Posts Tagged ‘Local Government’

Back in January I expressed some frustration that my involvement with local government was largely useless. I am not on a slightly different subcommittee that has the purpose of looking at data to see how research has explored various approaches to the problem. This is the part I thought I could be useful for! So how did the first meeting go? Like this:

  1. Somebody tells a story about how their organization handles the problem.
  2. This approach is termed a “suggestion.”
  3. People share personal opinions about this suggestion.
  4. Others tell stories about how their organizations could use this suggestion.
  5. I think about how much I hate these meetings.
  6. Somebody tells a story about how their organization handles the problem.
  7. This approach is termed a “suggestion.”
  8. People share personal opinions about this suggestion.
  9. Others tell stories about how their organizations could use this suggestion.
  10. People remark how much they are learning from this exchange of information that is based purely on anecdotal evidence.
  11. These anecdotes are labeled “best practices.”
  12. I think about how much I hate these meetings.

I’m sure that to those involved in these organizations, sharing stories like this is fun and interesting. What these stories are not, however, is based on anything other than anecdotal evidence with no real information about whether an approach has worked for an organization or not. Some know that their organization does a thing and others contemplate how their organization could do that thing.

If only there were a large body of research about the problem that we could somehow tap into…

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I’ve mentioned before that I was able to become involved in local government last summer. After being part of a local government subcommittee for the past six months, including biweekly meetings, I have a number of thoughts on the experience so far. In addition to my initial surprise at how quickly local government can move (especially compared to the glacial pace I am used to for on-campus projects), I’ve also been surprised by how useless I am during meetings. Most of the other subcommittee members are stakeholders in various organizations that are working together on the project, making the suggestions I might have based on research less useful than those of people who have been dealing with these issues in the community for years.

Ironically, my uselessness is at its worst when the committee tries to involve me in the conversation. Because I represent a local college and my college has expressed interest in helping with the task in some form, members of my committee rightfully see me as a representative who should know what sorts of involvement the college has been discussing. Unfortunately, I don’t. The discussions about my college’s involvement have taken place between administrators and the person who sent the initial invitation to work on the committee. This person is not on my subcommittee and rarely communicates with me about the campus-level discussion, which causes me (and likely the other committee members) some frustration. The duplication of discussions from one meeting to the next is also a source of frustration, since our meetings have the potential to be half as long but equally productive.

Having persevered through six months of frustration, I have hopes that these patterns will change now that we are moving from the “planning” and phase of our project to the “starting work” phase. As a part of this transition there may be more room for academic research to support the experiences of the other committee members. I should also note that a colleague who has worked on a number of local government projects reports that my experiences on this committee have been abnormal. She reported that her previous experiences typically consisted of three or four people working on a much smaller project, compared to the fifteen people on my particular subcommittee. She’s also done some consulting for which she actually got paid, so I imagine that her opinions were valued a bit more highly in those circumstances. I wouldn’t turn down payment, but I would settle for feeling a bit more valuable.

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As an undergraduate, I admired the extent to which my primary faculty mentor was involved with local organizations.  Perhaps because of this, my own goals for faculty life include developing relationships in both the campus and broader communities.  Like any relationship, though, it seems that these connections cannot be forced.  Rather, they develop as one takes advantage of available opportunities, leading to more opportunities and larger roles in the future.

Over the summer, I took advantage of my first opportunity to become involved in local government by responding to a campus-wide call for interested parties that fell within my area of interest.  At the first meeting, which took place in an auditorium, I was struck by the “Parks and Recreation” feel of a public forum.  At the second meeting I was struck by the ability of local government to move swiftly, based on the fact that things had actually happened since the first meeting.  This is in direct contrast to my experience on collaborative academic projects, which tend to move at a glacial pace.

Depending on how official the sign-up sheet that I wrote my name on was, I am officially on a local government subcommittee.  While this will surely take away from the time that I have to spend on other things, I hope that it is time well spent.

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