Whose job is it, anyway?

It’s funny how things bump into each other. Conversations I’ve had recently took me back to Hällefors, Sweden. [see: Moving from steel to meals, previous blog entry]  A number of these conversations were sparked by a newspaper article in the Wausau Daily Herald. It was not only the content of the article that started some grumbling, also that the newspaper reported on an event that they created.

In a nutshell, the newspaper invited a number of people they had identified as community leaders to discuss ideas to better the community. The twenty or so who showed up were guided through a discussion process by Dr. Eric Giordano, director of the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service. The ideas included making government more efficient, marketing the area, developing infrastructure and working on social issues. They tagged this list Agenda 2010.

In the community conversations following, there was much speculation about what shapes the output of such a meeting: who was (or wasn’t) at the table, current events, discussion format, etc. I was intrigued by the purposeful EXclusion of elected officials.

Even more interesting to me was that much of the reaction seemed to be about the process rather than the output.  Different groups, different individuals, same themes, and echoed in some comments I saw on the newspaper’s weblog. The themes I heard:

  • Who said these are our leaders?
  • What was the newspaper trying prove or accomplish by holding this meeting?
  • Don’t they know we’re working on building community?

Underneath much of it I heard – “I have something to say, too.”

I contrasted that with Hällefors, where a process was designed to include as many people as possible, in the conversation about what kind of community they wanted for their future.  In Hällefors, they used a process based on The Natural Step. [Video: How does The Natural Step work? Karl-Henrik Robert, founder, The Natural Step]

So I’m wondering…
Whose job IS it to decide for any community, what  it should be 20 years from now?
Whose job is it to decide what parts of the community system are represented at the table?
Whose job is it to pull people together to talk about the future of an entire community?
Who are your leaders, and how do you know?  What does a leader do?


  1. Mary,

    From a methodology/theory perspective, I take issue with “selecting” a small group of individuals who, because of this selection, have an “inside track” to setting the agenda. That said, I am very skeptical of going with a purely “democratic” process of open meetings determining the agenda, because, in my experience and in reading the literature, most individuals do not bring expertise, long-range thinking, data, etc to inform their decisions (not that I am anti-democratic, simply that democratic-participatory process should inform decisions, not BE the decision).

    In this instance, it appears the Hearld was self-selecting leaders (some rightly, some perhaps not), and always there are those who feel (rightly or wrongly) left out. If they had framed the process differently (rather than “these are our leaders” to “select opinions”), then the responce may have been different.

    So…. who’s job is it to decide for the community? Officially it is the elected officials, or those that are empowered by elected officials (planners, developers, banks, etc) that make policy and structural changes (demography is another question entirely) to a community. Often, we hear about how this process was “unfairly” influenced by a particular set of interests that may be favored by the elected offical(s). How does the community react? Also- every day decisions affect the future of the community (beyond who you elect): where you shop, where you work, lifestyle decisions. All adds up…

    Whose job is it to decide who is represented? Tough. Hopefully everyone becomes involved, but it is typically (from my experience) those who either have a vested interest a particular decision (to gain or loose significantly) and those who are informed of the process. At least the latter may be controlled by who is invited / how transparent the processes are.

    Who pulls people together to talk about the entire future of an entire community? I credit the Herald here for attempting something, even if the process and inclusion is perhaps not what many would like to experience. But who’s job? I have not an intelligent answer…

    Who are your leaders? Those who have power politically, socially, or economically. Those who can garner enough support to their perspective; those who command respect (or fear); or those who can dictate the flow of resources (money, information, etc). Hard hard hard to identify each of these actors, as many perfer to play puppet master from the background. This takes a dizzying amount of homework, and even then…

    Josh Clements

  2. Mary, I was hoping that you would take a stab at answering these questions from your reflections. I think that your perspective would be interesting and I felt like you left me hanging a little.
    Let me say that there is no specially appointed group of individuals that can articulate a community vision with confidence. The value in any person or group acting with the confidence to share their unique perspective is found in the contribution to a larger dialogue. The conversation of community vision needs to be very inclusive and we must find ways to engage and provide a voice to as many as want to share.
    I also think that what “community” means to people is in transition as our economy, mobility, communications, and demagraphics change. We should expect that a new leadership model will need to respond to these changes.


Comments are closed.