On the Table
The Blue Grass Community Foundation is preparing to take its community engagement efforts to new heights, with the introduction of On the Table, a one-day, citywide forum geared to facilitate conversations between thousands of Lexingtonians that could potentially help inform the future of the city.
Set to take place March 15, On the Table calls for friends, neighbors and colleagues to gather for hundreds of independently organized conversations taking place across town, to discuss the civic issues most important to them. More than 8,500 participants so far have registered to take part, with more than 10,000 ultimately expected to participate in various On the Table events that day. The conversations will take place in homes, restaurants, places of worship, libraries, offices, parks and other community location chosen by the individual hosts, who can choose to curate their own guest list or open up their table to people they may not know.
“We have ‘superhosts’ generating 20 tables of eight to 10 people, individual hosts doing multiple tables, and unaffiliated people going to individual events,” said Laurie Preston, BGCF's community engagement director and a coordinator for the On the Table initiatiave. “Many different breweries in town are hosting events where anyone can go... There are many opportunities to sit down and have a conversation.”
While the event is set to take place over the course of just one day, the discussions held over breakfasts, lunches and dinners will not fade into the ether after the event ends. After March 15, hosts and guests will be invited to complete an email or text survey about their event, outlining the most important issues, themes and ideas discussed. BGCF will compile those responses into a report that is ultimately intended to provide a voice – thousands of voices, to be more precise – to next year’s updates to Lexington’s Comprehensive Plan. Refined every five years to stay up-to-date, the Comprehensive Plan, which has been dubbed “Imagine Lexington,” has been referred to as a cookbook full of recipes for community success, is a planning process designed to create a vision and strategy to provide for the growth of Lexington. Adopted in 1931, the plan continues to direct decisions in land use, community facilities and policy.
According to Preston, while the city’s Comprehensive Plan typically takes input from about 300 people, On the Table has the potential to dramatically increase the community’s impact on the plan.
“We have been able to add thousands of people to that discussion,” she added.
Funded by the Knight Foundation and based on a similar Chicago event, On the Table is the first event of its kind in Lexington, which is among 10 cities across the United States replicating Chicago’s success. The initiative offers three ways to get involved in the event, by becoming a host, a “superhost” or an independent guest. While individual hosts organize one of the many meetings across Lexington, “superhost” is a designation directed towards organizations such as nonprofits, places of worship, businesses and schools, that commit to hosting at least 20 tables of eight to 12 people. “Superhosts” who have already committed to the event include the University of Kentucky, Good Foods Co-Op, Fayette County Public Schools, Lexington Public Library and others. (BGCF provides a toolkit for all hosts and superhosts, which includes all the relevant details about how to get the conversations started.)
Those interested in registering as an independent guest can complete an online registration form that will guarantee invitation to one of the scheduled sessions. (Registered independent guests will receive an email invitation to participate in a hosted conversation, with several choices as to time and place provided.)
The ultimate goal of the event is to bring the voices, ideas and concerns of thousands of Lexingtonians to one collective table, and to use the information gathered from the conversations to ultimately make make Lexington a better place, both now and in the future.
As for which direction any given conversation will take – that’s entirely up to the host and participants.
“We are very flexible,” said Preston. “Everything is on the table, literally.”
For more information regarding On The Table, registration forms or lists of “superhosts,” visit www.onthetablelex.com.