Monthly Archives: July 2012

What’s Up with Core Change

The Core Change Summit was a big success back in February, generating around twenty grass-roots work groups committed to healing the urban core by working with our strengths.  These work groups are still meeting and getting things done in varying degrees, but many are wondering what is happening behind the scenes.  Here is a look at this fascinating exercise in group facilitation.

The core team has put in place a basic support structure (team leaders, training opportunities, communication systems) to keep the work groups moving, but the lack of a clear post-summit leadership structure has somewhat limited the growth of the movement.  For example, many months have past without:  a gathering to reunite those inspired by the summit; a system for detailed inter-work-group communication and learning; and a plan for engaging those key stakeholders who did not attend the summit in sufficient numbers (like government, big business, and large institutions).

The challenge confronting the core team is creating a governing structure that continues to inspire organic participation while providing the power of coordinated action.  Organic structures allow for greater participation; tighter  structures get more done.  How Core Change balances this tension will determine the nature of  this movement.

With no clear criteria for who becomes a core team member, no on-boarding of new core team members, and no structure to handle post-summit work (an explicit decision many have come to regret), the core team is under great pressure to quickly devise a structure that catches up to the momentum created at the summit.  Without these structures, many worry that the work groups are becoming just another layer of social programming rather than part of a  “whole system” change.

Ironically, the biggest challenge seems to be tension among core team members.  While everyone has good intentions, there are too many cooks in the facilitation kitchen arguing over the best process for managing the movement.   The trust required for this work was missing when the core team reconvened after the summit.  And like most groups, the core team became engulfed by the work before building a sufficient relational foundation to handle the challenges.

The post-summit struggles of Core Change reminds us all that 1) some structure  and pre-planning is necessary to get things done, and 2) connection must always come before content at each new level of development.  How the core team addresses these issues while attending to the needs of the work groups is an experiment that bears watching.

Evaluating the priority-budgeting process

As most of you know, the City of Cincinnati conducted a priority-based budgeting process this year.  From CCR’s perspective, here is what worked and what could be improved.

What Worked

  • Promotion.  Emails were flying around town promoting the process, the media played a part, and City Council stood behind the work.  Nice job creating buzz for such a tough subject.
  • Hosting.  The city held many engagement events across the city hosted by various civic networks.  Great job getting to the people and offering many opportunities to show up.
  • Feedback.  The dialog sessions were wide-open to about any feedback you could think of, and the city provided web-based mechanisms to hear from those who couldn’t attend a live session.  People felt heard.
  • Scope.  The process rightly focused on the big-picture–what we value as citizens–rather than micro-managing the city administration.
  • Relevance.  After ranking citizen priorities, every city department prioritized their work based on the values identified by citizens.  The process asked administration leaders to look at their programs in a different way, always a good thing.  Moreover, these rankings will find their way to City Council during budget-setting.

What Didn’t Work

  • Citizen responsibility.  The hard work–prioritizing programs–was done by city leaders.  Citizens got a free pass to voice their opinions without having to make any hard decisions.  These days (and for the foreseeable future), budgeting is about deciding what you can do without, or increasing taxes to pay for it.  For example, we can’t have the police and fire services we expect and great roads, neighborhood business districts, health centers, parks, recreation, etc.  Forcing citizens to make clear, difficult choices is the only way to create a “structurally balanced budget” and the city we envision in Plan Cincinnati.
  • Reliance on Council.  Though citizens voiced their opinion and the administration supplied their analysis, City Council has yet to show their ability to face difficult facts in a reasoned way.  This particular council is not particularly at fault, however:  elected officials generally set budgets to get re-elected rather than do the right thing.  This  makes their public  debate mere posturing, forcing the back-room deals that devalue citizen input.   The public deserves to see City Council fairly debate the merits of the budget.
  • Public debate.  This process provided for no public debate or any mechanism for citizens to participate in a meaningful way when the budget is actually set.  Public hearings are almost useless–two minutes of testimony only leads citizens to shout louder and take more extreme positions.  Until citizens deliberate real choices presented to them by Council in November or December, all of this will be for naught.