Narrowing down priorities

Summit streamlines goals for county's future
Nov. 16, 2012 @ 12:21 AM

Tuesday night's Our Smokies, Our Future (OSOF) summit brought together members of the community to prioritize goals for the county's future, ending the brainstorming phase of the vision process.

Over 200 people gathered in the Music Road Hotel and Convention Center for the 6 p.m. summit. Participants sat at tables of eight, each getting an electronic keypad that they used to submit their votes to questions facilitated by Vision Coordinator Stefanie Johnson. The results were displayed on a projector screen after 10 seconds of voting.

Johnson went over the three categories — Our People, Our Prosperity and Our Local Government — as well as each of the 13 topics that fell under those categories. The topics and categories were put together following idea-gathering sessions that were held over the summer and early fall.

"(The summit) is designed to help us prioritize the vision and understand what is important to you in a variety of fields," Steering Committee co-chair Allen Robbins said to the participants at the summit.

After a brief explanation of the topics in one category, the participants took 10 minutes to discuss each topic with the others at their table. Johnson encouraged the participants to discuss specifically which of the topics they found most important.

Following these small-group discussions, Johnson asked everyone in the room to vote on each topic's importance on a scale of 1-5, 1 being the least important and 5 being the most important.

For example, the Education topic under the Our People category scored an average of 4.3, meaning most people in the room gave Education a high importance rating. In contrast, the Activities and Culture topic in the same category scored the lowest with an average of 3.1, meaning most people in the room felt it was less important than the other topics in the category.

Then Johnson asked everyone which topic they thought was most important to them, as well as which they thought was most important to Sevier County.

"What we're asking tonight is ... what of those ideas is most important to you, and what is most important for our county?" Johnson said. "We're going to take each of these together."

In the Our People category, 41 percent of participants said Community Values were the most important to them. In contrast, Community Values and Education both received high importance ratings — 37 percent and 38 percent, respectively — for what participants felt was most important to Sevier County.

Johnson broke up the prioritized voting portions with more pointed questions, like "How satisfied are you with public education in Sevier County?" The largest percentage, 28 percent, voted "not satisfied."

Now that the brainstorming phase of OSOF is over, the Steering Committee will put together a report based on how the summit participants voted to prioritize the topics. The report will include a list of goals and actions that the committee suggests for implementation.

For example, based on the statistics gathered on the Education topic, the committee knows the people of Sevier County feel education is very important, and many also feel dissatisfied with the current public education in Sevier County. So, the committee — with the help of members of the community who wish to continue to be a part of the process — may suggest goals and actions that might be turned into initiatives to help better public education in Sevier County. Facilitator Gianni Longo has previously said that many of these actions have already been suggested by community members during the idea-gathering sessions.

A full list of results and statistics from the summit is available on the OSOF website, http://oursmokiesourfuture.com/.