December 5, 2018

Three lessons for fostering trust through local action

A series of investment projects in Akron reveals how city leaders and residents all play a role in creating vibrant and inclusive public spaces.

Through Akron Civic Commons, investments were made in the local parks, trails, and community centers.


This is the second of two posts about Akron Civic Commons, a project that brought together residents and local leaders to reimagine and reinvest in local public spaces. Read Part I, “How this Ohio community is fostering trust by reimagining its public spaces,” which was originally published in Meeting of the Minds.

Reflecting on the past two years of work through the Akron Civic Commons offers some key lessons for building trust through local action:

Process is just as important as product.

While the upgraded lakefront park is important, the process is equally so. It is through this process of reimagining our shared assets—by listening, co-creating and co-stewarding, testing ideas, and following on with permanent investments—that we are nurturing new relationships and fostering trust in communities. While a discrete project may end, relationships continue, and the trust developed can be transferred to other community efforts.

Viewing civic engagement as both an input and an outcome drives a different approach.

Public space investments often include a period of public engagement, but it often arrives accompanied by a “check the box” mentality that misses the real value of engagement. When civic engagement is viewed not only as an input to a project, but also as an outcome of the work, the approach is paramount to cultivating sustained public life, stewardship, advocacy, and trust.

Collaboration can set the stage.

One of the strengths of our Akron Civic Commons project is the diversity and experience of our core team, with a good balance of race, gender, experience, and ages, plus representatives of government agencies, education, funders, and nonprofits. And the team continues to grow and strengthen over time. With a focus on shared outcomes, individual organizations are coming together to share their strengths and organizational superpowers while acting on the civic commons principles throughout their daily work. Working together in this manner is transforming competitors into collaborators and fostering trust across organizations.

More than anything else, we have seen that the work of Reimagining the Civic Commons affects our team and our residents in personal, life-changing ways. As we begin to use this way of working—of listening with intent followed by co-creation in other Akron neighborhoods—we are changing the way of doing business in Akron by putting trust at the heart of community investment.

This essay was originally published in Meeting of the Minds.

Read more from Reimagining Civic Commons.

Daniel Rice

CEO of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition

Daniel M. Rice is the President & CEO of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition and the convener of the Akron Civic Commons, a demonstration project of Reimagining the Civic Commons, a collaboration between The JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation and local partners.