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ISU Professors Help City Council Frame a Vision and Goals to Serve the Community

February 6, 2023

Two men holding a flag

When three new members joined Pocatello’s City Council mid-term recently, Mayor Brian Blad saw an opportunity to improve communication, and he turned to Idaho State University’s Department of Communication, Media, and Persuasion for help. 

Professor and Associate Dean John Gribas and department chair Jim DiSanza worked with the group to  develop a series of short and long-range goals and rebuild a sense of community and vision for shared governance.

“They’ve been able to put together goals,” Blad said. “This will help the city grow and help departments understand the focus the Council would like in the budgeting process coming up this next year.”

Over the course of two meetings, Gribas and DiSanza guided the group through various brainstorming exercises to frame short and long-range goals.

“John did a great job in that meeting of helping some of the newer members frame goals that they thought their constituents wanted, and helped them state these in a way they could be accomplished,” DiSanza said.

DiSanza and Gribas describe their role as facilitators, helping to guide the process in a positive, healthy way. 

“We used the City’s mission and values statements that we helped develop in 2018 as a guide during the goal-setting process,” said DiSanza.

“The nice thing about our work,” Gribas said, “is that we’ve got some history with the city and because we’re local and doing this as a service, we can and do provide something that’s very unique and individually adapted. It's created for them based on talking through their ideas.”

DiSanza said the process of working with Blad and the City Council is almost always surprising. 

“We’re always adapting to what’s been said during the facilitation process. Sometimes we’ll give them a break and talk with each other about what the next steps are. Some of it is made up in the moment because it’s what’s needed in the moment.”

Blad said the pair offers a safe place for Council members to have an open mind and express what they’re thinking.

As teachers, Gribas and DiSanza say they incorporate some of the practices they engage in with students in the classroom into their meetings with the City Council, such as creative communications strategies.

For example, both DiSanza and Gribas deal with the power of narrative or storytelling in their classes. Asking the Council to imagine a narrative or story written 10  years in the future helped them identify long-range goals. As a way of pinpointing long-range goals, the Council was asked to imagine a reporter from the local paper doing a story on the city’s positive progress in 2032. The members were asked to imagine the specific accomplishments they hoped to see reported in that article. 

“When I work with city and county governments and businesses, I enjoy seeing how effective some of the most basic communication ideas are,” Gribas said. “What we teach in communication is really important and can impact people’s lives professionally and personally.”

Their work as facilitators also benefits their work in the classroom. For example, helping the city develop its mission and values statements gave DiSanza the confidence to incorporate the same practices in his leadership classes. Now his students practice developing mission statements for various kinds of organizations. 

Blad said he believes the work Gribas and DiSanza are doing has made an impact on the departments and department heads.

“Had I sat down and said ‘This is the direction the City Council needs to go,’ I would have been on the wrong road,” Blad says. “Jim and John were able to get things out and help the council be open and honest.”

Gribas said the response from the council and mayor has been positive. 

“An important part of a faculty member’s responsibilities include their service role as a way to contribute and give back to the community who helps support the university,” Gribas said. “The mayor has been pleased and continues to ask us back. I get the sense that he sees this as a partnership and collaboration between the university and the city. For us it’s really meaningful work.”


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