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Speed Dating: It's Not Just for Your Social Life Anymore


July 26, 2013 by Lynn Nordby
Category: Public Participation

Speed Dating: It

I was recently recruited by my eldest son to participate in a process to help develop a new generation of civically involved young adults. My first assignment was a pretty straightforward presentation about local government in the state of Washington, condensing “Civics 101” into an hour (with time for Q&A included). No easy task but well received, or so I was told; enough so that I was invited back for a round of what the group had dubbed “speed mentoring.”

Loosely based on the concept of “speed dating,” our mentoring sessions consisted of a room full of inquiring minds shifting one or two at a time from table to table at predetermined intervals to hear from and question the mentors from various public service, not-for-profit, and public interest fields. In the brief time allotted, I gave a quick overview of the career opportunities in local government management and my thoughts on the best way to prepare for and enter the profession, with some time left for questions. It was a very creative way to provide an opportunity for one or two people at a time to make contact with people in fields they might want to pursue.

This novel experience inspired me to think of how the “speed dating” model could be adapted to other local government activities. Here are a few of the ideas I came up with.

Orienting Newly Elected Officials
How about an afternoon following local elections where the recently elected commissioners or councilmembers are rotated among department representatives for one on one conversations? Topics could include, not only the current issues facing the department, but also an exchange of sufficient personal information to scale the focus down from the levels of the campaign to a more human level.

Encouraging Professional Development
As suggested by my experience, this could be offered to people interested in a career in public service as a single “career day” event or as a method of introducing a number of people to potential mentors. Based on the “speed mentoring” event, follow up discussion could be arranged as appropriate. An alternative might be for a series of speed mentoring events at intervals.

Candidate Recruitment
The various local agencies having elective positions open for an upcoming election could each have a table at a pre-filing event. Citizens interested in running for office could get information about the agency, the current issues it is facing, and the expectations of the office.

Public Engagement
An agency could use such an event to offer the public an opportunity to meet its officials face-to-face and talk about issues at a personal level.

Volunteer Recruitment
Most communities have a large array of non-profit organizations contributing valuable services to civic life that need board members, volunteers, and donors to keep them active and functioning. Such an event could showcase the opportunities for service available to those who might have time, skill, and expertise to spare.

With a bit of thought, I’m sure even more ideas for using the speed dating model can be envisioned. One of my city councilmembers once said that disseminating public information was more like speaking to a parade than to an auditorium. This model takes that approach to give you the opportunity to communicate with a fairly large number of people in a more personal way.

Think of the possibilities. It’s not just for your social life anymore.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Lynn Nordby

Lynn’s public sector career includes 30 years in local government management and experience in virtually all municipal services including the operations of a wide variety of municipal utilities. He is a Credentialed Manager through the ICMA Voluntary Credentialing program.

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