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What's the epic story of your city?

Your Talent Dividend story is epic; we just know it.
Your Talent Dividend story is epic; we just know it. -
Hi, cities. It's your Talent Dividend Network editor, and this month I'm speaking up from behind my normally silent computer screen to explore this question:
 
How do can your city do a better job telling its story? 
 
As I reflect on the past eight months of this project -- and the stories I've heard since I attended my first Talent Dividend Meeting in Houston last April -- I remember something elementary, but powerful.
 
To tell your story, you have to know what your story is.
 
Many cities have approached this with data, which is no surprise -- data drives the entire Talent Dividend initiative, and the way that cities are working with data, sharing data, aggregating and disaggregating data, and reporting it all to the community is a story all its own.
 
But data is a supporting actor -- nay, a stage hand -- in the epic tale of your city. Sure, the data helps you aim your efforts, shapes your strategy, and gives you an axis for partnerships to organize around. But what happens when the curtain goes up? Where are we? Who's in the spotlight? And why, out here in the nosebleed seats, should I care? 
 
For just a few minutes, forget that strategic framework, that branding campaign, that social media intern you've been meaning to hire. Let's talk about your story, which, told well, could change the fate of your city and the people who live in it. Because that, and no less, is what's at stake.
 
Define your city's challenges 
 
In El Paso, first-generation students in outer-ring suburbs need help getting to school -- physically. The nearest college campus is two 45-minute bus rides away.
 
In Fargo, kids are dropping out of college to take high-wage, low-skill, physically-demanding jobs in the oil industry.
 
In Detroit, a Big Three mindset -- where you never used to need a college degree to get a good job -- persists, even though many jobs in the automotive industry are gone, and those that remain are permanently changed.
 
Many of your city's challenges will not be unique. It's hard to retain in-demand talent. (Only New York City is New York City, after all.) Lots of working adults need to finish their degrees. Students in lots of places are not coming to college prepared. 
 
But chances are there is something in your city's history, geography, culture, population, employer community, government, or wherever -- some specific, definitive adversity that you can pinpoint (without pointing fingers). What is it?
 
Define it, and you can begin to tell a story about overcoming it.
 
Make it bigger
 
Because it's not just about the $1 million Prize. It's not about that 1 percentage point increase in degree-holding residents (although the impact of that percentage point could be profound). It's not even about you and your program.
 
What are your city's Talent Dividend efforts really about? Equality? Economic growth? Making life better for working adults? Making the future brighter for your city's kids?
 
"Look for things you want the media to understand," says Scott Jansen, Director of the Milwaukee Talent Dividend. Milwaukee has focused its efforts on providing clear pathways to meaningful careers for every kid in school, and while the term "Talent Dividend" is rarely in the news, "There are stories about this all the time -- what's happening in terms of skills development, what's happening in terms of matriculation at colleges," Jansen says. 
 
Jansen adds that the Milwaukee Talent Dividend program doesn't have a "media strategy" -- at least not one that's built on sending out press releases. Rather, they work to engage the media as a partner in their efforts and invite journalists to learn from the network.
 
"We look for opportunities to bring well-known people throughout the state to our events. The media doesn't care about me, but when you have the State Secretary [of Workforce Development] coming, that makes statewide news," he says. 
 
Change the conversation -- and own it 
 
It's easy to get stuck in the trenches of old fights. Is college too expensive? Where are the jobs? Why are our parents / public schools / technical colleges / municipal leaders failing our kids? 
 
You have an opportunity to challenge those narratives. What myths -- about the skills gap, about the talent in your community, about jobs available in your region -- are you busting? Do your Talent Dividend efforts signal a truce between bickering institutions, or an alignment of partners that have never come together on this scale before? Has the Talent Dividend Initiative been a catalyst for power-players in your region to transcend political divisions? Is the work you are doing in your city changing regional or statewide priorities?
 
In Cleveland, an unprecedented coalition of public schools, higher ed institutions, community organizations, led by the Mayor, sat in a room together and signed a compact promising to work together -- and be transparent about their data, for the first time ever. 
 
In Wichita, as we reported in August, the Talent Dividend became a "rallying cry" for organizations to start working together: "Let's care less about where students and going and care more that they ARE going, and completing degrees and certificates," said Dr. Jackie Vietta, President of Butler Community College, of getting past a culture of competition between educational institutions.
 
It's up to you to speak out. Write an op-ed or guest post for a local media outlet and talk about what's working, or why your work is game-changing. (Consider this example from Louisville.) You may want to ask a local college president or business leader to co-author it with you. 
 
Find the face(s) of the Talent Dividend 
 
I return again and again to Houston's My Degree Counts PSAs, which are simple and true: Just students from all walks of life, talking for a few seconds about their decision to go back to school. 
 


Do you work with a great team member whose work has made your success possible? Can you find students who are willing to speak about their challenges and triumphs? Whose successes do you share when you're out in the community talking about your work? Put a human face and a human story behind your efforts, and people will care. 
 
Talk to us
 
This is an easy one: We built this site specifically to help you share the work you're doing in your city, and all of these examples come from stories we've written for Talent Dividend Network.
 
Have a story to tell? Introduce yourself: I'm at amy@issuemediagroup.com.
 
We're also hosting a live chat about telling your story on Wednesday, Feb. 27, over at The Civic Commons. Just log in at 2 pm EST and jump right in. Participating in live chats is a great way to get connected to other Talent Dividend leaders and to shape the stories you want to tell.
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