Vision impaired?

Vision Shared, a group created in 2000 to make West Virginia more economically competitive, recently issued its 2009 annual report.

Like the organization itself, the report is a mile wide and an inch deep.  You have to skip to the top of page 12 (and can stop at the bottom of page 13) of the 18 page report to find a discussion of the group’s accomplishments during 2009.  The highlights listed:

  • Early Child Development. They issued a report with some recommendations. No discussion of accomplishments in improving early child development.
  • Creative Communities.  They held a conference. Again no discussion of accomplishments in creating or sustaining creative communities.
  • Technology Based Economic Development. They created yet another free-standing non-profit organization – TechConnectWV.  Again no discussion of accomplishments in bringing technology-based economic development to West Virginia.
  • Entrepreneurship.  They launched the Young Entrepreneurs Support (YES) Network.  Clever acronym, but what does it do?  And, yes, they created a business “plan” to focus on marketing West Virginia-made consumer goods.  How many new entrepreneurs do we have as a result of these efforts?  How many jobs have been created?
  • Building Bridges and Empowering Citizens.  They supported the growth of yet another group – Generation West Virginia – and yet another conference for group participants.
  • Results-Based Government.  They supported the creation of another state government agency, GO HELP, to coordinate governmental health care entities.  Much like the much-ballyhooed and failed Governor’s Cabinet on Children and Families?
  • Permitting.  They crowed about legislation, passed in 2008, to make it easier for new entrepreneurs to find the information they need to engage in business in West Virginia.  It’s called Business4WV, folks, and it’s been around for a while.  Although not perfect, it’s very good and facilitated quite easily my entry into the small business world this past year. Surely no one seriously thinks West Virginians with the talent, drive, and ideas to create going business enterprises don’t create them because it’s hard to comply with basic business filing, permitting, and tax requirements.

What did Vision Shared accomplish? More plans, reports with recommendations, and conferences?  Another notoriously-difficult-to-sustain 501(c)(3) organization, another state government “coordinating” agency with little real power, and another solution to a business problem that doesn’t exist?  These are not meaningful accomplishments for a group that has been in “business,” literally and figuratively, for more than a decade.

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~ by Dennis Taylor on 1 January 2010.

7 Responses to “Vision impaired?”

  1. I was struck by the mention and photographs of Joe Manchin in the report. Nothing against Joe, but Vision Shared sees state government as the cure or solution to too many of the state’s ills.

    Way too many committees and directors. At this point, they are creating conferences and reports.

    They didn’t ask me, but my suggestion: Become a policy think thank. Issue your imperial edicts to the government and call it a day. I don’t want to be “that guy” that is cynical towards people with good intentions, but please, let’s realize, after four governors and one mayor…..I’ve seen enough and I know what works.

    Be honest what you want your state to be. Determine if the public really wants it too. Then cut the path towards that goal. Unfortunaley for Vision Shared….it’s their vision….and not seemingly everyone elses.

    • Vision Shared has a policy think tank – Imagine West Virginia. In response to your comment to the next post about the importance of Vision Shared taking positions on issues like mountaintop removal coal mining, I encourage you to read Imagine WV’s 2008 report – Coal: Energy, the Environment and West Virginia. Your homework assignment: Review that report, including its lovely scenic cover picture of rolling mountains, not flat ones, and see what is said about mountaintop removal coal mining. Once you’ve done your homework, I will tell you why mountaintop removal coal mining was handled in the way that it was in the report.

  2. I did read the report. That’s a front organization for the coal association and that huge grant that WVU just took. I can also see the coal support on the board (hell….I support coal too.)

    I am talking about a real think tank.

  3. Before I get into the topic, Dennis, the falling snow on this blog is to die for! Love it. I’m also glad I get Google alerts on VS because somehow I had lost track of your blog, and it’s great to reconnect.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I work now for VS in the area of volunteer team support. That said, I have been involved with VS on a volunteer basis for years prior to being directly employed; and while I think you have some valid concerns I would just offer some additional perspective that may be valuable.

    I grew up in WV, and lived in NC for about 10 years (14 if you count school), but moved back in 2002. When I returned to WV, VS was just getting started and it was the only place where I could connect with the people I’ve been looking for all my life here — people who are smart, educated, motivated, and seriously interested in making this state better.

    I think an important thing to remember is that only in the past 2 years has VS had an executive director/president role. And it has been less than 6 months since the support services were moved to a new firm. I would love to get together with you ASAP (lunch, I’m buying) to talk through your critique and see where your extensive talents might come to bear on outcomes, but frankly I’m mostly interested in communications of outcomes. I think there are some missing links for you, and that has my attention because it’s very important that the public sees and understands results.

    The relationship between VS and Imagine WV is an important one, but also a lot more complicated than you may realize. I am in the process now of negotiating dialogue between the Sustainable Development VS team and representatives of Imagine’s policy recommendations. I know I don’t have to tell you how difficult the intersections of energy policy, coal, and sustainable development can be. It’s very challenging, and frankly requires a lot of patience all the way around to get real traction on consensus and trust. Real change in the hardest areas is very slow going. But I agree it must be clear that however incremental it is, it is moving forward.

    One small but significant point, VS did not create Generation WV. It is it’s own organization, and VS considers them a partner in the area of supporting and encouraging young talent in WV. When you are in fact young, just the chance to get together and network and learn with other people your age who are striving for the same things is in fact a “result.” GWV is very well-organized and is facilitating great things for the younger crowd in our state, including working with the governor to proactively appoint qualified people between 21 and 45 to boards and commissions. The YES Network needs more support. There is a built in problem when asking young entrepreneurs to manage their own support network…….when their business needs their undivided attention, they can’t be doing anything else. (We need more people in WV!)

    Hope you will take me up on that lunch…..

    • First things first: I’m so glad you like the snow. I find it incredibly tranquil. It will stop when winter lifts.

      Second things second: Even though I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “free lunch” (I’ve discovered I’m the main course at most free lunches), I always enjoy the pleasure of your company and would be happy for the opportunity.

      Third things third: I did correct the word “create” as it related to Generation WV. The better term probably would be “embraced.” Vision Shared made a good decision to embrace Generation WV.

      And last things last: I applaud the ideas behind Vision Shared and Imagine WV, and I truly appreciate the dedication of participants. But are people leaving the meetings feeling good, but doing the same things the same way when they return to work and/or their communities? The report does not answer that question. It’s easy to trumpet the achievement of process goals. It’s not so easy, but very important, to attempt to measure and trumpet the achievement of outcome goals.

      I gather Vision Shared is going through some soul-searching right now, and it should. The place to start: the performance outcomes. Vision Shared needs something in between what effectively are state outcome goals over which a non-profit with a $600K budget, even with a stellar board and committees, is not likely to have a dramatic impact, and the process stuff described in the report.

      I do want to emphasize that I’m a supporter of Vision Shared conceptually and applaud all those who have worked to make its initiatives a success. I just expect more than what I saw in the annual report.

  4. From word on the street, there is not much left of you to snack on, so no worries about being the main course… I’ll email you and we can set it up!

    “Soul searching” is a good term. I think several of the changes the organization has made recently support this concept. Those of us who have made major life changes after just such a process on a personal level know it needs to be a deep and purposeful thing, and if it is well conceived and executed the results can be powerful.

    (As an aside, it’s a lot easier to point and shoot when you have complete control over who’s at the table. One thing I’ve always loved about VS is no one is turned away from the table. If you love West Virginia and want to be a part of things, you are welcome.)

    You are right on with the difference between feeling good and making change. Not at all the same. And it just occurred to me that perhaps we as a native people here have felt so crappy (sorry, but that’s the word that comes to mind) for so long that we may at times be overly attracted to just feeling like something positive is occurring and get too comfortable in that zone, forgetting the sense of extreme urgency that we all need to feel on progress for West Virginia.

    I feel incredibly grateful for constructive dialogue on these issues. See you soon.

  5. When I played basketball, if you can believe that, I used to foul out all the time. Coach Gray would yell at the team and say “he wouldn’t get in trouble if he didn’t have to try to play every position on the team.” I was trying to do everything because the team needed it – in short, I didn’t accomplish much because I was on the bench and the team was still no better.

    VS has the cream of the crop on its board from the city of Charleston, but even they can’t do everything. I think you are working too hard. Pick an issue or two…even some low hanging fruit and go from there.

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