[CONFERENCE] Boosting Staff Enthusiasm with Stories

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Ray Chiaramonte APA award

[CONFERENCE] Boosting Staff Enthusiasm with Stories

It all came together for me at the Rail~Volution conference in Minneapolis. Is your organization like ours with a select few traveling the world collecting and sharing stories about your work while the rest of the staff remain at home relatively isolated?

I travel and collect stories. I find that they recharge my batteries and reinforce my sense of purpose. What I realized that day in Minneapolis is that the employees back at home are missing that texture and relevance and the cost was greater than I had realized. I know they work with MetroQuest for many of the same reasons I do. I wondered what I could do to help them see the impact of their work. This post is the start of that effort.

That fall day in Minneapolis, I was in the midst of my traditional fall speaking tour. From conference to conference, I was collecting and sharing stories about the impact that MetroQuest clients are having “out there” in the real world. A few weeks earlier, I was at the American Planning Association conference in Florida and, as usual, there were great stories being shared.

First off was the Dover, Kohl & Partners’ team accepting the Best Practices award for the Seven50 project. This regional visioning process, which used MetroQuest for its online engagement, was also featured earlier in 2014 at the National APA conference in Atlanta during the session titled, “Online Engagement in Planning.” Among other triumphs, this project had a public outreach that exceeded one million people!

When I asked the Dover Kohl team to pose for a photo with their award, they generously insisted that I be in the photo with them. They said that our team’s contributions were integral to the success of the project. A proud moment for MetroQuest!


The next compelling story came from Ray Chiaramonte, Executive Director of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization in Tampa, who received the award for Lifetime Achievement. The award came on an auspicious day: it was the last day for public input for his hugely successful swan song project, Imagine 2040, a regional visioningprocess for greater Tampa. It was the conversation that I had with Ray after the award ceremony which touched me most.

He told me that, with his retirement coming up quickly, he felt both urgency and a kind of fearlessness. With urban sprawl and traffic congestion at critical levels in the Tampa region, he was driven to use Imagine 2040 to create a lasting legacy for positive change. In designing the project, Ray was looking for a way to engage the general public in large numbers in a meaningful way. He talked about his faith in the wisdom of the public.

Ray said, “I believe that if you give the public good information about the tradeoffs associated with different planning alternatives, they will make smart choices every time. When I saw MetroQuest I knew it was the right tool for us. MetroQuest is easy to use and visually appealing while also providing the information that people needed to make informed choices.

“With MetroQuest, we engaged over 5,000 residents and collected a wealth of valuable input from a broad demographic. In the end over 80% voted for the most compact and transit-oriented future knowing full well that along with the benefits come trade-offs. That’s a very powerful result!”

Ray’s award was followed by the announcement that Melissa Zornitta, Assistant Director of Hillsborough MPO, would become the new President of APA Florida. She spoke with passion and pride about Imagine 2040 and walked attendees through their innovative public involvement process and how they leveraged MetroQuest to go beyond the usual suspects in their session called, “A New Track to 2040.”

Three parts of this story touched me: Ray’s pride for the success of his swan song project, Melissa’s enthusiasm in sharing their success with online engagement, and the new future vision that will guide Tampa for decades to come.

The rest of the APA Conference in Jacksonville was more of the same. From there I went on to California and collected more stories. To wrap up September, I stopped to do a presentation at the Rail~Volution transit conference in Minneapolis.

The last session was a great keynote by Hannah Ubl, who is a Generational Expert from BridgeWorks. She talked about strategies for engaging people of different demographics. It was her run down of Millennials and Gen Xers that interested me most as many of our awesome staff fall into these groups. She highlighted how important the purpose of their work is for people in these age groups. They are driven by their values and are most motivated when they see the greater purpose of their efforts being achieved.

The light went on. They need to hear these stories. They need to see the positive effect that their work is having on cities and towns around North America. I was making the mistake of saving those stories for our marketing. I realize now how important it is for those stories to be brought home.

It’s stories like this that are the “why” that drives me. I’m thrilled that they are coming in more and more frequently and I pledge to do a better job sharing them with the team at home. To the MetroQuest team: this one’s for you!

Dave Biggs

Dave is the Chief Engagement Officer of MetroQuest and an internationally-recognized author and public engagement strategist focusing on the use of software tools to enhance community participation for planning projects.

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