When speaking at a town hall meeting in Iowa recently, President Obama spoke against politically biased colleges which put restrictions on the guests and speakers that they invite to their campuses. He said, “Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way to learn.”
Listening and responding to the loudest voice in the room is sometimes tempting and easy to do. But what kind of growth will any of us have if we continue along that same track? Perhaps one of the most important functions of government especially is to listen to the unheard.
The City of Minneapolis doesn’t want to take the easy path. The City wants to listen to the unheard. They are actively working to stimulate and acknowledge the voices of their typically underrepresented communities. They’re so committed to the idea that they’ve explicated it as one of five of their “Goals and Strategic Directions,” aiming for “One Minneapolis” where “disparities are eliminated so all Minneapolis residents can participate and prosper.”
The City developed the Community Indicators Project specifically as a means of identifying benchmarks to measure the City’s progress in achieving those goals. One of the methods of doing so this year was the opening of an IdeaScale community to gather ideas and receive public commentary. The site was open for one month in 2015, and received over 199 unique ideas.
While the City welcomed input from all community members, they placed a priority on outreach to previously underrepresented communities; some of these communities that the City identified included Asian-Americans, Somalis, LGBTQA, seniors, and youth. In an attempt to provide every opportunity for these groups to participate, the City also solicited ideas offline in conjunction with their online presence, including talking circles and interactive arts engagements.
This outreach to underrepresented groups is a lesson we could all learn from when making decisions. In this digital age especially, it can get so easy to cherry pick the opinions that make it through to us, just as it is easy for government to listen only to the loudest voices. But the points in history when we have truly made progress have always been those when we finally start listening to the silenced.
Click here to download and read the case study on the City of Minneapolis.