Learning Cohorts: The Power of Peer to Peer Groups

Submitted by Wendy McCaig on Mon, 11/12/2018 - 19:05
cohorts on panel

For years, I was the only asset-based community development practitioner in my region. It was a lonely experience. In 2016, I launched Embrace's first Regional Learning Cohort. This grew out of a desire to support leaders who were applying ABCD in their own neighborhoods across the region. Every neighborhood transformation story is unique as each effort is led by a different partner. However, if we could link these stories together, our collective voice would be a much stronger advocate for ABCD across our nation.

Group in a seated circle

Over the past few years of experimenting with learning cohorts, we have learned a few lessons:

  1. Common Language: In order to launch a successful learning cohort, you must find a way of ensure that everyone involved develops shared language. We attempted to open our groups up to those interested in learning about ABCD but found that the lack of a shared starting place limited the cohort’s ability to dive deep. Completing one of our Shift trainings is now a prerequisite to joining a cohort. Embrace offers “Shift” trainings, customized by sector, quarterly around the region and through on-line “Shift” training options.
  2. Shared Experiences: The sharing of updates by each leader about the progress of their work in their neighborhood is often the richest part of a cohort meeting. These stories are not always rosy or about “how great things are”. These stories range from frustrating to heartbreaking, demonstrating just how difficult ABCD can be. As such, we only allow those leading an ABCD effort “on the ground” to join a cohort. This commonality leads to a real sense of comradery between the more experienced practitioners who can offer support and advice and those who are just starting out. It is a pleasure to witness groups of strangers grow into a family of co-laborers.
  3. Regional Agenda: From day one, our mission has been to expand the ABCD movement.  This vision goes beyond the individual practitioners and the work in their respective neighborhoods and speaks to a cause that is greater than any one of us.  Together, we can achieve so much more than we could individually.  This shared vision has helped to shape group culture making it a very generous and supportive environment.  When one of us succeeds, we all succeed!
  4. Globally Linked: At every gathering, we begin by discussing lessons learned and knowledge gleaned from our local stories. However, Embrace's role in these conversations is to link local work to the global ABCD conversation. We spend a lot of time researching “best practices” outside our region and looking for ways these methods might inform our local work. This linking to a broader movement enables our network to build upon national and global assets. For example, Embrace’s Dream Catcher project was built upon work done by Broadway UMC in Indianapolis and Block Connector work was built upon the work of the ABCD Institute. We contextualize and shape each version to reflect its distinct, local setting but inspiration came from the innovative efforts of others.

As the ABCD movement expands globally, I suspect similar networks have formed and are forming in cities across the globe.

If you are an ABCD practitioner and would like to connect with other practitioners, please contact us here. 

I will be happy to help you find a cohort near you or to help you launch one.


Nuts and Bolts