Community Visioning for the Future

3 06 2010

One of my recent Next Decade meetings was with Vincent “Vinny” McGee. Vinny is one of my role models and mentors in the foundation world.

Vinny is currently a senior advisor at the Atlantic Philanthropies and a board member of several foundations. He began his work in philanthropy nearly 40 years ago at The DJB Foundation. For 17 years, from 1984 to 2002, he was Executive Director and Vice President at the Aaron Diamond Foundation and the Irene Diamond Fund.

The Diamonds had set three areas of focus: medical research, minority education, and culture. Interestingly, they requested that the foundation distribute all of its assets within 10 years of the death of either of them.

Within 10 years of the unexpected death of Aaron Diamond, the foundation that Vinny led had supported work of extraordinary progress in AIDS research and treatment. Vinny has now become a well-known expert on foundations that choose to “spend down” and give away all of their assets in a fixed number of years.

Because spending down is not an option for a community foundation, I asked Vinny for other advice about the future of The Denver Foundation. He had several intriguing suggestions. One of his ideas was that The Denver Foundation take a year or so and convene a community scenario-creating process. The Denver Foundation could ask people from all walks of life in the Metro Denver area to participate in thinking about where we want our region to be in the year 2030. This extensive process could include public hearings, children’s essay contest, and the involvement of civic and religious institutions.

As an example, Vinny referred me to a scenario process which he has followed in South Africa. A description of this is available at www.dinokengscenarios.co.za.

This suggestion reminded me of the first job that I had after completing my formal education. In 1979, I was hired by Colorado Governor Dick Lamm to work on his staff, and I was assigned to work on the Front Range Project. The Front Range Project was a community-based effort to examine growth along Colorado’s Front Range from 1980 to 2000. The Front Range Project was very much a community-based scenario-building effort similar to the one that Vinny recommended.

The Front Range Project created an extensive network of citizen committees. There were committees in all 13 of the Front Range counties, from Larimer County in the north (Fort Collins) to Pueblo County in the south. In addition, there were subject area committees, dealing with issues such as transportation, human services, local governments, and natural resources.

The process for selecting the county committees was particularly interesting and unusual. First, we would invite a diverse group of people to come to an organizing meeting in each county. At the organizing meeting, we would ask the participants to list the categories of people that should be represented on the county committee. Typically, participants would suggest categories such as real estate developers, environmentalists, small business owners, and union leaders.

Next, we asked organizing meeting participants to list under each category the key leaders in the county. So, they would list the key real estate developers, the key environmentalists, and so forth. Finally, we asked all of the participants to vote for their top choices in each category.

In this way, environmentalists in the room would vote for real estate developers and vice versa. The people ultimately selected for the county committees would be those who could work effectively with people representing different perspectives. In other words, the real estate developers selected for the committee were individuals most respected by environmentalists and the environmentalists selected for the committee were those most respected by real estate developers.

The resulting county committees included leaders who were able to understand and appreciate different viewpoints. Together, they created impressive visions for the future of the Front Range.

The committees were asked four questions about their county or their subject area:

• Where are we now?

• Where are we headed?

• Where do we want to be in 2000?

• How do we get there?

The visioning process like the Front Range Project has not taken place in 30 years. Is this something The Denver Foundation should organize?

David Miller, President and CEO, The Denver Foundation

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One response

3 06 2010
Rebecca Arno

David: Thank you for this thoughtful post. We did a great round of community input sessions when I was at the Daniels Fund in its early years and I hope we can do something like that here at The Denver Foundation.

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