Module 4 - Asset Based Community Engagement

Language Reflects Your Framing

Generate a Variety of Possible Ideas Before Deciding

Frames are "mental structures that shape the way we see the world" (Lackoff, 2004). How we frame a situation influences the language we choose to describe it, how we think about it, what we think about the people involved, and what our ideas are about possible "solutions." How we frame a situation can limit our choices for making situations better or can open up a wide realm of possibilities for our communities.

It is crucial to pay attention to the language you use in your community work, because your language reflects the underlying way you frame a situation. Through your word choice, you emphasize certain aspects of the issue, focus the listener in particular ways, and encourage certain interpretations while discouraging others. Consider the following example of a discussion agenda for a community visioning meeting.

Framed Using Deficits Language Framed Using Assets Language
  1. Where do we want to be, as a community, 10 years from now?

  2. What obstacles do we have to overcome to achieve that vision? What problems do we need to solve?

  3. What are the pressing ones we need to address first?

  4. What additional knowledge, skills, or resources will we need to find to tackle these pressing problems?

  5. Who are experts or consultants who can help us address these problems?
  1. What are we proud of in our community? What is already going well?

  2. What do we wish we had more of?

  3. Of those wishes, which ones are the most important right now?

  4. What do we already have that we can build upon to achieve our wishes?

  5. How do we keep the momentum going after tonight's meeting? Who would like to take leadership? 


What If We Think About This Another Way? (Continued)

Money (financial assets)
Not so much here

Working together (cultural assets)
Tradition of the school and community coming together to make major improvements in the school, particularly recreation facilities

Benches, signs for the trail (built assets)
Not so much here

Land for the nature trail (natural assets)
Promise from the principal that school property could be used

After making this list, Derrick and Mrs. Poole realized that there were plenty of people and resources they could turn to for help in developing the nature trail.

Mrs. Poole shared the list with the supportive teachers at lunchtime. They added even more resources to the brainstormed list.

With renewed confidence, Mrs. Poole and Derrick made another appointment to talk with the principal. This time she was ready to talk about "what was possible."



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