Democracy in Florida and Innovation in San Diego

While the nation’s eyes are focused on Republican presidential politics and on the important social and criminal justice issues surrounding the Trayvon Martin case, there have been many important public and nonprofit initiatives advanced to help strengthen our communities, to achieve greater justice and fairness, and promote more opportunities for individuals and families. There are three I would like to highlight here.

In the first, I had the great opportunity to be an active participant. In February the Board of Education for the State of Florida asked Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson to form a Taskforce on Inclusion and Accountability. With the waiver granted to Florida by the U.S. Department of Education under the No Child Left Behind law, it became imperative for Florida policymakers to consider the grading of K-12 public schools, particularly for English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities, and in Exceptional Student Education. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Management signed a contract to facilitate a two-day taskforce meeting on March 22 and 23; I had the privilege of serving as the lead facilitator, with my good friends and colleagues, Dr. Brandi Blessett and Matt Lavery (UCF doctoral student in education), as co-facilitators.

Click the image above for the recommendations advanced by the Taskforce. I highlight the process here, as it is a good example of a public process that engaged a diverse set of stakeholders, including school district superintendents, teachers, parents, and nonprofit and for profit organization representatives standing for specific constituencies. Though the diversity of voices was challenging, from a facilitation perspective, it allowed for expert knowledge and experiential knowledge to come together to craft recommendations for future policy action in a way that would not be possible if the recommendations were crafted by a panel of subject matter experts alone. Further the process was fully transparent in that it was web-cast live and remains archived. You can watch all or components of the facilitated discussions at:

Pictured below are two taskforce members on the far left and far right, Commissioner of Education Robinson on the inside right, and me on the inside left.

On the theme of open process and inclusion, I also had the privilege of leading two workshops recently at the annual City of Orlando Neighborhood and Community Summit. My topic was on developing capacity of nonprofit organizations, and communicating the resources available from the Center for Public and Nonprofit Management.

The Summit as a process provides Orlando residents, nonprofit and community leaders to come together, learn from each other, and access resources and people who can help them succeed in their public service missions. Personally, I found it a great joy to observe a tremendous amount of energy and commitment from such a diverse pool of citizens.

Last, I would like to observe the continued innovation coming out of San Diego. Though I have had no direct role in this process, watching from afar, I see an opportunity for real transformation and the development of a vibrant cross-sector, citizen-centered community. I have written about this innovation before (see here). The San Diego Foundation has recently launched the Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement, which will have as part of its mission the continued development and facilitation of a plan to achieve a common, cross-sector, citizen-centered vision for the San Diego Region. See Our Greater San Diego Vision. This is an initiative that is worth watching for lessons on how to revive citizenship and engage diverse stakeholders in civil dialog and deliberation.

More to come on initiatives happening underneath the headlines that are engaging citizens and crafting solutions to community challenges.

Published by Prof. dr. Thomas Bryer

Dr. Thomas Bryer is professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida, Fulbright Scholar and Specialist, Professor at Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) and Visiting Professor Edge Hill University (United Kingdom).

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