Harwood Public Innovators Lab begins in Oak Park

Can 26 people from 12 different Oak Park organizations unite to create positive change within our community? That’s the goal for the new Oak Park Harwood Public Innovators Lab, which kicked off on Tuesday, December 1.

Over three days in December and two in January, this group of 26 community stakeholders will gather as one to listen, learn, and potentially act on shared aspirations. 

The Oak Park Harwood Public Innovators Lab begins on December 1 with an interactive three-hour introduction to the “turning outward” methodology of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, which aims to help communities move forward by building on what people hold in common, amid their differences. 

The learning continues with four sessions of virtual group instruction, discussions, and practical exercises on Thursday, December 10; Friday, December 11; Thursday, January 7, and Thursday, January 21.

Who’s participating, and what organizations are they affiliated with in Oak Park? 

  1. David J. Seleb, Oak Park Public Library
  2. Gina Harris, District 97
  3. Frances Kraft, Equity Team of Oak Park
  4. Elizabeth Chadri, Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation
  5. Cate Readling, Community Member
  6. Cassandra Hurt, Village of Oak Park
  7. Jung Kim, District 97 
  8. LeVar Ammons, District 200
  9. Christian Harris, Oak Park Public Library Trustee
  10. Michele Zurakowski, Beyond Hunger (CEO)
  11. Susan Lucci, Community Member
  12. Vicki Scaman, Village of Oak Park (Village Clerk)
  13. Patricia Washington, Community Member
  14. Lincoln Chandler, Districts 200 & 97
  15. Cheree Moore, District 97
  16. Venus Hurd Johnson, District 97
  17. Gavin Morgan, Oak Park Township
  18. Virginia Bloom, Oak Park Public Library Trustee
  19. John Borrero, Collaboration for Early Childhood
  20. Colleen Burns, Oak Park Public Library Trustee
  21. Matt Fruth, Oak Park Public Library Trustee
  22. Janet Kelenson, Community Member
  23. Armando Smith, Housing Forward
  24. Traccye Love, Oak Park Police Department
  25. Simone Boutet, Village of Oak Park Trustee
  26. Reesheda Graham Washington, RGW Consulting

How did this group form? 

Since 2014, the library has turned outward, focusing its mission, vision, strategic plan, and actions to meet the shared aspirations of its community. To date, more than 20 library staff members and library trustees have completed Harwood Lab training—and can apply practical tools for listening and learning with library patrons, governmental peers, community members, and community partners. The focused intention fueling this approach has shaped how the library engages with Oak Park. Learn more about how turning outward has prompted change at the library »

The Harwood Institute routinely identifies and works with organizations that help build community locally. In the spring of 2019, Rich Harwood visited Oak Park. Learn more about that visit and tour »

After conversations with the public at large and a smaller group discussion with 20+ community leaders, Rich observed that “Oak Park appears to have two storylines: a rich past and current underlying issues around race, equity, inclusion, power, and housing.”

Several stakeholders who heard him speak were intrigued. To keep momentum going, the library’s Executive Director David J. Seleb, who serves on the Harwood Institute Board of Directors, extended invitations to several library partners who might be interested in learning more about Rich’s work, and about each other.

While the original in-person lab was set for late March 2020, COVID restrictions moved training to a virtual environment and the new December timeframe. While the library is hosting this event, funding for the public lab experience was made possible by a private donor in the community.

How do we build a more hopeful society? 

During his April 2019 visit, Rich shared that his life’s work focuses on answering questions around building a more hopeful society in which “everyone has an opportunity to fulfill their potential.”

Locally, we can “get on a path where we tap into the best within us—to get off the sidelines, to find out what we share in common and actively build on it, amid our differences and legitimate grievances,” he said, adding that “we need to create the underlying conditions to make that happen.”

The idea: Build community, one success at a time. Use a model for change that is neither top-down nor bottom-up. “We need movement from both directions,” Rich added.


To share stories and lessons as the training takes place, group members will be using the hashtag #OakParkSteppingForward on Twitter and Facebook. 

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