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How Do We Design Meaningful Strategies with Communities? We Listen!

The only way to understand what a community really needs is to ask them, listen carefully to what they say, and show up authentically every step of the way.  At TCC Group, we name this deep listening, and it guides the relationships we have built and sustained with communities across the country over the years. Deep listening is a critical phase and best practice in our approach to initiative design and funding strategy; essential to ensure that local voices, networks, and change efforts guide and inform our work.

Partnering in Place

In partnership with an HIV-focused pharmaceutical company’s community giving team, TCC Group works closely with communities in more than 10 U.S. cities with a high prevalence of HIV. Our comprehensive approach accelerates access to HIV education, prevention, treatment, and supportive services in context with the forces and factors that contribute to HIV’s impact on communities. We conduct deep listening tours that engage community leaders alongside organizations and individuals operating in HIV-adjacent spaces. This place-based strategy builds trust, elevates and amplifies community voices, activates leadership, supports sustainability, and accelerates community change.

Deep Listening in Puerto Rico

Deep listening is foundational in understanding how a community currently functions, and helps to surface the essential details, contexts, and experiences that will define the impact of any given strategy-especially in a newly prioritized community. In 2022, we designed and implemented a deep listening tour to accelerate community-driven approaches to ending the HIV epidemic in Puerto Rico. Not only did we learn about the specific needs of the communities most impacted by HIV and the organizations that serve them, but also about the specific sociopolitical and economic circumstances that have significant implications on the lives and work of Puerto Ricans across the island. We learned of the ways that Puerto Rico’s unique relationship to the United States government as an Unincorporated Territory serves as a formidable backdrop to resource acquisition and the distribution of social services. This centuries-old challenge has been further exacerbated by more recent environmental and health crises including hurricanes, earthquakes, COVID-19, and Mpox. Additionally, we came to understand how a pervasive mistrust of government and public infrastructure has created unique challenges to network building and sustainability planning for organizations and initiatives in Puerto Rico.

With this background, TCC Group designed a deep listening tour in four key phases: 1) identifying stakeholders and partners; 2) organizational and community listening; 3) making meaning, and 4) sharing back. This listening tour included 12 organizational sessions, four community sessions, a making meaning session, and a virtual connection session open to the public. This initiative spanned nine months and engaged a wide range of stakeholders, always guided by the language justice principle that the voices that matter are not simply included but centered, heard, understood, and amplified across cultures.

 Working with TCC and ViiV has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my 25 years of activism. The intentionality of listening, responding and creating programming with the community’s input is the correct and dignified way to approach the people they serve. I wish others would follow their example” –Pedro Julio Serrano, Human Rights Activist, Puerto Rico

Phase One: Identifying Stakeholders and Partners

Project design started with a fully bi-lingual TCC Group core team, including one person from Puerto Rico, and prioritized collaboration with local partners living and working on the island. With our client, TCC Group contracted five local leaders who served as thought partners throughout all phases of the listening tour. These partners co-designed targeted outreach plans, developed listening guides, and served as sounding boards throughout the data analysis phase to ensure we were sharing back insights in ways that resonated with the communities we intended to reach.

Complex issues like HIV require collaboration across sectors and space. We worked with our client and local leaders to identify organizations that not only work on addressing HIV, but other critical public health areas: mental health, wellness, sexual and reproductive health, housing, primary care, and substance use. Importantly, we included not only executive leadership, but direct service staff throughout the organizations, including case managers, navigators, therapists, and others, to ensure that we were listening across a range of experience in service provision.

Phase Two: Organizational and Community Listening

Through 16 sessions held with organizations and individuals, we heard from 86 residents across the island. All listening sessions were conducted in Spanish, allowing participants to engage meaningfully and as their whole selves, a key driver in building trust.

We committed to a people-first approach in both the design and implementation of these community sessions, creating space for the facilitators to tailor their design to each specific audience, and encouraging adaptability in real time to allow for the conversations to be driven by the people in the room.

Using an iterative approach, the listening tour began with 12 sessions held with community-based organizations facilitated by TCC Group staff and conducted virtually. Insights from these initial sessions informed the design of the community listening sessions later in the year– one in Ponce, one in Boqauerón and two in San Juan. These sessions were conducted in-person in Puerto Rico and were facilitated by our local partners with on-the-ground support from our staff.

The fact that we were on the ground for these sessions gave us the unique opportunity to curate safer, braver spaces for community members to come together and share around their experiences, successes, challenges, and needs in authentic ways. Several participants were unexpectedly moved by the vulnerability expressed in the shared space, where they felt encouraged to be open and honest around their community’s unique challenges and power.

Phase Three: Making Meaning

Making meaning is a collective process. Once all 16 sessions were completed, TCC Group staff led a rigorous qualitative analysis of all the listening data, followed by a making-meaning session to ensure insights were embedded with the detail and nuance shared by organization and community members. The in-depth making meaning session brought together the five local partners to reflect on our analyses and provide direct response and feedback to our client on accuracy, recommendations, and opportunities from across the listening tour.  This session informed our client’s initiative and strategies, which included specific activities to “share back” over time.

Phase Four: Share-Back

A people-first approach means giving participants the opportunity to stay engaged through the analysis process. Working with our local partners and client, we identified several ways to share learnings as a way to fuel further engagement and build momentum, including:

  • Designing an “Insights Summary” for wide public distribution
  • Co-creating a virtual connection event with organization and community members to present the findings; hear additional recommendations; create a space for connection and collaboration opportunities across stakeholders on the island; and share information about our client’s new funding opportunity.

Centered in TCC Group’s commitment to the principles and practices of language justice, all materials were distributed in English and Spanish. The virtual share-back connection event was conducted predominantly in Spanish and included live simultaneous interpretation so that all participants could engage in the language in which they felt most comfortable. Community leaders remained deeply involved as thought partners and presenters during this share-back phase and beyond. We were able to draw a clearer, more complete picture of the landscape on the island, which served as a strong foundation to advance our shared goals.  This deep listening approach not only focused on surfacing challenges and needs, but on creating space for community to share successes, celebrate resiliency and innovation and establish trust with others in communities, the funder and TCC Group. We are eager to hear your thoughts!

Collaborating with TCC as a Community Captain was an experience that was both personally and professionally rewarding. As an advocate, an organizational manager and, more importantly, as a human being and a Puerto Rican, I am very concerned about the precarious situations that many Puerto Ricans live and experience. It is thanks to the support of agencies that have their hearts set on the communities that much of the work is accomplished in Puerto Rico. As was discussed in all the sessions that I had the opportunity of facilitating (3 in total), it is the work of the small organizations that sustain our communities and their people. Therefore, listening to the voices of the people from the communities and the people who serve those communities – community-based organizations and their personnel – is the way to go to address and work with the inequalities we live with.” –Kiaranel Castro Lebrón, Sites and Public Health Programs Manager at Waves Ahead, San Juan, Puerto Rico 

Keys to Deep Listening for Place-Based Social Impact


  • Commit to a people-first approach
  • Center language justice principles at every step
  • Create paid roles and real opportunities for partners and community to collect, analyze and own the findings
  • Use an iterative approach to allow findings from one phase to inform the methods of the next phase.


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