For more than 17 years the CI team has been developing powerful ways for people to learn together, be it a one-time event or through regular gatherings. Our work taps into adult, experiential, dialogue-based and peer-oriented learning practices.
In 2004, the YMCA engaged CI through the CDC funded Pioneering Healthier Communities Initiative to help them create world class learning and training events. They wanted the opposite of the predictable conference format; they needed something that would be catalytic for the approximately 40 community collaboratives (each year) funded to create community environments that would establish new norms for healthy living.
For the next 9 years, CI would help evolve the archetype for what would be commonly referred to as Action Institutes (AI). The AI designs took on a number of different forms, but all built upon a few key elements:
• Utilizing an inspiring location for 2-4 days, blending inspiration (bright spots of what is possible), team formation, strategy alignment, peer and expert led training with meaningful community site visits;
• Creating a transformative team experience—moving a team from values to strategy alignment and ultimately to a clear pathway for working together after the AI;
• Growing real-time facilitative leadership and group dialogue skills indispensable for collective action and growing community buy-in;
• Teaching a mix of evidence-based strategies (e.g. developing a local food system or complete street policies) with skills for innovation;
• Setting the stage for ongoing peer-to-peer learning beyond the AI
Hundreds of community based teams—generally comprised of 10 individuals representing schools, business, non-profits, government, resident leaders and community organizers—have benefited from these transformative experiences. AIs equip teams with the skills, courage and collective commitment to successfully take on challenges and follow-through to results. CDC began to adopt a variation for the AIs for major place-based chronic disease prevention grants, such as Communities Putting Prevention to Work. CI helped to design, emcee and support training for all of the CDC AIs. Additionally, many states, communities and networks have adopted this design—often engaging CI as designers, facilitators and/or emcees.
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