Ideas reports on FFOEF seeking Voices & Choices for NEO, led by America Speaks

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 03/06/2005 - 23:12.

Ideastream broadcast an interesting community discussion show called Ideas, Sunday at 11 AM (after broadcast of the City Club Forum, which is also excellent), which this week covered the Fund For Our Economic Future's annual report to the community, held last week at the Akron Inventors' Hall of Fame. The show featured a panel of foundation leaders talking about Voices & Choices, led by America Speaks (see related Plain Dealer article), a $3 million, 18 month initiative for facilitated dialogue among up to 100,000 area residents on their issues and views about the future of this region. The FFOEF believes this effort will help local leaders set agendas, and educate the public.

PD Editor and panel moderator Joe Frolik asked how to make this effort independent - pondering if foundation folks know what they want and are using this as way to force their agenda. Deborah Vesy, Executive Director of the Deaconess Foundation, says she doesn't know what is the right agenda for the region and she and the average citizen don't know everything that is working in other parts of country - feels we need this insight sharing and gathering at every level. Citizens will get discussion kit with video and can go home and get people together. Frolik asks, if you ask 100K people what they want won't you get 100,000 opinions? Cleveland Foundation's Ronn Richard says America Speaks is uniquely qualified to use methodologies and facilitators to process all the feedback and find the right answers.

This is an interesting initiative in many respects - a collaboration of foundations is hiring an out-of-state firm and spending a large amount of money and a year and a half to set an agenda for our economic future here - and lots of money has been spent over the years with many world-class consultants to determine similar things. It does seem the purpose is not so much to find the 15 keys to our region's long term success, but to build a script to drive change. The best results would be that this has enough penetration across the region, with enough clout and visibility with all the mainstream media, to write a common script for all people here - get everyone speaking together about the same things to their leaders, and to state leaders, allowing all 4.4 million of us and all our leaders to put pressure on Columbus and Washington to respect our concerted interests. I'll be very interested to watch and participate.

I also believe there are other ways to make change in the region, which are already well under way and moving forward with good results daily. Weatherhead's Center For Regional Economic Issues (REI) has surfaced many exciting initiatives, educated 1,000s in the public, and empowered entirely new and previously unspoken leaders for our future, and REALNEO is designed to give everyone in NEO a voice in the community, and Universities Collaborative efforts to bridge the digital divide for those denied access to information technology represents another immediate step toward a better local economy. As with all the good work of the FFOEF folks, and other community leaders, the more effort and attention on problems and solutions the better. There's plenty of room for dialogue and inclusion in NEO for all, so long as we truly have dialogue and inclusion.