Once you have grown some understanding of the place, the next step is to start to engage the broader community to find a shared vision and commit to shared outcomes.

The purpose of this phase is to host open conversations in place, ensuring social diversity and a participatory framework. The community comes together to identify issues, generate a shared understanding of the systemic factors that have led us to where we are now, and agree upon a shared vision for the future.

One method used successfully by QCOSS in this phase is to conduct a facilitated community forum involving a wide range of interested community members to build on the process of visioning. Depending on the length of the forum, it can also support the generation of ideas and planning – part of the next stage of Building a plan for change. The forum can be as long as is needed, but in our experience, a two-day forum lends itself to the outcomes including relationship building, trust and moving from talk to action.

An event is a good starting place for hosting community conversations in place, and you might hold several different movement building events over a period of time. A forum is just one part of the process – it is not the only way to engage people, but it forms a good entry point to start working with people in community. In the planning it provides a focus of activity to help build the leadership group in place; in delivery it connects people across the community to build trust; by moving to action, it provides focus post forum. Those who cannot attend might still be interested in being involved in the place-based approach and want to hear about how the forum went. It is also important to be aware that some communities can experience consultation fatigue. It is important to leverage off existing work, work alongside other organisations conducting community engagement, and not duplicate efforts.

Community engagement is a skill which is covered extensively through many online resources, including Community Door.

Jargon alert:

  • Consultation fatigue is where key stakeholders and informal community leaders might have participated in many forums, surveys, roundtables and community meetings, without seeing any substantial change to the way systems operate or any additional resourcing


  • Scheduling community forums
    You should know what the key events in the life of a community are from your mapping checklist. Make sure you don’t schedule a community engagement opportunity at the same time of a major event! However, major events can instead be opportunities to promote your place-based approach and engage broadly with the community, for example by hosting market stalls, or even asking to be part of the program.

Establish a Hosting Team

Drawing on the relationships built in your initial engagement, you might start to bring together a group of people to facilitate a community event designed to engage the public and bring together stakeholders from across the community. We call this a ‘Hosting Team’ or a ‘Leadership Group’. A Hosting Team might consist of four to fifteen people who are interested in a proposed place-based approach and have strong connections to the place. They might be key formal or informal leaders, individuals from the community, or representatives from key organisations in place.

The Hosting Team might meet several times in the lead up to the event, to decide on the invitation list and promotion activities, plan the agenda and processes for the forum, invite speakers, and prepare the venue and catering. They also act as the local face of the forum, promoting the event and acting as a catalyst for change. This ensures a diversity of perspectives to create the most successful forum possible, and leverages off the collective wisdom and contacts of all those on the Hosting Team.

Bring people to the conversation

The conversation should include as wide a cross-section of the community as possible, including anyone with passion, interest and/or lived experience. To do this, it is important to cast a wide net. Invite a broad range of people to be part of the place-based approach in their community and diversify engagement methods to include people who may not ordinarily hear about such initiatives. Remember that people often play a number of roles within their community and may have relevant lived experience or know others who do.


Community members, especially those experiencing marginalisation, require support to engage in the process. Remember that not everyone is used to meetings! Knowing the process, group norms and opportunities they will have for input can help break down power differences and set up clear expectations. It helps to provide clear information on the purpose of meetings and groups.

Specific groups may also need practical assistance to participate. For example, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities may need interpreter services to participate; people living with a disability may require adaptations or assistance such as an AUSLAN interpreter to participate, and people with limited income may require assistance with travel and food to enable them to engage. Ask people what would help them to engage and be prepared to resource them properly.

Tips for promoting your event to reach 'hard to reach' people

  • Engage community services that have relationships with people to talk about the best ways to include citizens and to broker relationships. Ask workers in community organisations to think of people they have worked with recently who might be interested and ask them to support them to attend
  • Contact local interest groups and consumer-led groups and ask for a citizen or consumer representative to attend
  • Attend upcoming community events and promote your initiative with flyers, a stall, or a slide or brief speech as part of the event
  • Meet people where they naturally gather – go to parks, neighbourhood centres, groups, wherever people that are relevant to your project gather. Attend the local neighbourhood centre, other community centres and services and (with permission from the service) talk to people using them, attend group programs and talk about the event and why people might like to come

Promote the event with collateral in the right places – ask to put up posters in the local neighbourhood centre and other community centres and services, take out an advertisement in the local paper, place an ad on community radio, ask community organisations to share in their newsletters to their clients and friends. Use your Hosting Team to help with these actions to build connections and buy in for the forum.

Invite formal and informal leaders

Based on your Community Mapping Checklist, you should also have a good idea of who the formal and informal leaders in a community are. From this, you can develop an invitation list for the community forum. Your Hosting Team is critical in helping to pull together the invite list and in doing so, helps you build your Community Map.

Tip: Socially inclusive engagement

Aim high – do not be afraid to contact ‘Very Important Persons (VIPs)’ or other people who you think might not be interested in the initiative. Our experience is that community leaders and key influential people in communities are grateful for the opportunity to connect with their community and be part of a movement for change. If their contact details are not publicly available, you can contact their organisation and ask how the best way to invite them would be.
You might start with a written invitation via email or post, and follow up with a phone call to them or someone in their organisation who supports them. The more time you have to prepare an event, the more likely that busy people will have room in their diary to attend, so try to start planning your event early and send invitations at least two months before the event.

Another tip is that if you have already connected with one ‘VIP’, you might ask them to talk to the people they know and join you in encouraging people to attend. Influential, powerful and busy people might be more likely to attend if they know that other people are taking the process seriously, and that it will be an important event in the life of the community. Again, the Hosting Team are critically important – many will have existing relationships with key people and can facilitate introductions and help get people to agree to participate.

Facilitate conversations

While conversations seem simple enough, there are many different processes for facilitating community conversations. Most impactful conversations and meetings will have had a lot of thought put into how they are run! Facilitation involves creating safe and comfortable spaces, creating opportunities for different ways of thinking, doing, and learning, and managing divergent ideas and interests.

Developing the agenda and processes you will use can take lots of time and thought. You may wish to talk to or even hire someone who has experience facilitating groups or meetings. This might be because of their skill and experience, but it can also be a good idea if you want to participate in the discussion rather than ‘holding the space’ for everyone else.

You can also create opportunities to co-facilitate with other members of the group, or move responsibility for facilitation around. For example, different members of the Hosting Team might facilitate different sections of the conversation.

Participatory leadership and the Art of hosting practices support people to share their voice and become leaders in change. Participatory leadership assumes that people give their energy and lend their resources to what matters most to them; in work as in life. It draws upon principles that align with community development, such as engaging people where they are at; that power should be diffused, and community members developed as leaders; and that solutions should be co-produced with the communities that are affected.

A key concept of Art of Hosting is ‘host yourself first’. This means anything you are prepared to encounter in conversations in the room, you must be prepared to encounter and host in yourself first – conflict, frustration, ego, fear, anger, weariness, envy, injustice and so on. Similarly, the presence, compassion, resolution and self-care required to host difficult conversations, you must show to yourself first.

Generally speaking, our events include some kind of check-in and check-out, some presentations and speakers, some kind of group process or activity, and methods to harvest the learnings from the day.

Some things to remember when facilitating and hosting conversations include:

  • Create a comfortable space (physically and emotionally) for the conversation to take place
  • Introductions, check-ins and getting to know people is important
  • Gently keep the group focussed on the question
  • Be mindful of how power is operating in the room. Ensure everyone is heard and listened to with respect and curiosity
  • Pass a talking piece to keep focus on one speaker at a time (optional)
  • Look for opportunities to reflect back and distil key concepts as the conversation progresses
  • Capture or harvest key messages and actions/ideas that emerge
  • Pay attention to time and purpose of the session.

Checking in and checking out are processes used to open and close a meeting. The purpose of checking in is to ensure everyone in the group is seen, heard and acknowledged, but it also helps people leave their busyness behind and be fully present at the meeting they have come to. Simply put, check in helps to focus everyone and lets every voice be heard from the start.

It is an important part of hosting conversations to feed back to attendees what has occurred and next steps. For more on this, see Documenting and sharing the work in Enacting the plan.

Capacity building for inclusive facilitation

The creation of Hosting Teams provides an opportunity to capacity build people in the region in inclusive facilitation practices and design and delivery of group processes. Building capacity in the region supports sustainability of the initiative going forward and build confidences in the Hosting Team to play an active role in the event itself. This can be particularly important when context experts are engaged as part of the Hosting Team. There are extensive resources available around facilitation, group processes, participatory leadership and Art of Hosting.


Socially inclusive facilitation

Being inclusive extends not just to the people you invite to a conversation, but to the way you host a conversation. People can feel excluded by many things – the structure of the meeting, the language used, or the way of thinking about an issue. Here are some tips for keeping processes inclusive:

Acronyms: Try to avoid acronyms when speaking, and if others use them, it can be helpful to ask them to spell them out or spell it out for the room.

Jargon: You will notice throughout this document we have included Jargon Alerts. In a similar way, it can be helpful to keep track of jargon used in community meetings. Try to avoid using it yourself; if others use it, you might gently interrupt them and ask them to define it for the room, or define it once the person has finished speaking.

Prior knowledge: During the conversation, people might bring up things that have happened in the past, but not go into enough detail to explain it to people who weren’t there. For example, one participant might say to another, “Remember that meeting we went to? They explained everything there.” In that circumstance, you might ask them to go into more detail for the room about the meeting, and what was explained.

Check for understanding: It is important when facilitating that everyone understands the process. Do not assume that everyone understood what was said, or that they were able to concentrate and listen all the time. If several people look confused, it is probably because they are. Pause and re-explain.

There are many more techniques to being inclusive and making people comfortable during processes.


Create a facilitation kit
If you’re holding regular meetings you can save yourself time and stress as a facilitator by having a ‘facilitation kit’ packed and ready to go! For us this includes; label stickers and a sharpie for name badges; sign-on sheet; whiteboard markers and duster; post-it notes and felt tip pens; blu tack; and butchers paper. There is a whole podcast about this very topic on First Time Facilitator by Leanna Hughes.

Visioning is a process of making sense of the way things are, identifying emergent themes for change, and creating a vision for the future.

It can help to begin with making sense of available data and stories and what they mean, in the form of presenting what is currently happening in the community. You might do some sense-making by presenting some data or existing research and stories from the region. If presenting data and stories from the region, ensure that there is time for checking with those present to see if this information rings true for them. Data and numbers are sometimes presented without context, and this can be detrimental. Remember the principles of place-based approaches here, as they will assist in treating data and stories with care.

Communicating data

In general, our experience is that most people switch off when we talk about data. Here are some tips to keep people engaged:
Less is more – choose the key data points that demonstrate your message

Tell a story – Intersperse the data with stories of real people. This helps people connect with an issue, and makes the data real

Infographics – people use them because they work. Combine data with images, icons and arrows – it will help people process the information

Raw numbers – We have found that raw numbers can mean more to people than percentages. For example, it is easier to understand that there were 300 more young people graduating school, than saying there was a one per cent increase

Make a comparison – Are you trying to communicate something huge? We have found it helpful to compare it to something people are familiar with. Some examples: 25,000 – 50,000 people in a football stadium (look up the local one to make it relevant);

Focus on strengths and opportunities – see Key learning: Data and Disadvantage in Digging into Data

  • There are some fantastic and easy to use online graphic design tools that can make presenting your information much simpler and more enjoyable. We particularly like Canva and Piktochart.

Once the scene is set you might ask community members to reflect on what is currently occurring in the region (the good things and the bad things) and what their priorities are for the future. Encourage big dreams! Some example questions you might ask include:

  • What would your community look, feel and sound like at its best?
  • What might it take to create a community where everyone feels safe?
  • Imagine the year is 2050, and we are in a resilient, connected community. What can you see?
  • What does it look like when things were working well here?
  • We envision a community where everyone feels mentally healthy and well. What do we have in our community that supports that? What other things might we need to get there?

These are just some of the questions we have used to get people thinking about the community they would love to live in. Part of developing a process for visioning is framing powerful questions, a type of strategic, open-ended question that stimulates reflection and creative thinking in an audience. Powerful questions create space for options, empowers, and asks us to think outside the box. They enable us to look at new ways of working and thinking and look at what is possible.

A related framework for asking transformative questions in a strength-based way is that of appreciative inquiry, while World Café is a way to host the conversations where people can more deeply explore a set of questions together. There is more information about each in the links below, alongside a sample workshop process that QCOSS uses for community visioning which draws upon all three practices.

Some tips to support visioning:

  • It is helpful to be as visual as possible when creating a vision. Writing words up on a whiteboard, or even having someone with graphic skills ‘drawing’ the vision is powerful. Wherever possible, try and use the words of community members themselves, rather than relying heavily on your own interpretation. Sometimes facilitators use resources such as cards to assist in getting a conversation flowing. You could check out the cards from Lighthouse Resources which are available on their website
  • Visioning will be difficult if those participating in the visioning do not feel connected to others there, or safe to share their biggest dreams. Invest a good amount of time at the beginning of your process to ensure people feel safe and connected.

It is rare to have representation of all sub-groups of a community at a forum, meeting, or event. You might intentionally invite or target particular people and sectors, or even reserve places to ensure equal representation from certain sectors and groups of people. You might ask those participating if there are any views that might be missing from the conversation. How can you find out more about the missing voices? Are there any barriers to their participation that need addressing?

Building a shared vision with a group of people takes time, patience and intention. The work of visioning isn’t limited to community forums – it can be done in small groups and individual conversations, so be sure to follow up with key groups and individuals to ensure their voice is represented in the vision.

Part of creating a shared vision and commitment to change is identifying the systemic factors that have contributed to creating or maintaining the current situation, and creating a logical theory of how future actions might change those factors. We recommend doing this in collaboration with the broader community. While you may have some understanding of the current system from your work Mapping the community, you will need people looking at the system from a range of perspectives before you can get a full picture.

Systems thinking

Systems thinking is a way of seeing overall structures, patterns and cycles in systems, rather than seeing only specific events in the system. It is a way to think about the world not by reducing it into small parts but by embracing the complexity that emerges from the interconnection of parts. Systems thinking has been used by fields such as public health, management, organisational behaviour, and sustainable development. This broad view can help you to quickly identify the real causes of issues and know just where to work to address them.

A ’systems thinking’ approach involves mapping relationships and interconnectivity, articulating assumptions about how change occurs and how the social ‘problem’ is being addressed by an initiative that is part of a larger system. It involves thinking about the barriers to change, and the interventions to change the system.  It also involves thinking about current structures and ways of working that exclude certain voices, create differential advantage, and maintain current dynamics and power relations in place.

One useful model for thinking about the different sites for change is the Water of Systems Change model. This model describes three levels of systems change, starting with traditional mechanisms of social change such as policy, practice or resource shifts; down to transformative change at a fundamental level, which requires shifting the mental models operating in a circumstance.

Six conditions of systems change, in an inverted pyramid. First stack, from left to right, policies, practices and resource flows - these are Structural Change (explicit). Next line, relationships and connections, power dynamics - these are semi-explicit. At the bottom, Mental Models - these are transformative change (implicit).

Source: Water of Systems Change by John Kania, Mark Kramer, Peter Senge



  • Theory U, a useful resource for reflecting on how change happens by Otto Scharmer


Part of understanding our outcomes includes work with leaders and community members in place to identify what the factors and levers are that are contributing to maintaining existing systemic barriers and issues, and what needs to be leveraged to generate the change we want to see.

Theory of change and program logics

Once you have identified the factors or levers that are contributing to the situation you would like to change, it is useful to develop a theory of change or program logic for how you might make a change in the community.

One way to map links between activities and outcomes is a program logic, which generally specify more direct causative links and include resources required. A program logic model is helpful when you are looking at a defined piece of work that has clear resources and inputs and defined outcomes.

Another way to understand how certain activities might lead to change is a theory of change. These are generally more helpful if the systems are complex, the work is less defined, and therefore less known.  Developing a theory of change or a program logic is a participatory process where stakeholders in a project identify the conditions required to reach their shared vision. The process of change is arranged graphically in a change model, which shows the pathways and interventions required to realise the change.

A theory of change or program logic is:

  • the process of working out the theory, in participatory group sessions involving the people who will undertake the activities and;
  • the product of that process, a document of the change model showing how and why a goal will be reached.

Having a theory of change enables us to understand the systemic factors impacting on the place, what broad level activities might help us to reach our shared vision, and what resources might be needed to implement those activities. It also provides a basis for measuring progress towards and achievement of agreed outcomes.

There are a number of processes that can be used to analyse systems and create a theory for change, including the Five Whys (or Socratic questioning) approach, and creating maps or trees of where you want to get to, such as a Problem and Solution or Opportunity tree.

“One of the best aspects was when we did the program logic. That really gave us a clear understanding of where everyone was, it found the common themes, but again it led back to the strengths of each person in the group and how they could contribute or how we could leverage their take,” – Strengthening our place leadership group member

The collaborative nature of place-based approaches requires not only the establishment of a shared vision, but the development of shared outcomes and outcomes indicators which support measuring progress towards the vision. This step helps to convert a theory of change into a commitment to a tangible goal. Longer-term shared outcomes are also sometimes described as social impacts and collective impacts.

It is important to define an outcome associated with your vision, to make it a goal that seems real and tangible. It is also helpful to have some kind of outcome indicator to work towards. For example, you may have a vision for all people in your region to feel secure at home. One tangible outcome you may want to work towards might be to improve housing stability in your area. You might choose to measure this outcome of greater housing stability through the outcome indicator of “50 more dwellings that were reported fully owned as tenure type according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census”. This might be a longer-term goal. In this way, the outcome of housing stability is ‘operationalised’ into a tangible and measurable indicator of the number of households that owned their own home. In most cases this will be defined through your theory of change or program logic model, and may include both population level and process level outcomes. What is important in place-based approaches is that there is a commitment to a shared outcome/s – that all members agree.

In higher complexity collective impact place-based approaches, shared measurement systems are a core feature, where initiative partners work towards measuring activities and outcomes through standardised ways of recording service data and reporting, and measuring outcomes in the community. Working on a shared measurement system can certainly encourage shared understandings of the issue, support integration of systems, and ensure parties stay accountable to one another and to the collective vision. However, shared measurement systems also often require standardised ways of working and rigorous data collection, which can be time-consuming, resource-intensive and might inhibit flexibility and diversity. An excessive focus on establishing shared measurement might accidentally divert resources away from improving collaboration in service delivery, or other structural reform.

Film clip

Strengthening our place – #4 – How have you measured the impact?


Jargon alert:

Shared measurement systems require diverse organisations to employ the same techniques for gathering, analysing and reporting data. All project members agree to measure particular activities and outcomes through standardised ways of recording services or outcomes. This can involve establishing new data collection systems such as a shared databases, and sharing data regularly or in live-time with other project members.