Mark SimonMark Simon is a writer, convener and social impact consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in social service, government, public education and faith-based organizations. Since forming Storywalkers Consulting in 2004, Mark has helped organizations raise money, clarify vision, sharpen leadership and articulate their stories. He brings his mix of dynamic facilitation, participatory planning and stakeholder engagement to nonprofit agencies across California and the U.S.

Mark has a passion for engaging groups of people in extended, democratic and often complex planning and learning processes. These experiences take multiple forms, including communities of practice, formal collaborative networks and regional or national consortia. When facilitating groups, attention is always placed on broad inclusion, cultural humility and the shaping of clear agreements.

Mark’s success is based on a deep commitment to listening, reflection and inclusion. In recent years he has designed and led communities of practice for the UC Davis School of Medicine and College of Biological Sciences. Prior to launching Storywalkers, Mark taught high school social studies, developed the NeighborWoods program for the Sacramento Tree Foundation and founded the Knights Landing Family Resource Center. For the past 25 years Mark has called Davis, California home, along with his wife, three grown boys and two boisterous Australian shepherds.

What are "communities of practice"?

A community of practice (COP) is a group of individuals who share a common focus or purpose to their work. The common focus may be at the center of everyone’s work or it may be an area that is difficult to change and often does not get sufficient attention. The group size can range from less than ten to several dozen. All members commit to participate in a series of structured and facilitated meetings with a specific aim.

The goal of the COP can be simply to learn from one another or it might be to find a solution to a problem, develop recommendations, or design and carryout out collaborative projects. The COP may engage participants in teams, each of which have specific assignments and responsibilities during and outside of the COP. Often the COP has a concluding event during which participants and/or teams present their final achievements and/or recommendations.

COPs often explore topics that are complicated, sensitive, challenging or even controversial. As a result, the tenor of the COP is critical. The facilitation must be strong and trustworthy. Participants need to participate from a place of curiosity, able to ask questions and not know the answers, or to be challenged on their assumptions.

Four simple intentions that can help guide a COP include:

  1. Be open and honest
  2. Approach work with curiosity
  3. Define clear next steps for action
  4. Humor is always welcome

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