United States of America

United We Stand? Bringing Together Disparate Voices

Posted on August 02, 2017 by Chelsea Baker
Editor's Note: Chelsea Baker is a Manatee County Information Services Librarian and a participant in the Harwood Public Innovators Lab underwritten by The Patterson Foundation for library leadership in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

At the end of last September, when staff from Manatee and Sarasota counties joined together to learn the Harwood methodology at the Public Innovators Lab, our country was in the middle of a deeply divisive election season. It seemed like the American people simply couldn’t agree on anything. I was starting to wonder if we really deserved to call ourselves the “United” States of America. It seemed like a particularly challenging time to start asking people about their aspirations for the community.

Now, after almost ten months of studying the methodology, holding community conversations, and conducting ASK exercises every chance we get, the time has come to summarize what we’ve learned about the community and share this knowledge. I volunteered to lead the group that was tasked with drafting our public knowledge summary. Once again, it seemed like we were up against a huge challenge. How could we possibly condense dozens of pages of disparate voices into a brief, easily-digestible report that authentically represents the nuances of people’s aspirations and concerns?

However, as the team started to pore over the conversation notes, we realized that the voices weren’t really all that disparate. As it turns out, the working-class families shared many of the same concerns as the affluent, retired participants. The patrons at our South Manatee branch felt the same as those at our Braden River Library. No matter who we talked to, we heard many of the same aspirations from all across the county. People want to live in a safe, law-abiding community where drug sales and violent crimes are minimal. They envision an aesthetically-pleasing Manatee County where green spaces and animal habitats are maximized, and development is minimized. Infrastructure was another common theme, with a focus on traffic control, sidewalks, streetlights, and public transportation. Finally, the residents want Manatee County to be a “friendly county” where everyone is engaged in helping one another, and there are plenty of fun and affordable activities for all. Remarkably, politics was only briefly mentioned by a couple of individuals.

I enthusiastically joined the Manatee Harwood Core Team because I was excited to learn how we could better serve the needs of Manatee County residents. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback we can use in our everyday work, but this process has given me much more than that. It’s shown me that no matter how different someone might seem, there’s actually more that unites us than divides us. It’s given me hope for not only this county but this country.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.