What’s in a name?

Posted on October 25, 2010 by


A few months ago, I was invited to a brainstorm meeting with approximately 10 of my fellow Public Information Officers (PIO’s). It was the first time I’d heard of these countywide change ideas, at the time loosely referred to as “The 3% challenge.”

In the meeting, we talked about what this project is, “We know employees want to do things better. We know employees have good ideas we are not hearing.”  We also talked about what we hoped it wouldn’t be, “If I hear,  ‘do more with less’ or ‘think outside the box’ one more time…”

The meeting was scheduled so we could brainstorm and name the program. We talked in circles for about 10 minutes and finally someone said, “Let’s go around the room and talk about why we work in government.”

And we did. One by one, I heard my friends and colleagues talk about working for and with their communities, about finding meaning in helping people, about communicating our work and the services we provide, about feeling good when they go home at night.

I started in government because public service has always been important to me. I stay because local government can directly touch lives, because we can and sometimes do actually make a difference.

By the time the last person spoke, we were all stunned. I was amazingly touched. It’s easy to forget why we are here and why most of showed up in government. When we got to “Be the difference,” all of us liked it. It expressed what we wanted to do with our jobs in local government.

I suggested we talk to other employees before we settled on the name. We didn’t want to create a program that cause people to roll their eyes or immediately feel skeptical.  In my line of work, it’s called usability testing and we went directly to the source.

One afternoon, in the lobby of the Chinook building, my colleague, Natasha Jones and I asked random employees. We talked to people about the program, and the name.  There were a few employees who were skeptical but most people we talked with were excited. The general consensus was “If we start seeing results, we’d love to help.”

The conversations with employees turned out to be very similar to our meeting with the PIO’s. No one wants to keep doing the same things that aren’t working. Employees largely told us, they do want to be the difference in their work, communities and in their service to the public.

What are you already doing to make a difference? We’d love to know.

Written by Sabra Schneider, Webmaster for King County. 
Sabra has worked for King County for more than 5 years and in public service for more than 15. She currently manages the enterprise web site and much of the social media for the county. She believes in asking for forgiveness though not always permission.