The Big Table is back! In October 2019 – which either feels like yesterday or a century ago, there is no in between – over 700 people in Greater Peoria gathered at the Peoria Civic Center for a daylong conversation about our region. We talked about what we loved about Greater Peoria and what needed work. The plan was to host a Big Table event every year as a way of keeping tabs on our strategies, but that plan was dashed by the COVID pandemic. In 2020 we did host a series of virtual Big Table meetings, and while interesting, it just wasn’t the same as being in person. We were fully prepared to return to form in 2021, only to have our plans ruined by a surge in COVID (remember Delta?). But with COVID largely behind us and lots of momentum from previous years, we will be gathering again on Thursday, October 20.
The concept behind the Big Table is simple: We try to gather as many citizens together in one room as we can to host a series of facilitated discussions on topics that are important to our community. The 2022 topics are the same as 2019: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Quality of Life and Quality of Place; and Education and Workforce. Attendees are invited to come to any or all of the sessions. Each segment starts with a short panel discussion by community members. This is followed by the most important part: a discussion at tables set up across the room where ordinary citizens put their heads together on how our region can improve in these areas. Those conversations are led by a facilitator (and we need more volunteers for those roles), but the ideas and plans come right from the participants. Each session is capped off by a report out of the discussions, all of which are captured to inform our strategies going forward.
So why should you attend this year’s Big Table? A quick story: In 2019 I stood in the back of the Civic Center and marveled at the amazing turnout and energy of the inaugural Big Table. I texted a local media member to ask why neither he nor his company was covering the day. His sad but predictable response was that he’d seen plenty of similar “butcher paper brainstorming sessions” that wasted a lot of time and energy but resulted in no real action. The planning team took that comment as a personal challenge to ensure that the information gathered didn’t just stay in the room. The hundreds of pages of notes generated from that day were used to create the Big Table Comprehensive Development Strategy, a five-year plan adopted in early 2021 that has helped formulate and guide strategies like talent attraction, workforce development, and entrepreneurship support. And we didn’t just come up with a list of things to do – we went out and started doing them! This summary can read a bit more about progress after the first year.
Let’s face it, it is easy to sit back and complain about the state of things. Or, if you don’t have any problems, it is also easy to be content and hope things won’t get worse. But for our region to truly advance – both to overcome our problems and improve the things we love – we need active participation and commitment. If you can give us an hour and a half of your time, or your whole day, please consider joining us on October 20 to share your thoughts on where Greater Peoria is and where it could be going. Register here.