Behind the Scenes: UNC School of Government’s Public Intersection Project Staff


By Scott Sherrill, UNC MPA Student

The Town of Chapel Hill has engaged with a number of local partners for its 2020 Comprehensive Planning Process. Among those partners is the Public Intersection Project staff at the University of North Carolina’s School of Government. This post is the first of a few that will examine some of the behind the scenes work involved in the process.  

John Stephens

John Stephens joined the School of Government in 1996. Previously, he was research director of the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management. His publications include Guidebook to Public Dispute Resolution in North Carolina and Public Management Bulletin: Using a Mediator in Public Disputes. He is co-author of Reaching for Higher Ground: Tools for Powerful Groups and Communities and School Funding Disputes: Mediate, Don’t Litigate. Stephens also teaches in the Natural Resources Leadership Institute at North Carolina State University. He is chair of the steering committee of the University Network for Collaborative Governance. Stephens earned a BA from Earlham College, a Master of Philosophy from The City University, London, and a PhD from George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. John is interested in inter-agency and public policy dispute resolution; citizen participation; group collaboration and facilitation.

Lydian Altman

Lydian Altman joined the School of Government in 1999. Her prior work with public sector organizations included several years as a director or board member of nonprofit rape crisis and domestic violence agencies, community college administrator, and local government administrator. In her current work with the Strategic Public Leadership Initiative, she consults with elected and appointed leaders to create strategic plans, works with boards and employee groups, and with governmental and nonprofit organizations to promote and foster better cross-sector working relationships for more effective public problem-solving. Many of her project-generated articles have been published in Popular Government, ICMA’s IQ Report and PM Magazine, the American Review of Public Administration and PA Times. Altman holds a BS in industrial relations and an MPA from UNC-Chapel Hill. Lydian is interested in strategic planning, community visioning, team building and board development, collaborative relationships, and regional cooperation.

Margaret Henderson

Margaret Henderson joined the School of Government in 1999. She
researches and communicates strategies that strengthen cross-sector working
relationships for more effective public problem-solving. In facilitation work,
she specializes in the practical implications of managing cross-organizational
collaborations, community programs, and nonprofit organizations. Henderson’s 20 years of experience in human services includes work in state and local
governments as well as nonprofits. Previously she was executive director of the
Orange County Rape Crisis Center. Her current responsibilities include teaching
in the School’s MPA Program, and she has co-authored articles that were
published in Popular Government, ICMA’s IQ Report and PM Magazine, American Review of Public Administration, PA Times, and the FBI
Law Enforcement Journal
. Henderson holds a BBA in business
administration from Angelo State University and an MPA from UNC-Chapel Hill. Margaret is interested in cross-sector working relationships.

Ricardo Morse

Rick Morse joined the School of Government in 2006. He previously was assistant professor in the Public Policy and Administration Program at Iowa State University. He teaches and advises state and local public officials in the areas of collaborative governance, visioning, and leadership. His publications include several articles and book chapters on collaboration and citizen participation. He is lead editor of two books on public leadership, Transforming
Public Leadership for the 21st Century
(M.E. Sharpe, 2007), and Innovations
in Public Leadership Development
(M.E. Sharpe, 2008). Morse holds a BA and MA in public policy from Brigham Young University and a PhD in public
administration/public affairs from Virginia Tech. Rick is interested in public
administration; community and regional collaboration; citizen participation; and
public leadership.

2. What has been your role in the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan process so far? and what sort of guidance do you provide to the leadership team?

Under the cooperative relationship and resources of Town of Chapel Hill and UNC, we have been asked to advise, facilitate and support some parts of the public engagement work of Chapel Hill 2020. To date, that means helping the town staff and the co-chairs plan the public engagement strategy, consider different forms of involvement by Chapel Hill residents and workers, provide facilitation (as needed) for particular meetings/events; support the facilitation work of Theme Group co-chairs.

3.      What will your role be as the process progresses, particularly as the theme groups start meeting?

At the request of the co-chairs, and key town staff, we will:

a)      Facilitate at reporting out sessions of the theme groups to assist in effective communication, consideration of options, and interim decisions;

b)      Listen and coach/advise/support the theme group co-chairs in how they manage their respective groups’ work; and

c)      Coach and advise on the interface between the Theme Groups and other outreach and engagement that brings in opinions, ideas and requests from many people who are not involved with the theme groups.

4.      What prior experience do you have with the type of work you are conducting now?

The SOG team members have worked both independently and collectively on a variety of group facilitations, community visioning/problem-solving efforts, multi-stakeholder collaborations, and municipal policy/planning work. The topics have ranged widely and involved many different aspects of local and state government in NC, including engaging
nonprofit, business, civic and religious sectors, and working on challenging issues where the goal is to reach as much agreement as possible.
Some samples –

5.      What have you found particularly innovative about the Chapel Hill 2020 project?

a)      A variety of avenues for people to provide input at many different phases of the project;

b)      The scope of community (i.e., not city council or city staff) leadership for the whole process, and for the facilitative leadership of the theme groups; and

c)      A strong commitment to seek out new voices and views – to go beyond “the usual suspects” – very hard to do!

6 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: UNC School of Government’s Public Intersection Project Staff

  1. Julie McClintock says:

    To the webmaster: It’s nice to learn the background of the facilitators but wouldn’t it work better to make background on the facilitators a website page as opposed to an invitation for comment?

    But as it turns out it was a subject for comment. Thanks George for concluding that If the term “usual suspects” is offensive to some than it should not be used.

  2. I’m definitely one of the usual suspects, having been involved in Chapel Hill government for 20 years, and the term doesn’t bother me at all. It’s absolutely true that we see the same 200 activists/volunteers at so many of the meetings, doing most of the work, etc. This includes the last two 2020 meetings. I didn’t know everyone there, but I bet I know someone who does. We need to reach beyond our social and political circles to involve all of Chapel Hill in this process.

    It’s not that our opinions don’t count, but 2020 is 1.) an opportunity to get a lot more people involved in local government, which I think would be great, and 2.) needs to shape a vision that speaks to a wider range of Chapel Hillians since they have to live (and work, and play, and hopefully vote) in it just like we do.

  3. Pingback: Agenda for November 19th – Reporting Out |

  4. George Cianciolo says:

    I don’t know who used that term, “the usual suspects” in the blog post (I have no idea who authored it) but I feel fairly certain that it wasn’t meant to insult or discredit anyone. I have heard that term used on a number of occasions to refer to persons not only such as yourself, but to myself as well – persons who are actively involved in Town business, whether as an Advisory Board member or simply someone speaking out at Town Council meetings. I have never considered it an insult when used to refer to me – simply an indication that my involvement was being recognized. I think the usage in this blog post was simply to distinguish those persons whose participation in CH2020 was almost a certainty, based on their past participation(s) in Town affairs, from those persons who would need to be actively recruited to participate. We know that most of the citizens in CH have not participated in prior discussions about CH and its future, either because they didn’t know how to participate or they feared appearing uninformed or naive or for possibly a number of other reasons. Our goal for CH2020 is to get as many of these “not the usual suspects” involved and I’m pretty certain the term was used simply to differentiate those people who we were certain didn’t need to be actively recruited from those that did. Obviously, since it offended you and perhaps (many) others, the use of that term was probably inappropriate and will not occur again.

  5. Jeanne Brown says:

    I agree with Del that the use of the term “usual suspects” denigrates those citizens who have devoted a great deal of time to town issues and sets up a destructive dynamic between leadership and those who regularly speak up. Interestingly enough, it was the collective voice of these active participants that consistently called for council to conduct a public participation process to create a new Comprehensive Plan.

    As Del mentioned, there is a need to provide some basic education to help frame our discussions. During last year’s first Comprehensive Plan council meeting it was suggested that the town use the media as a means for educating the citizenry of Chapel Hill about the process AND the issues. So far the papers have been used for announcements, not for education. Educating people about economic forecasts, traffic projections, new solid waste technologies and other topics will, undoubtedly, increase citizen discussion and, hopefully, encourage citizens to join the process.

    There is no doubt that it is hard to increase meaningful citizen participation in this process. Failure to do so, however, jeopardizes the ability of the process to produce recommendations that are truly representative of the citizens of Chapel Hill. For my part, I have tried to reach out to individuals whom I thought would bring different perspectives, thoughtful solutions and specific knowledge to the process. One barrier to participation, I have found, is the fact that the workgroup meetings have all been scheduled on weekday afternoons from 4:30 – 6:30. For many this means leaving work early. For others it conflicts with family responsibilities – like driving kids to soccer, ballet etc…. It would seem that a change in time or offering two sessions might allow the process to be more inclusinve.

    That said, I believe that the process will need to come “to the people” rather than trying to bring the people to the process. I know that an Outreach committee was formed and would be interested in knowing the plan for Outreach. It doesn’t appear that efforts have been made through neighborhood homeowner’s associations, school PTAs or other such organizations. A couple of years ago the school board held more “regionalized” meetings to discuss redistricting plans. While I know that redistricting always draws a crowd, I do think a couple of “regional” forums would attract people who don’t feel confident discussing the town as a whole but who want to have a say in their own area of town.

  6. Del Snow says:

    c) A strong commitment to seek out new voices and views – to go beyond “the usual suspects” – very hard to do!

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    c) A strong commitment to seek out new voices and views – to go beyond “the usual suspects” – very hard to do!

    It is hard for me not to feel hurt by this last point made. The phrase “usual suspects” has a perjorative connotation. The citizens that it refers to, myself included, have worked very hard for years on varying advocacy issues for no reward other than fighting for they believe in. A significant number of Chapel Hill residents are understandably NOT aware of process, LUMO specifics, development guidlelines and restraints, and the complexities of Chapel Hill’s fiscal situation.
    These “usual suspects” are the people who have sat & read the LUMO, who attend Council meetings, who sit on boards, and know full well the challenges facing Chapel Hill as it grows.
    Personally, I MORE than welcome input and participation from everyone in Chapel Hill-what could be better? But, to discount and minimize the participation of a knowlegeable segment of Chapel Hill’s citizenry is short-sided.
    As an example, a number of active residents have recommended a “boot camp” to help stakeholders learn specific facts before the Theme Groups got started. However, the Theme Group that I was part of, Community
    Prosperity had a mix of both “regular” citizens and so called “usual suspects.” A significant number of “regular” citizens kept complaining about property taxes-mainly their own. Had we had an information equalizer, we could discuss this issue within the framework of the differing dynamics of residential, retail, and commercial properties.
    So, instead of “usual suspects,” please refer to us as a generous group of knowlegeable citizens.

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