Ashley Sonoff and Madison Thesing attended the 2016 ICMA conference, and shared these takeaways from Kansas City, Missouri.
As the ICMA Local Government Management Fellows (LGMF) in Oregon, we had the privilege to attend the 2016 ICMA Annual Conference in Kansas City, MO. We arrived early to attend the LGMF orientation on Saturday and enjoyed getting to know our “fellow fellows” across the country.
With all the great keynote speakers, educational sessions, and networking opportunities, it was difficult to narrow it down, but here are our top six takeaways from ICMA 2016:
- The power of community. As David Brooks shared in his keynote session, we are facing a crisis of isolation and chronic loneliness. In a culture that increasingly praises external success and individualism, we tend to lose sight of the importance of humility. According to Brooks, the anecdote is intimacy built through commitments. Commitments to your partner and family, your career, your philosophy of life or faith, and your community. Like the spokes of a wheel, intimacy is strengthened when you make a commitment and stick to it, even when times get hard. When we commit ourselves to community, we build an ethos that supports each other. Ultimately, we can do far more together than we can alone.
- You can’t be what you can’t see. I’ve often heard outgoing ICMA President Pat Martel say, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” This statement underscores the importance of highlighting the successes of women in the local government profession. At the Women in Government luncheon, it was inspiring to hear former U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios share her experience from her recent effort to place a woman on U.S. currency for the first time in over a century. In 2020, on the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, the Treasury will unveil their concepts to put women on the $5, $10, and $20 bills. “Got any Tubmans?”
- Let’s recreate the digital experience. In Tuesday’s session entitled, “Maintaining Trust through Civil Customer Service,” we were reminded of the growing numbers of smartphone usage in U.S. cities. Currently 67% of adults use a smartphone and as of 2014, more people access the Internet through a mobile device rather than a computer. Yet 72% of Americans are unsatisfied with government’s current digital services. Too often, fragmented user experiences across mobile and web lack consistent design, are difficult to navigate requiring residents to do all the work. Instead of replicating paper-based forms on the Internet, how can we offer a seamless and easy-to-use experience for our residents?
- Storytelling with context. Soledad O’Brien introduced us to the importance of context during storytelling in her keynote session. Media will leave out context or frame a story narrative in order to evoke certain emotions from the audience. However, by doing so, the story misses the history, the relationships, and the overall community that surrounds the story. This highlights the importance of giving voice to context and the “other side” of narrative. As community leaders, we can empower the voices of our communities and be sure everyone is heard.
- Intentional actions are needed to create diversity. My favorite line about diversity throughout the conference was “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.” We heard the line numerous time during panels that were discussing diversity. However, very few gave examples how they are actively addressing and implementing change in their organizations. Diversity is more than a far off goal—actions and culture shifts must occur to create an inclusive and representative workforce. I would love to hear more examples at conferences on how organizations are actively implementing programs or processes to create inclusion. Not only successful examples, but also examples that did not work. We should have an open and honest dialogue on the challenges of creating change, as well as the space to work out challenges collectively.
- I like meeting people. Nothing philosophical or profound, just plain and simple. My biggest takeaway was the importance of creating a network. As early career professionals, all we hear is the need to make strong and lasting relationships. I have always been aware as to why relationships are important in careers, but at the conference I saw friendships more than anything. Throughout the conference I saw friendships across state lines, lifelong friendships, and friendships based on shared experiences. I felt most recharged and inspired by the conversations I had at mixers, dinners, and social events. I will now forever look forward to the annual conference as an opportunity to create lasting relationships. See you in San Antonio!
- Honorary #7: If you go to Kansas City, you most definitely need to have the burnt ends.