Collaborative solutions for California communities
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Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the pandemic, fires and other challenges in this very complicated year.  At Common Knowledge, we are grateful to work on the core issues of our time with amazing partners and colleagues.  Here are updates on projects that were in place before COVID and how the work has adapted to meet pressing needs.

  • Recovering Together: Helping libraries and their communities enhance their ability to prepare, respond and recover from natural and human disasters
  • Key to Community: A fresh approach to reach unlikely voters that goes beyond typical “Get out the Vote” campaigns by connecting to how people Grow the Good in their communities
  • New Perspectives about Housing:  In partnership with San Mateo County’s Home for All and 10 cities, there has been continued progress in building community understanding of the need for more housing options
Libraries come together to increase disaster preparedness

As California experiences the most devastating wildfire season in the state’s history, Common Knowledge is continuing to support the NorthNet Library System in developing increased capacity to respond to current and future disasters. Covering a 29 county region, the Recovering Together project draws from diverse experiences with natural disasters and hard earned lessons learned to develop a more collaborative network of support.

This summer Common Knowledge helped the network launch the website that features a wide range of resources and insights drawn from library staff members who have experienced recent disasters in Butte, Shasta, Napa and Sonoma counties. Additionally, NorthNet has created a regional “buddy system” to improve coordination and cooperation before and during disasters.

Common Knowledge is also currently supporting a cohort of nine library teams in developing disaster plans that “go beyond the binder” with a focus on the unique role that libraries can play in community recovery. To learn more, visit

Grassroots leaders use community focus to engage voters

During election season, when we are flooded with messages of persuasion, surprisingly little learning about civic issues and systems is taking place. Through our partnership with libraries and literacy programs, Common Knowledge has collaborated with adult students to develop high-impact voter and civic education programs. These grassroots leaders bring extraordinary insights into how to connect with and inform people who are typically less likely to vote.

The approach of the Key to Community team is different than traditional short term “Get out the Vote” campaigns. Peer presenters invite people to root themselves in what they care about in their communities and share friendly, nonpartisan election information to help people make up their own minds. The result is increased participation with a positive focus that carries through after the election.

With support from the California State Library, the team has developed trainings, events and materials that are also popular with people of all backgrounds, including:
  • Adapting live workshops to a series of virtual trainings and online toolkit, while building the Zoom skills of diverse adult learners
  • Expanding the Key to Community website and You Tube channel
  • Editing the nonpartisan Easy Voter Guide (produced by the League of Women Voters Education Fund) to create user-friendly summaries of all 12 state propositions also found on Voters Edge
  • Partnering with Betty Reid Soskin, 99-year old park ranger and historian, to help unpack our voting rights history and encourage voter registration
Stay tuned for more inspiring work from this team that knows how to spark curiosity and help people grow their skills to help their communities.

Building community momentum for more housing options

At this week’s League of California Cities conference, Common Knowledge co-presented a session with San Mateo County’s
Home for All and the City of Burlingame called Talking Together About Housing: Paving the Way for Affordable Housing Development. Beginning in 2017, based on our past field research, Common Knowledge was invited by Home for All to develop a model for more constructive community engagement on the topic of housing. Working in collaboration with multiple cities, we provided concepts and coaching that broadened participation across a more representative mix of residents. Customized learning-oriented community conversations enhanced the process for subsequent decisions on specific housing policies and projects.

Burlingame was the first pilot that road tested and refined this effective new approach to community engagement. The pre-COVID picture above is of the project team at the groundbreaking for the Village at Burlingame, an affordable senior and workforce housing development which was just one of many steps forward in meeting the community's housing needs. Following Burlingame’s leadership, the model spread to half the cities in San Mateo County. Burlingame later adapted the approach to engage their communities on the issues of downtown retail businesses and sea level rise, as well.

Common Knowledge also partnered with Home for All on a county-wide
Learning Network that provides training, tools and peer-to-peer exchange to sustain the work. The Home for All team recently updated the project's engagement manual with Technology Tools for Virtual Engagement. This resource draws from a case study of a transportation planning project on San Mateo County's unincorporated midcoast that used strategies drawn from community research conducted by Common Knowledge.

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