I have always agreed with the President that the best ideas don’t just come from Washington. The Office of Public Engagement creates and coordinates opportunities for direct dialogue between the Obama Administration and the American public because we believe that individuals and communities across the United States offer innovative, dynamic ideas to help address the challenges of the 21st century.
At last Friday’s White House Community Partnership Summit in Orlando, Florida I witnessed first-hand the fantastic forum that these summits create for a two-way dialogue. Over 400 people convened to discuss multiple topics in 53 different discussion sessions, including Community Health Workforce & Jobs; Engaging Civilian Community in Ways to Support Military Families; Employment, Jobs, & Entrepreneurism; and LGBT Community - Engaging in Issues of equality, bullying and raising HIV awareness, particularly among minorities; to name a few.
I joined a conversation focused on civic engagement on college campuses that was led by Dr. Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of South Florida. Several Florida college students and representatives from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) participated in this break-out session. While the conversation started with the Administration officials answering questions, it quickly evolved into the group asking the college students about how federal programs and initiatives could be better tailored and marketed to college students. I found it fascinating to see how the open agenda allowed for participants in the conversation to own part of the session. Over the course of the conversation, nearly every participant had the chance to both teach and learn, to serve as an expert in one area and to get their questions answered in another.
One of the day’s participants recorded his impression of the Open Space process on Uservoice, our online forum, writing, “The open spaces model is one that helps the federal government have a helpful, but limited role in bringing people together… It is appropriate that the White House bring the people together to discuss national issues and I have great hope for the civic tradition that locally driven discussion and action like this can engender.”
I couldn’t agree more and look forward to further discussions with community leaders across the country.
Jon Carson is the Director of the Office of Public Engagement.