Igniting a Conversation About the Future of Your Community

ARTICLE | Jun 16, 2016

"The Best Way to Predict Your Future is to Create It" -  Abraham Lincoln

Conversation starter and thinking bigger; that is the prevailing impact three local governments would say The Next Big Things has had on their communities.  The Alliance for Innovation launched The Next Big Things (NBT) report in September 2015, which identifies four forces and 44 trends that could impact local governments in the next 20 years.  Since the launch, thousands of individuals have read, been trained and practiced the tools provided in NBT.  But, what happens next?  How do you take the information and use it in your organization? 

The Alliance for Innovation recently interviewed three communities to find out how they are taking the information provided in NBT to the next level. 

Blacksburg, Virginia recently used The Next Big Things at a Council Retreat to update and revise their two year strategic goals.  They spent the morning session focusing on local issues (growth, housing and transportation) and then turned to the 44 trends in NBT to jump start a dialogue and conversation on the future, looking at priorities.  “It’s easy to get trapped in the day to day. Next Big Things was a conversation starter to get elected officials thinking big picture” states Steve Ross, Assistant City Manager of Blacksburg.

Likewise, York County, Virginia used NBT to identify priority areas and now is working on tying the priorities into their strategic plan and rolling into their budget.   Vivian Calkins-McGettigan, Deputy County Administrator, shared how NBT was a great ice-breaking tool and helpful in engaging their Board of Supervisors and employees on long term strategic goals.

In January, York County used the research at their Board of Supervisors Retreat.  Their discussion began by eliminating half of the 44 trends, making the conversation more manageable.  The Board divided into two groups and within their groups each Board member identified two trends they felt were most significant for York County and discussed these trends with the larger group.   At the end of the discussion each Board member prioritized their top two trends.  Education reform, water resources, climate change, and elder care rose to the top. 

Calkins-McGettigan shares several a-ha moments from York County’s discussion:

  • Dependence on the energy grid outside of their county limits and security of the energy grid
  • Impact education reform might create have on local governments approach to bricks and mortar for future schools
  • Stress on infrastructure, in particular the potential of desalinization of water   

Additionally, York County has used NBT with their “Tiger Team,” a cross functional team of young professionals who focus on strategy, implementation and performance measures. Through the exercises the Tiger Team engaged in a conversation about turning some of their vulnerabilities into assets in their community.  For example, elder expense.  The team flipped the conversation to one of maximizing the value the elderly provides the community:  support, giving of their time and knowledge.   

York County is also using NBT as conversation starters with other departments in the organization.  Their advice for others is to know your audience and the intent of using NBT as either an educational or team building exercises. 

Dublin, Ohio is also utilizing the Next Big Things for thinking about the future of their community.  At their recent annual council retreat held in March, the research was shared as pre-reading material.  Through a mapping exercise, Council Members were asked to draw Dublin might look like in the future. According to Michelle Crandall, Assistant City Manager, the discussions helped them think about how to be resilient in the future and reaffirmed things they are already doing including their commitment to sustainability and broadband.  Two new areas were brought into focus: city-wide transportation and looking at office park space to create and attract the future workforce. 

Dublin also conducted a similar mapping exercise with their management team.  “We get so caught up in the day to day were not thinking about what is around the corner.  It is good to take a break and look at trends we need to think about for our future planning efforts,” states Crandall. 

You can also use the trends in NBT to kick off the conversation in your community and integrate into your strategic goals to become a future ready community.  Be sure to download the material at http://transformgov.org/en/research/the_next_big_things.   Contact us at nbt@transformgov.org if you would like to share how you are using the material or if you are interested in learning more about the Alliance for Innovation facilitated NBT workshop. 

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