PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: Heroes, Hurricanes and Happy Endings

Catherine Smith, CP3A good story has a setting with a hero on a quest. There are challenges, choices and consequences. With those, other heroes arrive, change happens, and a new reality takes shape. Fade to a perfect sunset, and the story is complete.

As it happens, we have such a story.

It starts in 2017 over a bowl of fresh pasta in a little Italian restaurant in downtown San Diego. It was there where our newly elected Board Member, Traci Ethridge, shared her quest to hold for the first time in IAP2 USA history a North American conference on the east coast in her hometown of Charlotte. She shared there was energy happening there and that IAP2 could be the home for that energy. She brought the idea to the Board and they agreed, it was time to go east.

Were there choices, challenges and consequences along the way? Absolutely. Here’s just a few:

  • Ten out of 50 states had a travel ban for government employees to North Carolina, yet the decision-making around that travel ban made IAP2’s core values all the more important to share there.
  • There was no established chapter, which put more work on fewer volunteers and on our event team.
  • We set a higher-than-usual conference sponsorship goal, so IAP2 USA could start a new decade just months away stronger and more able to take on the goals in its strategic plan
  • We launched a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), creating a new lens to design, plan and select conference workshops and sessions
  • And in the background, we needed to select and on-board a new management team, while conference planning continued full steam ahead

With each challenge, more heroes arrived just like heroes would do. It’s because of them that we have this good news to report: the conference nearly sold out; sponsorship goals were exceeded; new conference content, presenters and partnerships were developed; and two great people joined our management team.

But there was one last challenge: it came in the form of a hurricane named Dorian. Being from the land of earthquakes and wildfires, living with this lurker was new to me. Despite its devastation further south and east, life in the days before the conference in Charlotte was continuing as normal—bands marched in parades, quarterbacks threw footballs, florists set-up wedding sites, children played in fountains and locals walked their dogs. These were stark relief to non-stop news that made the whole state sound like a state of disaster.

In the end, Dorian didn’t come to Charlotte, and nearly all of us who had registered for the conference did. Because of that, we have a collective story. We put ourselves into the local scene and challenged ourselves to learn. We re-envisioned ideal cities and shared what made them so. We considered our backgrounds and our futures, as well as what we do not yet know. First-timers met long-timers, east coasters met west coasters, northerners met southerners.

Every step of the way, there was a sense of discovery. That was the happy ending taking shape. Maybe it was relief of overcoming the challenges of a hurricane. But, I think it was caused by something else—by discovering or rediscovering the simple truth that what we do matters.

It matters to how decisions are made about health, energy, transportation, safety, land use, education, natural resources, and food supply for a start. It matters to the people making these decisions and to the people impacted by these decisions. It matters to how we learn from the past and how we course correct. It matters to the next generation that will live with what is decided now. The conference gave us a touchpoint for our vision that good decisions can be made together. It confirmed we’re on this quest together from coast to coast.

Almost immediately, there are new signs of growth:

  • In 2020, we will grow from one symposium a year to two. One will be held in Sacramento in March 2020 and a second in Atlanta, Georgia in the late fall.
  •  We’ve launched a new tradition to support a local organization in our conference’s host-city. The Levine Museum of the New South helped us start this tradition and IAP2 Canada is interested in continuing it for the 2020 conference planning in Banff.
  • We’ve on-boarded our new management team. So, for the first time in our history we’ll have three senior managers, who can each focus on an aspect of the organization’s management and ongoing development. They will help us meet our members’ needs and grow the culture of public participation across the country. 

After the conferencing and its follow-on Board meetings were all finished, I got on a plane to head back to what is my home. As we touched down on the little tarmac that is San Diego’s International Airport, I looked out the cabin window to see it was in fact sunset. It was a perfect ending to the story of this week.  I couldn’t help but think it’s good to be on this journey and its even better to be on it with you.

Thanks for all your efforts. What you’re doing matters.

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