Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blueprints for Progess

Last spring, we implemented a project called “The Blueprints for Progress Workshop,” a reading group that studied how modern progressives were struggling to reinvigorate the Democratic Party by developing key guiding philosophies that addressed the challenges of the 21st century.

We used Matt Bai’s book The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics as the basis of our reading group. Bai’s book traced the activities of a wide range of Party insiders and outsiders such as politicians, union leaders, potential candidates, consultants, donors, and bloggers.

Our Workshop included about 10 members from 5 different colleges. We communicated with each other using email, a project blog, written letters, and a one-page newsletter. Although we learned a lot from the reading, we sometimes struggled with building participation and the challenging producing tangible results.

Our blog posts were sometimes inconsistent. We occasionally got behind on deadlines with our mailings, and we always struggled to fit the activities of the Workshop into our hectic lives and into the already-busy lives of our participants.

But we managed to make gains. We produced several posts, letters, and newsletters over the course of the project. We established important connections with participants. And, perhaps most important for our future activities, we learned important lessons about how to address challenges and how to improve the operations of our programs.

We developed an appreciation for key concepts: Consistency. Planning. Design. Building participation.

In retrospect, the Blueprints for Progress Workshop served as a kind of Blueprint for Black Studies. Our work with the Workshop’s blog, for example, really prepared us for the work we’re not doing with this blog, the Light Rail project blog, and The Interactive Reading Group.

We haven’t found full solutions for all the challenges we continue to confront when it comes to implementing various projects. However, the Workshop did give us insight on how to innovate and improve our approaches.

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