David Wiseman and Tamar Datan of Loudoun ForwardLoudoun County, Va.
343 Harrison St. SE
Leesburg, VA 20175
To the emerging Loudon Forward “public think tank” to create a hyperlocal civic “tool set” that includes a printed publication, a website and Weblog, an e-newsletter and public forums to help residents in the nation’s fastest-growing county identify the forces that are shaping their lives and make better public decisions. A newsprint magazine will dispassionately probe such topics as housing, growth, economic development, racial diversity, conservation, crime, education and health care. Citizen contributions will be made through the Weblog, topic-based town hall meetings and the electronic newsletter.
Check back for future news and updates.
Jump to progress reports:
• Final Report: October 2007
• May 2006
• February 2006
• November 2005
• August 2005
Loudoun Forward Rethinks Outreach Strategy in Push for Public Discourse
Final Report: October 2007
Loudoun Forward has made progress toward achieving many of the goals it set out for itself two years ago. They brought together a diverse Advisory Committee, designed and launched a website, and engaged policy makers, business and civic leaders, and others in discussion on issues of importance in the community. However, according to the project’s founders, they have not measurably improved the community’s deliberative process or increased public involvement in policymaking, both key goals.
On the positive side, says co-founder Tamar Datan, they have gotten the community thinking about the role of the arts in the county’s economy and quality of life, the subject of their first issue brief. As a result of their conversations with key business leaders, there now is serious deliberation about developing a signature performing arts center in the county.
Loudoun Forward founders had hoped to foster a deeper discussion of many more issues, but admit they’ve been hampered by a lack of staff capacity. Their commitment to producing reports of the highest quality resulted in a much-delayed publication and a loss of momentum, when the initial white paper they commissioned fell short of their aspirations and needed major editing.
Along the way, they have gleaned several key lessons: They regret that they didn’t seek matching local funds from the start. And they wish they had more accurately estimated the real amount of time, effort and staff required to launch such a project. And, “although we’ve been very engaged in writing and speaking out on a range of local policy issue and community concerns,” says Datan, “that activity wasn’t apparent because it wasn’t documented online. “
“We would also have been much more aggressive in seeking out partners, particular like-minded citizens with content to post, organizations that share our mission, and potential supporters,” says Datan. One partnership that fell through was with radio station WAGE, whose new owners eliminated all local information programming. Loudoun Forward has reached to the Housing Advisory Board to contribute to its second issue brief about affordable housing in Loudoun, the fastest growing county in the U.S. Co-founder Dave Wiseman says he expects to publish that paper in early 2008, following a re-design of the Loudoun Forward website in late 2007.
While Loudoun Forward still intends to mail its white paper on the arts out to Loudoun ZIP codes, they plan to upgrade their website using Web 2.0 technology, making the project more accessible and interactive.
“In many ways, Loudoun Forward has just barely gotten off the ground. We firmly believe it can and will become a powerful tool for advancing civic discourse in this county once we succeed in providing more published content and more opportunities for live and online interactions. We know there is an appetite for this kind of journalism and a compelling need. We simply have not yet assembled the horsepower needed to fully implement the vision, and therefore our growth has been modest.”
Loudoun Forward Finishes First Issues Paper
Loudoun Forward‘s first issue paper, covering arts and culture in Loudoun County, Va., has been researched, written and is in final production for distribution and posting online.
- Arts and Culture
The project’s editorial team, comprised of four members of the project’s Advisory Panel and several advisors, have repeatedly tweaked the outline of the issue brief as they wrestled with digesting and articulating the important role of arts in society in a manner that would encourage citizens to become involved, said Managing Partner David Wiseman.
“There is convincing evidence that the arts and entertainment sector of any economy plays a pivotal role in its quality of life,” Wiseman said. “The role of arts in communities like Loudoun - an affluent, fast-paced outer suburb experiencing exponential growth and change - can be particularly important because the arts offer the potential for engaging citizens and enabling them to not only work and live but also play in their own backyards.”
The topic of arts and culture was selected to launch the project because members of the Loudoun Forward Advisory Panel - a diverse group of business, civic and public leaders - felt the issue receives “only cursory and event-oriented treatment in the local media” yet it has significant implications for the county’s future prosperity.
The project will post the white paper on the Loudoun Forward website, mail it to households in key parts of the county, and seek to have it distributed and discussed through local civic associations and businesses. The white paper will also serve as proof of concept for potential funders of Loudoun Forward.
Among the points is addresses are the impact of arts and entertainment on economic and social prosperity, what role they play in current county planning, what happens if the county does not support arts and entertainment, and how to move forward.
Wiseman said that the project has benefited from substantial in-kind contributions, particularly from its web development partner.
Loudoun Forward Moves Toward Publication,
Partners With WAGE Radio
As Loudoun Forward prepares for its first publication it has forged a partnership with WAGE Radio, a local news and talk station that will help publicize the project on its weekday “Loudoun’s Lunch Hour” show.
An initial program will have Loudoun Forward Managing Partner David Wiseman on to introduce the project to the audience and explain what its goals are, how it was started, and how it could help the community in Loudoun County, Va.
The program will not take place until Loudoun Forward releases its first paper, focusing on arts, culture and entertainment in the county. “Writing our first paper has been our priority. We don’t want to go on until we have a first issue to discuss,” Wiseman said.
Meanwhile, Loudoun Forward has hired writers to research and write most of the content for the first publication. Wiseman said the writers have developed a detailed outline and are conducting interviews with business, civic and political leaders in Loudoun, as well as content experts from outside the county.
“We are very pleased with the content being generated for our first issue,
Wiseman said. “We believe the arts and culture topic is timely, relevant, and often over-looked by existing media.”
Loudoun Forward also met with the chair of the county’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Education and Performing Arts Center, who is exploring the prospects of developing a major new venue, currently envisioned as a comprehensive campus with multiple uses centered around the arts and education. Wiseman said he thought the center could become a hook for attracting interest, dialogue and debate among citizens.
“The fact that there may be a major, community-wide effort to significantly advance our arts and culture sector through the development of a new venue could ground citizen discussion and involvement in a concrete project,” he said.
Wiseman and partner Tamar Datan are still developing a fundraising plan, and Wiseman said they are watching the developments of local publications closely to determine how to proceed. One local newspaper, the Loudoun Times Mirror, recently switched to free circulation, and three other local publications may be on the verge of a sale to American Community Newspapers, a Minneapolis-based company.
Wiseman said he believes these changes could have an impact on Loudoun Forward’s ability to attract sponsorships, advertising and subscriptions, but said he and Datan realize the importance of a business plan. “We are acutely aware of the need for additional resources to strengthen our capacity, quicken our pace, and broaden our reach.”
Arts and Culture will be First Community Issue Probed
Loudoun Forward has started a partnership with American University’s School of Journalism to help research and write a section of next year’s discussion paper on “Growth” while also developing relationships with organizations and people who can serve as future resources.
In the meantime, the project has selected the initial topic to be researched and turned into the first discussion paper: An exploration of the arts, culture and entertainment environment in Loudoun County, Virginia.
WHAT WE USE:
- Movable Type blogging software.
“We will explore the place arts and entertainment hold for young people in the county, and how the industry could affect the county’s future economic prosperity as viewed through Richard Florida’s (Flight of the Creative Class) premise that prosperous communities tend to be those that have a vibrant arts and entertainment presence,” said project leaders David Wiseman and Tamar Datan.
The premise of Loudoun Forward is to create discussion around community issues informed by research and published white papers. The arts and entertainment discussion paper is slated for release in the first quarter of 2006. The Growth paper is to be released in the third quarter.
“Our plan is to get the first discussion paper out which will create more public awareness of the project,” they said.
The website, LoudounForward.org, is being built using the Movable Type blogging software because of its ‘robust’ blogging feature and its ability to store articles and comments and search and archive all content.
The biggest challenges are finding writers and researchers for the project, and the project is relying on guest writers and volunteers. Loudoun Forward has reached out to county residents to participate in the development of the website and the creation of the first discussion paper.
Once the first discussion paper is released, Wiseman and Datan said, “funding and staffing will become a much lower hurdle.”
Loudoun County Weblog is Launched
With its first community brainstorming session under its belt and an early community Weblog launched, the Loudoun Forward project is reaching for an ambitious agenda that will provide context and create opportunities for dialogue in one of the nation’s fastest growing counties.
“We’re trying to help people understand the changes that are affecting their lives and provide a way for them to better own their community,” one of the managing partners, David Wiseman, told a group of journalism educators in August.
The project seeks to build a civic toolkit that will help Loudoun residents navigate through a “polarized” and “shrill” political environment in which decision-making occurs in compressed time periods and the public has little knowledge about issues and little opportunity for consensus building.
Content for the website is being developed, but the 17 community leaders, representing political parties, and business, arts, and agricultural stakeholders, who met in June had lots of ideas for topics. They included such things as:
- The effects of the “creative class” on the county’s culture and economy.
- The role of local research universities.
- What a future might look like if gasoline were limited. (“We’re going to try to study what it would be like if we couldn’t depend on our cars so much,” Wiseman told journalism professors meeting in San Antonio.)
- Why people need to care about local politics.
- The power of homeowners associations in the county.
Loudoun Forward has identified five components of the toolkit it seeks to build. They include:
- Discussions papers that will be thorough studies of specific issues to be delivered to every county household. “We hope it will be the TIME magazine, but just for Loudoun County,” Wiseman said.
- Moderated public forums focused on particular topics.
- A community Weblog, where people can come to weigh in with their thoughts on the discussion topics.
- A topic-centered newsletter that will go to people interested in such topics as education or technology.
- A topic-centered web archive to help jog people’s memories about past issues and help them access and research information.
The project is researching an e-mail newsletter vendor and interviewing writers who can help produce the discussion papers.
Of the roughly 110,000 people over age 25 in Loudoun County, about 47 percent have some form of college degree, Wiseman said. “If we can get just 25 percent of those people, that is 13,000 people who could be subscribers and who could interact with Loudoun Forward,” Wiseman said.
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