The Heart of Community Engagement : Practitioner Stories from Across the Globe book cover
1st Edition

The Heart of Community Engagement
Practitioner Stories from Across the Globe

ISBN 9780367175825
Published July 2, 2019 by Routledge
264 Pages 48 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Drawing on first-hand accounts of action research in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, The Heart of Community Engagement illustrates the transformative learning journeys of exemplary catalysts for community-based change. Practitioners’ stories of community engagement for social justice in the Global South elucidate the moments of insight and transformation that deepened their practice: how to deal with uncertainty, recognize their own blind spots, become aware of what is emergent and possible in the moment, and weave an inclusive bond of love, respect, and purpose. Each successive narrative adds a deeper level of understanding of the inner practice of community engagement. The stories illuminate the reflective, or inner, practice of the outside change agent, whether a planner, designer, participatory action researcher, or community development practitioner.

From a shantytown in South Africa, to a rural community in India, or an informal settlement in peri-urban Mexico, the stories focus attention on the greatest leverage point for change that we, as engaged practitioners, have: our own self-awareness. By the end of the book, the practitioners are not only aware of their own conditioned beliefs and assumptions, but have opened their minds and hearts to the complex and dynamic patterns of emergent change that is possible.

This book serves as a much-needed reader of practice stories to help instructors and students find the words, concepts, and examples to talk about their own subjective experience of community engagement practice. The book applies some of the leading-edge concepts from organizational development and leadership studies to the fields of planning, design, and community engagement practice. Key concepts include the deep dive of sensing the social field, seeing the whole, and presencing the emergent future. The book also provides a creative bridge between participatory action research and design thinking: user-based design, rapid prototyping, and learning from doing.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introducing Ensemble Awareness PART I: The Journey Begins Chapter 2. Civic Engagement in El Salvador: A Beginner’s Story Chapter 3. Building Community in a Texas-Mexico Border Colonia PART II: Going Deeper Chapter 4. Cultivating Peace in Colombia’s Cauca Valley Chapter 5. Building Deep Democracy in South Africa’s Shantytowns Chapter 6. The Art of Facilitation: Collective Reflection in Rural India Chapter 7. Participatory Action Research in Peri-Urban Mexico: The Inner Practice Chapter 8. Theory U: Engaging Global Community with Depth and Breadth PART III: Moving Forward Chapter 9. Generative Patterns of Practice Chapter 10. Ensemble Awareness and the Interconnected Whole

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Patricia A. Wilson, professor of Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas, Austin, teaches civic engagement, participatory action research, and international community development. Her field research in community-based change processes over three decades includes Latin America, South Africa, India, and the United States. A past president of Sociedad Interamericana de Planificación, she holds a B.A. from Stanford and a Ph.D. from Cornell. She has authored or co-authored five books and numerous journal articles.


"The stories in this inspiring book are adventures in deep democracy– community building that includes listening to all voices, even under the most polarized conditions. These vivid parables help us cultivate the being skills that support the doing of collaborative action." —Dr. Betty Sue Flowers, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of Texas, Global Futures Consultant, Co-editor of Realistic Hope: Facing Global Challenges

"In complex change settings where much more than 'head alone' is needed, systems thinking must be married with systems sensing, an attunement to the subtle dynamics of the social field at play and how they might evolve. This work is deeply personal and inherently trans-personal– a paradox that signals the mystery of the territory itself and, as Patricia Wilson shows, subtly points to the doorway through which it emerges in practice." —Peter M. Senge, MIT Sloan School of Management, Society of Organizational Learning, and author of The Fifth Discipline

"Patricia Wilson takes action research to its source, to the inner practice. This book is an invitation to a transformative learning journey with heart, intellect, and soul." —Hilary Bradbury, Ph.D.,, Editor The Sage Handbook of Action Research

"This illuminating book cuts to the core of community change with much needed practice stories, especially stories that bring out the inner experiences of the practitioner. The reflective questions after each chapter engage students in open conversation about their own growing edges, blind spots, and inner life as emerging practitioners." —Ronald Hustedde, Past President, Community Development Society

"The Heart of Community Engagement offers a clear and inspirational learning path for the co-creation not just of sustainable but of truly ‘thrivable’ communities built upon relational intelligence and socio-ecological consciousness. Indeed, this is a book for this day and age– and for the time to come." —Alexander Laszlo, Ph.D., President, Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science

"Patricia Wilson is an action researcher and practitioner who tackles the often invisible and inner dimensions of community development– what she refers to as the feminine face of community engagement. Embodied in beautiful and rigorously told stories from around the globe, Patricia Wilson has distilled desperately needed practice wisdom." —Peter Westoby, University of Queensland, Australia, Author of Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development (Routledge)

"Particularly valuable to community development scholars, engaged action researchers, and participatory planners, Dr. Wilson’s ‘ensemble awareness’ integrates local knowledge in transformative ways." —Gerardo Sandoval, Ph.D., Planning, Public Policy and Management, University of Oregon

"Para el desarrollo del potencial humano individual no es suficiente con ser sensibles y reflexionar en los propios procesos cognitivos, emocionales o de comportamiento; la verdadera consciencia de nosotros mismos emerge cuando escuchamos al entorno humano y natural con el que interactuamos. El innovador enfoque y las inspiradoras historias de la Dra. Wilson nos revelan que, de manera recíproca, todo propósito verdadero de integrarse a los procesos comunitarios tocan necesariamente las fibras íntimas de los participantes y sus vidas crecen y se expanden en sincronía con la comunidad."
"To develop individual human potential, it is not enough to be sensitive and reflect on our own cognitive, emotional or behavioural processes. True self-awareness emerges when we listen to the human and natural surroundings with which we interact. Dr. Wilson’s innovative focus and inspiring stories show us that, reciprocally, every true attempt to take part in community processes inevitably touches the deepest fibres of the participants. Their lives grow and expand at the same time and to the same extent as that of the community."
—Professor Alvaro Guerra, Rector de la Universidad Albert Einstein, Mexico

"Profoundly revolutionary, far-reaching, and exciting, Patricia Wilson’s reflection on our own inner practice and how we convey the importance of inner practice to those who join our profession has profound implications for planning theory, education, and practice." —Leonie Sandercock, Planning Theory and Practice

"This is a great book for students and scholars of community development or placemaking, and practicing planners who want to do more than mere facilitation or "community outreach." Students and practitioners will likely find the book easy to read and inspiring. Wilson is a good storyteller with good stories to tell." —Leonardo Vazquez, Journal of Planning Education and Research

"Patricia Wilson’s The Heart of Community Engagement is among the most compelling community development books I have read during my 35-year career in the field. I recently incorporated it into a graduate seminar on community and leadership development. The students were captivated by its honesty, wisdom and the depth of the practitioners’ stories." —Ronald J. Hustedde, Professor, Department of Community & Leadership Development, University of Kentucky

"I opened the pages with that familiar sense of anticipation – and lo and behold I wasn’t let down. Here was a book that sung with life. And by life, I mean, it’s a book that is filled with nuanced authentic story telling – real grounded stories of social change from around the world; and real stories of people and practitioners, that embeds ideas and concepts in context and communities. […] I also loved Wilson’s book because it goes further than recounting rich stories of practice and practitioners, weaving a web of theories too – but it also distils a set of ‘generative patterns’ that I see as a most potent practice framework. I’d suggest this framework […] could be very useful for all social practitioners working in communities – not just community workers/engagement officers, but urban and social planners, eco-activists and so on." —Peter Westoby in Community Development Journal, 2020. Associate Professor of Community Development and Social Science, Queensland University of Technology

"There is neither a single entrance point to the book nor a definitive point where everybody should exit. The book is a platform where people from different professions and interests meet with the author, and with the many practitioners and community members. The community leaders and workers will find inspiring examples of professionals and engaged community members; teachers in schools and universities will find helpful examples to create spaces for collaborative and dialogical learning; government officials on municipal level can be helped to identify empowering movements within communities." —Danilo Streck, Graduate School of Education, University of the Sinos Valley, Brazil