Office of Public Engagement

Putting Our Collective Heads Together

On Friday March 30th, I traveled to Orlando, FL, to participate in the latest White House Community Partnership Summit.  These Administration "unconferences" have been put together out of the recognition that the best ideas don't come out of Washington, DC, but can be found in the people and communities around the United States.

The Orlando summit brought together nearly 500 community leaders from the region and was the 4th White House summit in the last few months geared toward eliciting new ideas from around the country.

My role as the President's science and technology advisor naturally led me to focus my remarks on that domain -- specifically, all that the President is doing to strengthen science, technology, and innovation in this country and, thus, our economy and our quality of life.  But what's great about these gatherings is the blank-slate agenda.  The goal is not to talk at attendees, but to have a day-long dialogue.  Community leaders and senior Administration officials arrived in the morning having no clue what conversations or topics would emerge or bear the most fruit. Although I had to depart in mid-morning in order to visit with another group of forward thinkers in central Florida, I heard from my colleagues that by the end of the day they had engaged in fascinating discussions about a range of important issues, including diversifying and expanding Florida’s work force, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and the importance of basic research and space technology.

During both of my stops in Florida, I couldn’t help but be struck by the many accomplishments of the State’s far-sighted business, medical, and tech communities—and the smart melding of public and private resources. This was ably demonstrated by the Lake Nona Medical City—a unique innovation cluster that was my second stop of the day.  At Medical City, one sees the respective strengths of universities and colleges, private research institutes, multiple hospitals, and the Federal government brought together in one place to create a sum much greater than those parts.

All told the trip was energizing and inspiring—for me and the other Administration leaders who attended, and, from all indications, for the hundreds of other participants—reminding us all that sustained engagement with people of all walks of life with their many ideas of how to best move our country forward is a critical part of creating and sustaining an America built to last.

John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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