The Future of Richmond’s Past

It was nice to be behind-the-scenes last night, helping my friend and sometime thought partner Matthew Freeman during his facilitation of the more than 100 people who turned out for the Future of Richmond's Past event at VCU.

In addition to being a solid facilitator with a deep skillset in the areas of community dialogue and diversity issues, Matthew has a solid ace up his sleeve -- a set of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" electronic clickers. I don't mean to make them sound trite, because when they are used well they take a large group chit-chat quickly past the surface of almost any conversation.

The clickers allow a facilitator – literally in the moment – sort through group data, slicing and dicing it from a variety of perspectives. What's the value in that, you wonder?

Well, if you have an audience that is mixed – in gender, race, economic class or even job titles (in a large company) – you're able to quickly sort through layers of perspective and share it with the audience almost as soon as they answer a question. For example, during last night's event, Matthew was able to show the audience the precise demographic composition in the room – and compare it against regional numbers. If he had time, he could have sorted the data to a deeper level – showing, for instance, that whites with high incomes in the room were far more interested in hearing positive stories about racial relations in Richmond than lower income whites (or any black participants).

My job last night was to work with Matthew's partner, Tiffany Jana, to sort through close to 300 index cards that captured the ideas from audience members about the types of activities and conversations that they felt would more effectively bring the community together. As we sorted, we sought to identify 7-10 key themes that accurately reflected some consensus across the room – the audience then had opportunities to identify which theme(s) they felt was more important for the region to implement.

This series of conversations have been designed to engage Richmonders in meaningful discussions that bring deeper understanding of the histories that comprise the 150th anniversaries of the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States.