”We have a history for being passionate about injustice in our communities. We also have a history of channeling that passion into self-destructive and ineffective behavior. With more community people properly trained to guide those passions into a positive, legal and organized effort to seek the justice that all people are guaranteed by God and the US Constitution, we would all be better served.”
If you drive through the streets of Austin, you will see juxtaposed living situations—model luxury homes next to homes that are older and in need of maintenance. When the Austin Code Department was initiated, the message for our office was that of awareness – “call Austin 311 to report violations.” But our team realized that we were treating the symptoms and not addressing possible solutions or preventing the violations.
In 2018, we shifted our mindset from “report your neighbor” to learning more about the codes and empowering individuals with resources and information to not only avoid violations but live in a safer environment, which is the end-goal for the department.
Our department is largely complaint-driven. We get a complaint, and our inspector goes out to investigate. We decided to become more pro-active, by creating a “heat map” to see the areas with a high incidence of complaints, and then we focus our outreach on the “hottest” areas.
POSITION: Sr. Strategic Communications Coordinator, HDR; formerly Sr. Strategic Communications & Community Engagement Specialist, City of Charlotte.
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
My career has always included elements of public participation but I formally started learning and applying P2 principles in 2016 in my role with the City of Charlotte’s long-range capital investment program. My career has been centralized in Charlotte, NC in non-profit, government and consulting work.
I currently work as a Sr. Strategic Communications Corridor with HDR. As we deliver complex transportation and water infrastructure projects, my role encompasses working with all levels of the community to make sure they understand the project, how they can provide meaningful feedback and see how their collective feedback was used.
Gwen Happ recently took on the job of secretary of IAP2 USA. “I was part of the early years with IAP2,” she says. “I was there during a period when the organization was experiencing slow steady growth and then… a stall… and declining membership. I’m so glad to see the organization turning it around and membership growing to where we are now.”
So now, let’s meet Gwen (Happ) Howard.
POSITION President, Catalyst Inc., and co-founder of Rocky Mountain Center for Positive Change.
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked? I started doing community outreach work for a statewide non-profit where the high point was the Colorado Mine Walk, a walk across much of the state to raise awareness of mining issues.
I then went to graduate school in Water Resources Management with a concentration in economics and decided to look for a consulting gig. Marty Rozelle saw my resume; liked the combination of public outreach, water resources and economics; and hired me to join her in the Phoenix office of Dames & Moore, an international engineering and environmental consulting firm.
While I started out doing a mix of water resources, economics and public involvement, I found public involvement to be the most dynamic; I discovered that data and tables weren’t my sweet spot after all. And, it was fun to be in on the ground floor of an evolving field. Thanks to Marty’s leadership, Dames & Moore was one of the few firms at that time (in the mid-80’s) that was committed to public involvement as a core strength. At one point, one of the founders, Bill Moore, Sr., commented that he could hire many engineers to do the same job, but that public involvement required more unique skills and capabilities. (Many well-known members of IAP2 – John Godec, Debra Duerr, and Jeanne Lawson – worked with us at Dames & Moore.)
I worked at the Phoenix office from 1984 to ’88, then moved to manage the Denver public involvement practice. In 1998, I formed my own firm, Catalyst Inc. I am still President of that company but my passion these days is the Rocky Mountain Center for Positive Change, where I specialize in Appreciative Inquiry. IAP2 helped me develop my competency in and passion for Appreciative Inquiry, first giving me the opportunity to bring it to the organization as program chair for the 2004 conference in Madison and then, honoring my first Appreciative Inquiry project, the City of Longmont citywide strategic plan, with the Project of the Year award in 2006. More recently, I was delighted to launch the 2017 Denver conference with an appreciative “we-note,” focused on connecting participants with each other and their hopes for the conference.
Can you think of any big wins – or projects that were “lessons-learned”?
My first project at Dames & Moore was both! I was the recorder at a meeting that went badly off the rails and then turned into a great success story. Those who have taken the IAP2 Foundations training will recall the landfill case study. The disastrous standing-room only meeting with the woman lighting the landfill liner on fire was my first public meeting experience with my new firm. That night, I thought that I had made a really bad career choice.
The story is that the County needed a new landfill site. They identified a few sites and then went to the public to announce them. There was no prior contact, and people were furious! People were concerned about property values and water quality and traffic and noise.
One of our technical experts passed around a piece of the liner that was going to be used to prevent landfill waste from leaching into the soil. A woman went outside and set a match to it. She brought this burning hunk back into the meeting and declared, “See? This liner won’t protect us! It burns!”
Of course, that was a triumph of perception over reality: as a landfill liner, it wouldn’t have had enough oxygen to burn, but the image was there.
So, we hit the “pause” button.
With Dames & Moore’s guidance, the county convened an advisory committee and took them through a credible siting process. There were also larger public meetings, and in the end, the committee helped select a preferred alternative. The process turned into such a success, that the Environmental Protection Agency used it in a manual on solid waste management.
Another high point was in Canada, working on Calgary’s GoPlan. In response to a transportation project that went horribly wrong (complete with a road going nowhere), the Calgary City Council adopted principles for public involvement. They were fairly lofty principles, too, so when we came in as the public involvement consultants, we designed a process that lived up to those principles. Calgary gave us the luxury of conducting interviews and research before designing the public involvement process (imagine that!) and it mattered. Working with Lonny Gabinet and Terry Koch, we were able to reach 100,000 people – and this was in the days before the internet.
Far more important than the number of people reached was the credibility of the process. One of the things we did was convene a community-based coordinating committee that helped with the public outreach. They facilitated meetings, went to events, conducted surveys and became the face – and, especially the ears – of the project.
GoPlan also benefited from a substantive relationship between the city, the consultants and the community members. We had milestone meetings at each of four decision points: the community committee members, half of city council and the staff team came together to reach consensus on how to move forward.
GoPlan opened the door for Calgary to do their Engage project, one of the first communities to engage the community to determine how to ….well, engage the community. Engage! is still a significant strength of the city’s culture today.
How do you see the state of dialogue in America these days?
Like everyone, I’m distressed by how tribal we’ve become. We’ve learned to see people who disagree with us as the enemy or the “other”. Early in my career, I felt that people placed a much higher value on fairness than they do today. In the past, if people felt that we were sincere and had designed a fair process, they could accept outcomes even if they weren’t in their individual best interest. I see that less today, and it makes collaborative processes considerably more difficult.
Why do you think we’ve gotten this tribal?
There’s the influence of politics in an era when you can reach lots of people with similar interests or values through the internet and TV. I think the internet has helped drive people into their silos. Another factor is that we are so busy today, that we don’t take time to dig deeply into issues, so we’re vulnerable to superficial messaging.
But I’m an optimist and I specialize in Appreciative Inquiry, so I believe that with crisis comes opportunity and sometimes our cages need to get rattled so we can see what’s going on. I try to flip the problem to an opportunity, so I think we have an opportunity now to look at how we interact with each other and how to make democracy work again.
I was just presenting at the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation conference in Denver about an appreciative inquiry process to develop a culturally inclusive vision for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. It was challenging because we were engaging people who didn’t have a relationship with the museum, many of whom viewed the museum as an edifice of white privilege. Four community members joined us to present at the conference. They said they were honored to be invited to help transform the museum and that they were able to see that the museum not only listened to them but acted on what they suggested. In the end, we heard people say that the process transformed their lives. Their enthusiasm and commitment gave me a lot of hope.
What’s on your plate these days?
I’m doing more and more Appreciative Inquiry work and training. I just finished a project for a school district using Appreciative Inquiry to develop a strategic plan. More than 7000 people contributed to the plan’s development in just seven months, culminating in a large “summit” event with almost 250 people. I am proud of that work because I believe we were innovative in integrating impactful in-person interviews and meetings with online inquiries. The plan had substantive community and staff support within the District, and …. drum roll please … just last week, voters approved a ballot initiative to fund the prioritized investments that were identified in the strategic plan.
What did it mean to receive the Greater Good Award this year?
It was gratifying and humbling at the same time.
If I could imagine the award I’d want to receive, it would be called the Greater Good Award – for mentoring and advancing positive change — and it is especially gratifying coming from IAP2 since I’ve had some of my best and most rewarding experiences with this organization.
Those of us who started decades ago have gone from being called the “milk-and-cookies lady” and having our work referred to as “fluff” to becoming key strategic partners. IAP2 has done a phenomenal job of raising the status of public participation as a profession, and I am proud of my part in that, especially helping to create the IAP2 Foundations training, as a developer of the Techniques course and a “master” trainer.
It made me especially happy to get the award in Canada, because one of my peak IAP2 experiences was the initial train-the-trainer academy for the first class of Foundations trainers in Kananaskis (Alberta). We had so much fun and got to innovate on the fly. Many of the people who are superstar trainers today were in that academy. At that time, IAP2 training was still in the incubator stage, and it has since blossomed so beautifully. I’m proud to have been one of many sparks to make that happen.
The humbled part comes from following on the footsteps of Jim Creighton’s receiving this award in Denver. So many have contributed so much to grow our practice and IAP2 as an organization. I am also humbled by the promise of how today’s emerging leaders in public participation will take our profession to the next level, to be recognized as a major force in building and rebuilding the public voice and influence in the world.
If you had something to say to someone just starting in the business …
- Embrace the power of relationships. I am often inspired by a short quote from a storyteller in Denver, Opalanga Pugh, “Connection before content.” These days, I realize that I may have undervalued the importance of nurturing our connections as people in my early days in this field. That was probably my economist/scientist ego speaking but I now realize that people connections are foundational to positive change.
- Fully understand the decision-making process, because that’s what makes public participation strategic, moving from being an activity or an event to truly influencing decisions.
- Have fun finding your treasured friends within IAP2. I do believe that other professions are often more competitive than ours. At our best, we collaborate and support each other, focused on advancing the higher purpose and impact of our work…and having fun along the way.
POSITION: Community Relations Analyst, City of Raleigh, North Carolina; member, 2019 IAP2 North American Conference Planning Committee
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked? Overall, I have worked in the P2 field for 10 years. I currently work in the City of Raleigh’s Community Engagement Division as a Community Relations Analyst. Previously, I worked for a local non-profit as a Policy & Outreach Program Coordinator.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place? I have always been a ‘people person’ and ‘problem solver’ so, naturally working in public service was the right fit. I genuinely enjoy empowering residents and allowing the opportunities for their voice to be heard. I believe there is power in being open to different perspectives and lived experiences.
I first learned about IAP2 from a past Administrator who came across the information online. In hopes of learning more, I attended the 2017 IAP2 conference in Denver, Colorado and it was a whirlwind of information! I met other like-minded professionals from across the world who were excited about taking public participation to the next level.
Tell us a bit about your public engagement experience before joining the City
I worked for a non-profit that did a lot of juvenile justice outreach and education. One of the main focus areas was how create a continuum of care for youth who found themselves in the juvenile court system. They might get into a fight at school, or involved with drugs: maybe there’d be mental health issues involved. They would be assigned to a court counsellor, but there was a lot of time between identifying the problem and anything being done about it.
So, I was part of a group working on the situation. See, this was happening in rural North Carolina, and we were coming in from Raleigh, which is a major city. So, the first thing we had to do was establish a rapport with the people to find out who they were and what they needed. We held different events, like focus groups and one-on-one conversations. There’s a large population of Native Americans, so we had to find out who the leadership was and reach out to them. We also had to identify who impacted these children’s lives, family advocates, the school system, elected officials, social services, representatives of the court system, mental health professionals and so on. We had to ask, “Who needs to be at the table who isn’t here?”
After the first couple of large group meetings, we realized everyone was working in silos. For example: the child would get into trouble with the police and the police wouldn’t contact the school; so, the child goes back to school and gets in trouble again. So, the lowest-hanging fruit – the easiest solution — was to break down the silos and create a continuum of communication.
The system was changed so that, as soon as an incident occurred, the juvenile court counsellor would be called, and within three or four days, the youth would receive mental health assessments, and before the youth went before a judge, teachers, court counsellors, police, parents, would have met to discuss the situation.
We began to partner with other nonprofits in the area that provided services the child and their family could utilize. It was amazing, and I was excited to be part of it for three-and-a-half years.
How would you describe the City of Raleigh’s move towards embracing P2? Was it a “culture shift”? How long did it take? Was there a particular incident that spurred the city to engage the public more? Was there a particular decision-maker who was responsible?
No one specific event spurred our move to more engagement. In 2015, our City Council members adopted a five-year strategic plan. The Strategic Plan has six key focus areas which reflect the current and future identity and character of the city. The plan contains citywide objectives and strategic initiatives needed to support the key focus areas. One focus area is “safe, vibrant and healthy community”, with an initiative focused on “Strengthening neighborhoods’ social fabric through community outreach, engagement and communication.” Community Engagement is a hot topic these days.
The City of Raleigh has just over 450,000 people. It’s very diverse and growing every day. We can’t grow out anymore, so we’re growing up, with lots of high rises and people from up north moving down to Raleigh because of the cost of living up there. We’re a “city inside of a park”, with lots of greenspace, diverse cultural events, universities and higher-education institutions.
All of our departments touch residents in different ways, and they all have different ways of engaging. As part of City Council’s desire to strengthen community engagement and communication, staff began researching different community engagement models to implement citywide. Part of our discussion over the long term is to have a toolkit – a framework for engagement – to streamline that process. We’re fairly new to the IAP2 model in Raleigh – it’s a work in progress.
Going to the conferences was very helpful to me, realizing that the process of implementing P2 is different for every city. It takes time and you must make sure every voice is at the table.
The City of Edmonton inspired me. I saw their presentation at the 2017 conference in Denver and I realized this was where we were trying to go – in some ways, we just hadn’t put a name on it yet.
That’s what I love about IAP2 – people are “open source” – open to sharing best practices and “this is what worked for us”. People truly care about improving public engagement.
Have you had any “big wins”?
- The City of Raleigh has taken advantage of the IAP2 USA Government Membership program.
- My supervisor and I completed the Foundations & Techniques trainings.
- A newly formed relationship with the City of Charlotte blossomed out of attending the 2017 Conference. There are discussions regarding the formation of a IAP2 chapter on the east coast.
- Some City of Raleigh staff are on the 2019 IAP2 North American Conference planning committee.
Have you had any “golden learning moments”? I have had several “learning moments” over the past year.
- The Foundations Course taught me the fundamentals of planning for good engagement & provided detailed materials to use as a reference. Good public participation takes time & must include a well thought- out process.
- Implementing IAP2 into the way you do business is going to be a culture shift. “Change the language, change the culture”. It will not be a quick process and looks different for each organization.
- The Core Values are useful to public engagement professionals when developing and implementing public participation processes. These Values help inform better decisions that reflect the interests and concerns of potentially affected people and entities.
- During the 2018 conference, the importance of organizations building relationships and rapport with citizens prior to projects was emphasized. Engagement should be ongoing with citizens no matter if there is a special project or not.
What does it mean to have the North American Conference come to North Carolina next year? It’s the first time the conference has been held on the East Coast, and it’s coming to Charlotte, with involvement from Raleigh.
It’s exciting because there’s a lot of great work being done on the east coast. I’ve been to smaller conferences on the theme of community engagement, so having IAP2 come to North Carolina will bring necessary information to take their engagement to the next level. It will definitely pique other municipalities and government organizations. Charlotte is well-known, and people will come to see the place.
There have been lots of discussions on an East Coast IAP2 chapter, and this will spur the growth. We’re sending invitations to everyone, so they can hear about the great work being done and hear the stories at the conferences. People on my side of the country need to hear about it – especially those in public service who are “Working for the Greater Good.” We want to provide the resources and information. I see how IAP2 has blossomed and grown on the West Coast and in Canada, and it’s a great opportunity for others to see the great things we’re doing here.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
The IAP2 Core Values and Code Ethics really help inform my work & role when I am part of interdepartmental teams tasked with engaging the public. I have internalized the IAP2 principles and reflected on how they will impact my work. It has changed the way I communicate with my teams, I bring the spectrum & other IAP2 materials to the meetings as a reference.
POSITION Partner in charge of engagement and communications, Cityworks
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
I have been in P2 for 25 years: I’ve had three jobs in my career – two of them, in P2. The first was at PC World Magazine where I worked my way up to Assistant Editor before becoming a freelancer for a year or so for them. Then I landed my first job in P2 at the San Diego Mediation Center, doing community mediation. My longest job has been at CityWorks. We’re an inter-disciplinary team of a dozen people on staff – six on the engagement side and six on the design side.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?
I started out going to law school at the University of San Diego. I actually went to law school because I thought I wanted to be a journalist, covering legal issues. But then I learned about mediation and started volunteering at a local mediation organization. It’s through that work that I found out about public involvement, and forgot all about journalism.
I didn’t forget about it entirely: as I’ve practised P2, it became really clear that providing information was key and the journalism aspect was important to accurately distill complex information into language people could understand and use.
Basically, in law school I got really interested in how people solved problems. Mediation was supposed to be early conflict resolution; so I view P2 is early-early conflict resolution. And that fascinated me. I like involving people to head off a conflict before it starts or takes hold.
One of my first projects was working with the Economic Development Department with the City of San Diego. We were coordinating with the Public Works Department to revitalize older business districts. We helped on beautification projects in communities to strengthen the main streets in these neighborhoods, and help them recover from the past three decades when malls sucked business away from them. That led to working on streetscape and public art projects, as well as public transit and land use planning projects.
Have you had any “big wins”?
An early win in my career was helping a working group establish a non-harassment policy for sexual orientation at a Catholic university, which prevented potential litigation. In the last decade, we helped San Diego build a culture around water conservation and exceed its water conservation goals.
Recently, we helped the economically disadvantaged area of Encanto develop the state’s first near net-zero master plan for its community. That project was funded by the California Energy Commission. In it, we supported the local non-profit organization that was the lead, along with its partners of the school district and the University of California, San Diego. Our role was to design an engagement plan for the project manager, including its supporting communications, facilitate a stakeholder advisory group and project team meetings, and support the final editing of the master plan document.
A career highlight is being on the IAP2 USA board and working with the quality people that manage the board and are on it. I’ve been the chair of the Communications Committee for the past two years, and we have had two major initiatives that I hope are helping all of our members and grow the culture of P2 as a whole. The first initiative was to simplify how we talk about P2, so the non-practitioner “everyday-person” can understand it. That’s our Brand Initiative, based on the messaging, “Pursuing the greater good: good decisions made together.” Those phrases can work separately or together and are meant to inspire us to continually strive do our best. It expresses our role in the marketplace of other organizations and the benefit of good p2. In fact, IAP2 Canada has picked up on the same idea with “inspiring better decisions together.” That means North America is starting to talk in the same way about P2 — phrased around benefits of good decision-making.
The other initiative is launching a new Ambassador Program to help share that message across the country, raise the profile of IAP2, and describe how to have good P2. We’re piloting the program this summer through the end of the year. In the current polarized climate, it’s a challenge; but those challenges are also opportunities. Mainly, they are opportunities because people are searching for an answer and for a way to do something positive. IAP2 can give guidance on how to help them move forward together. Really, we’re all having one experience and we need ways to tell one another about it and work together.
Have you had any “golden learning moments” – any time when something has gone wrong and you’ve learned from it?
There have been times when our clients wanted to do what they were familiar with rather than what might work best for the situation and their objectives. In those times, we try to talk through the benefits of limiting or expanding the public involvement process and present possible scenarios to them, so that they have clear understanding of the consequences of the choices. They need to know what to expect, and think through how to manage those expectations with people above and around them.
Have you ever been tempted to just walk away from a project?
Sure. I think we all have. My first challenge was when I got my first phone number for our firm back in the 1990’s. I wanted to create a section in the Yellow Pages for public involvement, but it didn’t exist that way. Now, there’s the internet, so there isn’t that hoop to jump through. I’ve also learned that a client usually isn’t one person: it’s the project manager and everyone around them – up the chain, peers that are lateral to them, and the people that support them. So, we’re always looking to understand and engage the whole system of a client; it puts ourselves in their shoes and that helps us understand them and them trust us.
What does having your CP3 mean to you?
I feel good about being evaluated by my peers and hearing from them what they see in my skills. So often, we are operating in our own little box, so it’s good to go through a process with peers. It’s hard to have objective perspective on our own practice because it’s so close to home that it is actually home. Having outside perspective of peers who are committed to the quality of the practice sheds some new light on aspects of our practice that have become so familiar that they aren’t thought of.
I’m also really proud of helping the organization grow this next phase of P2 of having standards and having IAP2 recognized for those standards. I think the certification is helpful to my company and to the organization. When people see that new acronym “CP3” by my name, they ask, “What’s that?” That question is an opportunity to describe what CP3 means and what good P2 is all about.
Also, an unexpected benefit of going through the certification process is that it has improved my skills. It reminded me of things I had forgotten and brought forth some new approaches that I hadn’t yet incorporated into my practice. I know I’m delivering better service as a result.
What’s next on your plate?
We’re doing a lot of work in water planning and in sustainability generally – we’re really excited about that. I’m also looking at the steps to becoming a P2 trainer, as part of helping extend this practice across more communities.
And I’m bringing more writing into my day, both professionally and creatively. I’ve just had my first creative writing published in the anthology by San Diego Writers, Ink., a non-profit group. In creative writing, there’s no budget or scope so there’s a lot of freedom. A blank page is the biggest open-ended question there is. Part appreciative inquiry, part facilitation, part problem-solving. It’s a great metaphor for taking the risk to ask those open questions: what do you care about, why do you care about it, what would you like to see, what are you willing to contribute, what are you willing to change. Those are needed in writing and in P2, and I think needed in life generally.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
Join our community! You don’t have to go it alone. You can be part of this community and have a lot of support and have a lot of people to help you figure out the challenges that come along.
POSITION: Program Associate, American Planning Association
Where have you worked?
I currently work for the American Planning Association in the Professional Practice department. Most of my job responsibilities involve administration of the AICP Certification programs, exam prep services and anything else related to AICP.
The project that introduced me to P2 is our Community Planning Assistance Team (CPAT) program. CPAT is APA’s pro bono technical assistance program that recruits members with a specific expertise to assist communities that lack planning resources. One major aspect of every CPAT is a community engagement event involving P2. (Read more)
How long have you been in P2? What turned you on to P2 in the first place?
I joined IAP2 USA about three years ago after learning about it when a team leader on a CPAT I coordinated mentioned it. The team leader, Marijoan “MJ” Bull, spoke positively about the organization and demonstrated her P2 expertise during the community meetings. That project opened my eyes to the scope of P2 and the need to learn more so I could increase my contributions as a Project Coordinator during CPATs.
I’m currently serving on the national Training Committee and the Midwest Chapter Board as the secretary. These opportunities have allowed me to use my skills and experience with education programs at APA and allowing me to learn about the process from the volunteer side of association committees. One of my roles at APA is to assist various committees. Having the perspective from both sides has helped me with my own committee facilitation as a staff member.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
There is no need to learn from trial and error during your initial projects. IAP2 USA has a wide range of resources readily available to help you get started with successful P2. Also, the networking events and conferences have proved to be very useful by learning from P2 practitioners about their experiences.
POSITION: Director of Government & Community Relations Maui Electric
I believe that the public deserves a voice, and I also believe that not all governments and companies are ill-intended. There’s so much energy spent on conflict, and we have better things to do, like being with our families, having fun, pursuing personal passions; so participating with so little time and interest can get in the way. I also like that P2 is a good way to guide a process to a good resolution.
Assistant Research Scientist, Texas A&M Transportation Institute
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
I started with Morris Communications in Portland, Maine. I was an English major, with a knack for writing, so after I graduated I took this job as my primary role was producing meeting minutes. I was immediately interested in the field and planning and public engagement and my role with MC grew from taking meeting minutes, to being involved in all aspects of the P2 process, as well as the planning activities for the projects we worked on.
I went to graduate school at the University of Texas, Austin, to earn my masters in Urban Planning and when I went to TTI, I found a mix of planning and applied P2. At TTI, we conduct research that improves the state of the practice for P2 by allowing us to test innovative methods in the field. This includes developing and testing performance measures for P2 and incorporating more technology into public involvement processes.
One example was a virtual open house we designed for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), where we used a live chat feature to replicate the experience of an in person public meeting in a virtual setting.
What was the state of P2 when you first arrived in Texas?
When I moved there five years ago, I was curious to see whether the culture of public involvement would be different from the Northeast. The transportation agencies in Central Texas were doing a lot of work, as the region is growing rapidly. The challenge in Central Texas, which I found was not unique to this area, was bringing together the many different interests throughout the region.