Building Capacity for Collaborative Community Conversations

Oakmont Village is an active, 55+ community in the beautiful Valley of the Moon in Sonoma County, California.  Established in 1963 as an un-gated community within the city of Santa Rosa CA, Oakmont has grown to over 4,500 residents. 

In June of 2022, the Oakmont Village Association (OVA) Board of Directors unanimously adopted the Oakmont 2030 Roadmap as a way to “drive the conversation with the community about what Oakmont wants to become”.  The goal is to create a vision for a thriving, livable and sustainable place for current and future residents.

Oakmont resident Herm Herman, who has worked on a number of efforts to envision changes in the community over the years believes that past efforts to plan for changes have failed to come to any final fruition because “we didn’t’ get enough by-in from enough people in the community”

With limited opportunities for engagement and dialogue in the community about important issues, it was decided that a new approach would be needed in order for any plan to get traction and support from the wider community.  

The Oakmont 2030 Steering Committee selected Keyring Consulting and Collaboration Arts to:

  • design a process for more collaborative community conversations
  • facilitate a series of meetings that would allow the community to discuss issues related to  Oakmont Today and Oakmont Tomorrow
  • build capacity in the community to hold these conversations in the future.

The Committee was attracted to the Collaborative Community Conversation model that allows for: 

  • engaging large groups (30-100’s), in small group dialogue about a series of focused questions 
  • the rapid distillation of key themes from these conversations
  • the presentation back of these themes to reveal the collective thinking of the community

The effort sought to engage as many people who had participated in the last election.  So, we ran a series of 6 meetings focused on Oakmont Today, followed by a series of 6 focused on Oakmont Tomorrow. Each series included an online meeting that followed the same process to give participants who had mobility challenges or were traveling the opportunity to participate.

These sessions were well attended and generated a lot of enthusiasm, excitement, and energy. 

Community members shared these thoughts about the Oakmont 2030 process…

The transparent process produced clearly articulated statements that represented the range of thinking by the group.  This was very different from previous opportunities for community members to offer opinions on issues via either surveys, or board meetings where Robert’s Rules of Order are used.  

Built into the design of the project was the desire to build capacity for the community to improve their public engagement capabilities and learn new methods of facilitating more collaborative meetings.  Over 50 community members volunteered to be trained as table facilitators and “theme team” members and managers.  Oakmont 2030 co-chair Marlena Tremont said, “The idea is to have a community that is engaged with each other, the OVA staff, and the board to both solve problems and create opportunities”.

Key areas for further exploration were identified during the Oakmont Today and Tomorrow sessions such as; Life Safety, Age and Diversity, Environmental Stewardship, and a gathering place for meeting friends. These areas will be used to form working groups that will be provided with relevant research and community input gathered before and during the Community Conversations and tasked with exploring and identifying realistic possibilities for action within the theme.   These ideas will be brought back to the community for further discussion.

In this time where communities are more polarized and don’t have many opportunities to connect and engage around the issues that really matter in the community; it’s refreshing to see Oakmont invest in trying new methods and building capacity for on-going engagement and dialogue.

Leave a Comment