World Cafe in Webster

Today we had the opportunity to facilitate a special event with the Webster Chamber of Commerce on behalf of one of our newest clients, the Webster Community Coalition for Economic Development (WCCED). Due to a stand out submission by the Coalition’s Executive Director, Matt Chatfield, Webster was recently recognized by Frontier Communications as one of America’s 50 Best Communities (ABC) through the America’s Best Communities Prize Competition. The ABC Prize Competition is a multi-year process during which Webster (Town and Village) was selected in the top 50 from over 400 communities in 27 states.

The recognition includes an award of $35,000 from Frontier Communications to WCCED for use in the development of a Community Revitalization Plan. WCCED is facilitating the development of Webster’s plan to compete against the remaining 49 communities for position as one of eight finalists taking home $100,000 to help kick-start plan implementation. Frontier Communications will then award grand prizes of up to $3 million to the communities that create and implement the most successful revitalization strategies.

Last month, we facilitated several planning exercises with area high school students, and our job today was to solicit ideas for the Community Revitalization Plan from members of the Webster Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber provided a full breakfast, and Matt kicked off the meeting with an overview of the contest.

Once they had the background on ABC, we jumped right into our exercise.

Matt and I designed a one-hour agenda around a facilitation method called World Cafe. World Cafe is a structured conversational process intended to facilitate open and intimate discussion, and link ideas within a larger group to access the collective intelligence in the room. Participants move between a series of tables where they continue the discussion in response to a set of questions.

Our questions were:

  1. What is Webster’s competitive advantage in relation to its peers?
  2. What do you think government should be doing to improve Webster’s competitive advantage?
  3. What do you think small business should be doing to improve Webster’s competitive advantage?
  4. How should Webster best invest the $3 million prize from America’s Best Communities to support our small businesses?

We warmed up with the first question as a large group, and spent about ten minutes brainstorming a list of things that provide a competitive advantage for Webster, such as access to parks and the lake, a strong transportation network, and quality schools.

Then we split the room into three groups and they spent 12 minutes per table answering the final three questions. We came up with an enormous list of ideas, reported back to the larger room, and then asked everyone to place a star or dot next to the item that was their biggest priority.

Did I mention that the entire Highland Planning staff attended this meeting? All three of us. That was actually unprecedented. We had never facilitated a meeting together. Here is a photo of Jen providing an overview of the ideas generated around question #4.

In just one hour, we generated a lot of great ideas and created a lot of support for this contest. The business owners were enthusiastic about the discussion, Webster’s competitive advantages, and how they would spend $3 million.

The next step is to type up all the input for Matt to incorporate in his planning process…. and plan the next meeting! This process has been so fun and we are feeling very positive about the engagement process and Webster’s chances of making it to the next round of the competition.

We’ll keep you posted as we attend more events this summer.

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