What does it mean to be community driven?

On May 18, The Steelcase Foundation staff and board joined staff from Spectrum Healthier Communities, its Community Commitment Advisory Board (CCAC), and Gail Zandee, Associate Professor of Nursing and Community Partnership Coordinator at Calvin University for a discussion on community. Throughout the session, participants considered what it means to be community driven, who defines community, and the potential limits or pitfalls to the work.

Gail Zandee shared about her work in community-based participatory research through the Calvin University Nursing Department. Since 2004, the team has conducted community needs assessments every seven years to uncover unmet health-related needs in the community, utilizing their resources and partner networks to fill gaps and measure impact. The conversation highlighted the importance of ensuring all voices are accurately captured when seeking input, and the need to build long-term trust through consistency for individuals to feel safe in sharing and providing candid feedback with institutions.

Beca Velázquez-Publes, Director of Urban Core Collective (UCC), and Mark Washington, Grand Rapids City Manager, shared on their efforts to spearhead participatory budget efforts currently underway in Grand Rapids. The work began in 2020 following an open letter UCC penned to the City, and seeks to remove barriers and ensure diverse groups and marginalized voices have a direct, equitable impact on public spending projects. UCC, the City, and others then developed a framework to engage the voices of Grand Rapids’ 20+ neighborhoods and 200,000+ residents, to allocate $2 million in ARPA dollars with the greatest investment of $1 million directed to the 3rd Ward, which has historically seen the least investment.

Through the conversation, Velázquez-Publes and Washington noted the need to hold grace for partners engaged in the work and to remain at the table even when conversations get difficult. They discussed the hope that the process to be restorative for residents, and shift power to those closest to the issues for true and lasting impact. Ideas for consideration were collected through May and will be evaluated by the Advisory Committee in June, with subsequent proposals provided to residents for consideration later in the year. The City will take the learnings from this work into consideration to understand its potential for long-term use.

We appreciate everyone who participated in the conversation as we collectively seek to learn and grow as community-driven organizations.