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Shaping the Future of Lancaster, PA    

Sandy’s Table at Lancaster 2020On Tuesday (November 11th), I had the opportunity to volunteer as one of dozens of table facilitators at “Lancaster 2020: Shaping Our Future” - a day-long prioritizing and action-planning event for community leaders in Lancaster County. The event was facilitated by NCDD member AmericaSpeaks, and I wanted to participate because Lancaster is only about an hour’s drive away and I haven’t experienced an AmericaSpeaks event since 2002’s Listening to the City event in New York.

I had a great time, and really enjoyed the people and conversation at my table (pictured). Lancaster 2020 was different from most AmericaSpeaks events because it was designed specifically for community leaders and not open to the general public. Despite that fact, though, the group was pretty diverse, with a lot of high school student leaders present, as well as folks from nonprofit agencies, businesses and local government.

The event felt like a well-oiled machine to me, as a facilitator (more refined than Listening to the City had been). The 14-page chart I was given before the event (and which was reviewed via conference call for those of us who couldn’t make Monday morning’s facilitator training) provided a clear outline of what my group would be doing when, how the people at my table would be using their individual keypads, and what my laptop recorder should be entering into our table’s laptop for the theme team to consider. Instruction for table conversations usually came from the front of the room, so I mostly needed to reiterate what was already said. And the community leaders at my table were so calm and competent that I suspected they would do just fine without me there at all.

Participant at Lancaster 2020Each of the 300+ participants were given a 26-page issue guide, which provided statistics and other data about various opportunities and strategies for making Lancaster County more prosperous, extraordinary and caring by the year 2020. Lancaster 2020 Steering Committee members had identified four topics to guide the conversation — the well-being of people, connections and collaboration, economic engine and the physical environment — and 5 or 6 “opportunities” for making progress in each of those areas.  Under the topic “The Well-Being of People,” for example, one of the opportunities was “Ensure access to healthcare” and another was “Increase healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices.” Throughout the day, participants developed a vision, identified values, and prioritized opportunities and actions.

I found the experience particularly interesting because I generally think of AmericaSpeaks’ 21st Century Town Meeting methodology as a “Decision Making” approach and not a “Collaborative Action” approach (see NCDD’s Engagement Streams framework if you’re not sure what I’m talking about). Lancaster 2020, however, was not designed just to provide data to a group of public managers or community leaders; it was designed to get hundreds of community leaders coming up with new ideas for bettering their community and making commitments on the spot — and it seemed to do a great job making that happen.

Lead facilitators for the event were Carolyn Lukensmeyer, President of AmericaSpeaks, and Janet Fiero, Senior Associate of AmericaSpeaks. It was Janet who first told me about the event and suggested I get involved.

The photos on this page were taken by photographer Russell Frost of Frost Imaging.

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