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June 10, 2024

Power in Place: Lessons from the Engagement

Last year, I had the privilege of supporting an engagement called Power in Place: Technical Assistance. Under the leadership of associate consultant Garland Yates, I had the opportunity to work with five amazing coaches for a year and half as they provided technical assistance and coaching to Blue Meridian Partners grantee organizations. The technical assistance was focused on operationalizing Converge’s Theory of Change into each of the organizations. Throughout this journey, both the organizations and coaches navigated relationship building, restructuring and truly grappled with what it means to shift power to their community stakeholders. These are some of the reflections from the engagement. 

  1. No starting point is perfect: When we started this technical assistance journey, we identified the phases of the coaching process. The first phase is “seeking  permission,” meaning that we looked to the coaches to enter the organization and community with humility. This phase presented the opportunity to ask a lot of questions and for the coaches to familiarize themselves with the community. Because there was not an extensive matching process between the coaches and organizational leaders, both parties were also tasked with building that relationship and establishing coaching objectives. The key takeaway from this phase is that no starting point is perfect. As humans who are truly committed to equity and examining power, it is easy to fall into a situation where we believe everything has to be in place for the work to start. Truthfully, that isn’t a realistic expectation. 
  1. Coaching takes time: The coaching process lasted for one year. Going into the engagement, the coaches expressed concern and acknowledgement that this was not enough time. They were tasked with building relationships and trust with staff, learning the community and power shifting initiatives, and dealing with the day to day changes within an organization. One of the major lessons learned is that this work takes concerted time and effort. By the end of the engagement, coaches expressed that they had really just begun to move into the second phase of coaching after the year. While the coaches did great work in the time allotted, it would have been powerful to see the impact of that extended coaching time in how the organizations were able to operationalize the theory of change. 
  1. It’s crucial to model power sharing in small ways: One of the major lessons learned is that while these organizations had the desire to operationalize the theory of change, they needed support in understanding how power sharing could be modeled. As a coach, even modeling power sharing in team meetings or in small interactions in communities was beneficial. This creates the opportunity and the space for staff to practice and make small changes in their day to day operations. 
  1. Do no harm: The underpinning value that guided the coaches through this engagement was to do no harm. Coaches were tasked to ask tough questions and give feedback regarding the power sharing initiatives within each organization. It is easy to enter communities without a full understanding of the dynamics and bring your own preconceived notions or judgements into a space. The lesson learned was rooted in centering humanity in this process, prioritizing listening before speaking, and honoring the expertise and lived experiences of the people who exist daily in these communities. 
  1. Prioritize Relationship Building: Relationship building was crucial in the first phase of coaching. Coaches that were able to center the relationship with staff were able to get more proximity to the issues and spend time mutually learning together. Relationship building was prioritized in frequent site visits and establishing consistent communication. This could manifest in the form of weekly coaching sessions or meetings without a set agenda. Spending time together allows coaches and the staff to model authentic relationship building in a way that staff might not typically do within their organizations. 

By Nia J. Davis