Voices & Choices

A Region Revitalizing Their Economy Through Citizen Engagement

One table facilitator listening to a participant at one of the tablesVoices & Choices was created by the Fund for Our Economic Future to develop a public mandate for change to produce a stronger Northeast Ohio region with more jobs and better opportunities for everyone.

Between August 2005 and the fall of 2006, Voices & Choices engaged more than 20,000 people from across a 15-county region and educated hundreds of thousands more. The result has been a greater awareness of the challenges that face Northeast Ohio as a region and a shared set of priorities to overcome those challenges, a framework for current implementation efforts.

A New Scale of Participation

Sea of participants at tables Voices & Choices was one of the largest public deliberations ever convened in the United States. The program engaged more than 20,000 people before transitioning to implementation.

By engaging thousands of people in the process, Voices & Choices created a public constituency to drive economic change. Each person who participated in the process was invited to remain active, partly through bi-weekly newsletters sent with updates on the process and ways to get involved.

Integration of Models

Voices & Choices integrated multiple models of public engagement, including 21st Century Town Meetings®, online dialogue, appreciative inquiry-based interviews, leadership forums, and decentralized community conversations.

Diagram of the four phases of Voices & Choices

Impacting the Political Environment

The scale of public participation in Voices & Choices had a dramatic impact on the political environment of the region as the notion of regional cooperation has started to take root across Northeast Ohio. For example, the Mayor of Cleveland, Frank Jackson, adopted regionalism as one of his most prominent agenda items. Regional cooperation was a focal point for the mayor’s first state of the city address and the mayor recently proposed a series of ambitious proposals to foster greater cooperation between Cleveland and suburban governments.

Other mayors and leaders also took similar steps in response to the regional conversation. For example, Doug Lewis, City Manager of the City of Conneaut, committed with other Ashtabula County leaders to increase dialogue between village mayors and city managers in their county at a Voices & Choices leadership workshop. After the first meeting between the mayors and city managers, Doug met regularly with the Mayor of North Kingsville to discuss joint projects. “Because of Voices & Choices, we are collaborating across traditional geopolitical boundaries,” he said.

Implementing the Vision

Poets performing on stageThe Voices & Choices process developed a set of six regional challenges that are shared by thousands of leaders and citizens across the region. These challenges serve as the framework for the region’s emerging economic agenda, which are being implemented by citizens and leaders in conjunction with Advance Northeast Ohio.

Voices & Choices helped form a new regional public infrastructure, which included an active database of several thousand citizens who received regular updates about the process and ways to remain involved, nine committees of regional leaders (each with 15 – 45 members) dedicated to advancing regional priorities, a network of several hundred facilitators, and growing media partnerships.