Coalition invites community to counseling

By Robert Plain – Ashland Daily Tidings

To rectify a perceived eroding decorum of political discourse in Ashland, a committee of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce is inviting the community to counseling.

“There has been a lot of concern that the quality and level of discourse in town is getting to the point that it could be damaging in one way or another,” said Arnie Green, executive director of Community Works, the entity that will facilitate the community counseling sessions. Facilitators will use a new approach to counseling that focuses on the good stuff rather than the bad, called an Appreciative Inquiry Summit. The Ashland Coalition — a chamber committee with representatives from the various long-standing institutions in town — has invited between 75 and 100 “leading Ashland citizens” to three meetings intended to help Ashland transcend its political divisions.

“In the old paradigm someone would come to the doctor and say ‘I have a problem,'” Green said. “It’s much healthier to talk about what we do well. Instead of talking about the problems, we’ll talk about what we do right and try to build on those strengths.”

The summit — a series of three dinner meetings starting Sept. 25 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. in the Rogue River Room at Southern Oregon University — is sponsored by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the City of Ashland, the Ashland School District, the faith community and other community organizations, along with the chamber of commerce.

“We want to learn from and appreciate previous community discussions when they were most vibrant, effective and healthy,” wrote Paul Nicholson, the executive director of OSF, in a letter announcing the summit. “By drawing on this knowledge we can focus on doing more of what has empowered and energized us in the past.”

He said appreciative inquiry is a non-traditional problem-solving technique that could help bridge Ashland’s differences and bring the community closer together.

“We hope the process will encourage us to work together to better understand and promote that which creates positive community dialogue,” Nicholson said in the letter. “It is a simple process of collaborative inquiry to create common ground and to craft how we want our community conversations to be.”

During the three meetings, the group will be asked a series of questions including: what does Ashland do well; what are the community’s assets; and what will Ashland look like in five years. Green said much of the dinner meetings will be spent brainstorming these questions.

“It’s a simple but elegant process,” he said. “In order for this to work we need a good cross-section of the community. We need as many different viewpoints as we can manage.”

For more information write bmilrad@community-works.org, or call 779-2393 ext. 243.

http://www.dailytidings.com/2006/0915/stories/0915_chamber.php

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