• Sarah O'Brien

Achieving Inclusive Outcomes: Collective Impact and The Brunner Awards

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

I was honored to speak at the Project for Public Places International Placemaking Week conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee this fall with Britin Bostick, Stewardship Strategies.

I am obsessed with Collective Impact and the Rudy Brunner Award for Urban Excellence. I honestly didn't know either existed this time last year. Separate late-night google research binges led me to discover both the concept of collective impact and the case studies that the Bruner Foundation uses to educate and inform the world about the projects that are deemed award-worthy.

Brtin and I wore vintage hats for our first international speaking appearance!

I find it amazing that two people who had no experience with these topics were able to speak to them at an international conference. We knew when the presentation was accepted that we had to do everything we could to educate ourselves. We had to become subject matter experts on topics we had only recently stumbled upon. We took a field trip to Sulphur Springs, whose downtown was named a Bruner Award Silver Medalist in 2019. (Yes I peed in the see-through bathrooms!) We spoke with Ian Lockwood with Toole Design Group and learned a ton about his work in Sulphur Springs and the new E's. We researched, read, and listened to countless case studies, podcasts, and articles that had anything to do with collective impact.

We struggled with this presentation more than we expected. And at least for me, I was struggling with this presentation more than I had ever struggled with a public presentation before.

I think we both knew what we wanted to say. I We knew the way we wanted to say it. Yet this was a painful presentation prep experience, something we weren't familiar with at all. It seemed at times that we were on completely different pages, but at some point, before we were to leave for Chattanooga, an ah-ha moment occurred. An ah-ha moment that was described as Pulitzer prize-winning epiphany. We were both in the same place. We were thinking about the same concepts.

We had completely different ways of communicating what was happening in our heads. What we were actually trying to accomplish was also different. We took opposite paths to get to the exact same destination we desired. The important concepts we needed to communicate in our presentation were a destination, but not the final one. II was also planning the photos from the trip we would show when we got home. Our visions and our processes seemed worlds apart. But the components of our trip were essentially the same, we were headed to the same country.

This was absolutely fascinating to both of us, and I thought it might be fascinating to someone else, hence this ramble. For some additional insight into what was happening inside these great minds of ours, I have included one of Britin's presentation outlines that I was mesmerized by. Unfortunately I honestly still have no idea what it actually means. Because my creative brain doesn't process that type of creativity. I am also putting up some light bulbs, just in case you feel like your in the dark.

Britin's Session Path:

And the lightbulbs...

Now back to this Project for Public Places International Placemaking week presentation. I'll spare you resource articles, definitions, graphics, and my thoughts about Collective Impact and the Urban Excellence awards because you can find all of that in our slide deck images.

We had a small but engaged and complimentary audience. We had several comments thanking us and stating that it was obvious we had put a lot of work and research into the presentation. And I love it when attendees reach out to me after a presentation, I always consider that a sign that it was a success.

My favorite part of the actual experience? Definitely our imagination station! If you have never heard of the US Department of Arts & Culture or the #daretoimagine campaign, now you have. You can thank me later.

Without further ado, here is our 2019 Project for Public Places International Placemaking Week Presentation slides.

You can find our conference presentation slides linked here:

Project for Public Places: Part 1

Project for Public Places: Part 2

And because we loved the visual look of this experience, I am throwing a few slides and additional links to resources up for everyone's viewing pleasure.


Sarah served as a Texas Main Street manager for over a decade and is a proud two-time Past President of the Texas Downtown Association. She lives in Smithville Texas and has worked in local government. community development, destination management and downtown revitalization across the State of Texas. She is a motivational speaker, consensus builder, and visionary problem solver who helps organizations and communities understand their purpose and achieve collective impact.

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