Six Elements to Consider with Community Conversations

Oct 4, 2022

Following a shooting tragedy that occurred outside East High School in spring 2022, Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) initiated community conversations to better understand the role it could play in ensuring student safety and well-being. Iowa ACEs 360 partnered with the district to help facilitate the process for hosting these discussions, bringing an understanding of the conditions that lead to violence and trauma and a healing-centered framework for responding. The team also consulted with several community partners about how to thoughtfully structure these conversations. The goal was to support collective healing by fostering relationship building, agency in creating solutions, and meaning from coming together to imagine new possibilities.  

Iowa ACEs 360 team members, who are part of Mid-Iowa Health Foundation HealthConnect Fellowship, shared these six elements that now define their collaborative approach to hosting community conversations.

1. Welcoming multiple perspectives.

The approach to the conversations aimed to foster 1) sharing of cultural and personal experiences to develop solutions that meet diverse needs, 2) exploring root causes of traumatic incidents more deeply, 3) acknowledging the conversations and work already occurring to build on, and 4) identifying steps that both DMPS and the broader community should take. These goals especially were intended to honor the diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and languages spoken within the district. To ensure participants could provide feedback in their preferred languages and to build on existing relationships at schools, Iowa ACEs 360 supported DMPS staff and community members in leading the facilitation of these conversations.

2. Centering those most impacted.

While everyone is affected, students are especially impacted by the violence and trauma occurring within and around their schools, have the least amount of power, and are most often not invited to be a part of decision-making regarding ways to address the violence and trauma. Giving them the opportunity to explore the problems that exist and identify solutions enables them to use their strengths, have a sense of control over their lives, and engage in positive experiences—all of which supports the healing process.

Prior to hosting community roundtables, Iowa ACEs 360 visited each DMPS high school to meet with students. School Advisory Councils (groups organized by community school coordinators at each high school to engage students, parents, and staff) had identified four themes to address in schools – safety, belonging, health and well-being, and community and family engagement – and students were asked to define what each of those themes meant to them. A facilitated conversation led to deeper understanding about their responses. Iowa ACEs 360 synthesized the student responses to build definitions for each of the four areas and gave students an opportunity to review those definitions.

3. Building conversations around what’s possible.

Community roundtables at each of the five high schools invited students, caregivers, DMPS staff, and community members to come together to discuss ways of addressing violence and trauma. Conversations in small groups began by reviewing how students defined what safety, belonging, health and well-being, and community and family engagement meant to them. Then participants brainstormed how to create the environments students envisioned. This structure for conversations was unexpected for some members who wanted more time and space to talk about their concerns, but the process was meant to focus responses on what is possible to meet student needs, leading to the co-creation of solutions that are driven by the community.

4. Creating meaningful conversations through relationship building.

At the start of each community conversation, all attendees had an opportunity to sit in their small groups and share a meal. This time, without an agenda, allowed people to meet each other, which was important to build a sense of connection and trust before discussing difficult and sensitive topics.  This step was meant to foster a space where participants could listen to each other and authentically engage with each other’s ideas. One theme that emerged from the community conversations was a desire for the school to host more opportunities to get to know each other and have these kinds of discussions.  

5. Providing many avenues for input.

Community conversations aimed to create an inclusive space where participants could hear from one another and share their ideas in their preferred languages, ideally with facilitators they trusted. Recognizing that not everyone could attend the roundtable events or felt heard at these meetings, Iowa ACEs 360 and DMPS also developed a survey based on the same framework as the conversations, which was shared widely with the school community. The survey generated more than 1,200 responses to open-ended questions, providing additional ideas and perspectives.

6. Reflecting on where efforts can be improved.

Even with thoughtful consideration of how to set up the roundtables, Iowa ACEs 360 acknowledges that the process did not allow everyone to fully participate. For example, the structure of the roundtable approach did not align with how some cultures approach these kinds of discussions. To try to address those concerns, the team encouraged facilitators to be flexible with the format while remaining focused on the goals of the discussions. More time to develop the process with diverse stakeholders could help ensure a more inclusive and supportive structure for future conversations.

From these discussions, Iowa ACEs 360 gathered all of the feedback and ideas and generated a report that captured themes and recommendations for next steps. Conversations among the district and stakeholders continue to build out how to implement the ideas identified, with the intention of continuing to bring community together to work on the plan.

Related Issues & Ideas

Article

Q&A: REED partners share the power in holding space for rest, healing, collective learning

View Q&A: REED partners share the power in holding space for rest, healing, collective learning
White Paper

The Link Between Stillbirth & Maternal Mortality and Morbidity: Firsthand Accounts from American Women

View The Link Between Stillbirth & Maternal Mortality and Morbidity: Firsthand Accounts from American Women
White Paper

Strengths of Latinx Immigrants Despite Legal Violence

View Strengths of Latinx Immigrants Despite Legal Violence
Article

Why building community power is vital for philanthropy

View Why building community power is vital for philanthropy
Report

A Caring, Connected Community: How Greater Des Moines nonprofits met our needs during the pandemic

View A Caring, Connected Community: How Greater Des Moines nonprofits met our needs during the pandemic
Report

The Intersection of Racial Injustice and Youth Health in Central Iowa

View The Intersection of Racial Injustice and Youth Health in Central Iowa
Article

Study: Impact of neighborhood disadvantage on a child’s brain

View Study: Impact of neighborhood disadvantage on a child’s brain
Website

The United States Prosperity Index 2021

View The United States Prosperity Index 2021
Website

Make It Okay messaging in multiple languages

View Make It Okay messaging in multiple languages
Article

8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Nonprofits

View 8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Nonprofits
Article

Building a Trust-Based Philanthropy to Shift Power Back to Communities

View Building a Trust-Based Philanthropy to Shift Power Back to Communities
Website

Frameworks Institute: Changing the conversation on social issues

View Frameworks Institute: Changing the conversation on social issues
Website

Framing best practices with Topos Partnership

View Framing best practices with Topos Partnership
Report

Systems Change & Deep Equity

View Systems Change & Deep Equity
Website

Iowa Coalition for Collective Change

View Iowa Coalition for Collective Change
Report

Cultivating Change: How the HealthConnect Fellowship lifted a network of advocates to improve children's health in central Iowa

View Cultivating Change: How the HealthConnect Fellowship lifted a network of advocates to improve children's health in central Iowa
Report

Shifting the Lens: How The ACE Study sparked action to collectively improve our community's health

View Shifting the Lens: How The ACE Study sparked action to collectively improve our community's health

Cultivating the Soil for Culturally Responsive Health Care

How DMU is transforming the way health sciences education is delivered

View Story
View Story

Zeroing in on Health Needs

How a needs assessment of Oakridge Neighborhood residents is informing ways to improve health and well-being

View Story
View Story

Doula Care Becomes Essential Health Care

An Iowa Doula Project is expanding community-based health care to improve Black maternal health outcomes.

View Story
View Story

Improving Health through Community Advocacy

How AMOS engaged hundreds of advocates to push for a children's mental health crisis response system

View Story
View Story

Media's Role in Improving Health

How support to Iowa Public Radio is building awareness of factors that influence well-being

View Story
View Story

Latinx Project tells story of strength and opportunity

New report highlights central Iowa Latinos contributions and disparities and elevates Latinx leaders

View Story
View Story

Improving Health through Social Supports

MercyOne's community health worker model improves outcomes for families.

View Story
View Story

Re-Imagining How Iowa's Systems Work Together to Best Serve Families

The Vision Council has led conversations on how Iowa's families and children can be safe, secure, healthy, and well in our communities.

View Story
View Story

Champions for Change: A Collective Commitment to Children's Health

Outcomes from Mid-Iowa Health Foundation's HealthConnect Fellowship, October 2019-June 2021

View Story
View Story

Elevating the Latinx Community

How nonprofit leaders brought attention to the Latinx community and built new systems of support during the pandemic

View Story
View Story

Central Iowa Youth Drive Change for Better Health

uVoice high school students commit to learning about and addressing issues, including vaping and racial justice, in central Iowa.

View Story
View Story

The Dream Cube: Art for Social Impact

The Dream Cube, a monolithic structure constructed of pillows piled 8-feet high, popped up in downtown Des Moines late last fall. The provocative piece sparked conversations about the potential of our youth—if they have a safe place to dream.

View Story
View Story

How Youth Are Driving Community Efforts to End Homelessness

dsm Magazine features a unique collaboration that is engaging youth who’ve experienced homelessness in identifying new solutions to address this issue in central Iowa.

View Story
View Story

Protecting Those Who Protect Our Kids

Iowa ACEs 360 shares this story about how supervisors in the Polk County Dept. of Human Services’ Child Welfare Division are addressing trauma in their workforce.

View Story
View Story

A New Approach to Supporting Youth in Juvenile Detention

Teenagers in jumpsuits lying on yoga mats, their eyes closed, their bodies still. This is the image Megan Hoxhalli describes as remarkable for juvenile detention, a place where youth arrive shaken, dysregulated, and scared about their future.

View Story
View Story

Meet the team leading UpLift – The Central Iowa Basic Income Pilot

View Post

HealthConnect Fellows: Engaging authentically in systems change

View Post

7 insights gained through a nonprofit merger

Foundation grants
Nov 17, 2022
View Post

Community-Based Participatory Research: What to Know

View Post

How student research informed the basic income project

Action planning
Sep 20, 2022
View Post

How empathy is a part of systems-change work

View Post

Making the Case: Communications Tactics that Work

Advocacy
Jul 26, 2022
View Post

4 ways to measure system-change progress

System change
May 31, 2022
View Post

Health disparities for Black pregnant Iowans: What you should know

View Post

5 reasons why youth should lead systems-change work

View Post

What we mean by 'system change'

System change
Apr 6, 2022
View Post

4 insights from researching housing instability in central Iowa

View Post

Iowa youth aging out of foster care: How are they doing?

View Post

7 lessons learned from Sesame Street partnership

Foundation grants
Jan 31, 2022
View Post

A closer look at mental health in schools during the pandemic

Community response
Nov 29, 2021
View Post

Get to Know Dr. Nalo Johnson

Foundation news
Nov 24, 2021
View Post

4 questions for nonprofit and community leaders

View Post

5 questions for leaders in philanthropy

Funder practices
Nov 5, 2021
View Post

5 ways to think about your personal brand as a part of your work

Leadership
Nov 1, 2021
View Post

4 issues impacting children’s health during the pandemic

View Post