What’s a convening and why should I care?
A quick Google search on the word convene reveals that it means to “come or bring together for a meeting or activity; assemble.” Simple enough, right?
Well, yes and no. Meetings are relatively easy to organize, so long as you have a time and location. It’s getting the right people in the room together that proves to be the bigger challenge. Identifying the “right” people is also a complicated process.
One of the big tasks for me over the next year is to plan and execute six convenings. These meetings will be thematic, covering some of the most problematic areas that Albuquerque deals with. Topics may include homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, human trafficking, education, etc. The purpose of bringing industry leaders together is for them to learn about one another and explore what collaboration might look like if groups began to work together.
The people of Albuquerque are really great at working in silos but not so great at working together. Perhaps it’s in our scrappy DNA as a southwestern city. Maybe it’s because of the cultural differences of the people who populate this beautiful landscape. No matter what the reason, it’s time to find ways to break out of silo thinking and examine the far-reaching benefits of sharing time, people and resources to accomplish something greater together than we could ever do alone.
Identifying those who need to be part of any given convening isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Let’s use the topic of homelessness as an example. You may say we should get leaders from the City, feeding organizations and shelters to come up with solutions to this growing epidemic. Well, what about those experienced in mental health, poverty and crisis intervention? You could also tack on employment coaches or advisors, housing program workers and those dealing with public transportation. Then, don’t forget law enforcement, probation and parole officers, veterans’ services and legislative personnel. All of these areas bleed into one another, and so it goes to reason that all the leaders need to have an opportunity to share their knowledge and ideas.
The outcome of a convening isn’t as glamorous as I might desire. It’s highly unlikely that after a meeting there will be one single plan and focus with the necessary marching orders for everyone in the room. While I’d love to say, “Hey, we just solved the problem of homelessness in our city,” that’s just not going to happen after one meeting. What might happen, though, is that the police will learn about a specialty program that a nonprofit is running, and when they get a call from a business owner about a homeless person camping on their property, they have a variety of services they can offer. If city leaders hear from faith-based organizations about successes they’ve achieved, perhaps there will be a consideration of how to use these established organizations to provide wrap-around services for programs the City puts forward.
Just as there is no simple formula explaining how someone got into homelessness, there will be no single answer for how to get them out. However, the hope is that by working together, agencies, organizations and institutions may be able to more effectively deal with the variety of issues a homeless man, woman or family is experiencing.
Sharing resources, best practices and experiences can only serve to strengthen all the participants. While playing King of the Hill is great for recess, it’s not so great for difficult community issues. Letting others join you at the top of the hill provides a much needed shift in perspective. After all, if only one person is allowed at the top, it’s a wearying task to maintain dominance by pushing others away.