Wednesday, September 20, 2006

voices and choices : a review

"a small group of thoughtful people can change the world."

"Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Well, I made it over to the big Voices & Choices event in Akron on Saturday.

If you haven't heard of Voices & Choices yet, it's an initiative to create a grassroots, citizen-based, agenda-setting platform to improve the economy and the quality of life in Northeast Ohio, er, along the North Shore.

You can see all the components of the planning process here on this timeline. Last weekend was their second couple-hundred-person Regional Town Meeting, a little more than one year into the entire experiment. Below is a rundown of the event, with opinionated feedback (otherwise this wouldn't be a good blog) about what went down.

First off, I didn't feel like driving to Akron at 7:30am. Luckily, there were shuttles all throughout NEO waiting to take the participants to the destination. Did that seem lazy? Well, in that case, I decided to save gas and carpool to Akron.

Upon arrival, we were able to get some breakfast and meet the others at our table. There were 8 of us sitting around in a circle plus one facilitator, all of different ages, races, and locations within Northeast Ohio.

As the main event started, Dr. Luis Proenza, President of the Univeristy of Akron, made some good remarks about the interconnectedness of Northeast Ohio and the need for innovation and lifelong learners in our region. Dr. Proenza is a big player on the national innovation scene. He is on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the Council on Competitiveness, the Council of Foreign Relations, and a member of the executive board of the State Science and Technology Institiue.

Next up was Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer - Founder of AmericaSpeaks, President of AmericaSpeaks, and native Northeast Ohioian. She explained the entire program and assisted in asking the questions to discover the demographics of the group in the arena.

Questions were shown on every available screen in the place. They appeared even on the scoreboard.

A sad part was, even though the Mahoning Valley respresents 14% of Northeast Ohio, only 5% of the participants were from the Mahoning Valley. Maybe it was too far to travel with YSU football starting at 3:30pm.

The next few hours were then dedicated to prioritizing goals, establishing criteria, and choosing solutions for the project. Individually we all had our opinions, but aggregately we had a common voice.

In order for that voice to become more clear, it was necessary to choose among our tablemates what solutions we liked the best. So we did what any great decision makers do . . . we put tiddly-winks on our favorite ideas:

And as we were coming to the end, we exchanged emails at our table, agreeing to meet once every three months in a NEO downtown for dinner on a rotating basis . . . and then we stretched . . .

The final opinions were used to create a document that summarized the efforts throughout the day, and were handed to use as we left. You can read the report here.

highlights of the day

- the entertainers and artists were great. It was a cool to incorporate the arts into the day's events. Like the painters who made original pieces as we sat below. Here's a sample of some spoken word:

- line overheard at our table: "wow. this was a lot more fun than I thought this was gonna be."

suggestions for improvement

- Two months ago, I completed an online version of choosing what I felt were the best solutions for Northeast Ohio. There was also a place to leave you own suggestions, which I did. Then the week before the meeting, I received a personalized report (which was nice) that contained my choices to help me when I was at the meeting in Akron. It would have been nice to have the personalized report include the additional suggestions that I left online.

- Mention the fact that the technology used to assist in the real-time responses was developed by a company in Northeast Ohio. Just for the record, Turning Technologies, headquartered in the Youngstown Business Incubator, produced all of the keypads and software that was used to make the immediate powerpoint presentation.

- The spoken word entertainment during lunch was a nice touch. But it's difficult to have verbal communication with the audience when they have all just been served lunch. I felt bad for the people on stage because as more and more food was served, less and less people participated.

- During the day, I overheard some individuals speaking about the availability of full child care services as a problem. They believed certain functions would be taken care of by the sitters (such as changing diapers) that wasn't performed. So then at the last minute, they could not attend because of childcare needs.

what will be the next step?


Joe said...

Thank for attending and posting such a comprehensive review. Great pictures!

I hope you'll stay involved with Voices & Choices.

Joe Goldman

Anonymous said...

Did you ever come across an idea for taking advantage of all the different immigrant cultures in Youngstown? You know that's what I liked about it.