We had cleaned the house, set out the refreshments, and arranged chairs in a circle in our living room. Two weeks earlier, my son and I had knocked on all our neighbors’ doors —57 in total — to invite them to a Cool Block introductory gathering in our home. Guests were set to arrive in 15 minutes.
But would they come? I didn’t know, and I was worried they wouldn’t. Part of me thought that if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t. Like ours, their lives are busy enough, right? And busy lives are the norm in Silicon Valley.
Thirty minutes later, our house is full of neighbors. Fifteen of the 18 people who said yes to joining our gathering made it. A few brought wine. The social part of the meeting went swimmingly, thanks to my wife Andrea who put out an amazing spread and helped me welcome folks.
I was surprised and grateful for the showing, but now I had new questions — could I navigate the meeting to a successful conclusion? Would anyone join?
A month earlier I had taken the Cool Block leader training and committed to the program. I wanted Cool Block to be part of my one year life experiment, The Year of Living Locally (#LocalYear). The training didn’t go into great detail about how to manage the introductory gathering, but there was a fairly detailed meeting guide on CoolBlock.org.
The agenda for the gathering included attendee introductions, a visioning exercise, a program introduction, Q&A, and finally, the most important part, forming a Cool Block team. That seemed like a lot to cover in 90 minutes.
Much to my surprise, the meeting went fairly smoothly. In the introductions, everyone shared why they decided to join the gathering. Many had similar motivations as me — the desire to improve their quality of life, make progress on global warming, get to know their neighbors better, and make change at home. That was reassuring.
People became wonderfully animated during the visioning process. This was by far the most lively part of the evening. People shared their ambitions for the neighborhood. I got the sense that some ambitions were long harbored. The Cool Block process was surfacing them in a format where they had a better chance of being acted on. The ideas ranged from community composting to electric vehicle charging stations and from planting fruit trees to establishing an emergency phone tree.
The discussion didn’t stop once everyone got a chance to share. It went beyond the allotted 20 minutes and could have continued on and on. This discussion was boisterous and bonding, but my job was to keep the gathering on track. I tried tactfully to do so a couple times before I was successful. That was a tad stressful.
After I explained the program, a robust Q&A session followed. As expected, there was some concern about the time commitment, which is about two hours a week for a minimum of four months. That said, there wasn’t undue concern. The questions were perfectly understandable.
This led up to the key moment, seeing who would join.
The guide recommends asking for a show of hands for those who want to join, then addressing concerns of those who don’t raise their hands. I expected that to be messy because presumably you’ll have some recruits then, but you’re going to pause the team formation process to handle concerns? That could dissipate the momentum and undermine the resolve of those who’d just joined. Not to mention that it might be awkward for the undecided folks. The process seemed less than ideal, but I didn’t see another way to do it.
As expected, it was messy. It mostly worked, however. Of the 15 people who came, 13 raised their hands representing 11 households. I tried to handle concerns on the spot, but I found that difficult to do. I probably went too quickly into scheduling the next meeting for the joiners. The undecided drifted out, which was not ideal. I didn’t thank or see them out properly. The joiners quickly decided on the next meeting date. And before I knew it, the meeting was over.
I felt bad about how the meeting ended for the undecideds, so I followed up with them the next day with an apology and an offer to discuss the Cool Block program further.
Overall, the gathering was a success. My worry about how it would go was mostly unfounded. A lot of credit goes to my neighbors who just rolled with it and my wife who also helped keep the meeting on track. The next step is the team building gathering where we schedule the remaining activities. I’m looking forward to getting the schedule nailed down… and actually taking some action!
This post is part of Neal Gorenflo’s year long experiment on living locally (#LocalYear). Follow his journey by reading the other posts in his series:
- How we can avert our society’s drift toward disaster by charting a different course
- My uneven first steps in #LocalYear
- Knocking doors for Cool Block with my son Jake
- Time to give my #LocalYear teeth: 5 commitments to spur a more local lifestyle
- Things got a whole lot more local than I expected due to coronavirus