Ep 9: Michael Brown: Common Ground, Tough Convos and Bold Action

On this episode of Marketing for Good, Michael Brown joins Erica to talk about bridging the divide between policymakers and those affected by the policies in order to foster an effective connection and create real change. Michael shares some of the challenges of finding common ground without losing what you’re fighting for, and staying open to other perspectives, especially in the current divisive atmosphere. They also talk about using data points to ensure alignment of efforts in order to leverage individual assets and activities for the collective good. Lastly, they discuss the importance of defining your narrative, even if the details are uncomfortable, so you can get to the work that matters.


This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart’s interview with Michael Brown on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


people, community, conversation, civics, questions, funders, organizations, architect, create, commonwealth, grant proposals, homelessness, foundation

Erica Mills Barnhart  08:27

Welcome to the Marketing for Good podcast. I’m Erica Barnhart, your host. With me today is Michael Brown. Michael is the Chief Architect of Civic Commons a new regional civic infrastructure aimed at uniting more community voices in decision making to advance racial and economic equity. Prior to becoming a Civic Architect, and yes, we are going to ask him to talk about what the heck that means. Michael served in a variety of capacities at Seattle Foundation and most recently as Vice President of Community Programs. He began his tenure, the foundation in 2001, so has been there for quite a while and over the years has led efforts to elevate community voice, foster public private partnerships, and, tackle complex challenges in the areas of affordable housing, economic racial equity, and policy and system change. He led the development of Seattle Foundation Center for Community Partnerships, which focuses directly on targeted efforts to achieve greater racial and economic equity. You are I hope seeing a seam in Michael’s work. He is a veteran of funder collaboratives and collective impact efforts, including at Skillup Washington, The Roadmap Project, Communities of Opportunity and the Sustainable Communities Funder Group. Here’s something else I want you to know about Michael, he is a way back when alum of the University of Washington’s Evans School where I also went and I’m now on faculty. He is a number one coffee drinker and Martini sipper, and father to one of the cutest boys on the planet. Welcome Michael to the show. How are you?

Michael Brown  09:58

I’m good. Thanks for having me.

Erica Mills Barnhart  10:01

Ah, thanks for being here. How is the adorable one?

Michael Brown  10:07

Haha, the adorable one, I had to pause here for a second. Which one? He’s, no he’s he’s great. We just completed a school day. Now he is out and about just riding his bike but he is, yeah, he’s in a really good place he also got a haircut. You know we don’t need to talk about how tough it is homeschooling but you know home barbery I think is turning into something as well, so.

Erica Mills Barnhart  10:39

Oh, yeah. Uh huh. It really is. Okay, so who gave the haircut?

Michael Brown  10:44

Oh, I gave him the haircut. So everything, it’s it’s fine. I mean, it’s surely not professional quality. But nonetheless, you know, there are definitely a few spots where it’s like, well, no one’s really going to see you so you know?

Erica Mills Barnhart  11:00

That thing it’s like what I find is kind of ironic. We will move on to more substantive matters. But I find it really hilarious that all of us are obsessing so much about our hair and stuff because we don’t see anybody up close except our feelings. And we’re also over each other like, oh, look the exact same outfit again, way to go. So I think he’s safe. How old is he? I think he’s little?

Michael Brown  11:23


Erica Mills Barnhart  11:24

Seven. See, it’s seven when you have weirdness with your hair, it’s like cute.

Michael Brown  11:29

Well, it also I was gonna say at seven you’re not vain in terms of you know, the, you know the appearance so you can kind of get away with certain things.

Erica Mills Barnhart  11:40

Okay, well, I applaud you for the for the effort, the barbery effort. So when I have guests, I always start by reading their bios more or less and more oftentimes, I will say like for instance, I had Akhtar Badshah on who you know and you know, your author’s bio and like, so you went from an architect architect to like where you are today, you know, it’s like nonlinear. But when I hear your bio, it’s actually it sounds to my ear quite linear and logical. And I, I’m just curious if you would share, like, was that your intention or did it just sort of kind of sort of happened that way? And then because your bio is so buttoned up, are there any fun, weird jobs that you did that aren’t on the the OR the official resume that will, you know, make us all feel better those of us who have nonlinear wacky career path?

Michael Brown  12:37

You know, it’s a great question, Erica. What I think about in particular the past 25 years, no, actually it is pretty linear. So what after I left grad school in ’95 and short tenure at a statewide nonprofit association, where I moved into a Deputy Director role. And then in ’97, I moved over to Seattle City Council as a legislative aide for Seattle City Council Member so I was there in that role for four years moved to Seattle Foundation in 2001 as a Program Officer 2002 was promoted to a Director 2008 moved into the Vice President role of programs so you know, as they think through it, ya no, it’s it’s a pretty linear progression. This new title, or it’s not new anymore, but Civic Architect is actually in some ways, it’s also linear. One of one of the ways I would describe myself, I think my colleagues internally would as well in my VP of Programs role was the essentially to be the Foundation’s Chief Strategist and to identify how the Foundation could best utilize its discretionary resources, its grant making dollars, its impact investing dollars, its convening power, its voice and in some ways, a very, very similar to an architect, you are creating something or designing something, and then working with others to build to implement that vision. So, you know, it’s just a little bit of a different spin on, you know, what could have been just a rather traditional title, but something that still conveyed you know, what I tend to feel are some of the assets that I bring to the professional setting.

Erica Mills Barnhart  14:54

Now, did you come up with the title or did somebody else come up with the title?

Michael Brown  14:59

Well, one of one of the things that Tony Mestres who’s the President CEO at Seattle Foundation, and I will laugh about is that one, you know, Tony and I both operate at a 30,000 foot level. So you can imagine, you know, the conversations that he and I have and you know/ Two but he would also acknowledge, I would acknowledge as well that naming things, name plating things, you know, just not my strong suit. But we just happen to have this brainstorming session as we’ve landed on the name of this initiative. So the comments that we were just kind of bouncing some names around in terms of title and Civic Architect you know, or Architect came into my head just kind of thinking about the role and you know, attaching civic to it. And, and Tony, Tony looked at me, he’s like, I think you might be onto something. So we just played around with it, and it just stuck. So, you know, yes, I will say I came up with it, but you know, definitely inspired by, by many other by many other things.

Erica Mills Barnhart  16:09

Well, it’s interesting because I mean, you sort of put a spin on two words, I, you know, if we go way back when, again, like commons was actually a physical structure in a physical place, which would have required a more traditional architect. So, there’s a, there’s a fidelity to these to both terms that you know, it’s it’s just interesting, but then Civic Architect does make a ton of sense. Plus, let’s just be honest, that’s a cool title, Michael. That’s cool. Yeah.

Michael Brown  16:38

Yeah. Yeah, I definitely, you know, more questions, you know, about what a Civic Architect is than Vice President of Programs. So.

Erica Mills Barnhart  16:51

I mean, in fairness, people might have made erroneous assumptions about you being Vice President of Programs, which sounds you know, but I mean, that’s part of why I love it right when I work with organizations when I’m teaching, I’m like you want your messaging to invite questions, not answer every single question somebody might have. So really, it invites questions and it’s also like quite visual. So I love it on many levels. Now, someday, I won’t have to preface everything with this, but we are recording under the COVID-19 cloud sheltered in place. One of the things about COVID is that it’s like forced us to question everything in so many ways, including, like, what is community? What is society? You know, what does it mean to be a good neighbor? It actually really trips me up, right? Because to be a good neighbor now is to stay away and I’ve always, you know, thought about it in terms of proximity. So I feel like Civic Commons has like a really unique way of thinking through these questions. And I’m just hoping you’ll tell us more about how you think about Civic Commons, how you think through them, you know, where it came from, just all the everything about that.

Michael Brown  17:58

Yeah. So the the general concept behind Civic Commons is actually a pretty simple one, Erica. Back in my old role as Vice President of Programs and leading the transformation of Seattle Foundation from a responsive grant maker to a proactive grant maker focused on policy and system change on upstream approaches on co-designing, co-creating strategies with community in particular communities that that are, are faced or living with the inequities that we’re trying to to partner with them on and solve, but then also having a very laser focus on eliminating or reducing if not eliminating racial and economic inequity. And making that transformation and watching the investments and in the partnership that we entered into over the last five, six years of my tenure. Seeing that and seeing, you know, what was happening was great. I mean, it told me that we were making all the right moves. The reality, though, is that in order to truly get to to the mission, and that’s building a healthy and thriving, greater Seattle region, that Seattle Foundation on its own was not going to get there. But even with that work, and the good work, you know, it wasn’t fundamentally going to shift outcomes. And that’s something I’m sure you know, we’ll get into, you know, I have this, this distinction, of course, between what you know, outputs are what outcomes are. So, as we start to think through then what was needed in order to get to outcomes and sustainable outcomes that you know, really were game changing the realization that philanthropy plays a role but not feeling that the government, public sector, plays a role but not the only role. That the private sector plays a role, but not the only role in that community. And understanding that’s a big nebulous term at times, but once again, those who are dealing with the inequities of housing or economic instability or environmental justice really aren’t at the table on any table in terms of crafting the strategy that is meant to help address or alleviate they’re, they’re an equity. So this concept around Civic Commons is a pretty simple one. How can we bridge the silos and divides that we have in the region, and everyone who’s probably listening to this could, you know will shake their head and or not their head in approval, but we don’t work well with each other. You know, the there’s tension between these various sectors and community and then you know, we also have a power strata where there are a lot of attention given to the individuals who have positional authority or positional resources and not necessarily with those who have knowledge or once again lived experience and those voices not being part of some power structure in terms of how to best allocate those resources in an equitable way to drive change. So the concept of the Commons is how do we bridge in order to bond to create the type of civic muscle, the connective tissue this mutual dependency that we need that we need to, we need to bridge these divides in order to achieve some shared goals. How then do we communicate through data? What is happening in the region as it relates to shared prosperity well being? And then, you know, do those things lead to collective action and I know you know, collective impact has has some positive and negative terms but but you know, the term that we tried to use is network weaving where we are creating some synergy across the things that are that are occurring, so the best example I can give to that is pre-COVID, you know, one of the big issues that the greater Seattle region was was dealing with was around affordable and middle income housing challenges that we had 17 different things that were happening. So 17 different things or 17 different bites of 17 different apples. But the network weaving concept is, you know, 17 different bites, it’s okay, but can they be from the same apple at least?

Erica Mills Barnhart  23:15

Of course, we would never do that now because we’re physical distancing, we’re not sharing apples right now.

Michael Brown  23:21

We’re not sharing apples right now. Yeah.

Erica Mills Barnhart  23:26

I get the analogy though.

Michael Brown  23:28

Exactly. So now I have to come up with a better analogy, you know, post COVID in order to get that. So that’s the general concept and, you know, once again, just kind of thinking about like marketing and communications, I mean, one of the things that we you know, we’re because even what I just said, I mean, to some extent, you know, you know, people get in a lot of words who try and break it down to in very simplistic terms. In order to get to the transformational we need to build and strengthen the relational and experience the transactional. What we do right now, we enter into the transactional state, we don’t take the time to build relationship and build trust. And as a result, we end up being satisfied with outputs pat ourselves on the back, versus wait, we’ve actually address root cause or some of the systemic reasons for this particular thing. And as a result, you know, we don’t, you know, how long have we been fighting to end homelessness, you know, 20 plus years? You know, if we were able to bridge, you know, a lot of our divides and build a relationship and trust and then, you know, connect the dots a little better than maybe we would actually have the type of outcomes that we really wanted to reach.

Erica Mills Barnhart  24:46

Why do you think it’s so challenging to build trust?

Michael Brown  24:55

I think, I think there are a lot of reasons for it. I think we’ve become, we’ve grown I mean, and now just this region. I mean this as a country overall, you know, back in the day, you know, people like you and I would not have been, there’s no way we could have gotten into the rooms where decisions were being made, those of small select group and I think what you know, is a lot easier to kind of move things forward. And, as you know, we’ve grown and we’ve evolved and you know, and you know, we see different types of leadership and different folks who are emerging as leaders in a lot of the old ways or the old relationships, withered away and then and, this is my commentary, and you also feel like we’ve become a bit more righteous in our stance. So you know, part of working together or working with, with people who, just working overall is that you have to be open to different points of view. And I think we have become very rigid in our thinking, which means that we don’t necessarily want to build relationship with those who aren’t aligned with us. You know, if we’re trying to tackle something as big as housing or racial inequity or gender inequity or wherever it may be, and we have to create the space for those who may have different perspectives and find some narratives that allow for bridging so then we can get to a place, you know, so the old language of consensus, of bonding. You know, can we agree that in service to the commonwealth, that we let go of certain things in order to find, you know, some some commonality that allows us to then move issues forward.

Erica Mills Barnhart  27:27

What I find so fascinating about this is I would imagine that people listening to this are nodding along. I mean, like, yes, yes, that’s a commonality, common ground. Yes, yes, yes. And then you get into a situation where you like common ground ends up feeling like ceding ground, or ceding your position, and that’s like scary. It actually makes me think of Anand Giridharadas. I just masquerade his name, his last name, who, you know who I’m talking about, though? Who wrote Winners Take All, that I won’t get this exactly right I was last week, we just covered this in my undergrad class, which is why it’s fresh in my mind. But he said, you can aspire I think he said the rich but if we could say you can inspire the powerful to do more good, but never tell them to do less harm, you can inspire them to give back but not take less, inspire them to join the solution, but never accuse them of being part of the problem. I love Anand’s work. But it does come to mind in this conversation. I mean, this I think was one of his most insightful tidbits was this idea of like, oh, oh, well, that gets complicated and it sounds similar just in a slightly different context. But also we’re seeing this play out right if we if we think about philanthropy, and like people sitting on a whole bunch of money and so Seattle Foundation’s Donor Advised Fund and I forget who, so there was this call to action, right, that was like, sort of liquidate the Donor Advised Funds. They didn’t say liquidate. It was like, let’s make sure that at least, oh it was Fidelity who said they were gonna make 200 million, right, like, into the communities, which is great. And I don’t really want to take anything away from it. I think it’s all good. But it’s a bummer when you’re like, okay, but there’s like billions sitting there. So why aren’t we going for the billions? And I think it really gets back to what you’re talking about is this sense of loss and losing control and a lot of other things that happen when we go from theory to action. Theory to reality maybe is-

Michael Brown  29:39

Yeah, no, I think that’s right. And I think there’s also, I mean, it’s, you know, there once again, I mean, this this I think, Erica, that’s where it is, it is so complex. And, in on one hand, you know, you definitely want to support any effort that is, you know, working to address a critical issue within any community yet at the same time, we’re not, you know, to some extent, you know, we’re encouraging you know, kind of fragmentation in doing that so you know, and it you know, it’s not it’s not trying to poke anyone but let’s face it, you know, like in the region, you know, going back to homelessness you know, hear all the efforts that that you know, popped into my head instantaneously. So, a focus on youth homeless, so focus on youth and family homelessness, focus on single adult homelessness, and it you know, it, and veterans and you know, like in, so, and then there’s the chronic, you know, single adult, you know, so like you have an understanding, you know, they’re their, they do have different approaches that you need to take because of the population. But what happens is that, you know, you then end up fragmenting and slicing and dividing things so much that, you know, how can you ever have impact because, you know, funder x is doing this, but funder y doing this. Yet, you know, they both want to hold on to, you know, kind of their own unique approach and value add to it, because of course, they’re investing in it. And yet, you know, when you really kind of start to think, you know, once again, when you start to think through many of these issues, yes, populations are different, but there are definitely, you know, some common threads that cut through i.e., why are people becoming homeless? So I get the, you know, let’s address kind of crisis response and you know, kind of do that, but what are we also do you keep, you know, kind of stop that inflow of people becoming homeless? And that’s when you get into some of the gnarly structural things that, you know, frankly, for a long period of time, philanthropy didn’t want to address, the private sector didn’t want to address, public sector wasn’t quite sure how to address. So, you know, and as a result, you know, you know, everything was like downstream versus well, if we do X, that may start to slow the inflow, and then we’ll and, you know, thankfully, you know, we have access to more data now and more knowledge and now we know about the, the racial inequity and racial disparities that are buried within many of these systems. So, you know, part of, and it’s not it’s not a, you know, it’s not a new thing, but you know, having from heaven forbid, you know, 20 years ago, the approach was, alright, let’s tackle these issues through the lens of disparity that we know. And if we know that people of color are more susceptible to homelessness. Let’s figure out how we keep people of color stably housed and as a result, we might be able to figure out how we keep everyone stably housed. We’re doing that now but you know, you know it’s because of the data piece and other things you know just become savvy or what do. So it’s a little bit of this like, you know, a white knight you know program that sometimes things are the private sector takes for such no actually stepping back and surveying the landscape and then figuring out funder X is doing this, government entities doing Y, we can come in and play C and be a connector of, of these two efforts versus what we just want to have this thing that we get to use. So we get to promote in our own material, whatever it is-

Erica Mills Barnhart  33:58

And the annual report, ah the annual report.  I mean, it’s interesting because when you, when we think about like, at the big picture level, again, everybody can say, yes, we want to make the world a better place and the reality of philanthropy, I would say in particular, but that’s true for nonprofits and social enterprises you get into, it’s quite bespoke. Like, it quickly gets very much like, yeah, but I have this very special snowflake way that I that I want to address it, right?  And I mean, of course, it strikes me and it might strike some listeners is, when I, when I hear the language of making the world a better place and the language of mission, it’s really funny, like at the very high level, most people will agree. Like there’s a lot of nodding. And as soon as you drop down to the next level, you can hear in the words that people choose to use, like kind of their stance, and you could probably have some working hypotheses very quickly. Just language that people use around, around you know, if you’re sticking with, you know, homelessness is it about is about homelessness? Is it about affordable housing? It’s of course about both they’re not mutually exclusive. But with each of these layers it does it gets to be more more gnarly, more wicked problem and I think, you know, that’s almost you can feel it like it’s just talking about it gets very overwhelming. So, you know, I don’t know how you do that day in and day out as the architect and not get a little overwhelmed.

Michael Brown  35:36

Well, yeah, it is easy, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But, or, and the reality is is you know, I’ve had this conversation and not, you know, you know, I think it could be easy for you know, for some of the listeners who are parents you know, to, you know, maybe roll roll their eyes a little bit, but, um, but for me, you know, for me as a parent of a seven year old and a seven year old who has access to privilege. I mean, there are other challenges, you know, raising a child of color. But nonetheless, a kid who will have access to opportunity and privilege, as the parent of that kid, being pre-COVID very concerned about the path that the region was on as it relates to to the inequities. I don’t know if any parent felt confident that their child as they became an adult would have the ability to purchase a house in this region. And, you know, I think that’s says a lot just in terms of like that, if that’s the path we’re on where we feel okay, right now, in terms of pushing low income and people of color further out of the region, we’re now you know, doing a pretty effective job pushing low income people out, and then our kids are going to be faced with some similar challenges. We haven’t been able to solve our homeless problem, we continue to fight against ourselves that, you know, as it relates to improving educational achievement for every kid in the region. You know, we, you know, we, you know, we’re going to be dealing with a lot of environmental justice issues, you know, like, all of these things, we have a lot on our plate.

Erica Mills Barnhart  37:51

We got a lot on our plate, we’re not light on issues.

Michael Brown  37:54

Right, but we also don’t have a lot of time and that we need to create some urgency around that, and using some communication around that, you know, one of the things that I was saying at the end of last year is we’re, you know, really launching, so the Commons was laying that frame of 10 years, look 10 years, you know, it worked well that we’re moving into 2020 and then, you know, you jump ahead to 2030. But we have 10 years to figure out figure out things it is long enough to where we could actually see and track outputs and hopefully get to, you know, tangible outcomes. But just having that, that number, you know, kind of creates a little bit of visual image that, okay, you know, once again, it’s gonna be hard work. But if you build relationship, you build trust, you create this regional sense of belonging, we operate from common data, and agree that you know, this framework of shared prosperity is where we want to be and that we you know, it’s a deviation from collective impact, but that because of the data points that we see that we are going to align our activities in a way where we’re leveraging these individual assets and things that we’re doing for the commonwealth for the collective good, then maybe we actually we get to a place at 2030 where we can look back and go, wow, you know, we really did something here.

Erica Mills Barnhart  39:31

Yeah, I mean, from a so for those folks who are listening who are like, Oh my gosh, that is like, huge and I can’t quite think on those, the 30,000 foot level, you know, organizations are, you know, the individual organizational level facing very parallel things in terms of how they can actually use things like scarcity. You know, Robert Cialdini’s work around that is fantastic. Interestingly, you want to use time scarcity, like you know, think about being on the receiving end of some sort of donor appeal. This is why in the PS it’s like time bound, right? Like, why would I do it today? Like, I have no reason to do it today. And I have no reason to do today and, and sort of this like, I feel like somebody else might take care of that so I’m just gonna let someone else take care of it. So scarcity from a messaging perspective, a marketing perspective is super effective. One of the things that was interesting, I don’t know if you’ll remember this, but I did this like gigantic piece of research that became the Wordifier, the free online tool that we’re, you know, Wordifie your world, wordifier.com. And one of the things we inadvertently found out so so that was came out of this, you know, about the research came out of novelty and how our brains respond to novelty and then I paired it with this idea of language. But the other, the interesting thing, which we found out was that actually the way nonprofits use language maps very unfortunately to the way that companies who are purposely trying to mislead you that there are very specific things they do with their language. So long sentences, a lot of syntax, not very many words, types of words. So long words, long sentences, but very narrow range linguistically, all those things companies were like, like think about the, you know, Exxon scandal or you know, anything like that. They do those things, and inadvertently, nonprofits actually mapped to that. So without intending to nonprofit to use the language in a way that he erodes trust. So when I think about, like, just the importance of trust, I mean, clearly how much currency I mean, it is currency in so many ways. And then there’s these things that are known that are such a bummer and they’re so fixable. You know, when I hear you talk, I always get so inspired by what’s possible because I believe you’re gonna make it all happen. And I get really like worked up about this vision of if we just kind of like cleaned up some of the language with the stuff we know, you know, I just I wonder, I wonder what could be possible.

Michael Brown  42:08

I know, I, you know, one of one of the things and I you know would put put I mean all of the all of the work that that nonprofits but but you know social socially responsible socially driven organizations need need to be thoughtful of is, you know, what, well, one what, what’s the narrative and how do you shift narrative that works in terms of your communication strategy? So what I mean by that is so, one of one of the things that I the Commons team has been very clear about is that we need to shift the regional narrative i.e. right now, and some of this, I think actually sticks with COVID. But pre COVID it was, we live in a region with these incredible assets and wealth yet we have very deep pockets of equity. We’re siloed, we’re fragmented, we don’t work with each other. It is a very transactional state. And as a result, you know, the narrative that we want to shift that we want to re-create is one of, you’ve heard me use this word commonwealth and there and there’s intentionality there in terms of we, we do have mutual dependency with each other, that whether we like it or not, we need each other. And if we really want to maintain a region or foster a region that truly works for everyone, where everyone can live, work, and, play here where everyone can prosper, we need to do something different from what we have been doing. COVID cons, and I think we see a lot of things we see. Well, and it doesn’t come as a surprise to many of us. But I think you know, for many people who may not have been paying attention, the incredible inequities that existed, you know, pre COVID have been, you know, unmasked. And now we’re pushing more people, you know, as a result of COVID, both from a health standpoint, but also now from an economic standpoint, into instability. And, you know, that’s going to create some interesting pressure points for a region that then will start to experience shrinking public sector resources, shrinking philanthropic resources. So all the more reason that you know, this narrative of the collective of the commonwealth has to comply. So, you know, we’re seeing incredible displays of community cohesion and social, you know, solidarity, yet can we keep that going where, you know, it is about your neighbor, but it’s about your neighbors neighbors neighbor, and that we really do want to take care of each other and make sure that we all have what we need in order to be okay.

Erica Mills Barnhart  45:29

Yeah, and I mean, this this narrative shifting just I know that we have listeners to this podcast who are in Mexico and Germany and Israel, all over the place across the United States as well. But I just want to underscore for listeners the importance of what you’re saying around first, just being aware of what the narrative is. I think that even even pausing to articulate that is huge. You may not like what you learn, right as with any narrative, you have to you know, there’s that, you have to name it to tame it, true with so many things. And that’s so that’s true. And I, I mean, I credit in, you know our region, you know, organizations like Civic Commons, but also the community. I mean, I do want to sort of index way back earlier in this conversation to you acknowledging that for whatever reason, and I actually find this really, really kind of fascinating, bringing community, the people who you are, in fact, trying to serve into conversation does not happen all that often. And even you know, when I’m, when I’m talking to organizations, they’re like, you know, how should we craft this or that? I’m like, well, have you asked, you know, have you asked your donors have you have you asked the people you’re serving? And I don’t know what that’s about. I mean, it is fear based, but I can’t quite piece I can’t quite piece it together.

Michael Brown  46:50

Well, yeah, and I, I will acknowledge Erica it’s a really complex thing at times to do and I think what then happens is people become paralyzed, or institutions become paralyzed, and then, you know, use that as a way to excuse you know, their their reason for not doing. It’s like well, you know, we work with these organizations, so they represent community, that’s where you kind of get into it, or, you know, we do there’s a blue ribbon task force, and you know, their, you know, we’ve cherry picked some people to represent a community. And that doesn’t quite, it doesn’t quite capture it. And, and it’s hard. And I, you know, I wish I could say, look, here are the three things that you do in order to do it. But what I would say is, if you know anything, especially now, we all need to lean into bold, innovative approaches that you know, who knows whether or not they’re going to work, but at this point, you know, you have more to gain than you do to lose.

Erica Mills Barnhart  48:00

Which gets into a conversation I hope we will have in a future podcast about structural barriers to to risk and to failure and how that, you know, those dynamics play out between nonprofits in the private sector and the public sector and like, who’s allowed to be risky and who’s allowed to be bold and who is rewarded for those things. And you know, we’re not all encouraged to be risky and bold in the same way and there are consequences and I mean, under COVID I’m certainly seeing a retraction and really going back to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, you know, we’re not at the top we are not in the self actualized zone. We’re like, way down. I’m just trying to get enough toilet paper. And, that sounds so goofy, but it’s you know, then a place on the individual level and then organizational and then you know, sector and then you know, and then and then we ladder up eventually to this idea, your beautiful idea of the commonwealth.

Michael Brown  49:00

Yeah, no, it’s it’s it’s it’s been. I mean, once again, I think we all are wondering what our new normal is going to be in our relationship with each other? And what opportunities that that will present.

Erica Mills Barnhart  49:27

There is opportunity there that there is and I, it’s there. I just think on a day by day, hour by hour basis, sometimes it doesn’t always show up as opportunity but I, I hope that we’re going to get to the other side and see it that way. I hope

Michael Brown  49:40

Yeah. I hope so as well. You know, there will come a point where hopefully you know, I will have more to share on this but really briefly, we’ve been in conversation with some national organizations who are banding together to promote from a country standpoint, from United States-

Erica Mills Barnhart  50:07

I was wondering about that actually.

Michael Brown  50:08

-to do some civic design work. And their approach in terms of that is asking Americans, everyday Americans, you know, what questions do you have as it relates to the country in the path that it’s heading? But it’s not as kind of gathering questions but what they then do what they’re doing is then fostering cohorts based on similarity of questions. So you and I have, you know, you live in in Seattle, I live in New Orleans, but our questions are very identical. We then are become part of this virtual community where we get to engage in conversation with each other about what that means.

Erica Mills Barnhart  51:00

Oh, that’s cool.

Michael Brown  51:02

Yeah, and I think, you know, there, there are things like that, which once again starts to break some divides or create some, some community where it’s not, you know, maybe New Orleans was not the best example. But you know, you know, someone from a, you know, progressive part of the country probably does have a lot in common, you know, in some cases with someone who is in a, you know, a rural conservative part of the country. So, part of this is, you know, civic design approaches is like, you know, how do you kind of one surface similarity, you know, sort of, what are some of the key questions, and how do you, you know, elevate that up to policymakers or others, but then two create connection and dialogue amongst Americans, you know, so part of our conversation with them is, you know, can, you know, how do we utilize that framework here, which would do some of the same thing and rather, you know, like, you know, flow up to kind of this actual conversation but we could also, you know, utilize that in terms of the regional conversation, whatever questions, you know, folks in the greater Seattle area have about the future of greater Seattle.

Erica Mills Barnhart  52:11

I love that, that it’s taking the let’s, I mean, the way I’m gonna paraphrase it back is let’s make sure we’re asking the right questions. I feel so frequently like we go right to answers. And, and you got to be asking the right questions to get the right answers, right? Okay, I want to be mindful of your time and our listeners time, I of course, and we have played this out in person, which I’m hoping will happen again one day where we’re like 45 minutes and then four hours later, we’re like, I gotta go back to work. I end every interview by asking guests what keeps them motivated to do this work. So if motivation is about action and inspiration, you know, it’s about your heart, right and making sure that you can keep going. What inspires you and what keeps you motivated to do this gnarly, very important work?

Michael Brown  53:07

Well, I mean, it’s a really easy one for me, Erica, I mean, you know, once again thinking about the past 25 years of my professional career, it’s all been oriented toward community, whatever other word you want to use, community building, community development, community empowerment. But this peace around being a part and then a partner with those who are actually doing the work, those who are on the ground, those who are dealing with the everyday challenges to help them develop their I mean, they already have strategies but to help those strategies come to life, and then fundamentally to to scale those up so that it’s not just about community X, it’s about all of us. So I’ve been really privileged to be in roles that have allowed me to do that. And my volunteer experience, the boards that I serve on, gives me that exposure as well. So every morning I wake up and I am motivated and inspired by that by the work that folks are doing on the ground and you know, the ability to be to be a part of supporting and or, you know, amplifying that work.

Erica Mills Barnhart  54:49

That’s wonderful. Thank you. Thank you for being here. And if you are listening and you are inspired by Michael and you want to connect with him, you can find him on LinkedIn or Twitter, where his handle is @MichaelCBrown18. And if you want to learn more about Civic Commons, you can go to www.Civic-Commons.org, we’ll put all that in the show notes. Of course. Michael, I want to thank you so much for being here and sharing your wisdom. And I want to thank all of you for listening and for being here with us today for this conversation. If you haven’t already, be sure to join the Marketing for Good Facebook group to keep the conversation going, and that’s where we dig in a little bit deeper on all of these things and relate them back to how you can use language, how you can use words, and all the rest of it so be sure to check that out Marketing for Good on Facebook. And until next time, keep being amazing and thanks for being here.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?