharing. I’d like to direct my next question to the three of you.

Over the past year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic, many community engagement activities have moved online to protect residents’ health and safety. However, not all older adults or residents of any age are connected to the internet. What strategies and approaches would you recommend for engaging hard-to-reach older adults, including those who may not have access to the internet and those who are socially isolated? How can we reduce barriers for public participation? How can we ensure broad and diverse community engagement inclusive of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, especially in the planning stages?

I'd like to start with you, Jonathan.

JONATHAN PACHECO BELL: Thank you. I’d like to say that from my personal experience, Embedded Planning is a way to do exactly that.

I’ve been able to show in my work spanning the public, private and nonprofit sectors that when you relocate your planning work out of an office to the streets, you are going straight to the people. You are building relationships in the spaces of community members. That is something that can be done — it has been done — before and during the pandemic. I can certainly share how.

I’d like to give some examples of what Embedded Planning looks like from my own personal experience. Embedded Planning is going to public spaces, going to community gardens, going to senior centers, and community centers, doing your work in public libraries, going to transit stops, going to markets, walking the block, canvassing. Consider learning from the public library system, maybe creating some type of mobile office like we have mobile libraries and doing pop-up events.

All of these are things that can be done in these times. They reduce barriers by removing that geographic distance between planners and the people. It's a way to engage harder-to-reach residents, especially older adults.

A lot of engagement has moved online, and that was needed for COVID safety. But we also know that older adults are not always tech-savvy and may not have access to high-speed internet. With Embedded Planning, you have engagement that is not mediated by technology. You're doing it old school. You're going straight to the people. You're finding where they are and going to their local spaces.

The key thing during COVID times is to do it with PPE, social distancing, face masks and all the things that we're already putting into practice. This is absolutely something that can be done safely. I’ve been doing it. This is a key way to bring multiple generations into our planning and engagement processes.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you, Jonathan. Amanda?

AMANDA O’ROURKE: Building off what Jonathan is saying — one of our approaches is around taking it to the streets, so all of the things that he highlighted around meeting people where they are, popping up in parks and public spaces and transit stations totally relate to that.

At 8 80 Cities, much of our work happens directly in community in this kind of Embedded Planning approach that Jonathan’s talking about. We, during very strict lockdown measures where we were not allowed to be anywhere out in public space, had to pivot even further.

I can talk a little bit about one particular project that we worked on here locally — I’m joining today from Toronto, Canada — in which we really had to think critically about how we could use the opportunity to rethink how to reach seniors in our own community, not being able to physically be in public space. A lot of what we were hearing from seniors is that they didn't feel comfortable out in public space at the height of the pandemic.

We wanted to create a toolkit and resource guide in collaboration with an organization that serves our senior population here in Toronto. They had done all this indoor programming pre-pandemic and we wanted to help support and provide resources for how they could potentially adapt it to the outdoors. As this past summer was approaching, we anticipated some restrictions lifting and being able to be out in public again.

The first thing we did was we took it to the street, but in a different way. We got the phone numbers of older adults who had participated in some of this indoor programming with the help of our partners and we talked to seniors — some of which did not have a good internet connection or access to a computer. We did old-fashioned phone calls. Some did have access to Zoom and we had wonderful interviews that way.

We offered them compensation for their time. Time is one of the most precious things that people give you. Be ready to compensate it with either money or some sort of act of reciprocity. This is a really important aspect that I know that Lynn touched on, as well.

We did some really deep listening. The phone calls were a more profound experience than I’d had in a long time. Lynn talked about the art of listening and then Jonathan’s talking about the art of storytelling. Well, some of these pieces were the combination of both.

Myself and my staff got so much out of these conversations with the seniors who had been quite isolated in the height of the pandemic, sharing their stories about what they'd like to see, what kinds of programs they'd like to see in public spaces as summer was approaching, what are their needs around safety and comfort.

I have to say that this is a population that really knows how to talk on the phone. I think that's a lost art. I really enjoyed learning and talking to them.

One of our principles is also taking action. Jonathan and Doug mentioned accountability, and Lynn as well. If we're going to hear people's ideas, we better be ready to take quick action and follow-through. Otherwise, trust is eroded.

We took all this information, the stories, the needs and desires, the preferences on types of programs, and we started to pilot it out in this summer in public spaces. We did things like chair yoga in parking lots outside of seniors’ residential buildings. We did drumming circles. We did a healing dance and Spanish class. It was all a direct reflection of what the seniors we talked to wanted.

Then we also did some pole walking. Interesting around the pole walking: once we started to do these pilots — and we always run the pilots multiple times — we started to see a lot of these seniors wanting to take a leadership role and run their own classes, as well.

This really connects to what Lynn was saying at the outset: that community collaboration and engagement is an ongoing process. I love that she has the circular seven principles. They are all mutually reinforcing.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Well, thank you, Amanda. And Doug, your approaches you'd recommend?

DOUG HOOKER: During the pandemic, we had to change how we thought about everything in terms of outreach and information and support for our older adults. One of the things that we were able to do is work with partners to obtain funding grants to give tablets and other devices to older adults who normally went to senior centers for their social interaction and meals and things of that nature. Through the tablet — and with volunteers to help train them how to use the tablets — they were able to stay connected to each other and to activities that could be done virtually from the senior centers as a home base.

Also, long before the pandemic, we launched an information and referral service that we call Empowerline. It’s both an on-call service — you can speak with somebody [who’s a] Certified Information Counselor by phone — or you can access it by website. It was very popular before the pandemic, particularly the phone service, but during the pandemic, we saw that the use of both the online and the phone referral services skyrocket. We increased the number of certified counselors providing information because seniors were wanting to get information, wanting to find out where they could get help and get resources during the pandemic, when they could not get out as they normally would.

Our counselors helped them and provided a break in isolation and loneliness from being locked in their homes. Many of them had fear of even allowing people into their home. Even things like our home delivery, home-base delivered meals, we had to think through. How do we deliver the meals in ways that are COVID safe and ensure our seniors can get meals, particularly those who were used to getting their meals in senior centers and are now staying at home?

Those are a number of things we did. Through our Empowerline, as I said, we increased the number of counselors and the phone services. The demand for phone services and information not only by seniors, but also from their caregivers, increased dramatically. That helped us a great deal. I mentioned our adjustment in congregate meals to home-base and how we did that.

Prior to the pandemic, a lot of our home-delivered meals were pretty much the same for every senior. But, we were able to get waivers from our state and federal partners so that we could make home-delivered meals, particularly for our minority community seniors, particularly in the Asian community which has more distinct kinds of food preferences, more akin to their tradition culturally. They used to be able to get these at their senior centers, but they couldn't get from a home-delivered meal previously.

Those are a number of things we did. We had a long-time partnership with AARP Georgia —thank you Deborah Tyler Horton for that — and the city of Atlanta and other stakeholders to work on developing lifelong age-friendly communities through our Lifelong Communities partnership. We work with local governments and area residents to design more inclusive communities that offer multiple types of housing, enhanced transportation options, and healthy living options, as well as providing more convenient services and access to shopping and transit.

Our goal there — something that we all aspire to — is for every resident to age in the community of their choice, in the home of their choice, in a healthy way physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Those are some of the things that we’ve done during the pandemic that probably will stick with us, even beyond the pandemic period.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you so much for each of your answers and sharing. I’m sure our participants are taking a lot of notes and getting some great ideas to do within their communities. My final question, if you could each take one minute to respond.

Throughout this workshop, we wanted to equip participants with tools, resources and strategies for getting work done in communities. I think you've done a great job in doing this. With this in mind, what should we each be ready to do differently, as a result of this panel?

DOUG HOOKER: For us, one of the critical changes that we have made — and we are recommending that others in our community make — is lead with the lens of equity in all of our work. Collaborating with community and older adults through a lens of equity, and realizing that the experiences and the perceptions of white older adults and the solutions for them may not necessarily work for older adults in Black, Latino or Asian American communities.

We certainly discovered that in a wonderful way with our home-delivered meals program and that will be a permanent thing. But in all of our activities, we're leaning in hard with how we look through an equity lens and solutions when we talk with older adults in different communities, looking at solutions and progress that makes sense for their needs, as subsector populations and not assuming a one-shoe-fits-all for everybody.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you, Doug. Amanda?

AMANDA O’ROURKE: Thanks Doug. I’ll build on what he was saying. Do not think of seniors as a homogenous group. I think that tends to happen. Do think of them as very diverse in terms of culture, language, ability and background.

Also, listen deeply more. Acknowledge blind spots.

I also want to reiterate thinking about collaborating with community as an ongoing process to be sustained. Adopt the mindset of the gardener. Any good gardener will tell you that a thriving garden is about creating those ideal conditions. Think like a gardener and create those conditions for building relationships.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you, Amanda. Jonathan, close us out.

JONATHAN PACHECO BELL: I will close it out by saying two things: One, the maxim of Embedded Planning is, “We cannot plan from our desks.” Take that and make it your own. Embedded Planning is for all of us. The way Embedded Planning looks like in the Florence-Firestone District in South Central LA is going to be different than it looks in Indianapolis, Indiana, but that's okay. Take it and make it your own. Take your work out of the desk and relocate it to the street level.

I would like to dedicate my time today to the eternal memory of Miss Mary Rose Cortez from the Florence-Firestone District, one of our elders in South Central LA that we lost on September 13. She was with us for over nine decades, and she was part of our community-building efforts for a very long time. I dedicate my time with you today to her. Thank you.

DEBRA TYLER-HORTON: Thank you all for your participation. Mike, I’m going to turn it back over to you now.

MIKE WATSON: Now it's time to ask your questions of our panelists. We already have so many great questions. I’m going to jump right into them and start with this one:

Many communities continue to impose limited interactions and have isolation, especially for older adults. How do you maintain social distances and COVID protections, and still hold meaningfully in-person outreach activities?

This is probably a question for all of you, so whoever wants to take it first, please jump right in.

DOUG HOOKER: It's tough for sure, but one thing we discovered with members of our own staff, who also happen to fit as older adults and were desiring to get out in their social time off work. They began to organize gatherings where they would socially distance outside in lawn chairs or other kinds of things when the weather was appropriate, as a way of engaging amongst each other. They've decided to take that same thought into their community work.

Instead of staying inside and doing everything over the phone or through a computer, they started going out to communities in small groups where there was interest, and encouraging people to come outside with them and just engage in conversations for 30 minutes or an hour in a way that they were socially distant, appropriately masked. This was pre-vaccine. Of course, with the vaccine that loosened up a little bit, but still trying to be careful and cautious.

It's not a one size fits all kind of solution, but it was a little something that we discovered that with the right kind of planning and the right approach some seniors were open to doing.

MIKE WATSON: Great. Amanda, do you want to go next?

AMANDA O’ROURKE: It's very similar to what Doug is saying. You can really have meaningful conversations and engagement while wearing a mask. Your eyes are still there. You can see each other. You can make eye contact. You can hold a really good conversation while outside and physically distant.

Many of the pilot projects that I spoke about we were running this summer in our parks and public spaces here in Toronto. We set up the chairs with small groups and a maximum of 10 people, six feet apart. People were drumming and using music to communicate as well. Dance is a great way to communicate and have meaningful engagement. We have been a lot more creative in terms of our approach to doing park activations and engaging with community through conversation and through actual interactions in public space.

MIKE WATSON: Wonderful. Both great answers. Jonathan, do you want to add anything to that?

JONATHAN PACHECO BELL: Building off my colleagues. Bring that PPE. Bring those chairs and space them out. Bring hand sanitizer. Gently remind people of the distancing requirements. I have found nobody in the various geographies that I worked in during COVID times has been opposed to engaging and interacting with PPE on and with distancing.

I can give you an example: at Sagecrest Planning+Environmental, we're doing some new housing in a highly urbanized city in the South Bay here in LA County. We've sent out a mailer to the residents nearby, we've canvassed the neighborhood, did all kinds of door knocks and we're also doing an Open House. We're deliberately doing an Open House outside at the local park, rather than inside the community center. That affords social distancing and it's a very similar experience. Put these ideas into play, like we're already doing in our daily lives, and I think everything will be just fine.

MIKE WATSON: Well, I think we could probably make a COVID engagement tool kit out of the answers you just gave. Those are all fantastic, and we have so many more questions coming in, so I’m going to jump into them. This next one is around language.

How is language access considered in the storytelling process? As in, how are we making sure that the stories of immigrant and refugee elders are heard and understood by all?

Jonathan, let's start with you and then go to Doug, and then Amanda.

JONATHAN PACHECO BELL: It starts with going to these communities. It's starts with actually, physically being there, building that trust.

Communities of color, Black communities, indigenous communities — going to them and explaining who we are and what we'd like to learn from these communities and, crucially, be in partnership. Getting that kind of trust built is a process that takes time, but is it is possible, as long as you're authentic and you're deliberate. It's never done in some type of extractive one-off process.

With that, when you start to get those conversations going and get that storytelling underway, you start documenting it. When you're ready to share these stories, always consider the various languages of the community. If you're in a community that is both English- and Spanish-speaking, make sure you translate it. If there are other community languages spoken, make sure they're translated into all the other languages of the community, so that these stories are accessible to all.

MIKE WATSON: Excellent. Amanda do you want to add anything to that?

AMANDA O’ROURKE: Those are all excellent. One of the other practical tips is we do often have translated materials, but we also create these really simple engagement boards that focus a lot on images. Sometimes we use emojis, so that people can engage. The materials are quite inclusive, so that people can engage and provide input on something in a way that there are no language barriers.

I also think it's really important anytime as an outsider you're working with an underserved community or marginalized community, as Jonathan mentioned and Doug as well, building those partnerships with important partners who have established relationships, who have built up that trust over the long time. So that you're not just coming in as an outsider saying, “Hey, we want to hear from you” and it's not transactional. Those community partnerships are key, and community embedded champions are also key.

MIKE WATSON: More great advice. Doug, do you want to add anything to that?

DOUG HOOKER: We have had partnerships with two wonderful social service organizations in our region: the Center for Pan-Asian Community Services, and the Latin American Association. They partner with us all the time at a moment's notice to help us make sure we provide those who can speak the first language of the clients we’re trying to reach in the various communities, and hear their concerns, and also take the time to hear their stories and to be able to communicate with them in authentic and linguistically accurate ways.

We also have staff internal to the agency who may not be in our aging team, but we do a lot of work to invite them to help us with their understanding of how best to translate materials in the appropriate language or how best to interpret the language that we're hearing back from members of our other communities — Asian American and Latino American communities. That's what we've done and continue to do.

MIKE WATSON: Excellent. Thank you all for those great responses. We have time for one more question for the three of you:

How can younger professionals coming into a community, especially rural communities, help bring change while not steamrolling older residents? What tools are useful to connect with older adults who may have limited internet access or technological literacy?

Amanda, since you're Canadian, let's start with you on this one, and then go to Jonathan and Doug.

AMANDA O’ROURKE: In rural contexts, certainly there are additional challenges in terms of meeting people. Our approach to pop-up in parks or busy street corners doesn't quite work. It really goes down to committing to take the time to actually reach the people that you want to reach.

If it's seniors in a rural context, then there's going to be time and energy put towards actually meeting them where they're at, whether it's in their home or whether it's in a public space where they feel comfortable, whether it's a library or an outdoor space.

As Lynn mentioned, it's also being aware of the fact that you’ve got to move at that speed of trust. You have to be willing to come in fully committed to going at that time frame and not have these very specific schedules and outputs. This is not exactly a big part of traditional planning approaches. It's a radical change. It's a radical kind of different way of approaching engagement, but it's much more meaningful and, to use Lynn’s words, purposeful.

MIKE WATSON: Great answer. Jonathan, do you have anything to add?

JONATHAN PACHECO BELL: I could point to a recent project that we're working on at Sagecrest Planning. We have a client who's proposing a new business in a very rural part of Riverside County, further east of LA. That's a place that makes it harder to do some of the pop-up activities that I’ve talked about, but one thing that we did is door-to-door canvassing. We went to all the rural community members around the project site to introduce who we are, what we're up to, and to take that work to the streets, supplemented by a community meeting and mailers and things like that.

It is still possible for you to make those face-to-face interactions happen in the spaces of the community. The geography might be a little different, but the relationship-building is the same. For the young and emerging planners, the folks that are coming into the field, for this question what I’d really like to uplift is the importance of listening. That's a crucial part of communication, so you're not just presenting. You're not just talking. You’re certainly never talking at or past people. You have to listen.

MIKE WATSON: Love that really fantastic advice. Doug, I’m sure you have some great things to add to the two fantastic answers that just came from Jonathan and Amanda.

DOUG HOOKER: I will first say that because we don't plan in a rural context, I don't know that I have any lived experience or advice to offer for a rural context. But I would remind all of us young planner, old planner, whoever — collaboration moves at the speed of trust. If you're in a community that you're not familiar with, you have to take the time to work on the trust-building. Amanda made reference to that, and as Jonathan said, we have to listen twice as much as we speak, which is why we have two ears and only one mouth.

Collaboration moves at the speed of trust. I will also remind us that collaboration is work, “co-labor.” Young or old, we have to take the time and put the work in, the commitment. Listen, so we can seek to empathize and understand, to build trust. I think that applies no matter what the context is. I hope it would apply in a rural context, as well.

MIKE WATSON: That's fantastic. This certainly has been a collaborative discussion because each of you has built on each other and really added some richness. I want to thank you all so much for joining us. Thank you, Debra, Jonathan, Amanda and Doug. This was fantastic.

Page published October 2021

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