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The Mayor’s Sustainability Summit in Harrisonburg, VA

Kai Degner just sent something to the NCDD Discussion list that I wanted to share in the blog. There’s now a great 4-minute video up that captures the energy of his Open Space “Mayor’s Sustainability Summit.”

Kai has been involved in NCDD since 2005, when he wowed us all with his innovative OrangeBand concept which encourages college students to start “conversations that matter” with each other on-the-fly about issues they care about (no tables or meetings needed!). This past year, he ran for city council in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and not only became a city councillor but won the Mayor’s seat as well due to getting the highest number of votes (by far). His campaign was based on smart growth, and on process and citizen engagement.

In his role as Mayor of Harrisonburg, Kai (who, have I mentioned, is not quite 30?!) convenes community dialogues using emergent dialogue methods such as Conversation Café and Open Space Technology. In May, Kai held a successful community-wide Open Space event called the “Mayor’s Sustainability Summit,” involving about 160 people and 120 organizations in an innovative day-long event held in public and commercial spaces throughout downtown Harrisonburg. The cost to the city? $30 for a few supplies (everything else was donated). Visit www.HarrisonburgSummits.com to learn about Kai’s summits.

In an email to the NCDD network after the event, Kai wrote:

“I’m struck how innovative people find the event to be, which is a wonderful reminder to me that no matter how obvious or useful I see these processes, there are still many folks who have no experience with these other paradigms to have community dialogues and deliberations – and this high profile seat is a way to showcase their utility while also realizing their value for our city.”

Kai just wrote to the NCDD listserv today, saying:

“I write from the Virginia Mayors Institute in Roanoke, Virginia. Yesterday afternoon, I was unexpectedly asked to present for 30 minutes in front of 35 mayors about what “citizen involvement techniques” I’m using as mayor, prompted by the statewide organizer having read about it in my local paper. I shared mainly about the Open Space meetings I’m holding, and was impressed with how engaged and interested the audience was – let that be motivation for you in your communities!”

You can also get a glimpse of Kai in this 2-minute YouTube clip of him presenting about reclaiming debate in the “D&D Marketplace” we held at the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. John Spady says:

    You go Kai!
    It's really interesting for me to see someone who has participated in NCDD and who has been exposed to many D&D options have the chance to "be the change" like Kai has. It is inspiring!

  2. Kai says:

    Thanks for the kind note, Sandy! Tomorrow, we hold our third Harrisonburg Summit. It's the Intercultural/Interfaith Summit. I'm actually nervous about whether the space will hold the turnout! Keep an eye on the event as it is captured online at http://www.HarrisonburgSummits.com

    These summits are pure Open Space Technology with a simple innovation: we create a list of "partner organizations" who lend their name (for free) to a list of participating organizations. The long list of partner organizations makes the event hard to ignore for the media, despite there being "no agenda." The other important part of the program is the summits are not one isolated event – we will have four in 2009. This allows for momentum to build, and both bridging and bonding social capital to be created.

    Another aside: a five-county regional commission became intrigued by the design and hired the Community Mediation Center, where I work, to help them with a summit on housing. We charge a fee, but they collect sponsorships. They have already earned back in sponsorships over 50% of their cost, and the event isn't for another few weeks!

  3. najeeba syeed-miller says:

    Awesome! I included it on my twitter @najeebasyeed. Wonderful to lead by example and to utilize such engagement processes in collaborative governance!

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