Engaging the Grassroots: Global Community Forum

How are grassroots people to work together productively in their local communities?  Especially when there are such deep divisions in every society?  Can you imagine a group of diverse people coming together from a town, a village or an urban neighborhood for only a day and producing, not a series of angry exchanges, but a shared vision of a desired future for their community, a common understanding of the blocks to that vision and a set of agreed on proposals for action, with teams ready to go to work on them?

ICA not only imagined a way to make this happen–it both designed and executed a process for doing so on a mass scale. The process was called Global Community Forum, and it would be tested in countries and cultures all across the globe.   In the US, it was called Town Meeting, in India, Gram Sabha, and  in other countries by other names.  It was a design in which community leaders called people together and a trained volunteer team led the group through a participatory process that resulted in a documented plan of action.

The most ambitious application of this program was that launched in the US as part of its 1976 national Bicentennial celebration.  Called and commissioned Town Meeting 76,.the ICA took on the incredible commitment to holding at least one of these events in every county of the United States over the course of that one year. In fulfilling this charge, ICA staff and colleagues would find they had held over 5,000 such community events.

These events were lively and fast paced, yet with time for thoughtful group discussion and a process that facilitated collective decision making.  Serious group work was interspersed with speeches, impassioned group singing and local performances.  ICA’s  consensus process  ensured that every voice was heard and honored, with the result that the day’s work was owned by all the participants.  Each Town Meeting’s closing celebration distributed copies of all the day’s work, including an enlivening new story, song and symbol that the group created to portray their community’s future.

At the end of the day, the volunteers moved on to the next community awaiting its demonstration of this remarkable capacity of ordinary people working together to positively shape their own future.
This logo was created by the ICA in 1976 to be used for the Town Meeting program.


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