#SXSW419 Re-imagining Mansfield - South by Southwest style

By Jay Allred

March 1, 2018

On March 8, 41 local citizens -- with visionary support from the Richland County Foundation -- will take a big step forward in the re-imagination of Richland County’s greatest opportunity, Mansfield’s central business district.

I’m privileged to be part of this effort and want to take this opportunity to tell you about it and what makes it fundamentally different.

But first, a word on strategic planning and consultants

If you ask around a little, you’ll learn that Mansfield is littered with strategic plans. They are generally stuffed in new three-ring binders and can be found, unread, in office closets all over the county.

How do they get there?

Typically, it works like this. The consultants arrive from someplace else and begin to dig in. Clear-eyed and objective, they research the problems and discover what’s lacking. They make suggestions for how to fix it. Finally, they deliver the aforementioned binder and promptly leave town for the next gig.

Usually there’s a big meeting where everybody reviews someone else’s plan for our hometown. Often, the best of intentions struggle from that point forward. That’s the problem.

It’s not that the plan is bad necessarily; it’s because there’s a critical disconnect between the plan and the people. Who owns it? Who is accountable? These questions create a vacuum where the critical steps of ownership, accountability and execution go to die. It's easy at that point to look across the table and assign responsibility for delivery to someone - anyone - else. 

How will this effort be any different?

Flipping the script

Instead of having the ideas come to us, we are going to the ideas. Specifically, to South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

Our core team of 15 will spend a week immersed in the world-renowned festival of ideas and technology. We will focus on five key impact areas for the city core: city and walkabilityfood and entertainmentstartups and technologysocial impact and finally, workplace culture.

For an idea of what we're seeing, here's a link to my rough schedule

The ideas and examples from all over the world will come back to Mansfield with the team. Over the course of 2018, we will work with 26 advisers to sort through the ideas gathered and create action plans that can be implemented. Clear lines of accountability and ownership are developed and in place already. Now it’s down to execution.

*In case you’re wondering, SXSW also hosts an international film and music festival which happens in the second week. We won’t be there for that.

Unusual suspects

The team traveling to SXSW is diverse and skews young. The average age is under 40 and that’s absolutely intentional. Fresh ideas come from fresh eyes, some of whom are being tapped for the first time to help lead their community. The team includes a city engineer, an architect, artists, marketers, technologists and leaders of non-profits.

We look like Mansfield, too. We’re all colors, genders and backgrounds. Our politics and interests are all over the place, which is also intentional because it keeps us out of echo chambers. We’re coming at this from all perspectives.

Transparency and trust

This year-long process from beginning to end will be extensively documented and transparent. Group members will blog and post to social media regularly, indexing everything using the hashtag #SXSW419. All of this will be collected into a special area of Richland Source throughout the week.

But that’s just the beginning.

As part of our Solutions Journalism series, Rising From Rust, Richland Source will extensively cover the journey of this group as they put their respective plans into action. We’ll cover the obstacles and the setbacks, the allies and the victories; all in an effort to understand what drives change and rebirth in a small city like Mansfield.

The collective effort, and investment, and sacrifice undertaken by this group on behalf of Mansfield will be measured in hundreds, if not thousands, of hours. It’s a measure of the commitment bubbling up around the community.

We invite you to join us on the journey and be part of a city rising from rust.


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