Community Development

Crisis, Convergence, and Concentration

What if you shifted into crisis response on a significant problem in your community? Convergence can concentrate availability of work and resources.

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Have you ever done spirograph? It is an art kit for drawing designs using plastic gears of various sizes and shapes with holes at different points. One gear is rotated around the inside or outside of another. The convergence and concentration of lines create roulette patterns. As a kid, I would spend hours at the table with those plastic gearwheels, spinning them around one another using ballpoint pens of various colors.

I have always been fascinated by patterns and how they are created. Whether in nature's beauty or human behavior's complexities, patterns emerge from activity, and activity creates patterns. In community development, patterns are often well-established and can be difficult to shift. Crisis can force those patterns to shift.

When a hurricane, tornado, or flooding devastates a community, the human, financial, and physical resources that enter can be astounding. It is powerful to watch the concentrated response converge on the needed area. Hurricanes bring a different layer of preparation. Emergency Operations are set up when there is a high chance a storm will impact an area. Planning, preparation, and practice for standing up that work is always happening, unknown to the general public’s eye. It’s expected.

Unfortunately, the elongated crisis is no longer treated like a crisis, which means concentration and convergence are lost. Homelessness is an example. When everyone becomes accustomed to that need being present, it becomes part of normalcy. It is renamed “chronic,” and we move on. But what about the person or family for whom it is a new experience? Isn’t it still a crisis for them?

There is an approach to community development that fosters discovering a community’s capacities and assets. The general idea is to develop a listing and mapping of “inventory” so that when you need that product or that skill set, you know what it is and who they are. It is described as one of two “divergent” paths, the second “focusing on a community’s needs, deficiencies, and problems.’[i] As stated in a previous blog, focusing on the problem doesn’t get us to the solution, so I agree with the intent.[ii]

This assets-driven approach to challenged communities is needed and helpful. One problem here is that the issues don’t just disappear while assessing the presence of assets. Crisis doesn’t wait. The divergent path description doesn’t have to be the perspective. Convergence is an option. Two pathways can operate simultaneously, ultimately converging and concentrating on the answer. It’s not an either/or proposition. We can do both.

Assessing the problems and the assets simultaneously converges those rivers into an ocean of possibility. One river of information can constantly inform the other. To that end, I propose an approach to community development that elicits a different level of awareness, attention, and action.

What if there was a shift back into crisis mode on a significant problem in your community? What if all the right people converged and brought concentrated wisdom, work, and resources to solve that problem?

What follows is less a guide to restoring a sense of crisis as it is thoughts on why crisis summons the power of convergence and concentration. Let’s begin with defining some terms.

Convergence is when several people or things come together from different directions.

Concentration is used here in two ways. It is the focusing of attention and the amount of something present.

Crisis is a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger and when important decisions must be made.

So, why shift to a selective crisis response mode?

Crisis brings an atmosphere of “right now.We can flaccidly hang out with issues for too long, creating little to no movement. There is no stirring of fresh understanding or strategy development. Like a plant in desperate need of water, a lack of tension leads to lifelessly hanging over an issue. The wilting is evidence of insufficient tension inside that plant to stand. If not watered, it will die. We see the wilt, and we water the plant. Seeing something as a crisis creates tension, which leads to our attention being gained.

Concentration on something (focus) produces a concentration of something (force). Like martial arts teaches, focus creates a targeting of force. Forces can either push away or pull in. Crisis pulls in and helps remove the extra issues to help us concentrate on what matters. The ADHD nature of a community is forced to concentrate energy on the matter at hand, concentrating the power and resources needed to effect the change and restoration desired.

Convergence is community, a coming together of the people. It is the opposite of divergence, where people move away from one another. In mathematics, divergence increases indefinitely as more terms are added. When a community has a shared crisis, even the long-time divergent can turn in and ask, “How can I help?” I will never forget the sense and demonstration of community after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. We came together in that crisis because we had to. Those in the Greater Charleston, South Carolina area at that time knew what community looked like because of the convergence experienced.

Convergence and concentration eliminate unnecessary duplication. I will always be amazed at the plethora of meetings I can sit in where the same information about who does what and where the gaps lie is discussed. The extent of duplication of conversation is representative of the duplication of services, where multiple organizations are doing the same work their way with their team. Crisis pulls those duplications into the same room and asks, “How can we work together to stem the tide on this need?”

Convergence can be transforming. The famous rivers Tigris and Euphrates “make habitable and productive one of the harshest environments in the world.”[iii] Since ancient times, the converging of these rivers' at their lower points has been legendary for their richness. The convergence of human sources rich in experience, wisdom, and relationships can transform the atmosphere and landscape of a community in desperate need of more habitable conditions.

Crisis brings a convergence and concentration level that reveals skills and resources. Assets will be found in the process of serving. Sometimes, you may only see the resource or person as an asset once you need that asset in a crisis. We see what we are looking for. These may have been hidden or not considered because they weren’t yet seen as needed. Community assets come out of the woodwork when crisis strikes. Now is the time for learning, revealing, mapping, and connecting the dots.

Making everything a crisis makes nothing a crisis. This invitation to consider utilizing crisis response mode as a strategy for some community problem-solving has boundaries. Part of the point here is focus. If you focus on everything, you concentrate on nothing. Choices must be made about what can be viewed through a crisis lens. Once you know what those are, prioritize. Hair on fire about everything means you will burn up and burn out.

Response to a crisis cultivates resilience. These learnings, newly found openings, and freshly made connections can foster a community’s resilience capacity. Community resilience is like a well-made fabric that can withstand wear and tear. Strength and flexibility are in the weave of that community’s relationships, processes, and resources. That resilience doesn’t just appear one day. It is usually cultivated in and from the hard times because you learn together where you need to be stronger and better.

Don’t run from crisis, and don’t make everything a crisis. Cultivate a different level of awareness, attention, and action. Pull the gearwheels of the community together and start talking about this idea of shifting selectively to crisis response. See what happens when you come together and begin designing a plan that revolves around who you all are and what you all bring to a specific issue that needs to be treated as the crisis that it is. Converge on that issue with concentrated vision, wisdom, understanding, creativity, resources, coordination, and mobilization. Don’t wait. Something and someone needs you to act right now.

Action Points

  • Who do you need to call or text to meet ASAP?
  • What does your community need to treat like a crisis again so that it receives the attention necessary?
  • Collaboratively create a prioritized list of issues to be treated like crises. Start working on that list one at a time.
  • Cultivate the convergence of broad-based community asset mapping and targeted crisis response. Let the “Tigris and Euphrates” create fertile ground.
  • CharityTracker can help your organization and community with convergence and concentration. As a shared tool, it draws your community in, helping everyone share information and resources and reducing unnecessary duplication. CharityTracker is a significant crisis management tool that utilizes the Outcomes tab (Plus and Pro versions) and Bulletins.
  • I would love to hear what you learn!

[i] John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. (Skokie, IL: ACTA Publications, 1993).



Do you desire to strengthen your CharityTracker or OasisInsight network to new levels of collaboration and impact? Reach out to Chuck today to schedule your conversation:

ED645C80-CA25-41C2-8B6E-A6E7FA346EC1_1_201_aDr. Chuck Coward serves as Community Impact Specialist for Simon Solutions, Inc. Chuck has invested over 35 years in fostering human and community development from a variety of places and roles, including as a pastor, non-profit Executive Director, Director of Development, businessman, consultant, university professor, The Struggle Coach, and the founder of Entrusted Foundation. Serving to make people and communities stronger is his great passion. Chuck is the proud husband to Anita, dad to four, and granddaddy to eight.

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