Here is the “harvest” from our 2018 Fall Conversation series. This output is the “fruit” of the conversations and we used specific harvest tools collect and identify themes and topics from these three events.
We used Table Templates to capture responses, thoughts and comments about the questions for each round, as well as a Conversation Template to summarize shared plenary responses. Finally, we used Sticky Note Output to identify Opportunities, Competing Commitments, Concerns, and Brilliant Ideas about the Town of Reading.
People care about the community: We value many things about Reading. However, not everyone feels heard, welcomed or included. Are we using these positive aspects of our community to make Reading a better place to live, or is what we value being overshadowed by the challenges?
We need more spaces to connect: Many people expressed a need to find more social spaces and opportunities in Reading. Frequent phrases were "lack of connection", "wanting more connection", "increasing connection," all of which reinforce the idea that while we care about our community, we need to address challenges and concerns together.
Communication is key - and challenging: We are frustrated with communication of information - "access to information", "too much information", "transparency of information", "simplicity of information", "bias confirming information." How can we improve the quality and methods of communications? Every Conversation named the negative and detrimental impact of social media (specifically Facebook) and its role in polarizing the community.
Emotional safety is scarce: While people feel physically safe from crime, not all feel emotionally safe to speak their minds. They don't trust they are being heard, don’t feel safe having diverse ideas, and don't feel welcome to share their opinions. "A lack of middle ground" and desire for "open, respectful dialogue" were named multiple times.
Change and transition is hard: Reading is changing. Named examples include changes in demographics, community priorities, development practices, financial strategies, and political polarization. People expressed concern about the impact of these changes on the community and culture with words such as "resistance", "worry", and "struggle." Additionally, change and transition creates tension (e.g. political, cultural) among groups and ideas (e.g. old and new, past and future).
Lack of civility: What does “civility” actually mean to us? It is a broad word with multiple meanings. Every Conversation mentioned "lack of civility", "lack of respect" "tolerance of hate speech/graffiti." These discussion threads looped back to our use of social media, and feeling emotionally unsafe in Reading.
Diversity and inclusion: While many placed high value on a "welcoming community", we also heard references to a lack of diverse people, ideas, voices, and cultures, as well as an inability within our community to openly discuss racism, discrimination, privilege, prejudice and other forms of exclusion or oppression in general. These are difficult and uncomfortable issues for folks to name, as the act in and of itself is often viewed as polarizing. At the heart of these issues are the echoes of our community struggle with civility, emotional safety, and change. The most common human reaction to these challenges is to disconnect, put up walls, and pick sides. What do we mean when we say want a "welcoming community?" What are the blind spots, biases, and fears that keep us from achieving that goal?
Community development and community participation: How will Reading grow and develop in the future and who will make it happen? At first, this seemed to be two separate themes. Yes - the community wants see civic development. However, this was quickly followed by a clear message that our concerns about taxes and finances and the cost of running the community means that we need to take ownership and full participate in the process. Development ideas included social spaces like a new senior center, arts center, the beautification of South Main Street, walkable spaces, and open spaces. Community participation ideas and concerns included: volunteering, small and large scale community activities, and further conversations such as these that can serve to spark inspiration, innovation, and meaningful connections.