Photo: Lorna Alston, Marla Smith, and Melissa Hirstein

Unleashing Impact, a Celebration of Public Innovators

Posted on November 01, 2023 by Sherry Oehler, Aspirations to Actions Engagement Team Member
What is Unleashed? It is an approach for communities to spread change and move forward with real hope for all.

Marla Smith, Melissa Hirstein, and Lorna Alston recently celebrated their completion of the 5-week Unleashing Impact Public Innovators Lab with The Harwood Institute. The lab was a study of nine real-life communities of people and groups that came together and made real changes over time. They each had an opportunity to share their learned experiences at an evening dinner and reflections ceremony at The Patterson Foundation Office. They shared how change was catalyzed in the nine communities through community conversations, and a chain reaction began.

How does this happen?
  • Turn Outward – learn about the shared aspirations of the community. Don’t come with the end in mind.
  • Get In Motion – get started. Plans are good; however, take the first steps to action.
  • Start Small to Go Big – a small action around a focused outcome; a chain reaction begins.
  • Create a New Trajectory of Hope – momentum begins inspiring others to join to bring change to their community.
Unleashing our potential: TPF has offered the Harwood Public Innovators Labs to our local four-county community since 2012. To date, 323 have completed the first Public Innovator Lab in the Harwood Series “Getting Started” and are considered alumni. This lab is based on concepts in the book authored by Rich Harwood called Stepping Forward, and it happens once a year, usually in the spring. These Aspirations to Actions (A2A) Harwood Public Innovators alumni can move on to the second lab in the series “Unleashing Impact.” This lab typically happens in the fall.

In November 2022, TPF hosted an alumni breakfast with Rich Harwood, reviving interest in the Harwood principles and TPF approach to community conversations. After the initial survey, fifty-eight Public Innovators in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties were interested in participating in future aspirations and conversations. These are our alumni.

Marla, Melissa, and Lorna are the first three to complete the Unleashing Impact Public Innovators Lab. Congratulations! Marla and Melissa had the opportunity to complete the Getting Started Public Innovators Lab in the spring of this year and then completed the Unleashing Impact Lab a few weeks ago. Lorna became interested in reenergizing her Public Innovator techniques after participating in the first Public Innovators Lab in 2016. As graduates of the two lab series, they are about to put their skills into action by working with the A2A team.

Are you alumni of The Harwood Institute’s Public Innovators Lab? Would you like to participate in future aspirations and conversations? Contact Sherry Oehler at for updates and more information about opportunities in the DeSoto and Sarasota counties, as well as future options for reconnecting with your Public Innovators inner self.

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