Trent England | March 9, 2015
OKC Schools listening tour no threat to status quo
On Thursday, I attended one of the Oklahoma City Public School District’s “Great Conversation” public meetings. There were about 100 people in attendance, including many school staff. The session was run by a consulting company, Performance Fact, hired by Superintendent Rob Neu shortly after he was hired to lead the district.
The meeting was billed as an opportunity to involve the community in crafting a plan for Oklahoma City’s schools. That premise is dubious.
Consultants hired to craft strategic plans often work behind the scenes with insiders to develop the actual plan, then approach “stakeholders” or the public to gather their views. This is sold as a way to involve the larger group in the planning process. On the contrary, it is often simply the first step in marketing the priorities of insiders.
Advertising firms use focus groups to find images and phrases that get a positive reaction from target audiences. Planning consultants use public meetings to do the same thing under the guise of inclusivity.
Is this what the “Great Conversation” sessions are really about? The District’s website shows that the planning process began with a “Core Planning Team” last November. Other insiders were involved in January and February. Public input was invited only after those stages were largely complete.
Attendees at the public meeting noted we were often told to choose between priorities or objectives that were just different ways of phrasing the same idea. This certainly made the meeting feel like a focus group, with consultants looking for the best ways to sell an already-developed product.
Attracting broad input and constructive criticism is always a challenge, especially in a large organization. Insiders have more to gain or lose from changes in structure or direction. The “Great Conversation” was highly scripted and conspicuously full of district employees. The Performance Fact consultants designed a process that at least felt more like a focus group than an opportunity to think critically about the status quo.
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.