Are You Turned Outward?

Written by Kelly Rider, Government Relations and Policy Director, Housing Development Consortium

A few weeks back, the Harwood Institute came to King County for a 3 day workshop with local governments and community partners. The workshop goals included:

  • Strengthen and empower community partnerships to address community priorities and challenges
  • Train participants to identify and authentically understand community priorities and
  • Inspire public institutions toward authentic engagement.

Throughout our time together, we were challenged to turn outward:

Not being a public institution, HDC and our members have a different role in this work than the many municipalities in attendance. In some ways, our role is simpler: to hold communities accountable for authentic engagement, particularly with underserved and traditionally marginalized communities. HDC and our members are often in the role of believing that we represent these communities, and it is therefore the role of elected officials, municipal agencies, and staff to authentically engage with us. But that is only one part of our challenge.

For HDC staff, our community is often our members; for our members your community could be the neighborhood(s) you work in, your current residents, and/or your future residents. In order to speak on behalf of communities, we must also be willing to authentically engage with the communities we say we represent. In other words, in order to have a strong affordable housing sector, we must truly place our beliefs about what we think is happening or should happen second to what our communities tell us is happening.

Just as we push our public servants in government to do better, we must also push ourselves. We have to be willing to challenge ourselves about the assumptions we might be making in claiming to represent community. Instead of claiming to have the answer, we can turn toward the community in search of the answer. And here is one test to see how we are doing: The 3A’s of Public Life.

  • Authority: Do you hold a deep knowledge of the community you or your organization represents and apply that knowledge in your work?
  • Authenticity: Are you treating the people of your community as members in your work, not just as current or future consumers? Are you deeply listening to your community in an ongoing way?
  • Accountability: Are you setting realistic expectations about your work? For your funders? For your residents? Are you living up to the expectations you have set?

In the coming year, HDC staff will be working hard to turn outward to ensure we are authentically engaging our members. We will also be pushing you to authentically engage your residents as members in your community, not just as consumers. As a starting point, we can ask our community to share their aspirations. Help HDC turn outward by completing this brief questionnaire:


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* What are your aspirations for HDC?

* What challenges do we face in achieving these aspirations?

* What do we need to change in order to reach our aspirations?

Thanks to King County and the Seattle Foundation for bringing the Harwood Institute to our community for this opportunity. For more information about “turning outward,” visit this website.