This post was written by Gretchen Hammer, a previous member of our team.
Rush home. Feed the dog. Start dinner for the kids. Impatiently call my husband to see how far away he is. Check my watch. See my husband's car turn the corner. Say goodnight to the kids and jump in my car to rush to a meeting that starts in five minutes.
This has been the scene at my house three times in the last two months. It wasn't a work obligation--a conference to attend, a presentation to give, a legislator to meet--it was actually all about middle school. My local school district hosted a series of meetings about the structure of the middle schools in my area of the district, and I was intent on participating, even if it looked like I was going to be late.
It is easy to approach large meetings with a sense of dread. Meeting hosts and citizens alike can make them uncomfortable and not very productive. Plus, the timing of these particular meetings, from 6-8pm, was perhaps the most inconvenient time possible for families with working parents and school-aged children. However, what I experienced during the course of these three meetings was simply an awesome display of democracy.
Each night the room was packed with more than 100 parents from different neighborhoods in my area of Denver, as well as with high-level school district staff with expertise in planning, facility usage, transportation, the school choice process, and more. A skilled facilitator explained the goals of each meeting, set the ground rules, enforced the ground rules when necessary, kept presenters on time, and set a tone of genuine respect and productive dialogue.
Leaders and staff from the school district participated in the conversation with clear goals, great candor, and incredible humility. They were respectful and deferential to the community, yet willing to correct misinformation and to respond to questions honestly even when their answers clearly disappointed some in the crowd. Principals and teachers in the room were fierce advocates for their students. Parents in the room were willing to listen to all the facts, ask hard but appropriate questions, advocate for the needs of their own kids and families, but also think broadly about all the kids in the community.
Each night I was humbled by the opportunity to participate in such authentic civic engagement. However, I was left wondering what this would look like if the questions before the community were:
- What is the overarching goal for our local health care system?
- What are our agreed upon values that should guide our decisions?
- Who lives in our community and what are their current and projected health care needs?
- What is currently working that needs to be strengthened?
- Where do we have opportunities to improve and innovate?
As we come together with all of our partners, including those that are for-profit, nonprofit, community-based, or otherwise, to make decisions about the future, it is these kinds of questions that will support authentic engagement. I know these kinds of conversations about health care are happening in some communities in Colorado and I hope they continue. At CCMU, we are committed to supporting this kind of civic engagement; I hope someday soon I will get to walk into a packed lunchroom, auditorium or rec center and be a part of the same kind of awesome community dialogue about the local health care system.