Business

Hosting a citywide conversation on Lexington’s quality of life — a table at a time

Lexington’s “On the Table,” a series of quality of life discussions, will bring people around tables citywide on Wednesday, March 15.
Lexington’s “On the Table,” a series of quality of life discussions, will bring people around tables citywide on Wednesday, March 15. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Podcast

Tom Martin talks with Lisa Adkins, President and CEO of the Blue Grass Community Foundation about an upcoming event that she hopes will make a positive difference in Lexington’s quality of life. It’s called “On the Table” and it’s all about a citywide conversation happening on one day in March.

Click here to hear the audio version of the interview: http://www.kentucky.com/news/business/article45076461.html

Q: What is On the Table?

A: On the Table is a new concept for Lexington. It is a one day event that’s going to take place March 15. And it is going to be a community-wide conversation done one table and one host at a time that we hope will involve thousands of people across our city.

Q: What’s involved in being a host?

A: This is a person who agrees to host a conversation with friends or colleagues. What I’m going to do to host my On the Table conversation is invite eight to 12 people. They can be friends, they could be from my office, from a civic group or organization I belong to, from my place of worship. I could mix it up. So it’s a group of people that really don’t know each other, but we’re all going to come together at a place and a time that I pick as long as it’s on Wednesday, March 15, and we’re going to have a conversation about the quality of life in Lexington. We’re going to talk about all the things that we think are great and also, we’re going to have conversation about what we’d like to change if we could.

Q: Does the host set an agenda, and is the host expected to moderate the conversation to ensure that no one dominates?

A: We are trying to make these conversations simple and organic because we want anyone to be able to be a host and anyone to be able to participate. There is a very handy host toolkit that tells the host what to do and how to do it and gives some really simple dos and don’ts for having the best conversation with eight to twelve people around your table. But, the host is not expected to make up questions out of thin air. There’s essentially a group of conversation prompts to get your conversation going. Where the conversation goes from there is really up to the host and the guests at that particular table, but it’s all right there so you don’t have to guess what to do.

Q: Is this conversation to be in the context of community-wide issues?

A: It really is about community. We are doing this event for a few reasons. Blue Grass Community Foundation will celebrate our 50th anniversary in August of 2017. As a community foundation we’re focused on making Lexington and all the communities we serve be the most generous and vibrant places they can be. And as we look towards our next 50 years, we really want to have a great understanding of what the people who live and work and study in Lexington feel about the community. That can guide us as we think about community projects, grant-making and philanthropy. We really wanted that kind of input at a milestone like 50 years.

But even beyond that, the timing of On the Table is so great because right now Lexington is in the midst of its comprehensive planning process. That’s a plan that guides development. It gets updated every five years. So, we’re partnered with the city, its Division of Planning, and Leadership Lexington on this On the Table event because it will be an additional channel for community engagement. The city’s Division of Planning is interested in what Lexingtonians have to say about the quality of life and our views and thoughts about the community. It’s a new and much more expansive avenue to have perhaps not just 100 or 250 people show up at a series of more formal community engagement events to get input on the comprehensive plan. We really are shooting to have 350 or more Table hosts. We hope thousands of people, over breakfast, lunch, dinner, break time, tea time, dessert will gather all over the city to talk about what we love and what we’d like to see different.

Q: That’s a lot of feedback. How do you hope hosts will capture all of that information? Are they to record it in some way? How will you gather all that information and then pass it on to the city?

A: There are several ways that the individuals and groups who participate at a Table can have their feedback known to both the community foundation and to the city-at-large. The first thing is that the way people will be invited to a Table is they will get an email invitation from the host. What’s so important about collecting emails on all of the guests that will be participating is that right about 9 a.m. the following day, March 16, everyone who participated and for whom we have an email, will get a survey. And, without the filtering from somebody else or from a note-taker, they get to reflect on their experience with On the Table: the big issues, the big ideas, and hopefully the solutions that were discussed. For folks who may not have access to email, there will be hard copies of that survey that the host will have. And so if email is not your medium, you can just fill out a paper survey immediately after the event you attend. That’s two ways. For people who want to do more formal note-taking, there will be a little bit of guidance on that, but it’s not required. So, you can directly give your input for hosts who do want to have a volunteer at their Table take notes. There is a mechanism to get all of that back to the Community Foundation and to the city.

Q: Has this been tried elsewhere around the country?

A: We will be the third city across the United States to my knowledge that is trying this. Blue Grass Community Foundation is one of eight hundred community foundations across the United States and it’s a group of organizations that share best ideas. Our colleagues with the Chicago Community Trust innovated this idea of On the Table three years ago as a part of their hundredth anniversary celebration. Most recently they did it in late spring, and they actually had in one day 55,000 people across the city come together at tables everywhere with about eight to 12 people at a table. What they report to us is that those conversations happen in schools, offices, restaurants, private homes, public facilities such as libraries and community centers and everywhere in between. It is entirely up to the host.

To try to broaden participation we have something called a Super Host. A Super Host is an On the Table partner organization that wants to put together 20 tables or more, and that’s something our friends at Leadership Lexington are doing. They are going to host a breakfast event the morning of March 15 and they are going to have twenty tables of ten. And they’re going to invite current and alumni members of Leadership Lexington and colleagues and friends of Leadership Lexington members all to come to the table. And then, they’re not going to have a conversation with 200 people, they’re going to break up into 20 tables of 10 and have conversations table-by-table. If there are any individuals or organizations out there, whether it’s a business, a nonprofit, a place of worship, a civic group or any other kind of organization that would like to host 20 tables they can call us at the Community Foundation at 225-3343 or they can go online at BGCF.org/onthetable and download a form to sign up to be a host or super host.

Tom Martin's Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader's Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.

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