Future Search The Method

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The Challenge of Being a Public Official

Elected and appointed officials are pulled in many directions with more and more interest groups clamoring for their voices to be heard and needs to be met. Agencies, throughout government, are challenged with including these voices in both planning and implementation. Often, the way this is done can determine success or failure. In addition, it is impossible for governmental agencies to act in isolation anymore. Agencies with overlapping mandates are forced to consider joint planning efforts.

Here's a story about how one agency successfully faced these challenges.

Community Partners for Urban Mobility, Salt Lake City, Utah

The Utah Transportation Authority had been struggling with the fact that the public expected them to solve everyone's transit problems. Agency leaders knew they couldn't do this alone. They had to get more information about people's transit needs, wanted this to happen in a non-adversarial way and knew they couldn’t go forward without the support and collaboration of local jurisdictions and interest groups.

They decided to join together with other agencies in the region to organize a future search. After months of making sure that all voices were included, this group, Community Partners for Urban Mobility, brought together local officials, transit riders, special needs riders, community groups, state political leaders and others for the future search with an invitation to "Join the Revolution on Transit Issues along the Wasatch Front of Eastern Utah."

The conference resulted in participants developing a deeper understanding of the complexity of the situation and why there was a need for broad participation and cooperation. Local elected officials learned how they could fit into the picture; local interest groups found out they could affect the outcome through real participation in planning and implementation rather than opposition. One transit official said at the de-briefing with facilitators, "I know my action team's work is going to make a difference. This is worth many times the effort we put into it."

Click here to read article on Urban Mobility.

Getting all the Voices in the Room

At every level of government some level of public participation, if done successfully, can greatly improve the process. Whether the public needs to be directly involved or not, most cases of project planning or implementation require hearing from a number of critical voices.

Here are some examples where effective stakeholder involvement can greatly improve the process:

  • Planning, zoning, or other similar public processes.

  • Developing or amending a general plan.

  • Implementing a general plan in areas such as housing.

  • Regional planning on issues such as transportation, land use, economic development or sewage disposal.

  • Departmental re-organization, closure or merger.

  • Building a new agency, bringing in a new top manager, establishing a new commission or learning to work with a new group of elected officials.

  • Improving and implementing service delivery systems.

  • Commercial expansion, real estate development or other projects requiring public approval.

  • Environmental and development issues.

  • Community planning.

  • Economic development.

How Future Search Can Help Government

Future search focuses on commonly shared values to generate vision and action. Participants build a commitment to action from a shared foundation. They are encouraged to speak from their own experience, thus acknowledging everyone's reality, perception and experience. Full participation results in broad buy-in to the outcomes of the process. This avoids the trap many governments get into where they are unable to effectively implement the outcomes of planning efforts because they haven't built a consensus of support.

Future search could be called democracy in action. Planners, politicians, community members, government personnel, business people, public safety agencies, non-profits and others join together in a common, focused conversation, giving each a chance to fully voice their perspective. People of all races, ages, demographic cultures and economic means come together to work collaboratively. Diversity shifts from being a problem, to becoming a constructive ally. Future search builds the kind of involvement and shared ownership that drives sustainable, positive and implementable results.

"If the two action teams I was part of accomplish what they have set out to do, this future search will have been worth every penny we spent on it."

Jerry Benson
Director of Human Resources
Utah Transit Authority

Some Government Agencies that have used Future Search:

  • Boulder, Colorado Dept of Public Works
  • Utah Transit Authority, Salt lake City, Utah
  • California State and Utah Regional Transportation Systems
  • The United States Forest Service
  • Sonora County, California Board of Supervisors
  • Centers for Disease Control
  • Delaware State Police
  • Ramsey County, Minnesota Welfare Reform
  • US Army
  • US Federal Judicial Center







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