Session Notes: Turning Outward – A Journey of Discovery | Compendium

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Leslie Yoder

Leslie Yoder


By Leslie Yoder

I recently had the privilege of participating in the Harwood Institute’s Public Innovators Lab. This eight week virtual class met every Thursday from March 9 to April 27. The Harwood Institute is a nonprofit group that teaches organizations and people to solve urgent problems and revolutionize the way communities work together. The Institute was founded in 1988 by Rich Harwood. Additional information about them can be found at

The instructor was Susan Taylor Simpson. She is a Harwood certified instructor who has worked with communities in Canada and the United States. Susan has experienced the transformative power of the Harwood approach. The class consisted of librarians, public school officials and other nonprofit leaders. The courses was a very enlightening experience for me. One of the first crucial areas the class focused on was community. I discovered that I needed to spend some time identifying my community. I learned the definition of community is not the same for everyone. For some individuals it is a geographic location or a group with the same interest. Once we have defined our community then the process of learning about it begins. We must begin to ask questions. Those questions include the following:

  • What kind of community do you want to live in?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • How is that different than what you see now?
  • What are some of the things that need to happen to create the kind of community you want?

The second significant concept I learned about is the process of Turning Outward. It is essential to creating real change. It is defined as “a posture, a mindset.” It is a conscious decision to keep the community always in your line of sight.

In addition, I learned that Turning Outward requires that you practice the 3A’s of Public Life. They are Authority, Authenticity and Accountability.

Holding authority means having deep knowledge of the community and then using that information in your work. Being authentic also means that one is to reflect the reality of people’s lives. In addition, it means deeply listening at all times. Accountability requires you to set realistic goals and go after what is meaningful. Finally, it demands that you build on the past and develop a plan for the future.

Thirdly, we learned about the stages of community life. They include the waiting place, impasse, catalytic, growth as well as sustain and renew. It is imperative that you identify your community’s stage. You can then formulate plans, programs and initiatives that are appropriate. These actions will then propel the community to the next stage.

I have made the decision to Turn Outward. It is a mindset that requires a change in how you think. I am finding that I must remind myself to Turn Outward. It becomes very easy to turn inward again. Is this effort worthwhile? Yes, I believe it is worth it. I plan on using this approach to revitalize the adult programs at the Frank Sarris Public Library. It is through the use of the Harwood method that communities have the best chance for rebirth and renewal.