For many organizations June is the month of Annual General Meetings and Annual Reports. For most community groups these annual reports and meetings serve to more or less regurgitate the general state of our work and emphasize our accomplishments. In COCo’s experience it is rare to see community groups use annual reports and meetings as opportunities for critical reflection and engagement with our members and allies. Rarely do we find a page in an Annual Report titled “What we are struggling with” or an agenda point in an AGM titled “Who are we missing?”.
What about sharing our failures and losses?
The reasons that we don’t see more critical reflection are obvious. Most of us share our Annual Reports with our funders and in general as community groups we operate in a culture that rewards positive statistics and positive messaging. Everybody wants to fund a winner and nobody wants to support a loser. Even when some funders and allies tell us that they want to understand our struggles and that they value the longer-term qualitative impacts of our work – it can be hard to believe that this is true. Who do we trust enough to honestly share the ways in which we are losing – losing campaigns, losing members, losing funding, or generally losing ground? When do we have the conversations about who we are missing in our work – who is not showing up at events, who is not on the Board, or who we forgot about in our outreach? We need more opportunities for this critical reflection both within our own groups and when we gather together with partners and allies.
Critical Reflection in Community Organizations
Critical reflection is not about perpetually dwelling on our shortcomings and never being satisfied with our accomplishments, it is about creating spaces where we can share our struggles and celebrate our successes in a genuine way. Community work is messy and challenging and we need safe spaces to critically reflect on our experiences and talk-through some of the messiness and complexity. What these spaces look like, what critical questions are on the table, and who is in the room will of course be different for each community group. However at COCo we have found that the summer can be a good time for critical reflection because it is a period that is less busy for many community groups and because vacation time tends to decrease stress and allow more space for personal reflection.
At COCo we are challenging ourselves to make some time for critical reflection at a 2-day summer retreat with Board and Staff. We are dedicating a day of this retreat to looking critically at our members and allies and asking ourselves the question – “Who are we missing?”. And in the spirit of encouraging more spaces for this kind of critical reflection we will publicly share the outcomes of “who COCo is missing” with all of you after the summer retreat!