I’ve grown intrigued by the role community organizations and institutions play as switchboards for the transmission of local civic knowledge from person to person. Day in and day out, people who draw on the resources of places like community clinics, day care centers, social service agencies, schools, various civic associations and neighborhood groups all leave various bits of data and insight with the people they visit there. The range of what people share runs from the very personal and familial right on out to mini-reports and informal evaluations about the conditions of local civic life. This makes any single community organization or institution a potential link in the chain of vital knowledge transmitted across time that can either propel civic growth and regeneration or, in its absence, stall progress.
Pulled together, placed in context and put to effective use, the civic knowledge possessed by community organizations and institutions, merely as a result of the privileged places they occupy in communities and the lives of their clients, positions them as leadership institutions for profound societal influence and impact. Every nonprofit leader needs to ask how this knowledge might improve lives and make communities more livable places. That means the organization has to see itself not just as a service center, but as a learning center that knows its community better than anyone else. Place matters, and the people who call places home know that better than anyone else. Let’s hear what they have to tell.