Tag Archives: communication

A Path Toward Cooperation

By Janet Lewis Muth

This summer I attended the State of the State conference hosted by MN Campus Compact at Macalester College.  While I appreciated all of the speakers in the “TED Talk” style sessions, I was most drawn to the message delivered by Dick Senese, from University of Minnesota Extension.  His main message – or at least what I took away from it – was that we too often surround ourselves by the messages that we already agree with, and neglect to listen to those messages that conflict with our already held beliefs about an issue.

I was intrigued enough by the topic to sit in on his small group discussion – and found myself the only community partner present in the group.  The conversation was a nice deepening of what he’d presented, along with resource and idea sharing for folks with specific issues they wanted to explore or address.  I raised the issue of having difficulty partnering with a group in our community because of their perception of who we are as an organization – and in particular who we aim to serve.  One of the ideas presented was to seek out an intermediary – or spanner – who has a relationship both with the group in question and our organization.  The point was to use existing relationships to strengthen avenues of communication and to even build new relationships.  I left the conference feeling far more confident than I had in weeks about how to move forward on several issues in our work.

So how did it work out?  In one instance, it didn’t really pan out.  We were trying to engage the local vendors at the farmers’ market to support the use of a card reader that would allow customers to shop using a debit card or their food support dollars.   We met with the local Chamber of Commerce to discuss the issue, and while they weren’t able to help us create new relationships or lines of communication, we did strengthen our relationship with them by broaching the subject and using them as a resource.  In the other instance, it appears to be working out quite well.  We’ve been dealing with a large-scale bed bug infestation in many of the low-income apartment complexes in our community.  We learned about the issue through tenants of the apartments who were frustrated at being asked to pay for the extermination costs.  Our initial approach was to pursue legal means to force landlords to pay for the extermination and relieve low-income families from this burden.  But through several conversations with multiple parties with whom we have relationships and who also have relationships with the landlords, it became clear that we were ignoring the significant problem/cost/burden that is placed on the landlords in this type of situation.  We have not yet come to a solution, but we have already partnered with Public Health to deliver a forum on the issue and are actively working to develop more educational opportunities for tenants.  In addition, we are pursuing a conversation with a City inspector, introduced to us through our partnership with Public Health, with the goal of brainstorming solutions that are acceptable to all parties involved.  I no longer feel like we are fighting an impossible battle; I feel like we are on the path toward cooperation.

In short, we’ve learned to take a step back from the really tough issues and approach them less from an “Us or Them” mentality and more from a “We’re in This Together” mentality.  Many thanks to Campus Compact for sponsoring the event and giving us the resources to move our work forward in such a positive way!

Janet Lewis Muth is Project Coordinator at Growing Up Healthy in Rice County.

How Generation Y Uses Facebook

By Julia Quanrud

“People only use Facebook for stalking people they’re attracted to,” says C., somewhat jokingly.  According to C., a recent Minnesotan college grad, he only uses Facebook “to get in touch with people for whom I don’t have other contact mechanisms and for things that aren’t urgent.”

For M., another recent grad from Minnesota, Facebook is a means for “staying in contact with my family outside the Twin Cities.”  M. also uses Facebook to connect with old friends, and used it occasionally during the 2008 political campaigns to connect with organized political activities around the RNC.

Both C. and M. feel that Facebook has little to no value for them in terms of civic engagement.  Neither connects with nonprofits on Facebook, despite the fact that both are involved in their community and volunteer regularly.  The nonprofit for which C. volunteers on the weekends recently set up a Facebook group, but C. doesn’t participate, because it seemed “redundant”.  Rather, C. prefers direct email from the nonprofit’s volunteer coordinator.

But if Facebook is the website of choice for young adults these days, why can’t organizations effectively use it to engage with model young citizens like C. and M.?  A less-than-scientific survey of my hippest friends revealed that most young adults view Facebook as a recreational activity.  You probably shouldn’t use it at work, but it is better than a tabloid when it comes to keeping up with gossip and procrastinating.  So, if organizations want to reach young and active folks like C. and M. via Facebook, there better be a great incentive for them to visit the organization’s page instead of playing Mafia Wars.

The eroded boundary between the professional and personal aspects of Facebook also discourages young adults from engaging with organizations on Facebook.  Users might like portraying themselves as wild party animals to their 200 closest friends, but when professional organizations come knocking, they might become a lot less comfortable with the Facebook identity they’ve created for themselves.  After all, the photo “remove tag” button is there for a reason.  Organizations might try to lure young Facebook users to their page with some fancy Facebook applications, but those applications require users to sign away their privacy rights (and they may be less useful than advertised).  And while Facebook encourages organizations to buy ads in order to attract more users, how effective can an organization’s ad be when it’s adjacent to an ad like this?

That said, civic organizations should continue to explore the potential of Facebook, but they should first develop a strong strategic plan that respects users’ privacy while avoiding what I would label the “fan and flee” syndrome (a Facebook user becomes a fan of an organization’s Facebook page, and then never visits the page again).  Facebook can certainly play a role in engaging youth, as demonstrated by the 2008 Obama campaign, but it is by no means the best way to connect with young adults.  As C. said, the most valuable form of communication with his nonprofit of choice was a direct email.  How old-fashioned.