[Idea File] Swapping ideas with neighbors

Today’s idea sharing model

Everyday, all around the world, people are coming up with local solutions to the needs in their communities. Sometimes well-known leaders are the driving force, other times it’s the people we walk by in the grocery store every week. But regardless of who enacts change, the burning question always is: just how did they do it?

Our United Villages is a community-enhancement organization in Portland, OR that strives to answer this question through the event “Sharing Ideas: Grassroots Projects Started by Neighbors.” Here’s how it works: panelists represent projects that (a) have community benefits and (b) might be replicable in other neighborhoods. They talk about initial inspiration, how exactly they moved from the idea to action (including challenges), and their hopes for the project’s future. Audience members can ask further questions, and briefly touch upon their own projects at the conclusion. The whole session is recorded for archival purposes.


Ecotrust atrium photo by Sam Beebe (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to attend the event at the beautiful downtown Ecotrust building in Portland. There were four panelists, and the topics ranged from urban farming to ice cream socials to traffic calming. Not only did I learn more about Portland and some of the good things going on, but I left the event feeling that such a simple model for idea sharing could work in other places. Here are some things to consider:


  • A focus on an honest assessment of challenges is refreshing
  • The guiding questionnaire that speakers complete beforehand helps to keep the talk on track
  • A dynamic Q&A gives the audience a chance to participate
  • Plugging your own projects enriches knowledge in the room
  • The opportunity to informally network with the audience face-to-face increases potential for connections
  • Access to an online audio recording is helpful for future reference (in case you can’t make it, or don’t want to take notes)


  • The format lends itself to a slim picking of projects – and you may not be interested in any of them
  • Similarly, how do organizers decide which projects to highlight?
  • One risk: projects might be compelling, but the speakers might not be so engaging on a panel
  • Sustainability can be an issue, as obtaining an event space, finding apt facilitators, etc., can be time consuming

What do you think? Could this work in your village, town or city? And what other replicable idea sharing models are out there?

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Comments (2)

  1. Mauigirl writes:
    December 21, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Yes, this is a great idea. We already have a neighborhood association and in our town the various neighborhood associations get together for meetings to discuss issues of mutual interest and also use the time for brainstorming how the other organizations deal with their own issues locally. But this would be a great idea to have more of a forum format and get even more information out there.

  2. kris schaeffer writes:
    January 1, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Great idea to share various ways to involve like-minded community members.
    But it’s an event, not a process. Why not develop a virtual way? A portal for all these projects. A description, picture. We have seen that with Pepsi Refresh.

    Volunteers can enroll and engage, come to an orientation. This also expands the number of people and times they can come.

    Good luck.

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