Dreaming of Abundance and Community

UCI Garden ProjectOn April 14, 2016, the UC Irvine Garden Project hosted a Community Vision and Action Planning Workshop among the UCI urban gardens to discuss ways gardeners could share resources, boost production and improve the health and wellness of the UC Irvine community.
Are you curious about how to organize towards community? The list below includes the tools and techniques used by Fernando Maldonado, the Global Sustainability Resource Center Program Manager, to organize and mobilize the garden community at UC Irvine. 


Six Tools Used to Build Towards a Cohesive Garden Community at UC Irvine

This post is by Fernando Maldonado, Global Sustainability Resource Center Program Manager.

    One of my priorities when I started working at the Global Sustainability Resource Center (GSRC) was to connect with the community gardens because community gardening is one of my areas of expertise. I started this endeavor by creating a mind map of the different community gardens that exist at UCI. After some research, I found that there are a total of six groups that produce food within the University campus. For ease of communication I coined this group as the “Six UCI Urban Gardens.”
  2. POP
    My first task was to understand a clear purpose of the work I wanted to achieve. I used the POP model to identify clear Purpose, Desired Outcomes and Processes of my intention to connect with the gardens.  This simple, but very effective tool, helped me focus my actions in a meaningful way. With a set pathway, clear purpose and outcomes; I moved in to my first action: Relationship Building.
  3. Strategic QuestionsSWOT
    To start building relationships, I contacted each of the leaders from the six urban gardens to ask them to show me their garden. My strategy for these meetings was simple: to ask questions and listen deeply. My intention was not to promise or suggest any action or strategies that should happen. My role was to listen carefully. The questions included:

    1. What is going well in your garden?
    2. What are the challenges you encounter?
    3. What can be done better?
    4. What do you envision for your garden?

    This process took some time, but was rewarding and fun. I kept a journal of all the information gathered and used this information in the second tool I used, the SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The analysis helped me to identify patterns and the “current status”of each of the gardens.
    The most salient pattern that came out of this analysis was the need to create community among the different gardens at UCI. To meet this need, I built upon The UCI Garden Project to create coordination among the UCI Sustainability Initiative, the six community gardens, and the Global Sustainability Resource Center.
    The first priority for The UCI Garden Project was to organize a Community Visioning and Action Planning Workshop. With the generous support of UC President Napolitano’s Global Food Initiative, we were able to appoint a student fellow to help lead this work. We appointed Emanuel Preciado (Manny), a UCI graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in urban and regional planning, who is passionate about using urban gardening as a tool to help build sustainability communities.

  4. Strategic Questioning
    27041299314_0e7e88ce99_zWith Manny on board, we started to organize the Community Visioning and Action Planning (CVAP) workshop for the UCI Gardens. The CVAP workshop was based on a framework called: Strategic Questioning (SQ) developed by the U.S.-based social change worker Fran Peavey. The Director of the UCI Sustainability Initiative Abigail Reyes was well versed with this framework as she is the former student of  Fran Peavey, as she explains in this blog post. Abigail agreed to be a partner in this process and helped design and facilitate the meeting.This process needed to be inclusive and therefore we invited garden leaders to take a role in the meeting organizing committee. The committee included three students and three staff members. Once again using the POP model, we develop the following:

    • Purpose: To frame a roadmap to the creation of a cohesive network of the UCI Gardens.
    • Desired Outcomes:
      • Shared sense of community among garden leaders & fellow gardeners
      • Shared understanding of each garden’s needs & visions
      • Shared understanding of where our visions overlap, and an action plan for achieving those shared visions
  5. DARCI
    It takes a lot of organization and coordination to host a successful event. A tool that we use at the GSRC is the DARCI accountability tool. This tool helps establish clear accountability for a team or an organization in the areas of Delegation, Accountability, Responsibility, and who needs to be Consulted and Informed. For this workshop, we had the help of three staff members. They all had different ‘accountable’ roles within the DARCI. This tool was helpful to work efficiently as a team.
  6. Appreciative Inquiry
    The workshop was comprised of a diverse group of 21 participants that included representatives from each of the six gardens, students, professors, staff, and community members from neighbor cities. Abby facilitated the group through a framework, based on the Strategic Questioning, that led the group through a simple design process including Focus, Vision, Change and Action segments. In addition, Abby used elements of another framework called Appreciative Inquiry that is used in conjunction with Strategic Questioning by our community partner SERES. Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what is going well. The group participated in several activities including:

    1. Sharing stories about people in our lives who are good at creating community or a sense of belonging through food.
    2. Guided meditation where participants visualized thriving urban gardens.
    3. World cafe-style discussions with food served.

The desired outcomes of the workshop were achieved. Here are some of the most important achievements from this process:
 Shared Vision – Participants put together a shared vision: “We see UCI gardens fostering a permeable exchange of garden-based knowledge to support students, to collaborate with local community efforts, address food needs, and connect gardeners/gardens to the “eco” or “home” where we live.”
Actions – The following action items were identified and prioritized by the group:

  • Host regular events for gardeners
  • Create a regular place and time for the group to meet
  • Develop and conduct a needs assessment
  • Designate one person to be accountable for moving the group along

Manny transcribed all the information generated at the CVAP to an executive summary document. We have created a DARCI accountability grid that will guide in upcoming actions to support our vision.
Tools/frameworks used in this process:

  1. Mind Mapping
  2. Fabulous POP model
  3. SWOT analysis.
  4. Strategic Questioning
  5. Appreciative Inquiry
  6. DARCI

>>View Flickr Album of the April 14 event