A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Get On Board: Sarasota County's Decision Making Simulation

I spent three hours in Venice this afternoon participating in a simulation called "Get on Board" -- a play on words meant to suggest both participation (getting on board) and insight into the realities of what it might be like to be a  County Commissioner -- getting on the board. 

The simulation was run by Collaborative Labs from St. Petersburg College and they had a fairly well-oiled operation designed to enable citizen teams to grapple with simplified versions of decisions real boards might face. 

My team (#14) consisted of myself, Caroline, Virginia, John, Shelley, and Rosemary. During introductions I was pleasantly surprised to learn many of us treasured canoeing or kayaking on the Myakka. 

We sat around a circular table that was nearly covered with an unrolled game board depicting Serene County. Then we were asked to read a series of scenarios and chose among alternatives. Through three scenarios, my choice only became the group choice once, but I was gratified by my results in an earlier portion of the program when we were asked to identify citizen priorities  for Sarasota County. 

In that early segment, there were seven "service areas" or categories and we were asked (as individuals) to identify the top three priorities. Then we each voted using 'clickers' and quickly saw the aggregate result. I made choices not based on what I thought others might choose, but on what I thought they should be. If my picks were identical to the assembled groups then I would have scored 21/21. As it turned out, I ended up at 19/21, suggesting my priorities were very congruent with those of the citizens present. 

At any rate, each of our choices brought with it financial implications and changed our scores on three scales: courage, collaboration, and communication. 

Near the end of the afternoon we were asked to identify some things citizens could do in each of those three arenas. In terms of citizen courage we started with ideas that focused on citizens speaking up and getting involved. By the end we added that it takes courage to look beyond narrow interests to recognize and consider the interests of a broader community.

And that ability, to get beyond "what's in it for me?" to "how will this affect the larger community?" is probably one of the intended outcomes of the afternoon. 

I'm glad I went, but I was hoping for material that was more Sarasota specific. I began imagining an online game/process that citizens could be involved in. Rather than than ambitiously trying to hit all the 'service areas' it might work to have a specific case history to tackle. 

This week's hot topic, Paid Beach Parking, came to mind. I could see different groups being given different starting conditions in terms of budget shortfalls, beach needs, parking fees, and the number of objecting emails. By varying parameters, we could collectively explore where everyone 'draws the line' -- switching positions from for to against or vice versa. 

That might really simulate what it is like to be a County Commissioner. 

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