It’s been a real privilege to convene a wide array of groups and individuals through the Civic Salon; not just at the events themselves, but through organizing meetings and interviews to gauge what issues and opportunities seem most ripe for convergence.

One of the most common themes has been an acknowledgement that many of the new and existing efforts to support the common good locally and regionally are often isolated and disconnected from one another.  The precarity and complexity of current social and political contexts makes finding common ground and developing a common language for relating to each other more important than ever.  I believe that focusing on ideas held in common can provide a good foundation for building relationships and for cooperation and collaboration as we work to serve immediate needs and attempt to bridge current divides in our community.  

“Mapping” assets, needs, stakeholders, and systems is one of the fundamental activities of the Community Resilience Guild (the not-for-profit organization hosting the Civic Salon).  By getting as much of what’s currently happening out on the table, and bringing diverse perspectives into the room, we can begin to “connect the dots” and identify needs and opportunities more clearly.  A common metaphor is casting baking powder on a spider web to make the overall patterns more visible.

This work can take a variety of forms in terms of process and outcomes.  The Civic Salon provides an “open space” to explore a variety of mapping strategies, with the goal of digesting and synthesizing information to form a richer picture of our current context, shaped by diverse perspectives and understandings.

What can this look like in practice?  One of my favorite examples is the Reliable Prosperity framework developed by Ecotrust in Portland.  The interactive concept map provides a gateway into learning about key ideas defined and articulated within their particular bioregional context, connected to programs and resources that illustrate them in action.  Click on any of the concepts, like “sense of place“, to explore.

Recently in Goshen, the unity resolution introduced by Julia King to the City Council was forced to address whether words matter.  Words do matter, giving meaning to the values and principles we strive to promote.  The Lexicon of Sustainability (on display at the Salon) highlights the importance of claiming the language we use, in the specific context of local food systems.  The project uses information art to define and illustrate core ideas essential for advocacy.

A further step is to weave these words and concepts into narratives and “frames” designed to connect with specific audiences, as modeled by the tools and white papers developed by the Frameworks Institute, such as this report on the narratives surrounding immigration reform.

Once we collectively “own” and align the language we’re using to describe our context, we can use the terms that emerge to begin organizing and connecting examples in our local community that reflect them. The internet has introduced powerful tools for generating and curating content, exemplified by campaigns like the Good of Goshen.  Google maps, online databases and wiki pages, and many other resources have also helped provide an incredible array of information.  Yet this information is often fragmented and conflicting, reflecting the polarities we now find in our community.  By more strategically using freely available content management systems and organizing the way we “tag” resources, we can begin to make better sense of the abundant local information available to us.  

  • GO Help USA offers a great example of how database can make specific resources more accessible.  
  • This Community Green Map in British Columbia integrates story and geographic mapping.

One of the most powerful tools for initially making sense of complexity is Kumu.  Read their manifesto for starters.  Then explore this brief presentation that illustrates the way mapping can help bring cohesion and alignment in addressing community systems:

As we pass the halfway point for the pop-up Salon, three specific areas that we plan to concentrate our mapping energies on are immigration, health care, and environmental advocacy.  We’ll be hosting a variety of educational and working meetings designed to harvest information and directly engage participants in identifying relationships and connecting the dots.  With the information more organized, we can begin to craft communication strategies, narratives, and resources that might engage and inspire the broader community.  More information will be coming soon.  You can follow the website and facebook page to see what emerges, or email me at if you would like to be more directly involved.

If you’re still curious about about other examples of what we mean by “mapping”, here’s a slideshow I compiled last year to introduce different models that have inspired me: