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Equip yourself with new skills, tools, and resources that prepare you for a resident-led planning process.

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We are prepared to shift our mindset, be flexible, and learn new skills to orient ourselves to resident leadership.

Vontriece McDowell, Legacy Neighborhood Solidarity Planner with Invest STL

Vontriece McDowell, former WE/VP Neighborhood Solidarity Planner

What we Learned

Choosing to adapt to a situation instead of resisting can be referred to as leaning in. A resident-led neighborhood planning process is not often linear or straightforward and often responds to new needs and desires. Stakeholders may need to move and show up in ways they are not accustomed to or that may even be outside their assigned scope. This level of flexibility helps ensure gaps are closed and activities progress. In group or collaborative processes, where many voices drive the decisions being made, it takes an intentional approach to ensure direction surfaces from the crowd.

weCollab Highlight

During the weCollab planning process we observed various ways the planning partner, YARD, leaned into resident leadership. Early on, YARD presented to the resident Steering Committee ways to brand the effort to wider audiences. Steering Committee members pushed back, questioning the importance of branding and expressed frustration about prioritizing this activity.
The residents felt there were tangible issues to focus on. YARD realized the community wanted to fully lead in choosing priorities and goals for development in their neighborhood. In YARD’s previous experience, residents would follow their lead on priorities. To lean in to the residents leading this work, YARD had to fall back from directing every step in the process and allow residents to inform them. “They learned to simplify terms that may be everyday language to them in their field but that was new or unfamiliar to the everyday person” – Vontriece McDowell, Legacy weCollab NSP. This practice informed residents enough to meaningfully communicate, discuss, and decide on matters. When gathering feedback, YARD had to be mindful of the jargon they might typically use as planners. “De-jargoning became part of our Quality Assurance/Quality Control. We would have a layman review [our documents] for consistency in accessible language early on,” said Joe from YARD. It was sometimes the more challenging work, but it was what gave the residents an avenue to lead and direct the process. If YARD had not leaned into resident leadership, the outcomes may not have reflected residents needs. That shift enabled residents to use power they often aren’t able to use.


Refer back to your roles and job descriptions from the earlier cards (Define Scope + Scale, Define Resident-led, Staffing & Roles, and Partnerships). List all the functions from these various exercises. In another column, list the skills, resources, and strengths that individuals or organizations in your neighborhood have. Are there gaps between the functions needed and strengths of people and organizations in the neighborhood? What might it look like to start filling some of those gaps?


  • What unique skills and interests do you have that could support your neighborhood planning process?
  • What common needs among your neighbors are emerging that don’t yet have a resource or solution?
  • As a resident, what do you uniquely bring to the table?
  • What unique role do you play in the process? How does it compare to intrinsic strengths your organization has?
  • What programming or engagement needs are emerging from the planning process that may not already be assigned a resource or solution?
  • In what ways can you show up outside of your assigned role to demonstrate your unique skills and capabilities?
  • Beyond offering technical assistance and planning expertise, what unique capabilities do you have that could contribute to a planning process?
  • What expectations do you have of stakeholders in the process? Are there any gaps in their performance that you have the capacity to fill?
  • How might your unique capabilities suit apparent and emerging needs in the planning process? What shifts might be required to meet those needs?
  • Beyond funding, what unique capabilities do you have that could contribute to the planning process?
  • What needs are emerging from the planning process? What stakeholders are exhibiting unique capabilities?
  • In what ways can you show up outside of providing funding to demonstrate your unique skills and capabilities? What shifts might be required to meet those needs?
  • Outside of departmental functions, what resources, programs, and capabilities do you have or know about that support resident-led neighborhood planning? …(continued on next page)

  • What roles do you see stakeholders playing that might appear unconventional?

  • In what ways can you apply your capabilities and resources to or remove barriers from neighborhood planning processes that may at first seem unconventional?


We exercise the art and skill of observation to navigate our neighborhood planning process well.

What we Learned

Someone’s tone, nonverbal signals, and body language are just as important as what they may say or do. Silence speaks volumes and doesn’t always indicate agreement or disagreement. Someone who is quiet in a meeting may be confused about the discussion, overwhelmed by personal issues, or simply listening to glean information without much participation. We learned there are lots of insights in listening and watching how people engage and show up in discussions. Being aware and watchful of the many ways your collaborators are communicating with your group is a practice for everyone to use, though if you have a designated discussion facilitator, they can play a critical role in highlighting and bringing out what others might miss or disregard.

weCollab Highlight

Early in the process, there were moments when discussion would go silent or usually engaged members would not be physically or vocally present when certain topics arose. Though what was said out loud may have indicated general agreement amongst the group, the lookaways, occasional throat clearings, and crossed arms whispered something different. “Observing this pattern of interactions, neighbors leaned into the practice of being observant or noticing” as consultant Whitney Benns shared. At our recommendation and the Steering Committee’s approval to be invited in for support, Whitney would quietly observe the group’s interactions throughout meetings. Near the end of discussions, Whitney would share, “Here’s what I’m noticing…,” to then invite the group into a safe space to revisit moments and decisions where all that needed to be said or felt wasn’t expressed before. Whitney supported the group in seeing their own signs of alignment, discord, and joy, so that with time and practice they could start picking up when the moment required deeper inquiry, care, celebration, or called for a one-on-one between individual members outside of the group setting.

Without pausing to address tension we observed and crafting ways forward, the process could have been much more taxing. Long-standing issues and historical harm may have continued to snowball into more damaging conflict. Being observant allows you to face issues at hand and address them so people feel comfortable continuing to bring their full selves to the work.


In the next neighborhood meeting, watch people’s body language, when they seem to perk up, become distracted, or disengage. Where do you notice tension? Where does there appear to be agreement or harmony? Do you notice a pattern of reactions to certain topics, phrases, or speakers? In your personal meeting notes, try to jot down the non-verbal signs (example: Stacy and Doug were the only ones who didn’t say anything on this topic) so you can build up your own understanding of your group’s “language.”

Hear from Whitney Benns on her practice of one-on-ones with residents

by Witney Benns | Upskill


  • How do you show up when you’re excited or inspired by an idea or topic? Where do you feel it in your body?

  • What are non-verbal cues you have observed in your group when there is conflict? What about alignment?

  • In what ways might you gain clarity about what you observe in a meeting, group activity, community engagement, or presentation?

  • In past collaborations with residents and stakeholders, when you were confident about a proposal, hesitant, or opposed to a specific direction in the process, how was it expressed?

  • Beyond what is verbally expressed, How do you know residents are pleased about a proposal or solution compared to when they are not?

  • In what ways can you add clarity to different situations in the planning process and invite residents to open up about what they might see?

  • On past neighborhood planning processes, how did you express when you were confident in your recommendations and aligned with stakeholders vs. opposed or misaligned with stakeholders?

  • Beyond what is verbally expressed, what signals indicate to you a stakeholder’s position on a certain topic or direction of the process?

  • In what ways can you add clarity to topics and phases of the planning process and invite stakeholders to open up about what they might see?

  • What nonverbal responses can you identify in yourself or from staff in discussions or interactions with residents?

  • How are stakeholders responding to investments you make directly in their communities?

  • In what ways can you add clarity to different situations in the planning process or invite stakeholders to open up about what they might see?

  • In past planning processes, how did you show up in interactions with neighborhood stakeholders?

  • Keeping in mind stakeholders, nonverbal cues and reactions, what do you notice about their behavior at different moments throughout the planning process – when do you notice residents’ faces lighting up or heads nodding vs. arms folding, scoffing, or grunting?

  • In what ways can you add clarity to different situations in the planning process or invite stakeholders to open up about what they might see?


We practice skills for building quick consensus and steering discussion toward conclusive decisions.

What we Learned

Making decisions together is probably one of the most important skills a resident-led group can develop. It’s also where residents may walk away from the effort if they don’t feel heard or don’t like the decisions being made. When a decision can affect hundreds or thousands of people in a neighborhood, making decisions that carefully represent the wants and needs of the residents can demonstrate collective power and resident leadership. A resident-led process will put new demands and strain on residents’ time and energy so it’s helpful to find ways to lessen that burden. Tools for making decisions efficiently is one way to help your group reach its goals with less strain.
It’s helpful to establish structures for how the group will discuss complex topics. For example, before a meeting that will require discussion on a multi-layered decision, you may want to break down the decision into smaller parts and distribute a brief survey for quick votes. With varying attendance at some of the meetings, we found it helpful to decide who is a part of making major decisions by defining a quorum. A quorum is a way to ensure important decision-makers are present before a discussion and decisions are made. It can consist of how many members are present, the percentage of meetings members must attend, or ensuring certain chairs or positions within the committee are present before going to a vote. Methods for group decision making include:

  • Majority vote: when over half the people present agree, you have a majority vote. In this method, members of the group discuss a decision to be made, loosely identify a proposal, then vote on it.
    • Surveying: This is similar to casting a vote, just in a written form instead of open discussion. Sometimes this format gives people more space and time to think without the pressure of needing to answer in a group setting. When sent in advance, it also saves time during the meeting where a decision needs to be made.
  • Consensus-based group decision making” is a process used by many institutions and organizations in which group members deliberately come to agreement on a decision. It involves introducing and clarifying the issue, discussion, forming a proposal and amending if necessary, then testing for agreement. The proposal process is repeated until all are in agreement. It leaves room for members to raise reservations or stand aside and refine the decision into something everyone can live with.

weCollab Highlight

In Phase III of the weCollab plan, there were many decisions to be made at each meeting so the planning partner could finalize the draft. We found ourselves talking through similar issues over and over without really reaching a conclusion. We hadn’t developed a formal process for raising concerns, debating potential outcomes, and evaluating what the group could collectively live with as a decision. We observed frustration growing in the group when committee members couldn’t make a decision often due to a lack of clarity on an issue or understanding about the direction of the group. One tool we tried to strengthen decision-making in the weCollab group was consensus-based decision making. This tool allowed us to introduce and clarify the issue, have open discussion, brainstorm potential ways forward, and form a proposal. Members could then clearly state agreement with the proposal, amendments to it, or choose to set their opinion aside for the sake of progress toward the common goals. An outcome of using this method was that we could track the conversation and how much agreement there was on the fly during the discussion.


Draw a consensus-based decision-making diagram 🔗 on a whiteboard or chart paper at your next meeting where you may have hard decisions to make as a group. Read the instructions and track the conversation. Make sticky notes with each member’s name and move them along so they can see where they are in the process of the group making a collective decision.


  • Which of the decision-making methods described in this play resonate with you?

  • Describe the type of decision-making method you think might work for your group. How does it look, sound, and feel?

  • What is important to you about how your group builds consensus on minor decisions? What about major decisions with greater impact?

  • In what ways have you supported resident decision-making in the past?
  • What methods have been most effective or well received by residents when building consensus in the past?
  • What other exposure and information can you share to help inform resident decision making in the planning process?
  • What decision-making tools or methods have been most effective to your work and building resident consensus in the past?

  • In what ways can you tell when consensus has been reached? How do residents demonstrate that they understand the effect their decisions have on the planning recommendations it proposes?

  • In what ways do you document, hold, and carry resident decisions throughout the neighborhood planning process?

  • What role do you play in helping residents understand decisions to be made and reaching consensus?

  • In what ways can you tell when consensus has been reached?

  • What tools and resources can you offer to support neighborhood stakeholders in making decisions?

  • In what phases of the process can you help residents understand decisions that must be made? What role do you play in helping residents reach consensus?

  • In what ways can you tell when consensus has been reached about a certain topic or action in a neighborhood planning process?

  • What practices and procedures get used in governmental decision-making that might easily lend themselves to neighborhood planning?


We move our group forward by building on each decision we make.

What we Learned

Planning processes have many, many decision points. Over time, especially as collaborators weave in and out of the process as time and other obligations permit, your group may find itself going in circles on issues you previously resolved. With so many decision points in what can be a multi-year process, it’s easy to forget what you’ve already discussed. When there is a record of what was considered and decided, you can ensure the conversation always moves forward, especially around hot-button issues. Having a record also allows your group to be reminded of what you’ve already considered and make an informed decision on whether to revisit an item.

Over time, we incorporated a few practices to help with developing a record and supporting the group in having forward-moving discussions that we’ve outlined here:

: This can be helpful when tracking attendance, voting privileges and then who and how people voted on each topic. It’s useful to have a clear picture of where everyone stands and how aligned all members are on decisions.
Tracking document: Similar to running notes, this document is updated after each meeting with notes on the discussion. To make note taking easier, copy and paste the group’s meeting agenda or discussion guide into a document so notes can follow the order of the discussion. For each agenda section, you can record the decisions that were made by listing them at the bottom of the section or creating a column just for decisions so you can see the discussion items and the decisions side-by-side: Link to template
Meeting Notes: These are created as simple documents made in a word processor (like Microsoft Word) to be easily downloaded and printed for note-taking or easier viewing. Always remember to include the date, who was present, and the topics discussed. Some residents like to keep printed copies in a binder to refer to later.
Survey: Transform group decision-making with an online survey or printable questionnaire. These can be sent in advance to prepare attendees for discussion or as a follow-up to record attendees’ votes. The benefit for some is breathing room to think about the decisions to be made on their own time before they respond. Results can be shared out as a way to track why certain decisions were made.

Further still, sometimes a phone call is the best way for a collaborator to catch up on the latest decisions being made and offer their input. It helps to be flexible and find ways to meet everyone where they are so the progress of the group can continue

weCollab Highlight

In our multi-year effort, not all Steering Committee members attended every meeting. Naturally, members who missed a previous meeting would have questions in the present meeting that would sometimes lead to rehashing decision points temporarily stalling the group’s progress. One practice we started was a recap of recent work the group completed at the beginning of each meeting. We used a slide presentation to highlight the main discussion points from the previous meeting and call out the decisions the group made. Having this visual record often answered any questions someone may have while also reminding the group where they stood. Before reopening a discussion item, they could make a clear choice to re-negotiate or affirm the decision they already made and meaningfully move forward in the rest of the discussion.


Designate someone from your group to record who attends each meeting. When something comes to a vote, record the proposed decision and results of the vote. To get started, download an attendance and voting template that you can use digitally or print.


  • What facts or progress in the planning process need reminders? Milestones? Meeting dates? Resident engagements?

  • How do you best retain information and decisions made by a group – through writing? Reading? Or a conversation with a trusted neighbor?

  • What factors or considerations are most critical to your current group decisions?

  • What method do you use to remember decisions residents recently made?
  • What’s your workflow between resident feedback and staff implementation on planning-related issues?
  • How do you make your staff aware of decisions that affect their work or your organization’s support of resident-led efforts?
  • Where else can you document resident decisions throughout the process outside of finished plan deliverables?

  • How can you share progress with other partners in an easily digestible way, for example in a summary after each milestone?

  • What is your workflow for incorporating resident feedback into your work?

  • How can you most efficiently facilitate and fund community members in recording their decisions?

  • Where do you record decisions residents have made that affect the process?

  • How does your staff stay grounded in the now and the future of the work you fund?

  • What newsletters or digests do you need to be a part of to stay informed of movements in neighborhood planning efforts?

  • What process do you use for residents making decisions on things happening in their neighborhood? How does it track with their history in the neighborhood?

  • How do resident decisions about their neighborhood reflect in your budgets for these areas?

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