Traverse City News and Events

Workshop Aims To Spur Breakthrough Thinking, Solutions

May 13, 2019

Addressing social problems like homelessness, the opioid epidemic and the lack of affordable housing continues to be a challenge. In hopes of creating the kind of collaborative, breakthrough thinking that will bring long-term solutions, Rotary Charities is bringing in two experts in systems thinking. David Peter Stroh and Michael Goodman of the consulting firm Bridgeway Partners will conduct a two-day workshop May 21-22 with community members, business leaders and those working in government and nonprofits.
 
Stroh says the key in systems thinking is to determine why previous solutions haven’t worked and to look at challenges holistically. “We often get frustrated, feel we’re going around in circles, but we don’t see the circle until we get back (to the starting point). Systems thinking helps you see the circles so you can address them,” he says.
 
Stroh says the invitation came from Rotary Charities due to his book Systems Thinking for Social Change.“Freya Bradford (the learning officer at Rotary Charities) read my book and thought I could be helpful.”
 
The book is a practical guide to help communities make progress on community issues, and the concept does have real-world application and success. Stroh points to Battle Creek, where he was involved with an effort to address homelessness. He says one of the reasons the problem continued to persist lay in the temporary solutions being used. “The irony was homeless shelters actually end up perpetuating homelessness. They reduce the visibility and reduce the immediacy (of the problem).” Plus shelters receive funding based on the number of beds they are filling, meaning the more homeless people using them, the more money, so they can help more people.
 
“The best practice is providing housing first,” he says, and then ensuring that the housing is permanent, safe, and supportive for those with health or substance abuse challenges. Then it is easier to address other problems, such as employment.
 
Tori Craig, the strategic communications manager at Rotary Charities, says the workshop is meant for all those who see large-scale problems and want to learn how to deal with them more effectively. That’s everyone from government and policy-makers to those who work with non-profits and businesses, activists and community members. “At the core of the strategy is learning how to come together with others who care about what you care about.”
 
Craig and Stroh both say it can be difficult to embrace ideas when the solutions are not immediately successful. “Those hoping for social change … don’t see the needle move,” Craig says.
 
The key is thinking long-term. Stroh preaches patience and persistence. “People want to see immediate results,” he says. “A band aid doesn’t fix the problems. Eventually the wound will tear.”
 
He goes on to say that as important as a long-term vision is, identifying incremental achievements along the way is just as vital. “There is an important difference between a quick fix and small successes. A quick fix moves the ball forward in the short tem. But most quick fixes either show no (long-term) result or make the situation worse.
 
“People need to feel some progress, small successes to continue over the long haul. Identifying and achieving small successes is designed into the plan.”
 
Rotary Charities has long been at the forefront of trying to address problems faced by local communities, such as preserving the environment and affordable housing. While it can point to progress in some areas, “We are realizing what has been done isn’t changing (things),” says Craig.
 
Craig points to several ways in which Rotary Charities is already spurring on collaborative efforts. The Great Lakes Naturalist Initiative is bringing together the Cerulean Center, Inland Seas Education Association and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy in a collaborative effort to mobilize citizen scientists to address invasive species.
 
The Homeless Youth Initiative is bringing together Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, Goodwill Northern Michigan, STEP, Child and Family Services and others to prevent and reduce the duration of youth homelessness. The Children’s Advocacy Center is engaged in a public will campaign to end child sexual abuse, administered in partnership with Michigan State University, while the Food & Farming Network is connecting those interested in farming with family farmers who do not have an upcoming generation to continue their farms. This workshop is a natural outgrowth of such efforts.
 
Stroh will be joined by Michael Goodman, another member of the firm. Goodman is a noted organization consultant, speaker and author who has helped create many of the innovations in the field of systems thinking, making it more accessible to leaders in the private, public and social sectors.
 
Cost for the two-day workshop at the Park Place Conference Center, which begins at 8:30, is $100. Registration closes May 15. RSVP here.

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