The Ownership Conversation

Ownership is the decision to become the author of our own experience. This requires us to believe in the possibility that this organization, neighbourhood, or community, is mine or ours to create.

Community is created the moment citizens decide to act as creators of what it can become. It is created when we decide to be cause rather than effect.

Accountability comes when there is the willingness in our community to acknowledge that we have participated in creating, through commission or omission, the conditions that we wish to see changed. Our community is transformed when we are willing to answer the question “How have I contributed to creating the current reality?”

If I do not see my part in causing the past and the present, then there is no possible way I can participate usefully in being a co-author of the future. Without this capacity to see ourselves as cause, our efforts become either coercive or wishfully dependent on the transformation of others. 

The distinction in this conversation is between ownership and blame (a form of entitlement). 

Confusion, blame and waiting for someone else to change are a defence against ownership and personal power. A more subtle denial of ownership is a stance of innocence and indifference. The future is denied by saying, “It doesn't matter to me – whatever you want to do is fine.” This is just a polite way of avoiding a more difficult conversation around ownership.

The leadership task here is to renegotiate the social contract from parenting to partnership. This is done by confronting people with their own freedom. We want to shift to the belief that this world, including any particular meeting or gathering, is ours to construct together. People best own that which they create, and therefore co-creation is the bedrock of accountability. 

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The personal questions that start to renegotiate the social contract are:

How valuable an experience do you plan this to be?

How much risk are you willing to take?

How participative do you plan to be?

To what extent are you invested in the well-being of the whole?


Be sure to remind people not to cheer anyone up or be helpful. Just get interested in whatever the answer is. At some later point, the essential questions upon which accountability hinges need to be asked:  

What have I done to contribute to the very thing I complain about or want to change?

What is the story I hold about this community and my place in it?

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(edited and adapted from) Peter Block “Community – The Structure of Belonging” 2008 and Peter Block “Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community” 2007



Peter Block “Community – The Structure of Belonging”
now in a second edition, revised and updated
Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 2nd ed. edition (July 17, 2018)

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