Iowa Ideas: A different kind of conversation

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In just a couple weeks, we kick off a project we’re calling Iowa Ideas. The project is meant to stir discussion and ideas to confront challenges and help position the state to thrive in the future.

The project comes at a time where political polarization and mistrust is running very high, yet the need to collaborate and uniquely position ourselves to thrive in a global economy has never been more important. The project will focus on an array of topics — education to environment, health care to transportation — which impact all of us.

We’re kicking the Iowa Ideas project off Feb. 28 in Cedar Rapids with daylong symposiums focused on two core areas: K-12 education and workforce/regionalism. Both are core in our region’s identity and critical to our future success.

The K-12 education symposium will focus on how classrooms are being designed and used much differently in teaching, how the focus is shifting to individual learning, the impact of adverse childhood experiences has in classrooms and how we can address it. We’ll look at how the education system is designed and how it may need to change in coming years.

Each of these has profound impact on how students learn. But examining how we prepare students, how we can help students overcome barriers tends to get less attention than how much we spend on it.

In the workforce discussion, we’ll be looking at how Iowa’s changing population (both in age and race) impact the workforce. We’ll examine some of the rural and urban divide and how some communities are addressing workforce issues, and how regional collaboration needs to span across political and geographic boundaries.

The Cedar Rapids event is the first of eight we’ll be hosting across the state in coming months. We’ll have stops in Iowa City, Des Moines, Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Cedar Falls and Davenport to address transportation, health care, higher education, energy, environment, agriculture in addition to the K-12 education and workforce/regionalism topics. We’ll then host simultaneous discussion on all of the topics during a multiday conference next September in Cedar Rapids. (More details about all of that can be found on the project website.)

The discussions in Iowa Ideas are designed to get past partisan politics. It won’t assume that everything we do today is obsolete or broken because it’s not. There won’t be finger-pointing or blame. We’ll examine the ideas and how we got to the current state and we’ll look at ideas being pursued to address some of the challenges and how to scale them to respond to need. The goal is to connect people across the state and share ideas and focus more on the why and the how. As we’ve been working on planning, it’s exciting to see some of the innovation already occurring. While public awareness may help, it’s also clear that helping some ideas grow will require thinking about them differently. It may be new partnerships or collaborations or keeping an open mind about different paths to the same end.

There have been questions why a media organization would have an interest in this. The core reason aligns closely to our mission of being the trusted provider of context, understanding and connection so that we can all create our best lives. We make connections with thousands of people each day and our success is driven by our communities’ success.

The journey won’t always be easy or occur on a clearly marked trail. But the view at the end of the trail depends on us. We hope you’ll consider joining us.

• Zack Kucharski is executive editor of The Gazette. More information: www.thegazette.com/iowaideas

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