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America Speaks’ Enduring Impact

Last week I learned about AmericaSpeaks shutting their doors due to financial troubles. I was saddened by this news. AmericaSpeaks has done amazing work for nearly 20 years. The tools and techniques they have experimented with and deployed have had a tremendous impact on improving civic engagement and governance in communities across the nation. I have deep appreciation for all they have contributed to the professions of planning and community building–contributions that will endure for years to come.

AmericaSpeaks has helped and influenced PlaceMatters in a number of ways. In 1998, the same year she started AmericaSpeaks, Carolyn Lukensmeyer was the charismatic keynote speaker at our inaugural Tools for Community Design and Decision Making (TCDM) conference in Chattanooga, a conference I helped organize while at the Department of Energy that provided the inspiration to start PlaceMatters. Joe Goldman, who was also an important thought leader at AmericaSpeaks for over a decade, worked closely with us at PlaceMatters on a number of occasions. They both provided guidance and inspiration for my work and the work of PlaceMatters overall.

Below is a stitched together picture I took at their Listening to New York event after 9/11 where AmericaSpeaks gave me a VIP pass to roam the event. Watching AmericaSpeaks in action was incredible: 5,000 participants sat at 500 round tables with volunteer facilitators and notetakers at each table using networked computers and keypads for each of the participants.  Dozens of tables set up to accommodate multiple languages offered simultaneous translation. Residents of the region alternated between full group presentations and more intimate roundtable discussions, followed by keypad polling to further prioritize suggestions collected from the table conversations. The tools and techniques AmericaSpeaks has tested and perfected over the years have inspired public agencies, professional facilitators, and organizations like PlaceMatters to experiment with similar techniques. Together we have worked to improve civic and stakeholder participation across the county.


Best wishes to staff as they find new jobs and begin new chapters in life. I’m sure we will continue to cross paths with many of them over time and that they will continue to do great things.