Michigan Libraries Engage has provided training in community engagement from the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation to over 150 staff from Michigan libraries since 2016. Through a competitive grant process, libraries have been selected to undergo 2-3 days of in-person training in community engagement methods, followed by 9-18 months of group and personal coaching calls from certified Harwood coaches. The training also provides attendees with a Public Innovator toolkit for use with staff and partners and a library of videos. With support and guidance from MCLS and the Library of Michigan, cohort members are expected to attend coaching calls, contribute to an online forum, and demonstrate how their efforts are making a change in their communities.
Each workshop is organized into five areas that participants are led through step-by-step.
Key to becoming a public innovator is a thorough understanding of the local community and environment. Attendees learn how to ask the right questions in order to collect public knowledge about their communities. Just as important as asking the questions is listening to the answers and understanding what is being said. The new public knowledge forms the basis for sound decision-making and developing partnerships with allies in the community.
It all starts with a personal choice to turn outward. Turning outward makes the community the reference point to getting things done and not the boardroom or director’s office. By choosing to turn outward, libraries take the first step toward more effective community engagement. Attendees learn how to apply the decision to turn outward to their daily chores and key functions. They learn how to engage others in their libraries and communities and encourage them to turn outward.
Every community is different. One community may be ripe for innovation while another may require work to lay the foundation for change. Workshop participants learn how to identify the stage of their communities and the implications for effective action. Then they can identify the right conditions to accelerate and support change.
Attendees learn how to apply their sphere of influence, choose the best path to win, and create an action plan. They will be on the way to creating meaningful change and innovation in their communities.
Libraries that have participated in the training have convened community conversations, created community narratives, and started new initiatives in their communities. From Putnam District Library’s “Nashville Street Fair Night” to the Caro Area District Library’s “community assessment,” participating libraries have started to take the lead to bring about change in their communities.