The step-by-step framework outlined in this section describes a model Heart & Soul process using four phases and eleven steps. Each phase is built around specific learning, capacity building or engagement goals, and together they lead to the overall project goals.

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Phase 1. Lay the Groundwork

Laying the groundwork is about getting organized to conduct a successful Heart & Soul process. This is when you gather partners and a team of volunteers, figure out how they will coordinate with each other, set goals, and establish what will be included in the process. It is also an important time to find out who lives or works in the community and set up a communications strategy to reach them.

Below are each Step of Phase 1 in the Heart & Soul method. Download the complete Field Guide below for more details and specific guidance on using Heart & Soul in your town.

Step 1. Get Organized

This is when you assemble a team, size up your community’s strengths and weaknesses, and set goals. Take this step seriously. Each of its tasks plays an enormous role in the overall success of your Heart & Soul project.

Step 2. Create a Work Plan

A roadmap, or project work plan, is a basic requirement for good project management, and it also works as a communication tool that helps people understand what will happen when. The roadmap should include specific activities and tasks, timing, and budget.

Step 3. Spread the Word

This step is about building public awareness, interest, and good will for your Heart & Soul project. Community members will want to know about the Heart & Soul principles and the particular details of the project. Before you start getting the good word out, assemble all the tools, information, and people-power required to support communications.

Phase 2. Explore Your Community

Explore Your Community is the heart and soul of the Heart & Soul approach. It is about discovering what your community cares about—its shared values—and building a vision for the future based on those shared values. Activities in this phase focus on bringing a broad mix of people into the process to help identify these values. Telling personal stories about local experiences is a key engagement strategy in this phase, bringing people together and helping them to find common ground.

Below are each Step of Phase 2 in the Heart & Soul method. Download the complete Field Guide below for more details and specific guidance on using Heart & Soul in your town

Step 4. Gather and Share Stories

Before you start throwing around ideas or crunching data, take some time to simply hear what people have to say about their community and what questions they might raise. In this step, stories are gathered from a broad range of community members. This very intentional and active listening helps you discover what is important to people, what they value, and what they are concerned about, which sets your Heart & Soul work off on the right track—as open, inclusive, and worthy of trust.

Step 5. Identify What Matters Most

This is the cornerstone of Community Heart & Soul. In this step the Heart & Soul team and community members compile the stories and harvest information and data about what matters most, from which they develop a set of community values. These values provide the starting point for discussing issues, opportunities, and ideas for the future of the community.

Phase 3. Make Decisions

Making decisions is about figuring out how to protect and enhance your community’s values and how to build toward a future that honors them. What are the options available to your community and which should be pursued? Also important to the decision-making process is figuring out when things will be done. What will you do this year and what will you work on later?

Below are each Step of Phase 3 in the Heart & Soul method. Download the complete Field Guide below for more details and specific guidance on using Heart & Soul in your town.

Step 6. Consider Context and Develop Options

This step involves generating ideas, turning them into options, and developing criteria to evaluate and prioritize those options. Whether you’ll use your community values to inform an economic development strategy for the Chamber or land use plans for the City, you need to know your options. You also need to know how to weigh those options and choose the best ones.

Step 7. Make Choices

This is the step where you make choices to narrow down the options. In order to do this effectively, you’ve got to think about which options will lead to the best results, which are most needed, and which will take years to put in motion. It’s time to do a cost-benefit analysis, prioritize, match actions to local capacity, and stay realistic about timing.

Step 8. Formalize Decisions

This step is about turning the recommendations into formal decisions and an action plan, and ensuring that commitments are secured to make things happen. Commitments could include the local government adopting policies or civic and non-profit organizations formally adopting ideas for actions.

Phase 4. Take Action

Taking action is about following through with the action plan and doing the work needed to produce results. A particularly important action is to create a stewardship team that will keep watch on how the other actions are progressing. This leadership team coordinates the work and communicates progress to keep community members engaged and decision-makers accountable. This team also looks for ways to infuse civic culture and any community decision-making process with the principles of Heart & Soul.

Below are each Step of Phase 4 in the Heart & Soul method. Download the complete Field Guide below for more details and specific guidance on using Heart & Soul in your town.

Step 9. Mobilize Resources

In this critical step, your team needs to shift resources and leadership toward long-term follow-through and implementing the action plan. Without an organized, deliberate effort to transition the leadership to stewards who can make the actions happen, even the most dynamic community plan will not be achieved. A lot of energy and good will went into the plan’s creation so make sure it doesn’t get filed on a shelf to collect dust.

Step 10. Follow Through

Heart & Soul establishes a path to the future that includes many incremental actions. It also establishes a compass that helps the community reorient itself as circumstances change. This step is about initiating that first set of actions and then keeping an eye on the compass to be sure that you are heading in the right direction.

Step 11. Cultivate Heart & Soul

The Community Heart & Soul process is about inclusive and meaningful community participation and using community values to inform decision making. You are cultivating the heart and soul of your community by encouraging these concepts to spread and by building capacity where necessary to help make it happen.