One Year in Review, 1000 Conversations Campaign

Submitted by 1000 Conversations on December 16, 2013 - 10:53am
Discovering the Possibility and Challenge of Community


Just over a year ago, Tamarack began a journey to explore and understand the experience of community across Canada.  Many of you have joined us in this and we thank you for your help, energy, guidance and wisdom.  As this first year draws to a close we also want to reflect back and offer you a synthesis of the emerging themes across the close to 100 conversations that have been documented; and, give you, our co-journeyers some idea of where this campaign is going.

Here are the highlights from this report:

> Key Themes So Far:

·         How Technology is Changing How we Approach Community

·         The Shifting Expectations of Community: Comparing the Stories of Youth and Seniors

·         The Dark Side of Community

> What to Watch moving Forward> Profile: Community Workshops> Sharing Your Story> What is Next?


How Technology is Changing How we Approach Community:

Technology is dramatically changing the landscape of how we interact with each other.  When asked how technology is changing how we build community one person said, “It is now the medium through which we build community.”  

Technology lowers the barriers for engagement.  Before, if you had an interest in a particular topic, for instance, model trains, you had to actively seek out other people with a similar interest by browsing through the local newspaper, reaching out to the community hubs (like the library) and talking to lots of people.  Now, a simple search online and you hear about the local model train club: where and when its next meeting will take place. The Internet makes it really easy to find groups that you are interested in and any sort of information, generally.  You are also no longer restrained by geography, which means you have a much larger pool of options and opportunities. This means that no matter how strange or unique your interests, you can find and interact with like-minded individuals. (TH2)

We are able to engage with a much greater diversity of people, ideas and cultures than ever before. This accessibility to information is helping increase our understanding of each other, thus, raising our empathy.  It makes it easier for people to jump from one geographic location to another. (CSA)

Technology makes it easier for us to find people who are the same and also those who are different.  This tension was highlighted in our March Report.  It acknowledges that technology creates the space for people to expand their perspectives and access great diversity while at the same time it creates space to foster greater extremism because you can choose to focus very narrowly on things that you’ve decided to care about. (TH2)  As Ethan Zuckerman’s Ted Talk highlights, in practice we tend to gravitate towards those who are the same as us as opposed those who are different.  And yet, as was noted by Frances Westley in Social Innovation and Resilience: How One Enhances the Other valuing and encouraging diversity in a community strengthens its culture of innovation.

Technology makes us far more interconnected.  Technology allows us to easily be part of multiple communities both here in our neighbourhood and around the world.  As a result, there is a much greater possibility of our actions rippling out and impacting others.  As noted by students at the University of Guelph, our sphere of influence has greatly increased.

Technology increases opportunities for misinterpretation.  Though there are exciting possibilities with technology, there are also risks.  A group of young adults in Hamilton talked about how most communication is non-verbal and that this type of communication is lost when we move online, which is mainly text based. As a result our brains do a lot more work to fill in the gaps, making us susceptible to misinterpretation. As the internet continues to evolve, people find new ways to communicate as seen through the rise first of emoticons, then memes and avatars all designed to help us communicate the non verbal social cues.

For more on technology and community see:

The Changing Face of Community“ by The John Howard Society

“What does it mean to be a sustainable community” by 1000 Conversations


The Shifting Expectations of Community: Comparing the Stories of Youth and Seniors

 Community Service & Giving Happens in More Diverse Ways.  It used to be that churches and other faith groups were the center of the community; most people would build their lives around their faith community.

These were places where religious events and important life milestones were honoured and celebrated.  They were also important sources of socializing: bingo nights, kids programming and other opportunities to have fun together.  Today, this has changed significantly.  Attendance at churches and other faith-based organizations is in decline.  And, faith groups raise concerns that many who continue to attend view their church as solely a service provider for their individual spiritual needs rather than a community.  People now funnel their community giving through their work and through charities and community benefit organizations like the United Way. (Milton Business)

 Dinner Table Connections Happen Less.  Another major shift has been in the home, itself.  A group of seniors in Hamilton talked about the important role that the dinner tabled served in strengthening and connecting the family.  It was a ritual that served as an opportunity to share with each other, discuss ideas and nurture relationships.  As our lives have become busier and with most households having double incomes, the tradition of the dinner table being a place of relationship building has disappeared, often replaced with the television.

People & Families Are More Transient.  As we become more transient as a society, not only do families become harder to hold together but the importance of neighbourhoods has also decreased.  People are finding it less important to invest time building relationships with their neighbours when they don’t feel committed to the neighbourhood long-term.

Reflecting on the points above, we note that three of the primary places where community has historically been centered: faith communities, family and neighbourhoods are no longer as central in many people’s lives.  This has raised concerns in older people that today’s youth are seeking community without an experience to ground it in.

In spite of elders concerns about youth’s experience of community, we have found that youth themselves have a far more optimistic view.  They feel they have new tools that allow them to connect, share and mobilize in a way that could never have been done previously.  They see their communities as being far more open and diverse then their parent’s generation.  Previously, if you didn’t fit into your community you were alone; now, you can find a community no matter who or where you are.  The key word here is control.  This generation feels they can build the communities they want on their terms and that the sky is the limit. (CSA)

For more on the shifting landscape of community see:

“Slowing down to hear the wisdom of our elders” by Village of Winston Park

“A Community Conversation with Charles Hamilton and David Alton” by Derek Alton (audio)


The Dark Side of Community

So far, much of what has emerged through these conversations has focused on the possibilities of community.  It is important, though, to also acknowledge some of the pain and difficulty expressed in some of the conversations when people reflect on community.

Belonging & Identity.  Some have spoken of feeling left out of their community because “they did not fit the mold” or that they could not be their “true” selves with their community, for fear of being rejected.  This sentiment was particularly pronounced in rural communities where there was a much stronger sense of identity and far less diversity.  Because of this, community can be experienced as a very judgmental and exclusive place for those who want room for individuality. (DS)

Some noted that well-established communities with more entrenched the social norms can more easily seem to exclude those who are different.  .  One conversation with a church group in Burlington cautioned churches who identify themselves as a family as a way of highlighting their closeness with one another need to be careful that they are not unintentionally making others feel they are not included. (North Burlington blog)

Clear Boundaries Can Preserve Integrity of a Group.  The flip side of this is that sometimes having a clear boundary can help preserve a group’s identity.  For example, one of the groups who participated in this campaign was a YWCA women’s support group.  In this case, it is reasonable to say no men are allowed, ensuring a safe space for those who are part of the group.  The barrier in this situation was put in place for the safety of a vulnerable group.  Where it becomes more complicated is when the barriers are based along group preferences or culture as opposed to necessities. (Harold’s Group Blog) Ultimately, though, no community can be all things for all people, some will therefore be left out.

Expecting Too Much of One Another.  Another dark side of community is the tendency to take advantage (usually unintentionally) of the gifts of its members without fair compensation.  Often times to keep costs down with community organizing, we can come to expect in kind donations of time and gifts.  This expectation can be unfair when it is a person’s livelihood or when they do not have the capacity to give without a significant personal cost.

We have a great telelearning that explores how to make community organizing more inclusive:

Learn to Include, Include to Learn

What this shows us is that community is complicated and messy.  People are going to get hurt.  It is important not to ignore this but rather to seek to understand.

For more on the Dark side of Community See:

“The Dark Side of Community” by 1000 Conversations

"What makes a Clique” by Derek Alton


Ideas to Watch Moving Forward: 

1.       The tension between efficiency and relationships

We live in a society that values efficiency, which has been accelerated by technology.  In a world where everything is a click away we can easily become impatient with relationships.  The tension is that building community takes time and can be messy: but its rewards can be rich.

2.      The importance of family as a nucleus for community

Family used to be the center of community.  Now, with our more transient lifestyles, families are becoming spread out and losing their importance.  The heavy expectations and busy schedules of many families discourage opportunities for relationship building.  If we want to look to deepen community we must first start by rebuilding the family.

3.       The third space beyond family and work

In a few of our dialogues, the notion of a third space beyond work and home where they built community has been raised.  This was often highlighted as a place that one could go to escape from the pressures of work and family (TH1) and a place where they could play and have fun. (tea)

4.      Community as a Spiritual Experience

Community is often talked about in practical terms but as some groups are starting to recognize, community is also an experience of connection between a group of people that transcends any one of them (North Burlington).  It can be a deeply spiritual experience.

5.       The impact of women entering the workforce

When talking to seniors, one thing that becomes clear is the incredible role women played in weaving together neighbourhoods, maintaining the rituals of the home and driving the work of faith communities and other volunteer organizations.  As double income households have become the norm, this critical and unrecognized role, that women played in fostering community has never fully been replaced.

6.      The impact of the boomerang

The Boomerang is the new term to describe the growing trend of young adult children returning home to live with their parents.  With a struggling economy, precarious work opportunities and large student loans, many young adults are finding themselves back at home with their parents.  This is creating an opportunity for them to reconnect and strengthen their relationships with their parents.


 Profile: Community Workshops (also known as Hacker Space’s)

Some of the most exciting conversations that we came across were from community workshops often called, “hacker spaces.”  Though, in some ways, the idea of a community workshop is as old as time, they have found a new resurgence in the last decade: popping up in cities all across the country.  They draw together people who like to tinker, take things apart to see how they work, and then put them together in new ways.  Although community workshops were first created as a place to access tools, they have quickly evolved into community hubs where deep friendships are formed.  Here are some highlights from what we have heard so far:

·         Think Haus (Hamilton): I am Here because I am Welcome

·         Diyode (Guelph): The Ball of Collaborative Energy that is Diyode


We Want to Hear Your Story!

We are reaching out to each of you and encouraging you to share a memorable experience of community that you have had in your life. What was it and why was it so memorable?  You can post it on using the tag “my story” or send it to Derek at and we will send you a complimentary copy of Paul’s Book Community Conversations and a copy of the soon to-be-released, Deepening Community.


1,000 Conversations Campaign:  What’s Next

Over the past year Tamarack has been running the pilot phase of the 1000 Conversations Campaign.  We have received tremendous support from partners in Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Halton and Hamilton and have learned throughout this process.  We are now our campaign’s second phase where we are looking to partner with 10 new local hosts across Canada who are interested in brining this campaign to their communities.  

Our first community is Delbourne Alberta and we are very excited to work with them.

If you are interested in becoming a local partner for the 1000 conversations campaign click here or would like more information you can contact Derek Alton at

We look forward to continuing to share these insights with you in 2014.

On behalf of everyone at Tamarack, we would like to wish you blessed Holiday Season and a Happy New Year.


The Seeking Community Team

Sylvia Cheuy - Director

Rachel Brnjas – Community Animator

Derek Alton – Campaign Animator


Find this Newsletter in PDF below

december_newsletter.pdf520.81 KB

Hm. Thanks for this. Nice to have a kind of year-end wrap-up of the directions the conversations have taken over the past few months. In particular, I was a bit surprised by the "dark side" section, and the realization that community-building can also embrace a kind of exclusivity and cliqueism. It's a pitfall to be aware of. There was also some very interesting points raised in the sections on technology and shifting expectations.

I last night saw the 2010 documentary I AM, by director Tom Shadyac. I can't believe I never watched it before; it was, IMHO, brilliant: engaging, inspiring and frequently quite moving. It's core message is the one I've been going on about, seemingly forever: simply that the way forward for all of us is through community; by rebuilding trust, collaboration, and cooperation, and reclaiming what is, really, our birthright. Community is what has enabled us to survive and after a time thrive as a species, and we will never outgrow that need. It's ours and we should embrace it.


Thanks for your comment, Christine!

I know!!! I AM is amazing!! So glad you watched it- I shared in on seeking community a while back. So inspiring and so grounding.