Top Public Innovators to Gather for Retreat on Idea-Sharing, Self-Reflection
Years ago, community expert Rich Harwood realized from conversations with leaders of national nonprofits, corporations, universities and foundations that they lacked informal opportunities to gather with others inside and outside their fields, where they could discover and share new ideas and find ways to renew their commitment to their work.
Harwood, founder and president of the Bethesda, Md.-based Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, envisioned a weekend-long retreat – one that would purposely exclude Power Points and official presentations. In order to be successful, Harwood determined, the event should take place where top decision-makers from a variety of fields could escape the daily grind and speak openly about the challenges they face in their work and lives.
Harwood, a nationally recognized expert with a 25-year track record in the fields of public innovation and community change, turned his idea into a three-day, invitation-only event: the Annual Public Innovators Summit, now in its seventh year. This year’s Summit is scheduled to begin Sept. 20 in Park City, Utah.
“Typically when we go to conferences we’re expected to perform,” Harwood said. “We walk in wearing our armor and we’re supposed to have all the answers. People jockey for position. It’s exhausting.”
The Public Innovators Summit aims for something entirely different. Instead, Harwood creates an environment in which people feel comfortable bringing their full “selves” to the table. Much of the weekend engages participants in structured conversations, small-group sessions and personal reflections.
From the start, The Harwood Institute has limited each Summit to 50-60 people, ensuring individual participation. This year, attendees include the head of the American Library Association, the executive vice president/COO of a local United Way in Michigan, a healthcare practitioner with the Environmental Protection Agency and an executive from the American Red Cross. Others come from the worlds of public radio, city government and philanthropic groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Each summit kicks off with a theme centered on a single word. This year, it’s “Humility: Why now? Why me?” Previous themes include “Love: What is its role in public life?”; “Solitude: What is it and where do you find it?”; and “Belief: What does it meant to believe and what do we believe in?”
“These are things you can only speak about from your experience, not from preparing a presentation in advance,” Harwood said.
This year’s Summit includes a special session on communities facing tragedies and disasters, featuring the case of Newtown, Conn. where 26 children and educators were massacred in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The town brought in Harwood to guide community-wide meetings to help determine the fate of the school. Within weeks, Harwood led a 28-person, ad-hoc leadership committee to a unanimous decision to raze and rebuild the school on its present site.
The Harwood Institute is a national nonprofit organization that teaches and coaches people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together. Harwood is the author of numerous works, including his most recent book: “The Work of Hope: How Individuals & Organizations Can Authentically Do Good.”