NRV Livibility Initiative poses interesting challenges

Yesterday's kickoff meeting for the NRV Livibility Initiative brought together people with a wide range of interests and hopes for vastly different outcomes as far as the future of life in the New River Valley.

The meeting started with small group discussions of the strength and challenges of our invidiual communities, of the NRV region as a whole. It seemed that many people, including myself, had difficulty in visualizing the region as a whole and as a result it seemed that there was little concensus on what the challenges were for the region as a whole.

Trying to average the needs of a person living in a remote part of Floyd with someone living in downtown Blacksburg produces a result unusable by either.

Solutions are available of course, but my takeaway from this meeting was that a one-size-fits-all solution for any of the nine discussion areas like transportation, housing, water, etc. will meet with determined opposition from the localities that will see their quality of life being degraded by a solution that does not apply to them.

Another challenge faced by the Initiative participants is that in some cases they are trying to hit a moving target. As a community moves from a commuting lifestyle to a telecommuting lifestyle, the need for transportation drops and the demand for faster Internet services escalates. People can move to a rural area for the lifestyle and can still make a living doing what they once did at the office, but now do in their kitchen.

The biggest challengse of all is the ensuring of accurate data collection from group discussions. The volunteer faciltators seemed to have a difficult time hearing and keeping up with the sheer volume of data being provided by attendees. Unless they were really meticulous, this resulted in ideas being truncated or altered from the original ideas agreed upon by the group. A challenge of needing better roads could be summarized as needing public transportation, which is not the same challenge at all.

I was at one table where the facilitators ran good control and everyone was allowed to share their ideas. This resulted in a meeting of minds and lots of useful dialogs ensued.

I was at another table where the facilitator let everyone talk at will. As a result, a few people dominated the conversation. I heard from several sources that other tables where facilitators did not run good control were highly unproductive and were upsetting to many of the people at the table. Instead of a series of dialogs, there were opposing monologues. Additionally, at these tables the facilitators were not able to duplicate what points were being made and the notes they were taking appeared to represent their opinion. not what the participants were saying. This could have also been a result of the high noise level which made ordinary conversations nearly impossible.

These issues of meeting noise level and facilitator skill must be addressed in future meetings or there will be little confidence in the results obtained from these discussions.

All in all, I felt it was a good first effort and with a little more tuning can produce usable results to improve the quality of life in the New River Valley.

My suggestions for improving the process are:

1. Suggest appropriate solutions for unique area requirements. Do not create a general solution that degrades life in a particular area that already has a superior solution.

2. Do whatever is necessary to acquaint planning participants with the unique characteristics of each community in the NRV and what actual challenges and strengths exist in that area. Proposed solutions must fit the needs of the region involved. Avoid lunping together rural and urban areas when the needs are not similar.

3. Obtain facilitators who understand the critical importance of their role and train them to capture the data provided and not filter it in any way. In this way, the results obtained can lead to workable programs if solutions are applied as needed, not because it seems expedient.

4. Organize group discussions so that conversations can be heard. The noise level was so high at times that we could not hear people speaking to us across the table. That was probably a major contributing factor to the errors in data capture.

5. Set conservative targets for discussion times. I think that a few more minutes might have ensured a better result in terms of getting accurate data from the participants.

I am looking forward to participating in future discussions and will be interested is seeing how the NRV Initiative discussions evolve. There is much that can be done and some areas of the NRV change is needed. I would like to make sure that any areas that are happy with their situations do not suffer from imposition of a forced change that will degrade the quality of life in that area.

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0 Responses to NRV Livibility Initiative poses interesting challenges

  1. Eliz says:

    I agree with your overall review of the event, but I disagree with your conclusion. There are vast differences in our areas and communities throughout the NRV Livability Initiative’s goal is specifically to produce solutions that will apply to the whole NRV, therefor this process cannot, through its own definition, be successful.

  2. TheBeatGoesON says:

    My take on the NRV Livability Initiative held by the NRV Planning District Commission is much as you describe. I was at an outdoor table, an overflow station, as the turnout seemed to overwhelm the planners of the event. I had a difficult time hearing the speakers but when the process began, it was interesting to participate. The table at which I had been assigned had more facilitators than actual “interested local participants”. One was from the “urban” Blacksburg and my table mate, Mr. Fred First, like myself,are from opposite ends of Floyd County. It was still a worth while approach to problem identification, the pros & cons of our locales and how we envisioned our region in the coming years. Like you David, I listened to the ideas and statements become truncated into PlanSpeak using their interpretations of more WHAT they though we meant by what was said. The group changed in the mid-point to include a woman who was most (only) interested in the Little River where she had bought a home some four or five years earlier. No sooner had she joined the group (Fred had left by then) she spoke of those “damn Tea Party types” with whom she had been seated. In her rant she repeated the anti Tea Party argument and her chief complaint was their defense of “property rights”. The other objection as to why her section of the river was so fouled by nitrogen was that the Floyd side of the little River had no strength in the laws restricting use of fertilizers in farming. The “lady” went so far as to respond to my question about what to do in a perfect world by saying that the government should shut them down if need be. I would like to point out that the facilitator did call her to not interject politics into the mix. After a short while of her going on and actually being disruptive, she vanished, not seen by me again. As I moved through the room during a break later, I did notice a woman speaking with the head of the NRVPC about members at her table being rude and aggressive. It seems despite the “ground rules” of civility and polite behavior, some heated debates soiled the effort to bring people from the region together to share the ideas of what will become the future of the NRV.
    I agree with all that you have written about yesterday’s gathering and only added my “table top observations”. But the biggest concern is also that the difference between Blacksburg/ Christiansburg vs. the rural areas seems to be getting clumped into one as the same. Not even close! Light Rail talk, walking to shops and recreation areas is not likely here in Floyd. One size does not fit all. Thanks

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