Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Creating Business & Change Through Community Insight - Part 2

People's Community Market is being designed on a belief that personal behavior change is best addressed through bottom-up approaches in which the people most affected by an issue provide the primary insights and ideas for its solution. One of our company's core values is to seek out and embrace the perspectives, knowledge and ideas of West Oakland residents to craft our offerings in ways that are more aligned with residents' own values and aspirations. We call this an "asset-based" approach to serving our customers as it recognizes that residents offer vital assets - such as insight, creativity and extensive social networks - for building our company and pursuing our goals. By taking an asset-based approach to serving our community, People's Community Market will establish a reciprocal relationship with our customers in which we each have something to offer to the other. This shifts the dynamic from helping a community to being in partnership with a community to help itself.

People's Community Market is being created out of the work of its nonprofit sister organization, People's Grocery. With nearly ten years of experience in West Oakland building relationships, listening to residents and experimenting with a variety of approaches, People's Grocery has gained first-hand and personal insight into what motivates West Oakland residents. More importantly, People's Grocery has built an asset-based process for obtaining input and leadership from West Oakland residents. 

A great example is People's Grocery's "Community Health and Nutrition Demonstrators", or Community HANDs. Through this program West Oakland residents are trained to deliver health and nutrition education to other residents. The participants, as representatives of the community, contribute their own ideas and craft their own approaches for engaging other people in their community. Because these approaches taken by the Community HANDs were designed by the people that the approaches are intended for, they are turning out to be pretty effective and are generating some great ideas for how to motivate residents toward healthier diets and lifestyles.

People's Community Market is building on the foundation and success of People's Grocery to create a retail food store that authentically listens to and works with customers to craft its product offering and support services. Drawing off of People's Grocery's large social network, People's Community Market is taking a number of initial steps during its planning and design phase to draw input and leadership from West Oakland residents. A number of surveys in the community have already been conducted in the planning phase, which have had tremendous impact on the overall business concept. A Community Advisory Council is being formed in which residents will play a direct role in planning People's Community Market and conducting outreach to the community prior to and after our opening. We're also planning to hold a series of focus groups in the Summer that will take place around, appropriately, a fantastic meal created by our deli manager, Rene Cage.

We also have many plans for community engagement and leadership when People's Community Market is open and operating, such as hiring at least 60% of our managers and workers from the community, maintaining an active and influential Community Advisory Council, implementing mechanisms for capturing customer feedback and other types of customer-generated information, holding ongoing events centered in dialogue with residents, and creating pathways for community ownership of the business over time.

We will write another blog post with more detail about some of our ideas and plans for engaging community input and leadership once the store is open and operating - we're particularly excited about the partnerships with community organizations that we're developing and the ways that residents will be able to have a direct stake in the business. For now the point is clear - the only way to really change eating behavior in a community like West Oakland is to engage with, listen to and work with residents. This perspective and value is already firmly baked into People's Community Market's DNA even before we have opened our doors. It will only become a more central value as we open and begin to do serve and engage our customers and our community.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Creating Business & Change Through Community Insight - Part 1

You hear it all of the time. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Consume less processed foods. Smaller portions are better. Half the plate should be vegetables. Don't snack between meals. Use whole ingredients. Try simple recipes. Cook at home twice as much as you eat out. Etc, etc, etc.....

Despite the abundance of information and advice on eating healthier that is available today, the government agencies that monitor health in the United States (such as the CDC, DHHS, and USDA) are all saying the same thing: eating behaviors are not really improving and obesity is very much on the rise. Given that little eating behavior change seems to be taking hold amongst most Americans, one has to wonder just what it is that the experts are getting wrong.

One answer may be that it's the experts themselves that are partly the problem. A majority of information in the media about improving diet and lifestyle comes from experts in the field of public health such as academics, public officials, physicians and dietitians. While these professionals are highly educated and do have a scientific understanding of the kind of dietary changes that are needed to improve health, they rarely have direct and personal insight into how to actually get people to make the changes.

To gain insight into what really works in motivating someone to do something one must be a part of that particular life experience in order to understand its perspectives, values and challenges. Experts aren't usually able to live inside of the many diverse and complex life experiences and perspectives that exist in the United States today. So they can't possibly have a complete understanding of what each person feels, experiences, and cares about. And it is often these things - the very personal aspects of an individual's world - that matter most when it comes to motivating change.

Too often public health experts and industry leaders tend to assume that average people don't have useful knowledge to offer in shaping a solution and, therefore, the experts don't build upon the knowledge that already exists among a given group of people. This is especially the case in relation to lower income citizens and people of diverse cultural backgrounds. At the core of this assumption is a belief that people are not capable of solving their own problems and, therefore, need the help of experts to solve their problems for them. A common result is that the experts end up coming up with approaches that are disconnected from the day-to-day experiences of the people they're hoping to reach and don't reflect the key elements that could inspire individuals to take action or adopt a change.

It's certainly true that People's Community Market is being created partly out of a desire to support healthy eating behaviors amongst West Oakland residents. Responding to the problem of diet-related chronic disease is a central impetus for creating our store. But instead of telling people what to do, we plan to listen to them. Instead of prescribing food choices based on what experts say, we plan to promote and hold up what residents say themselves. Instead of looking to science and industry for how to make dietary change, we plan to look to community and culture for guidance and ideas. Instead of using rules for eating healthier, we plan to use relationships centered on personal perspectives.

Next week we'll post a second blog on this topic in which we'll go into more detail on some of the ways that People's Community Market will work with its community in promoting healthier eating.