Build Community: Learning From Storytelling

By Dr. Kimberley Garth-James

The public administrators and staff at public institutions are dedicated to building community at work and in society, and storytelling is a great way to appreciate the mutual trust, obligation and faith that serve as the building blocks of community.

The Franklin’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) offers lessons in fellowship and mutual obligation. The tale shows us that cooperation is essential to protect individuals’ safety and civil liberties, and that community requires trust and common interests. In modern terms, Chaucer suggests that the development of community involves nurturing a public-spirited mindset and a private entrepreneurial attitude; perhaps, even public-private partnerships.

From this perspective, effective public service professionals cultivate interpersonal relationships that support diverse groups and civic engagement through programs and services that guarantee public welfare, health and safety. These efforts can help build community. Public leaders and managers in bureaucracies want to improve public services to strengthen communities.

How Can We Build Trust and Community?

“The Franklin’s Tale” is about belonging, feeling safe and sharing values. Collaborative environments that encourage a workplace mirroring American values of civil liberties and freedoms will operate to protect the public trust. Building trust in the community — citizens trusting their government institutions — is inherent in leadership. “Franklin’s Tale” hints at powerful, self-serving and impersonal institutions, but shows the power of public-spirited individuals to deliver justice. Despite the rancor of hierarchies involving royalty and commoners and managers and staff, the characters achieve accountability, helping construct a community through inclusion and trust with neighbors caring for one another. Leadership in public institutions should hire, promote and embrace diversity in the workplace.

Good Governance in “The Franklin’s Tale”

Public leaders can learn from such stories as they seek to foster community at work and in society. Collaborations — public and private partnerships — can harness the best of our humanity and transform the key functions of the bureaucracy to help public welfare (social services), national defense (safety and protection) and community well-being (environmental and economic advances). Community-oriented public and private leaders must be guardians of effective and compassionate management, though they alone are not sufficient to steer modern bureaucracies through crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Actions You Can Take

Community through collaborative efforts requires establishing a spirit of belonging, safety and sharing with others. Public leaders must share clear performance objectives in the office and use technological advancements to push diversity and inclusion. Learning from tales about incredible (or poor) leadership is simply about character. Good public-sector governance often involves public-private partnerships (PPPs) and caring, courageous and just leadership. Jens Roehrich shares ideas for public leaders about collaborations. What can public leaders do to build community (sense of belonging, sharing) at work that spreads nationally and internationally? Leaders in the public institutions can:

  1. Listen to the tales of diverse employees that have intergenerational stories and best practices that will support protecting the public trust,
  2. Think futuristically and build collaborations (public-private, public-nonprofit) as cost-effective alternatives for risk and financing better infrastructure and services overall, and
  3. Take the Chaucer view of original leadership and visions by embracing the literature about effective collaborative arrangements.

Overall, the literature indicates that chief administrators or chief executives can drive successful partnerships by implementing key factors such as:

  1. Inspiring your people (staff, stakeholders in/outside the workplace) with esprit de corps,
  2. Adopting the current trend of using transparent legal collaborative agreements (contracts),
  3. Modeling ethical behaviors to develop employee confidence and trust, and
  4. Sharing power and authority with accountability measures.

Like Chaucer’s Franklin, modern public leaders (administrators) must recognize that without their conviction and actions, a cohesive community is impossible. Therefore, future leaders educate themselves by engaging with their diverse staff and gaining best practice ideas from stories (industry case studies and expert trainings about the pros and cons of PPPs). Being a personable public administrator is essential for effective collaborations and commitment to community. The demands of public professionals will only increase along with the challenges they face building community in and outside the public institution. 

Dr. Kimberley Garth-James is a professor of public administration focusing on public private partnerships as a source of community well-being. Serving international (US Embassy, London, and the Department of Defense Schools, Eastcote), the California Legislature (Senate), Governor’s Office of Justice Planning and state civil service consultancy. A recipient of the California Legislature Resolution for Community Service, YWCA Outstanding Women’s Award, and board member, National Federation of Female Executives (NAFE), US Sentencing Commission, Victims Advisory Board and national public service to fight violence against women, prisoner recidivism and destructive decision strategies through formal education. She serves proudly in higher education to share and learn from awesome public administration student professionals.

Photo credit: Ben White on Unsplash

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply