How to lead a good walk

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Photos taken during Belly Full: A History of Hunger Resistance in Parkdale

I love creating ways for people to engage with their local area; to connect, share and be critical in their day-to-day spaces. A pretty rad way to do that is to lead a group of people on a good walk*.

But how do you lead a walk that is interesting, that educates and that makes some kind of positive change in your local area?

I thought a lot about this question while creating the Choreographer pilot program with Jane’s Walk. As the organizers of a global walking festival in 100 cities, Jane’s Walk has some great resources and introduced me to a few more ideas that I’d like to share.

But first, let us start the revolution, reach world peace and end poverty … starting with my own neighbourhood walk.

Of course, you’ll have to read my uber popular neighbourhood walking guide. It details my super cool neighbourhood and even offers concrete strategies to make it a better place. My guide may transform you, your friends, your community, the world even!

But you’re right. You deserve better. Fine. I’ll lead you around, see the sights and you can take part in my amazing copyrighted “walk for good lecture”! Still not enough!? Ah! You are a greedy one. You want the best. OK I’ll tell you everything you want to know and everything there ever was, I’ll find a room for you, and we’ll meet every single neighbour of mine and we’ll walk everyday for the rest of our lives!!!

No. This is the wrong place to start. Think about what the aim of a good walk actually is.

To use a quote from Tilden’s Principles, a good walk “is not instruction, but provocation”. To provoke, you must infuse yourself with your surroundings, be confronted and uncomfortably challenged by what you see, reflect with others (real actual groups of people) and act. And re-act. One way to do that, is facilitating a walking conversation with people.

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When planning your own walk, begin with this idea: ‘a walking conversation’. Next, add a few of these starters below.  By starters I mean, start here and figure out the rest later.

Permission to inquire

This is a mindset. As a walk organizer, you need to make sure everyone who is participating is given permission to investigate, lead, take a step, poke, prod and figure things out when they are curious. It’s not enough to say “feel free to ask any questions at any time”. There are reasons why people speak and others do not. Think about what those reasons might be, counter them and make space. Offer multiple ways to inquire, like asking a partner, talking in small groups, writing questions, touching and hearing the space, creating time to explore individually, and making space for silence.

Local Expertise

Really sit with this idea. I know it’s tempting to want a certified expert, with some kind of degree, to tell you things. It feels trustworthy and you want the facts. But we are all experts in our lives, so why privilege only a few? Look for expertise in all the shapes it comes in: personal stories, anecdotes, exciting moments, things people like and don’t like, skills, talents, people who have 50 years experience living in an area and people who just moved there. Practically, this looks like validating people’s living knowledge. It doesn’t mean throwing out the history books, but it does mean relating to the ways history affects the present and future lives.

Multiple Perspectives

This is both a starter and an organizing tip. Share different stories from different points of view. This doesn’t mean that you can give a neutral “some say this, and some say that” approach. No. Try to show how the same story affects people differently. Logistically, find different people to help you both facilitate and tell their story, for example as a stop along a walk. Who are the people on your street? Stop in and find out.

50 / 50

I really like the simplicity of this one. Try to work towards 50% of the conversation coming from you and other speakers and 50% of the conversation coming from the rest of the group.

Remember the “walk lecture” I mentioned? That’s 100% of a walk leader’s voice. One voice, one story. This completely disregards the audience’s experience and knowledge. Not cool. 100% from the crowd can be interesting but your fellow walkers might not be expecting that. In my experience, people want to make sure there is some kind of control in how a walk runs. They will be looking to you for a little direction.

Sure, you might end up 75/25 and that’s OK! Just remind yourself to work towards an equal dialogue in every walk, and you’ll do just fine.

Sorry. I’m going to confuse you. Not just 50/50. Some voices carry more weight, while others are under-represented. Find those silent voices and increase the volume when you can.

Next Steps

Great walk! Time to go home and forget about it! Boooo. That’s not right. A good walk never ends. It is a living walk.

People might think about your walk years later, and it might have truly impacted them, but further impact takes action. Make sure your walk nudges folks towards a next step. That could be almost anything, from future events, meeting, petitions, local groups, websites, email, anything that encourages the discussion to continue in person after the last stop of the walk. It’s really simple to do, but often forgotten.

 

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These starters came mostly from my work with Jane’s Walk  – with major thanks and support from Toronto Community Foundation – and a recent meeting with Dan Monafu from de(tour) Ottawa (check them out now!). Thank you all for inspiring me to write it all down.

Finally, it is important to remember that a good walk is not easy. But if you take some of these starters seriously, your walk will educate, be interesting and leave people thirsty for more questions than answers (a good thing!).

*I use the term walk to explain what experiencing a physical space in motion is like. It is a multiple-abled experience and can be done by wheelchair, by cane and by bike. As long as the “walker” can stop and converse with someone else while in motion – I say it’s a walk!

Jane’s Walk

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Jane’s Walks are free, locally organized walking tours, in which people get together to explore, talk about and celebrate their neighbourhoods. Since 2007, this homegrown phenomenon has expanded, now reaching 44 cities in Canada and 100 more cities around the world. In 2014, 157 free walks were organized in during the first weekend of May in Toronto alone with topics ranging from understanding the refugee experience to exploring urban history and architecture.

 

With Jane’s Walk, I was asked to create and facilitate a train-the-trainer program called Neighbourhood Choreographers. Participants from suburban neighbourhoods would be trained to encourage, support and “choreograph” their local community in the process of leading their first Jane’s Walk. The following year, I worked with the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, to develop the capacity of neighbourhood organizers in Halton Municipality to use public walking conversations as a way to engage with the Greenbelt and other issues related local sustainable development.

Position: Program Manager, Jane’s Walk (International Headquarters in Toronto)

Results:

  • Choreographer program guide and training curriculum developed with best practices and activities
  • 30 Neighbourhood Choreographers trained across suburban Toronto, Halton and Hamilton Municipalities in Ontario, who initiated 35 community Jane’s Walk activities
  • Initiated and coordinated partnerships and trainings with community-based agencies and funders including Action For Neighbourhood Change offices, Toronto Public Libraries, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Community Health Centres, the City of Toronto and Community Development Halton.

Impact on Walk Festival

  • 300% increase in number of walks in the Etobicoke Lakeshore region due to the Choreographers
  • 25 total suburban walks inspired by the Choreographer program
  • 9 new community agencies recruited to organize their first Jane’s Walk
  • 75% retention of returning community agencies previously involved in Community Walks program

Website and Social Media:

Jane’s Walk Jane’s Walk: Neighbourhood Choreographer Program
Jane’s Walk: Highlighted Choreographer-led Walks
Choregrapher: Amitis Nouroozi

Press:

Spacing Magazine  How Jane’s Walk is engaging with suburban community “choreographers” (Summer 2014)

Partners and Friends: Tides Canada Toronto Community Foundation East Scarborough Storefront Bathurst – Finch Action for Neighbourhood Change Office LAMP Community Health Centre

Elysse Choreographer Still 8

 

Choreographer Certificates

Train the Trainer … DEBUNKED!

This past spring, I helped an organization develop their strategy to promote their program in neighbourhoods across Toronto. Broadly, this method of promoting an idea or tool to a group of people outside of a familiar group is called community outreach.

My guess is that if you’re using the term “community outreach”, you’re likely trying to make the world better in some way. If not, you would be looking into marketing or Propaganda 101. So you probably want those involved to be those who are connected to the social issue you are hoping to tackle. Who are these people so connected to this issue and how to do you reach them? There’s not an easy answer – especially if you’re stuck in the belief that what works best for you will work best for someone else.

Even with years of experience, I still made plenty of mistakes when developing the community outreach strategy. Over the next month, I will outline a few strategies that always tempt me during community outreach; strategies that seem exciting, but rarely work on their own. Let me be clear and say each strategy has the potential to be invaluable, but they are all based on certain assumptions that need a closer examination. I’d like to outline some of the pitfalls with each strategy, starting with…

Let’s train trainers!

The main idea behind the “Train the Trainer” model is that if one trainer could be used to teach 10 folks, then maybe if you trained 10 “regular” folks to be trainers themselves, and then they trained 10 folks themselves… well well … looks like you just did community outreach to 100 folks! YES!!! #WIN!

NO! This falls flat on 3 major assumptions:

People can organize people. 

Not so true. To have a steady social network, understanding of an area, time and skills to promote, budget and organize accessible regular space with food, as well as the ability to document and evaluate the event, is asking a lot of folks. The tough truth is that people are not robots, and they live wonderful and dynamic lives. To believe that all 10 folks you train will have the organizational or administrative capacity to replicate a short or lengthly community workshop, training or public meeting is unrealistic.

People can become trainers.

Maybe. Training folks is not easy. Your Train-the-Trainer certificate by itself will not guarantee success of what happens next. You must consider the folks the new trainers will be working with and how they will be training them. Consider, for example, the assumptions we often make about literacy and computer use. Is your whole curriculum written in english and only accessible online? How will your trainers support someone whose first language is different than their own? On top of that, what does working with a group of people actually look like? Upper level board room meetings can be straight-up nasty! How, too, will your new trainers support those who have a learning disability or have had traumatic experiences in classroom setting? Let’s be honest – at the very basic level of training capacity, it’s very hard for anyone to teach anything.

People have time.

Are your newly trained trainers being paid equitably to attend training and to do their own training? Are they given the resources to pay others to attend their meeting. They do? Fine. That’s great. But more realistically, you are likely hoping that the trainers who you are training are volunteers in some capacity, and are looking for other unpaid folks to take their training out of their sheer interest or stake in the issue. These folks, the unpaid trainers and those attending these workshops, do not have time.

Let me explain. I like to use the term time poverty from time to time (haha?). People are busy. People have children. People support people they care about. People are working long long terrible hours and live far away from you and the transit sucks and is expensive. Likely the “community” in community outreach that you are trying to connect with, is busy. If you do not provide supports and resources (transit, child care, accessible space, adequate honorarium, food) for the new trainers or to the communities they are expected to outreach to – folks will not show up.

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Consider Train the Trainer model DEBUNKED! Next up, another classic tactic that is ripe for debunking … “Let’s find volunteers!”

Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change (and other people socialized in a society based on domination)

As a young, able, hetero, Canadian, white guy – it’s easy to forget about privilege. To me, it is a living exercise to keep challenging myself to see how my privilege oppresses others – and do something about it now. Here’s a great checklist that I continue to use and reflect upon:

1. Practice noticing who’s in the room at meetings – how many men, how many women, how many white people, how many people of color, is it majority heterosexual, are there out queers, what are people’s class backgrounds. Don’t assume to know people, but also work at being more aware.

2a. Count how many times you speak and keep track of how long you speak.

2b. Count how many times other people speak and keep track of how long they speak.

3. Be conscious of how often you are actively listening to what other people are saying as opposed to just waiting your turn and/or thinking about what you’ll say next.

4. Practice going to meetings focused on listening and learning; go to some meetings and do not speak at all.

5a. Count how many times you put ideas out to the group.

5b. Count how many times you support other people’s ideas for the group.

6. Practice supporting people by asking them to expand on ideas and get more in-depth, before you decide to support the idea or not.

7a. Think about whose work and contribution to the group gets recognized.

7b. Practice recognizing more people for the work they do and try to do it more often.

8. Practice asking more people what they think about meetings, ideas, actions, strategy and vision. White guys tend to talk amongst themselves and develop strong bonds that manifest in organizing. This creates an internal organizing culture that is alienating for most people. Developing respect and solidarity across race, class, gender and sexuality is complex and difficult, but absolutely critical – and liberating.

9. Be aware of how often you ask people to do something as opposed to asking other people “what needs to be done”.

10. Think about and struggle with the saying, “you will be needed in the movement when you realize that you are not needed in the movement”.

11. Struggle with and work with the model of group leadership that says that the responsibility of leaders is to help develop more leaders, and think about what this means to you.

12. Remember that social change is a process, and that our individual transformation and individual liberation is intimately interconnected with social transformation and social liberation. Life is profoundly complex and there are many contradictions. Remember that the path we travel is guided by love, dignity and respect – even when it is bumpy and difficult to navigate.

13. This list is not limited to white guys, nor is it intended to reduce all white guys into one category. This list is intended to disrupt patterns of domination which hurt our movement and hurt each other. White guys have a lot of work to do, but it is the kind of work that makes life worth living.

14. Day-to-day patterns of domination are the glue that maintain systems of domination. The struggle against capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism and the state, is also the struggle towards collective liberation.

15. No one is free until all of us are free.

From the Colours of Resistance webpage

via RANT Collective : Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change (and other people socialized in a society based on domination) and Chris Crass

Training & Consultation

  • Developed curriculum to train 35 local community organizers in the methods of Jane’s Walk, a global platform for free locally led walking tours
  • Designed and facilitated courses and workshops for more than 400 front line staff, managers, and peer workers in Toronto’s community services sector
  • Co-facilitated and coordinated a 12-week Participant Engagement course developed for Drop-in workers alongside City of Toronto award-winning advocate Anna Willats, with the goal of increasing the capacity of homeless services agencies as community spaces for engagement and advocacy.
  • Instructed and facilitated a curriculum based on exploring issues surrounding poverty, social inequities, social action and leadership for selected youth aged 14-18 from across the USA in Chicago and New York City with Civic Education Project
  • Coordinated Community Development and Volunteer Support workshops for more than 60 international volunteers from 11 countries with Sport Coaches Outreach (SCORE) for two years in South Africa and Zambia.
  • Designed, developed and presented training courses focused on youth leadership, sport management and HIV/AIDS education for more than 150 youth and school teachers in 4 Zambian Provinces with Score Zambia and the Zambian Interfaith Network Group on HIV/AIDS
  • My full resume of my skills and experience is available here. 

Workshop Expertise

  • Participant Engagement
  • Public Pedagogy
  • Community Engagement
  • Introduction to Facilitation Methods
  • Participatory Workshop Design
  • Sport for Development
  • Teambuilding and Energizers for Groups
  • HIV/AIDS education through Sport & Play
  • Information and Referral for Homeless Services
  • Civic Education for Youth
  • International Volunteer Orientation/ Mid Term Retreats/ End of Service

Community Partners and Employers

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