In Which I Go on a Trip and Become a Scribe
by Sarah Gillig Sunu -- October 26th, 2012

When I hear the word ‘scribe’, I tend to think of monks, hunched over illuminated manuscripts in dim scriptoriums that smell like dust and ink.  But recently, I discovered that profession of scribe is alive and well.

The definition of scribe has changed a little since the middle ages.  While it used to be more about copying texts and manuscripts (particularly religious ones), now it’s used for recording the results of meetings and collaborations, as they happen. Have you ever volunteered at a meeting to write on a flip chart or white board?  Congratulations, you’re a scribe!

Amazing giant motorized shopping cart that was parked outside of the Jones County Civic Center. I really wanted to ride in it! Image taken by Emma Hedman

From Consternation to Collaboration

This semester, I’ve been taking a course called “Participatory Techniques in Environmental Decision-making,” taught by Mary Lou Addor, the Director of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute at North Carolina State University. The course focuses on a variety of approaches to help people work together more effectively—especially people  who might not see eye-to-eye on a subject.

The course has really opened my eyes to new ways of reaching agreement.  Coming from a background of debate and politics, it took me a while to get used to the idea of solving contentious problems without voting. Majority rules, right?

But it turns out that mutually beneficial, creative solutions are far more likely when we put down the gavel and pick up the paper and pens.  Or sometimes, the arts and craft supplies.

Leadership and Legos

On Wednesday, I attended EnvisionEast-2050, an Urban Land Institute Reality Check Event hosted by PlanIt EAST.  The idea behind the meeting was to bring together all kinds of community and regional leaders for a brainstorming session on population growth (1,000,000 new citizens are projected in the region by 2050) and development in eastern North Carolina.

I rode out to Trenton N.C. on Tuesday night with three other students from the course—Meg, Kim, and Emma—and at 7:00 on Wednesday morning, we were at the Jones County Civic Center.

The main hall of the Civic Center was filled with 30 tables, with large maps and multi-colored Legos and yarn.  After a great speech by Ed McMahon, a Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute, that emphasized smart growth and investing in the community by planning for the future, the participants were fired up and ready to go.

Each table was tasked with coming up with guiding principles (such as:  improved transportation infrastructure, preservation of agricultural practices, maintaining quality of life) and planning out what eastern N.C. would look like in 2050.  This is the part where I came in—I had volunteered as a scribe for the event, so I printed out the principles on the flip chart so that folks could refer to them as they worked. I also wrote down barriers and solutions that the participants came up with.

Many participants from across eastern North Carolina were in attendance. Image by Emma Hedman.

Yarn and tape were available for plotting new transportation routes (my table included an expansive railroad).  Yellow Legos represented new residents (1500/Lego), red Legos represented new jobs (1900/Lego), and blue Legos represented seasonal visitors (1500/Lego).

Each table also had up to 10 participants from a variety of backgrounds.  We had city and county officials, military, independent business owners, and educators at my table.  I was amazed at the wide range of expertise that each person contributed, and how using the map and the tools provided allowed people to talk through the issues that came up in a way that led to real solutions.

Of course, it wasn’t a perfect method—it’s hard to think of a yellow Lego at 1500 people,  and there were a lot of different factors that it wasn’t possible to factor in, particularly where services like schools and hospitals would be sited, or the impacts of sea level rise and erosion over time.  But I would love to see more creative tools like this in common use.

Our table focused a lot of development along new transportation routes, including a new railroad. Image by Emma Hedman.

I wonder what would happen if we took a bunch of Legos to Congress?

For an example of extreme scribing (also known as ‘graphic facilitation’), check out RSA Animate.  They have amazing images to accompany incredible speakers! 

Tides for Friday, October 26th, 2012, Beaufort, NC

High: 6:01 AM, 3.61 ft.

Low: 12:10 PM, 0.45 ft.

High: 6:17 PM, 3.4 ft.

from NOAA Tide Predictions

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