Building Community: the ICE FARM Approach

Since I was young, building community has been noted as one of my strengths. However, having my fellowship experience at Breakthrough Greater Boston (BTGB) begin completely virtually required me to think more intentionally about what community building looks like as a practice, one that cannot be facilitated as a byproduct of proximity. At BTGB, I was entering an already-established community as someone who is supposed to lead, but was two years behind in knowledge and familiarity. I am working with nearly 50 ninth graders in a program that they join in seventh grade, and stay in until college, with their cohort remaining the same for each of the six years.

This new positionality required me to think more in-depth about my approach to community building, something I have always done, but never took time to think of as a process with tangible, nameable steps. In reflecting on my past experiences with getting to know people of different backgrounds and what that has historically looked like for me, I isolated some key aspects of community building, and formed what I now call the “Ice Farm” approach. 

Each letter represents a key point in how I approach community (and relationship) building: Individualization, Consistency & Clear Communication, Explicit Ecosystem of Expectations, Follow Up / Through, Accountability, Respect for Each Other’s Humanity, and Mutuality. 

Individualization: Over time, get to know each person and their unique context. 

Reflection Questions: What do I know about this person? Do I know how these things affect them in real-time? How do I know that? What don’t I know? What does getting to know this person better look like in this context?

Consistency & Clear Communication: Remember key details and reach out in ways that resonate with both the messenger and receiver.

Reflection Questions: What does consistency mean to me? What does it look like to the other members of my community? What do we need to feel informed? What does clear communication look like to us? When is the best time to reach out? How do we best receive and process praise and feedback? How does this vary from person to person? How do we reconcile any differences?

Explicit Ecosystem of Expectations: Know what we need of others, know what is needed of us, and know how these needs are interconnected.

Reflection Questions: When, how, and who will tasks get done? Who will follow up and how? What should I do if this does not happen? What is expected of me to make this bigger picture happen? What support do I expect from others in my community as I strive to achieve this?

Follow Up / Through: Be faithful to our word and acknowledge when needs aren’t being met.

Reflection Questions: Are the expectations we set being met? Are they working for us? What should we do to check-in with each other? How long do I wait before I follow up? How do we respond when expectations are not being met? 

Accountability: Make demonstrated effort to be accountable in action to those in our community.

Reflection Questions: How do we give and receive feedback? What is the best way to voice this concern? What do I need from others moving forward? How will we know when progress is made?

Respect for Each Other’s Humanity: Hold and honor community members as full humans with capacity for growth.

Reflection Questions: What assumptions am I making about other people? How do I demonstrate care for others? How do others need me to demonstrate care for them? How do I know? What does it look like to take space for myself while making space for others? 

Mutuality: Others must demonstrate a willingness and ability to enthusiastically build and maintain.

Reflection Questions: What makes me feel like relationships are reciprocal? What do I need to demonstrate in action to show investment in this community?

And there you have my “Ice Farm” approach to community building! I hope to think more intentionally and proactively about using this framework moving forward now that I have it and I hope it can be of use to others as they approach their work.

 

Lex Brown

Lex Brown is the High School Support and Marketing/Communications FAO Schwarz Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston (BTGB). They can be reached at lbrown@btgbmail.org