Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Community Image Summit 3.0 - The Opportunity for Community

As some of you know I have a few things I really, really like to talk about. One is shoes, of course, my obsession with those little beauties coming to be known more widely than I had ever anticipated. Shoes, though, are a mere distraction from what I truly like to discuss - and what I truly like to discuss is community, and in particular this one of which I am so very proud to be a part. Last week I had the opportunity to discuss community at an annual event at Keyano College known as the Community Image Summit - and once again this year the summit did not disappoint, and afforded many people within this region the chance to share their thoughts and ideas, too.

As the third annual summit this one was called "CIS 3.0", and was once again directed at communication professionals and anyone who considers themselves a stakeholder in this region. I was there as both media and community advocate (I often wear so many hats I think I need more heads, really), and it was a pleasure to both participate in and witness the summit, because from this rich tapestry of our community some very interesting things arise.

Ken Chapman of the Oil Sands Developers Group (and one of my favourite people as he always provokes me to think) facilitated the summit in his usual entertaining and quixotic fashion. Ken is very good at eliciting responses from people, and he is excellent at helping large groups develop a flow of communication. He challenged us right off the top to finish a statement that would guide us for the rest of the summit. He asked us to complete the statement "Wood Buffalo is...".

Now, that is a fascinating question because this place is different things to different people. What he was seeking, though, was commonalities, common themes derived from our responses. I quickly wrote down my responses, not ones I thought about but initial gut level responses. I came up with things like:

Wood Buffalo is growth.
Wood Buffalo is culturally diverse.
Wood Buffalo is opportunity and potential.

After we had all written down our answers the process to whittle them down began, and we began to see themes emerging, as our answers were not so different after all. In the end four common themes were identified: family, diversity, economy, and environment. And through the exchanges at our tables we began to riff further on these themes, what they meant to us and their relevance to our experience. We began to dig just a little bit deeper and delve into what each of these concepts meant in our relation to the world, and how we could tell the world about us using the methods at our disposal to do so. And that is where Ken challenged us even further, asking us to take to social media to spread the word about Wood Buffalo.

Now, not everyone is fluent in social media. There are those who find it intimidating, the world of Twitter and such. I of course have embraced it with the typical enthusiasm I give to everything I enjoy (which in my case means obsessively, thoroughly, and ceaselessly). The reality is that social media is an opportunity of the most unique kind, a chance for us all to be "citizen journalists" and share our lives and experiences with others. The potential reach of social media is vast, with an ability to connect millions of people within minutes, and the chance to spread common themes and ideas far beyond the limitations of our borders. And so Ken asked us all to take to Twitter and begin broadcasting our thoughts on the four themes to the world, perhaps in a slightly calculated fashion, to maximize the impact of our message. The message? That we are a community of diverse, family-oriented people who enjoy our strong economy and natural environment. That we are not just oil sands, but so much more. That we embrace and have pride in the industry we have here because it is what gives us the opportunities we need to succeed. That we believe we are a wonderful place, and that we have much to share with the world.

Now, I suspect some who read this blog don't use Twitter, and that's ok. You still have the chance to spread the word about Fort McMurray, because with or without social media you are connected to others. Every time you speak about this place you are sending a message about who we are and what we do. You are engaging in spreading the word about our community, and our home. It is your choice as to what message you choose to impart, but I hope that whatever you say you balance the bad with the good, and the myth with the reality. You see there is no one single story of life here, no one definitive reality but rather a tapestry of tens of thousands. And your story, whatever it is, adds to that tapestry, and deserves to be told, too.

So, the Community Image Summit 3.0? Not only a great time to meet new people and connect with those I know well but a chance to exchange some ideas and thoughts, and to develop a method for getting our message out into the world. CIS 3.0 was an opportunity to not only discuss community but to be community - and for me that is always an incredible thing.

My sincere thanks to
Keyano College
for inviting me to attend the
Community Image Summit 3.0 :)

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