Flynn's Harp: Buller, Elway tout a future that brings social media to essential role in decisions
John Buller and H. Stuart Elway, long-time players in the old top-down process of decision-making in Seattle and Washington State, are embarked on separate initiatives whose basic message is that things won't work that way in the future. Both hope to spark new forms of civic engagement aimed at broader inclusion in charting the region's next chapter, but that "broader inclusion" may come in fits and starts, and face challenges before broad acceptance.
Buller, a business and civic leader for the past 30 years, summarizes it as "The Seattle Way has to be replaced by a recognition that social media has made the world flat rather than top-down so we have to make discussions about our future much more broad-based.
Or as Elway puts it, :the whole social media thing has the potential to bring us full circle to the original way Democracy got started."
But both would agree that bringing social media integrally into decision making in a manner that doesn't permit a few strident bloggers or vested-interest Internet sites to drown out the crowd ironically requires some strategy and structure.
Elway, whose Elway Research Inc. with its interactive polling and opinion-tracking has been a key initiator in helping shape business, policy and governmental decisions since 1975, is seeking to attract interest in what he refers to as "The Next Northwest," though his focus has really become "The Next Washington."
Buller, a member of the board of the Washington Athletic Club and the incoming chair of Seattle Seafair, is one of the Next 50 Ambassadors, a group of civic leaders seeking to promote a series of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the six-month run of the Seattle World's Fair.
But he's carried the idea into an appeal to dramatically embrace social media to gather an array of visions for the region's future, not merely input from established groups.
While Buller is focused specifically on Seattle 50 years hence and Elway's focus is geographically broader, they are both seeking to not just stir interest in discussing the future but in igniting a desire for broad-based involvement in shaping that future.
And both agree that social media is the factor that will negate reliance on the old top-down way of making decisions and that, in a sense, a matured social media can represent a return to the way Democracy itself was born - with all having an equal voice in the decisions.
Buller is a Nebraska native who came to the University of Washington in 1965 to play basketball, but injuries and illness shortened his career after he led the freshman team in scoring. He wound up as a graduate-assistant coach while he got his MBA.
Among his leadership positions, Buller served as senior vice president of marketing at The Bon Marche/Macy's, vice president of alumni relations at UW, head of the local organizing committee for the 1995 NCAA Final Four and CEO at Tully's Coffee.
Elway launched his company soon after getting his doctorate in communications from the University of Washington in 1975. His Elway Poll is the only independent, non-partisan, on-going analysis of public opinion trends in Washington state and the Northwest.
Buller and Elway have appeared in recent months before various town-hall and organization meetings to tout the need for the region to focus on mapping a plan for the future, each focusing on his ideas for defining the future. But both concede there hasn't been a rush to seize the initiatives they are offering.
Both lament the current state of discourse and suggest that the absence of broad involvement in the conversation is a key reason.
"We're having this great debate about the role of government and it's being conducted in the most partisan atmosphere imaginable," notes Elway, most of whose research and focus has been on policy matters and government.
What he is seeking to achieve with his "Next Northwest" is having a "systematic, statewide conversation about changing expectations for government and institution." Social media would ideally have a large role in those conversations.
Buller is even more forceful. "Journalism has turned into spinism. People tend to find the medium that supports their version of the world and they don't need to talk to anyone who disagrees."
"We aren't really discussing Seattle's next 50 years," Buller says, suggesting that current debate about the proposed new arena and its possible impact on the Port of Seattle's future are perfect examples of sound-bite decision-making for the near-term without extending to "long-term, do we want to be a global city or a regional city."
Buller, has created both a concept document and creative brief to help guide groups, formal or online, wishing to initiate discussions on "The Next 50 - Changing the Way Seattle Looks at the Future."
Buller's and Elway's shared vision of the need for a vision, or visions, merits broader attention, particularly in the social-media arena that they understand will be vital to any meaningful discussion.
That attention has thus far proved elusive. Or as Elway quipped ruefully, "I can't find the financial support to carry this out so I guess I'll have to win the Powerball to complete it."
Mike Flynn is retired publisher of Puget Sound Business Journal who now has a consulting firm, Mike Flynn & Associates LLC, and writes a weekly column called Flynn’s Harp. Contact him at Mike@emikeflynn.com if you would like to be added to the list of those receiving it via email, or to see previous Flynn’s Harp columns, go to emikeflynn.com and click on blogs