Thursday, May 11, 2006

MTB Voices and Choices: The Road to Nowhere.

This past Saturday was a different sort of MTB. George, Bill, Jill, Tim, Tim, Gloria and I met for a Community Conversation for Voices and Choices.

Revisiting Voices and Choices was like old home week. My involvement with Voices put me on the blogging map. Without intending to, I ended up the only blogger in the all-day marathon session at U. Akron and wrote up my observations and reservations. Bill, George and Tim all linked to me, Gund Foundation Exec. Dir. David Abbott and the elusive, psuedenomenous John Galt commented. As has been the pattern since, hit counts not only set a new record, they spiked to nearly double the previous high. George personally invited me to Meet the Bloggers with David Abbott.

This was the point at which this venture changed from me sharing opinions with my brother and three friends to understanding how to generate original content and bring a real audience to the blog. Having done a faux reminiscence recently, this Satuday provided an opportunity to genuinely reminisce about how this blog became what it is now.

My original post was pretty critical of the V&C process, as were two subsequent posts -- all named after 80's alt-pop tunes. I was determined to play nice this time. After all, V&C had approached us. The were providing the space and some financial help with the transcript. In addition, I now work for an organization significantly funded by Gund.

What’s more, digging through the materials revealed that V&C took steps to address many of my original criticisms. First and foremost, they now provide fact sheets which source the facts. I had pointed out that the discussion of high tax burdens in Ohio didn’t acknowledge the extensive tax reform of last year; now they do. I noted that the evidence regarding the supposedly fragmented local government was weak; now they acknowledge that. I happen to know that my posts, the reader comments and hopefully some of the posts in other blogs were sent around the V&C staff. Now that the latest hope for blogs having a political impact appears dashed, I take solace in thinking we may have improved this process.

But for all of that, revisiting V&C revisted my misgivings about the process.

It’s not that V&C is a bad thing – far from it. Certainly the mission is a laudable one. Engaged is better than disengaged, informed is better than misinformed, seeking input is better than imposing top-down solutions. But I think at the end of the day that a bunch of regular folks sitting around talking is unlikely to reach solutions to complex problems. If a camel is a horse designed by committee, what does a horse designed by a committee of hundreds look like?

But then, I noticed something as the MTB session wore on. While we didn’t arrive at a unified theory of everythiing, I for one came out far better informed and siginificantly more engaged in the process than before.

Years ago I was a member of my church’s Board of Trustees. One year our president hired a church member as a facilitator to write a mission statement for the Board for the approaching year. At first, the whole idea seemed like a colossal waste of a Saturday. A mission statement? Please. But the process of talking about what we wanted to do for the year revealed the tensions among our goals, taught us how our personalities interacted and generally got us heading down a productive path.

So when I considered an alt-pop title for this post, the Talking Heads' made sense. Voices works, not as a route to a destination but as a journey with good in it's own right. While it's unlikely that the organizers are looking to settle for this sort of zen-lite outcome, I find myself at piece with it.

You can hear the podcast of the lot of us on the road now.