People talk, New Hampshire listens
Town takes part in statewide discussion forum at Town House on Tuesday
Kath Allen, of Peterborough sharing her thoughts at one of the six NH Listens meetings held on Tuesday June, 2 across the state, to address government transparency, efficiency and innovation. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Lucy Webber, state representative for the Connecticut River towns of Hinsdale, Chesterfield, Westmoreland and her home town of Walpole attended the Peterborough session of NH Listens to hear what people thing and to share her own thoughts on government transparency. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Gill Duval, Peterborough resident sharing his frustration with spending in the legislature. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Liz Tentarelli of Newbury, President of League of Women Voters of NH, recorded the comments, concerns and thoughts of those attending the NH Listens meeting at the Peterborough Town Hall. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Lucy Webber, state representative for the Connecticut River towns of Hinsdale, Chesterfield, Westmoreland and her home town of Walpole attended the Peterborough session of NH Listens as a member of the Governor's Commission on State Government Innovation, Efficiency and Transparency the group that commissioned the event. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
They came for a variety of reasons, with a variety of opinions and from a variety of towns. On Tuesday, 19 people participated in the New Hampshire Listens discussion: “Is Granite State Government as Efficient, Transparent, and Innovative as It Can Be?”
Liz Tentarelli from Newbury, president of the League of Women Voters of NH, came to participate. Eileen Brady of Nashua came to share her thoughts. Lucy Webber, NH State Representative, from Walpole came to listen. Jim McConell of Swanzey came because, as a self-proclaimed “political junkie,” he just couldn’t stay away. And yet, despite distance and differences, NH Listens Facilitator and Peterborough resident Dennis Calcutt said the overall goal of the event, “to hear everyone’s voice,” was achieved.
The NH Listens conversation at the Peterborough Town Hall, was one of six simultaneous conversations conducted for the Governor’s Commission on Innovation, Efficiency, and Transparency in State Government throughout the state.
In addition to Peterborough, groups met in Conway, Portsmouth, Manchester, Warner and Whitefield. In total, 98 people participated across the State, said Calcutt.
All of the meetings were conducted in the same manner. First, participants were divided into small groups. While in small groups, NH Listens facilitators led introductions, brainstorming, and discussion of key questions and priorities. The opinions and ideas of each individual was recorded on large white sheets of paper. At the end of the night, the overall recommendations were shared, and all of the white pages were collected. New Hampshire Listens staff will collect all the data from the pages and create a report that will be presented to the commissioning organization — in this case, the Governor’s Commission on Innovation, Efficiency and Transparency, said Calcutt.
NH Listens only facilitates conversations when the commissioning organizations makes a commitment to seriously consider the recommendations of the group, Calcutt added. “We want to create engaged communities.”
Some of the key questions for the group meeting on June 3 were: Are public agencies and offices responsive to residents’ needs? Can you easily find useful information about government operations and services? What are some barriers that might keep people from being innovative and efficient?
“We are talking about planning,” said Steven L. Hahn of Hillsborough. “To try to get people to focus on what is going to happen three or four years from now is difficult.”
In Peterborough, citizens shared concerns about education, social services, substance abuse, developing a competitive economy, responsibility and authority in government, the use of technology and the Department of Corrections.
To keep government efficient, transparent and innovative McConell said, “push authority down to its lowest possible level.”
“Perhaps you mean — lowest possible ‘logical’ level?” asked Tentarelli as she began to write the recommendation on the board.
“OK,” said McConell, “that makes sense.”
Additional recommendations included improving online accessibility and services, and efficiently increasing the dissemination of information.
On Wednesday, after a casual phone recap of the evening’s conversations, Calcutt said the themes in Peterborough were common. “Overall, we had a nice diverse group and I think people felt heard.”
The NH Listens method is a new approach to gathering “voices.” It was born from disillusionment in the public process, said Calcutt. Traditionally, when citizens’ opinions are sought, groups hold public hearings. However, Calcutt said, this is not always the best method. Often individuals are nervous speaking in front of large groups, aggressive opinions might make people feel unsafe and the conversations are often “one-way,” he said. The NH Listens format allows for “deeper and richer conversations.”
Food is provided at every NH Listens conversations. In Peterborough, Harlow’s Pub catered the event. Childcare is also available if people register and request it, said Calcutt. “We really want to make it possible to hear from all voices,” Calcutt said.
If anyone is interested in learning more about NH Listens or forming a local NH Listens group Calcutt can be reached at email@example.com.