Reneé V. Wallace
Natural tensions exist among people who have diverse experiences in the systems where they work and in the communities where they live. As we design projects and initiatives to address the urgent, wicked challenges facing our cities and communities, particularly those in urban areas with high minority populations, it is imperative that we acknowledge and discuss these tensions through what I call “real conversations”. Real conversations go beyond the surface, revealing and interrogating assumptions and power dynamics, moving through discomfort and inconvenience to inform the design of projects and initiatives.
Facilitating “strategic engagement” of key project stakeholders through real conversations requires being open and vulnerable when making decisions about essential aspects of the project or initiative. It requires care in deciding who initiates and who leads, and the distribution of power, as well as who is on the core team and how they contribute. Conversations for the selection of methods used to engage advisors, decision-makers, those who must carry out the actual work, and those most impacted are essential. These conversations impact decisions about what products and services are developed, how they are prioritized, when they are disseminated, and who “owns” them. Finally, some of the most critical conversations are about how financial resources are allocated and managed and how all key project stakeholders are compensated. Having these in-depth, real conversations requires taking adequate time before projects are launched and sustaining them throughout the project. Real conversations can help lead to a deeper shared understanding of these essential elements, to more effective project implementation, and ultimately to more viable solutions to manage urgent, wicked challenges.
Audience participants are briefed on two case studies, one academic-led and one municipal-led, and the conversations that were held—each project incorporated community leadership, participatory methods, and the centring of equity. Participants are then be engaged in exploring how the presence and absence of “real conversations” impacted project design and outcomes and what could have been done differently.
KEYWORDS: strategic engagement, conversation, design, tension, systems, power dynamics, decisions
Reneé has the privilege of leading three entrepreneurial entities: Doers Edge LLC (CEO), FoodPLUS Detroit (Executive Director), and ReMark Composting Solutions (Co-Founder & CEO/President). She has been a facilitative leader, business consultant, and coach for over three decades, specializing in the development of strategic engagement and execution systems for industry and community-based organizations. Reneé is committed to advancing community-university collaboratives and equitable participation of community leaders and residents in informing change that transforms their communities. Her work includes facilitating the engagement of leaders and stakeholders from public, private, academic, and community spheres with diverse roles, experiences, and perspectives.
Reneé served in efforts that engaged the Detroit public in informing two food system policy changes to date (Urban Ag ordinance passed in 2013, Urban Livestock ordinance in process), and is currently engaging community practitioners in pilot projects to inform policy change to allow diversion of food waste for composting, with a focus on community-based, community-scale systems. She also facilitated engagement of 13 citizen leaders as an advisory council in the development of Detroit’s Climate Strategy and is supporting their transition to a Climate Equity Leadership Council that will refine, innovate, and implement the strategy.
Reneé is a Michigan State University (MSU) community partner and her first major engagement involved being co-developer of the community track for the inaugural MSU Innovations in Collaborative Modeling conference, to which she recruited and engaged 24 Detroit participants. For the last five years, she has served as the Process Monitor on the MSU participatory modelling team researching and modelling the Food System in Flint, Michigan. She works globally and is headquartered in Detroit, MI.