I’ve produced materials referencing Greater Cincinnati’s Agenda 360 more than once. I’ve talked about them as an example of meaningful regional thinking and goal-setting, I’ve shared the story of their awesome Story Project, and I’ve even pulled them into my consulting work as an example of how to do something at the regional scale that truly moves the needle — maybe not always front-page, but often through fomenting the kinds of crucial, long-range, make-a-real-difference kinds of initiatives that no one recognizes the importance of until after it’s long established. Agenda 360 is all about that kind of work, and if you look closely, it’s been a key element in a lot of the successes that Greater Cincinnati has been experiencing over the past few years.
This little gem of a story is from there, and it’s sort of about what Agenda 360 does, but it’s also just a damn charming story, and one that highlights the importance of a little shot of encouragement along that twisting, neverending road to making communities better. The new Wise Fool Press book Why This Work Matters includes stories from people all over the country who do this kind of hard work and occasionally benefit from this kind of encouragement, and Mary’s story would have fit right in.
It’s so well written that I can’t find a place to cut out a selection, like I usually do as a means of encouraging you to go check out the original source. But go check them out anyways. Whether you’re in Greater Cincinnati or not, Agenda 360’s a great source of Good Ideas.
I often say that realizing a vision for a better community requires a lot of patience and a high tolerance for ambiguity. Results can take years to achieve, so sometimes even the smallest affirmations for taking a long view mean a lot. And sometimes the support comes from unlikely places.
Take the middle of Winton Road in Spring Grove Village, near my favorite greenhouse. After a short but satisfying visit, I was halfway down Winton on my way home when I realized that there was a police cruiser behind me. Even though I wasn’t exceeding the speed limit, I reflexively hit the brakes. The cruiser pulled into the inside lane and started to keep pace with my car. But there were no lights flashing, no siren.
I retraced my route in my head, wondering whether I had made an illegal right turn on red at the top of the hill.
When I glanced over, the officer in the cruiser had his arm outside the car, miming the motion for rolling down a car window. (It occurred to me later that in a generation, no one will understand that arm signal.) I slowed to a crawl and hit the button to open the window on the passenger side.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the officer said. “But what does your license plate mean?
“Does it say ‘think three-sixty?”
I almost laughed out loud from relief. “Yes it does,” I said. “I work on an initiative that is all about thinking regionally. Not just about the city, or our own neighborhood, but the region as a whole.”
“I like that,” he said. “Thank you,” I said. We smiled and waved, closed our windows and rolled on–or so I thought.
Another tenth of a mile, and the cruiser was driving next to me again. And the officer was once again giving me the sign to open my window.
“I don’t mean to be rude, ma’am,” he said. “But how do I find out more? Do you have a Facebook page?”
This time I did laugh, and I shouted him the information as I sped up to keep cars behind me moving.
I am often asked about the THNK 360 on my license plate, but this is the first time it has stopped traffic. I wonder if the officer ever found us on the web and when we post this on our Facebook page, I hope he will reach out and let us know he’s following our work. In the meantime, his approach to the question was certainly unique. And in its own way, uniquely affirming.
Mary Stagaman is the Executive Director of Agenda 360 and Vice President of Regional Initiatives for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.