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Recruiting people with BIG ideas

Sunday, October 8, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:02 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dear Reader:

I’m writing to you before the first round of Fall Visioning Festivals, so I don’t know how many packs of hot dogs or gallons of soft drinks were consumed. Will people show up? We’ll see. The city will host more festivals next weekend.

The purpose of the festivals isn’t about visions. It’s about recruiting. The people the city hired know that it takes work — a lot of work — to get people involved in the business of talking about what our town needs and wants.

An early step was last month’s survey. The city’s Web site reports that 415 souls filled out the questionnaire. The results weren’t unexpected: Growth and development ranked as the biggest area of change in the city and the most important to plan for the future. The things respondents thought were most cool about Columbia: arts and culture, parks and greenways, and downtown (aka The District).

I hear some grumbling around town and in the newsroom about whether all this effort — and money — is worth it. We won’t know the answer to that for some time, as the process plays out into next year. How do you measure success on something like this, after all? By the number of voices heard who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity? Or by the quality of ideas generated? By how many ideas actually get implemented?

Probably all of the above.

This month, recruiting. Next month, “Big Idea-Gathering meetings.” (That’s BIG. Clever, huh?) In January, more talk.

Covering the visioning discussions will be difficult. It’s relatively easy to report a City Council meeting — motions are made, proposals are voted on, and there is a beginning and an end. Deliberation about competing values for the city’s future, on the other hand, is like trying to hold grape jelly in your hand: the stuff tends to just squeeze through your fingers. So I hope you’ll talk with the Missourian as the thing rolls out and tell the staff what you’re hearing.

Still, it’s important talk. I look forward to hearing it.


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