Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Goals for City Council

The Oak Ridge City Council has held the second session to finalize their goals for the upcoming year(s).

I was delighted to note that among these goals was "the need to develop a vision or strategic plan for the city and tackle key issues from housing to crime". This is the opening that we need.

But the City Council did not stop there... Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan suggested that the "Council could consider appointing two people each to an organizing committee" of the visioning process. This very concrete step is precisely in keeping with the community visioning process described in the National Civic League's Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Handbook. This organizing committee would tailor visioning to fit Oak Ridge and our needs and will make visioning real for Oak Ridge.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Opening for Visioning

This past weekend, the City Council met to do some goal setting. With the help of an MTAS representative, they conducted a mini-visioning process, and they seemed to hit upon some important goals that will make all of our lives better.

First, they talked a lot about communications. Communications among themselves, but, more importantly, communications between the city and us citizens. This need to keep the citizens informed about what the city thinks and what they plan on doing, combined with giving our representatives an accurate and complete view of what the the citizens think as they make plans for our future is the answer for much of the issues within Oak Ridge.

Second, they concluded that a citizens' visioning committee should be formed. This is exactly what we are looking for. This proposed committee will be our mechanism to introduce visioning into the city's ongoing planning process.

Communications is great, but communicating the community vision to the city provides all the other benefits that I have discussed as well. It provides an accurate sense of the will of the people to the city officials. It empowers those officials to make plans and decisions consistent with that vision. And perhaps most important, it gives the citizens a voice that is heard and an opportunity to work with other citizens to reach the consensus that forms the community vision statement and implementation plan.

Finally, the chance to put visioning processes into the ongoing city planning process will keep those benefits fresh and continuing. Let's let our City Council members know that we support community visioning in Oak Ridge and that we appreciate their insight by including it in their goal setting session. You can email all of the members of the City Council here and the City Manager, Jim O'Connor, here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No go? So let's go!!

I have now tried twice to get broad based citizen groups to support a community visioning process in Oak Ridge - without success. In both cases, the members of the groups were interested or supportive but the groups, themselves, had other priorities.

Well, if the members are supportive, I guess we need a new group that takes this cause to heart and invite all interested people to join as they see fit... To that end, I have created a Facebook group named EnvisionOR to gather supporters of community visioning and community input into local strategic planning.

If you are supportive of these goals in Oak Ridge, please join us and discuss the possibilities of making these processes happen!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Go, no go

Here we are, in need of the benefits of visioning, but not able to reach them. How do we go from here to there? What do we need to get started? What makes visioning go?

I don't think there is a single answer to these questions. Chattanooga had a desperate situation and was large and industrial enough to find the seed money. Their situation brought them together and their internal wealth provided the capital. Other communities seem to try visioning out much like a intellectual exercise, with a large sponsor like the city or an important local corporation.

Oak Ridge is not desperate enough nor wealthy enough to easily move from no go to go. But we do have a lot of human capital. The questions in my mind include, "What will it take to organize volunteers to substitute for monetary costs?" and "Can we count on that local talent to substitute for an experienced consultant to lead such a project?" Sure, we can get some organizations to support and sponsor the project and even kick in some cash or at least do some fund raising, but the concept has to be sold. People in the city have to turn out and participate. What they find when they do turn out has to be satisfying, because we would need their participation all the way through to the end.

So if we are to try a D.I.Y. visioning in order to reduce costs and make it more palatable politically, we need a workable plan like the National Civic League's Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Handbook, some capital to plan the process and kick it off, and about 15 people, representing the community, committed to initiating visioning. The rest will come from the work of those 15. This seems doable.

For completeness, let me outline what the rest of the work involves. The initiating committee must define our process using the National Civil League's guide. They must recruit and train a facilitation team to support the visioning process. They must arrange the logistics of the visioning meetings. They must recruit 100-120 people, committed to visioning, to conduct the bulk of the process. They must be accountable for any remaining fund raising to match the plan they develop. And through these steps, engage the community.

Right now we don't have the kind of support to fund those kinds of decisions up front. I think we do have enough support to get started and we will just have to trust that the rest will be figured out.

Friday, August 7, 2009

What good is visioning?

If you concur that Oak Ridge is a divided community on most items of public discussion then I think I can describe the benefits of a broad based community visioning process. If you don't think that we are divided, then I would like to remind you of a few recent events.
  • The development of Centennial Golf Course

  • The bond referendum for the City Center Plan

  • The bond referendum for the Crestpointe shopping center

  • The Charter Commission referendum to revert to electing City Council members by district

  • New facilities for our Senior Center

Each of these acts and the public reaction to them points to deep differences of opinion, sure. But they are also unresolved differences, even today. Some are ongoing but those that are not even likely to be revisited are often described as the basis of distrust or generalized bungling by city authority. They are the foundations of popular myths that have little factual relation to historical events.

Contrast that description with what a visioning process offers.
  • Visioning finds common ground

  • Visioning builds trust

  • Visioning accentuates the positive possibilities

  • Visioning finds future goals by consensus

  • Visioning develops plans to reach our envisioned future

If people are talking about the next steps toward reaching our goals that we have defined for our community, there is little room for the negative, divisive remembrance of a distorted past. The City Council and the city administration will be able to plan actions that follow the vision statement and implement steps toward reaching our future without the worry of being second-guessed or delayed by the next referendum. If we are moving toward our desired future, those who oppose are not representative of the community and its agreements with itself.

These differences are like night and day.

But there is more...

The visioning process itself produces agreements but it also changes the community. We will learn through visioning that people with differences can still agree on a positive future. We will learn that people with whom we have had conflict can be trusted within our agreements. We will find that negotiations with people holding opposing views can yield the proverbial common ground. We will find that our city government can be trusted to implement those goals that the community has agreed are important.

And finally, perhaps the most important change is that the people most involved in the visioning process itself, those who spend months listening, compromising, and discovering the paths to agreement will be our city's foundation of the public leadership that will carry this new way of interacting forward. They are the ones who will know first hand how it all works and the pay off that we are missing today.

Visioning is not a one time event. Once our desired future is reached, there will always be another future that needs definition. It is truly a better way of conducting our city's business.