MML#3 – Workshop Spurs Creative Thinking and Co-Worker Connectivity
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 15, 2022)
Muskegon, MI – As elected officials and municipal administrators from across Michigan came together for the Hacking Creativity workshop, they found little tubs of Play-doh, boxes of crayons, printouts, and piles of candy on the tables. Several instinctively dove in, while most waited for instructions.
And then there was an ice breaker. Ice breakers are par for the course in workshops and team building retreats, yet are often not considered back at the workplace. Tim Dempsey and Julie Durham of Public Sector Consultants hope to change that. The consulting firm has been providing a range of technical services to government and other entities for over 42 years in Michigan. One of the ways they keep their team engaged and thinking critically is to make time for ice breakers, fun conversations, and activities.
On this day it was a chance to talk about music. And with people from all over the state, with a range of ages, and musical tastes, ti gave rise to fun discussions. Their task – think of songs that relate to local government.
“We Built This City on Rock and Roll,” popped into many minds, and one group meandered into comparisons of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” and the 1990s Arrested Development hit “People Everyday.”
The discussions helped those who did not know each other to feel more comfortable, and was the type of conversation where the more input and ideas, the better the results. Often in workplace environments there are those who share ideas more than others. And fun conversations can be a way to break those patterns.
According to Dempsey, creativity can:
-Help people learn.
-Create memorable experience.
-Free us from group think.
-Bring people together.
-Disrupt ingrained power dynamics.
“It isn’t just for arts, culture and music,” he said. “It’s a process to help us solve problems.”
One problem with creativity, is that it’s not as valued as productivity and it’s something that’s easy for adults to unlearn and forget about. “When we’re kids creativity is part of learning. But when kids go to school they’re taught to color inside the lines,” he said. “We unlearn creativity.”
But can things like coloring, music, and Play-doh sculptures make a difference in City Hall?
“Municipal government is one of the most difficult places to insert creativity,” Dempsey said. Yet the effects are noticeable if local leaders put in the effort to create a creative environment. He and his team demonstrated this by having the tables work through some of the challenges their communities are experiencing. Topics included things like communication, taking on the challenges of social media, housing needs, serving seniors and more. Each group was tasked with coming up with a variety of solutions – no matter how silly or unrealistic.
For communication, for example, some ideas included creating policies around communication, website improvements, videos modeling civil discussions, having kids share messages, and more fun solutions like skywriting and airplane banners. Attendees also shared their own experiences with creative problem-solving.
Ferndale Mayor Melanie Piana was among the attendees. As in many communities, the contentious nature of politics and the discontent on social media have begun to impact public meetings. She took an idea from another convention, and now has a moment of reflection at the beginning of meetings with guided relaxation to help diffuse tension in the room.
Another real-life example of creative thinking played out in the room. In Muskegon the city has a partnership with Grand Valley State University to use a “Be-Bot” robot that goes over the sand of the beach and picks up trash, similar to self-propelled vacuums. A representative from Montague was at the same table, and is now going to be connecting in hopes of bringing the technology to their town.
Road repair has also seen creative solutions. An official from Burton talked about how in their community they’ve instituted a program where residents can petition the city to have an assessment in place just for their street, where the residents pay 50% of the repaving cost and the city pays the other half. The residents have a 12 year payment plan on the cost. The petitions require 50% + 1 of households to sign the petition.
Another community is looking at transit options by reaching out to local businesses and larger corporations to help underwrite their system and not just relying on tax funds.
As they group discussed solutions, being able to play together made the ideas flow more freely. It was easier for someone to suggest sky writing, for example, with Play-doh in their hands, or for someone else to talk about communications challenges while scribbling away with crayons.
“Creativity helps bring people into conversations,” Durham said. “Being able to talk about music gave us a chance to relax and laugh.”
Public Sector Consultants can help municipalities with a variety of issues, with creative approaches. Lean more at https://publicsectorconsultants.com/bright-ideas/.
This article is part of a series about the Michigan Municipal League’s 2022 Convention that took place in Muskegon Oct. 19-21. We will be sharing articles from the convention over the next few weeks to help readers better understand the issues local governments face. If you aren’t already on our list for Daily Headlines, please sign up HERE so you won’t miss any of this exciting and informative series! Find other MML related articles HERE.
For more on Michigan Municipal League, check out their website at http://www.mml.org.