Gathering Insights Through Online Working Sessions

Earlier this September, we launched our Stewardship Standards for Homeownership project with nearly 50 stakeholders participating in six, individual working sessions covering key program topics: program and business planning, affordable pricing, fair marketing and selection, resales, and monitoring, support, and enforcement.

We held a week of fascinating discussions with a diverse group of stakeholders including practitioners, consultants, lenders, and advocates. Approximately 21 percent of participants identified themselves as members of a CLT organization, 11 percent identified as being part of a government entity, and 6 percent were affiliated with a Habitat organization.

Prior to the working session, participants completed a brief online pre-survey that outlined the overall goals for the program topic and included a set of sample standard and practices for the related topic. Participants were asked if each Standard should be “optimal” or “necessary”. Based on these survey results, we designed an online working session aimed to gather deeper insights around each set of standards and practices.

So what have we learned so far from this process?

  1. Participants want to share their experiences as well as learn from others.
    When we set out to invite folks to participate in this ambitious project, we were unsure who might be interested in our project. Our goal was to cast a wide net early, so we’d be able to hear from as many voices and groups as possible. These work sessions have shown that our members are very interested in contributing their insights through online polls, chats, and facilitated dialogue. Members also eager to hear how things work in other organizations–check out the synthesized notes from one of our work sessions or read the dialogue in our Stewardship Standards Room, built off the CommentPress collaborative online writing platform to hear what folks talked about.
    Stewardship-Standards-Cornerstone-Partnership-Sites-1024x495
    Visit the Standards Room. Click the image above!!
  2. Identifying consensus is about collecting layers of insight. One of the key goals of our project is to build a participatory engagement process that allows us to build consensus among our standards and practices. But, given the range of homeownership topics and groups we want the standards and practices to serve, we recognize that consensus is not about unanimous agreement. It’s about obtaining insights into what different groups view as optimal (a gold standard) or necessary (minimum standard), and learning what might apply broadly to a wide variety of groups. We intend to use these work sessions as a starting point for capturing the pulse on a variety of perspectives that we need to consider in developing our final standards and practices.
  3. Language matters.As we knew early on, developing standards is really ensuring that we’re aligning our intent with the right language. Sometimes, it’s only a minor language change to make the standard acceptable. For instance, one of the standards proposed in our Program and Business Planning topic reads, “Program is supported by specialized legal counsel.” During the working session, it appeared that the group was initially in disagreement about the importance of providing legal counsel. But, after some dialogue and probing, we learned that the main roadblock was the word “specialized”. Participants indicated that having knowledgeable legal counsel was sufficient. When “specialized” was dropped, participants agreed that, “Program is supported by legal counsel” was a necessary standard. What do you think? How important is it to have legal counsel who are specialized in affordable housing? Read more about Standard 1.9 and tell us what you think.

These are just a few of the insights we’ve learned over the past couple of weeks. Stay tuned as we share more updates and highlights about our calls over the next month. In the meantime, check out our synthesized notes on Stewardship Standards Room site and join the online conversation.

Hong Ly

As Senior Program Officer, Hong leads Cornerstone’s SIF program, CHIP, and all of Cornerstone’s technical assistance and community engagement activities.Hong brings 10 years of experience working in the housing and community development field. She began her career as an Americorps VISTA in Lowell, MA before joining Abt Associates asan evaluation consultant. She later developed affordable housing and commercial real estate projects at Urban Edge CDC in Boston. Hong received her BA from Carleton College and MBA from Boston University.

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