Zones for Community Building, An Introduction

Gathering for Transformation by Jane R. Shore and Sharon M. Ravitch

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”  Margaret Wheatley

Now more than ever, communities need to come together. Global crises like the current pandemic are so complex that they can only be addressed collectively-  crossing disciplinary and organizational boundaries.  Silos must be broken down.  Medical professionals are working with government leaders, school administrators, local organizers; Frontline workers are engaging with local activists, CEOs, and health care professionals. 

The Zones of Community Building model, which we will introduce in installments here, emphasizes not just transformation that happens to individuals and groups, but entire organizations and communities as they learn and build and grow.   As these connections happen, we understand each other better, we can weave stories of experience and apply them in new ways, we can integrate, not duplicate lessons. 

Community building has a thousand forms, but how might we capture and cultivate this process of community building for the greater good?

School of Thought of the Week

To effectively contribute to any movement - to harness ideas, people, and resources for the greater good of humanity - there needs to be relational trust, respect for expertise, honest communication and connection as humans.  Essential threads must be seeded in “we”, stemming from true roots between people first, and then growing and branching to necessary strength across missions and work.   

Today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others and how that leads to growing opportunity, collective prosperity and nourishing community.  Individuals cannot succeed without healthy communities, without pathways that lead to building webs of support, collaboration, learning, influence, negotiation, and leadership.

The time is now to come together, but how might we make this happen? How do we move from advisors to advocates for one another? From individual to shared prosperity? How do we frame our futures as intimately and essentially connected?

Enter, Zones of Community Building

Revolution Zones of Community Building  is an evidence-based model developed through collaboration between School of Thought learning engineers and practitioners. School of Thought’s community is made up of leader-learners in education, business, arts & culture, government, technology and community settings.  Our community of practice are engaged co-creators.   Zones aids in defining the inputs, structuring the process, and capturing the outcomes of impactful partnerships that define, guide and empower communities. 

This model, which we introduce here, share further in the School of Thought Blueprints and detail in an upcoming journal article in University of Pennsylvania’s Journal Perspectives on Urban Education (Shore, Ravitch, & Croxford, 2020), serves as an evidence-based guide to envisioning and forging meaningful connections, generating and engaging in effective projects and initiatives, and iterative and empowering community building.  The Zones Model offers structure to the process, and assessment of the progress, of community building.  

Finally, Zones of Community Building is not only a guide, it is also a mindset for entering into durable human-connected collaborations.  It embodies a call to action to ensure any partnering process recognizes the value of human connectedness.  This is especially true today, as we find ourselves coming together in ways we never have. The collective power of people to build community has never felt more meaningful and more necessary.

Checking In: How many of the following statements resonate?

  • Partnering frequently is or becomes transactional, when it could be transformational.

  • Shared agendas and outcomes are difficult to determine.

  • Productive partnerships take too much time and don’t always last.

  • It’s hard if not impossible to find those who may be doing aligned work.

  • I seek better ways to connect with others as a way to get things done.

  • I enjoy being involved in projects that make a difference.

  • Connecting with people and ideas to make a difference drives my work.   

If any of the above feel true for you, keep reading!  

The Zones Model started with connections to people and learning in community. All of the above are sample statements from our co-creators in this process. There is a clear recognition that durable partnerships are needed to build communities, but challenges in the process make such partnerships rare.   This is why we’ve developed this model.

The Big Idea

Zones of Community Building guides individuals and organizations through pathways of human and organizational connection, ideation, integration, and development. Zones of Community Building is rooted in a mindset for entering into durable change making; it’s a call to action to ensure community builders honor the value of human connections as we lead forth.  The Zones model is research-based, spanning work on collective impact, social impact, sustainable change, and organizational development live case studies.

The premise for Zones is that if leaders want to forge connections that push against failing systems and struggling institutions, we must first connect with each other as humans. The model is especially timely today, as the world must collectively address a global health crisis, race-based reckoning, and engage in real change for the greater good.

Zones of Community Building

Zones, illustrated below, is purposefully hand drawn to invite conversation and collaboration as an approach to visual mission-making and -mapping. In our work within and across sectors, we identified five key zones necessary for building communities that bring connection and lead to durable change. These are described in the next section, with key features and indicators of each. To note, though the process is not linear, the first two zones are essential in sequence to create the conditions for the last three zones.   

The Zones Model recognizes the necessary relationship between human connection and healthy community building.

Making Big Ideas Usable

As a starting reflection, consider the following quote, “People leave traces of themselves where they feel most comfortable, most worthwhile.”― Haruki Murakami, author.  

What conditions invite individuals to leave traces of themselves, to really connect with one another?  

  • This podcast, on How to Create Intentional Space for people to connect, clocks in at around 39 minutes. You can also listen to it on iTunes, stream on Spotify or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. So head out for a walk and let the hosts keep you company. Prefer to read the transcripts? Find them here.

  • Another idea is to check out this article Priya Parker on finding these spaces in this disconnected time. Parker is a facilitator, strategic advisor, the author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, and host of the podcast Together Apart. She helps people create collective meaning in modern life, one gathering at a time. .

  • Interested in spending more time with these ideas? Check out this book, the Serendipity Mindset. The author describes how to see links that others don’t, learning how to detect the moments when apparently random or unconnected ideas merge to form new opportunities. Full of exciting ideas and strategies, The Serendipity Mindset offers a clear blueprint for how we can cultivate serendipity to increase innovation, influence, and opportunity in every aspect of our lives.

We would love to hear your thoughts here on creating spaces where connections can grow!

FOR THE FULL ARTICLE with a description of the Zones & practical applications, contact

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