Voices & Choices Community Conversations: A far reaching and positive impact on our region

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Mon, 07/10/2006 - 13:06.

This summer I have gotten more informed and involved with certain important regional issues -- I can't help but think it is part of the momentum started by Voices & Choices. I attended two Voices & Choices Community Conversations this past spring. I found both events to be very possitive expereinces, though each had a very different dynamic. I have been part of focus groups that were similarly organized, but I felt that discussing and  documenting individual's perceptions of the needs of our region in this manner was very innovative.  I am certain that these discussions have helped to empower those who attended, generated a more positive outlook for our region, and solidified many people's commitment to creating positve changes in Northeast Ohio.

The first Community Conversation I attended took place at Severence Hall. Most of the attendees (approximately 30) had connections with important Cleveland arts organizations. I chose to attend this particular Community Conversation because I am an art historian and currently work as the curator of a local sculpture collection. I was impressed by how well attended the late afternoon event was. The attendees broke into groups and gathered around tables in a conference room. The event was efficiently structured; Voices & Choices provides each attendee with a participation guide, (essentially a workbook that outlines issues to be discussed and includes places to fill in answers). I was impressed by how well the discussion went. The moderator asked that each table choose to focus on one of the five discussion  topics in the participation guide (employment & economic growth, education & skills, equity & fairness, quality of life and place, cooperation & governance)  -- my table chose employment & economic growth. From the eight people at my table, a range of broad and specific ideas of how the region could generate more jobs in the arts sector were presented and recorded in our participation guides.

The second Community Conversation I attended was at The Center for Women at Case Western Reserve University. I chose to attend this Comunity Conversation because I am a Ph.D. student at Case. The attendance this time was low -- I was one of only four people who attended -- but the dialogue was never-the-less very insightful. I don't think the low attendance ultimately resulted in a disappointing outcome for Voices & Choices. The other participants and I  had the opportunity to get to know the moderator and learn more about Voices & Choices -- something that was not possible in the first Community Conversation because of the number of people participating. I consider myself well informed about Cleveland but not so well informed about the rest of our region. Two of other participants were extremely knowledgeable about Cleveland and the region and had much to contribute. The third participant, who worked for The Center for Women, had some interesting insights from living in other cities. This time we were able to cover all of the discussion topics, actually we found that from our perspective some of the discussion topics overlapped. The participants in this Community Conversation attended simply because they are concerned citizens -- rather than as representatives of particular organizations, so at times the discussion became quite impassioned. I found the second Community Conversation I attended session particualrly inpiring because of the particular dynamics of this group.

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