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Helping Oregon Dream Big

From the beginning, the Oregon Rising project was a big, fast monster of a job. More than simply brand, more than just public outreach, and more than research, the stakes were high. Oregon Rising offered what might be a one-time chance to invite Oregonians to speak up about what they want for schools – beyond budgets and beyond district boundaries.

Not far into the project the effort’s sponsors – the three leading education groups in the state – upped the ante. “What if we could make this the biggest public outreach project anyone’s seen lately? Maybe ever?” The discussion swerved to a hard measurement of success: 10,000 voices.

Some people – experts, even – said it couldn’t be done. Hadn’t been done. As far as we can tell, it hadn’t been attempted.

We knew we could brand the outreach effort, develop tools to tell its story and build a hub for it to live online. We could define the effort, describe its goals and inspire participation.

Yet we knew we couldn’t do it alone, and that fortunately, we had the single thing that would give the effort credibility and meaning, helping it bridge the canyon between marketing and true community outreach. We had the endorsement and support of superintendents and principals across the state. Their organization, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) had conceived of the outreach effort and committed the resources to pulling it off. Besides funding, they vowed to hold meetings in their communities.

We also had two other partners: the Oregon School Boards Association and the Oregon Education Association. All told, the membership groups of those working as administrators, teachers and volunteer board members, were ready to help.

And that was the clincher: total engagement from all parties.

After a competitive process, Verb was hired in December 2015. There was no name for the work we were to do, and no brand -- just a concept. That concept, that it was time to hear from Oregonians about their dreams for education, was put forward in community meetings that included a survey component, and via an online hub that presented similar content and the same survey.

The work was performed at breakneck speeds: the entire outreach element of the campaign had to be complete by the end of the school year and the survey results (including six open-ended questions) would need to be processed, analyzed and shared with stakeholders and legislators by fall 2016.

By June 1, we had developed a brand, videos, website, launched the campaign and managed all aspects of the outreach, including support for the school districts. We had issued a survey to all Oregonians and made it available in seven languages. As hoped, more than 10,000 people had taken it, with representation from all counties.

As of this writing, the survey has closed and translations of the open-ended surveys are complete. Verb has enlisted the help of a well respected research agency that will process, evaluate and report on the findings of the survey. When that work is complete, we’ll be sharing the findings with participants, stakeholders and legislators.

Taken in total, the outcome of the Oregon Rising effort is three-fold. First, there is now an established consortium and branded effort that can activate to reach out to all of Oregon in an instant. Second, the communities who participated shared their goals for their local schools, helping each district understand the will of its community, and their relevant needs. Finally – and this will be seen when the 2017-2019 education budget is set – we believe the show of support and prioritization for education will help motivate legislators to increase education funding. And then, with that increase, each district will be able to prioritize spending based on what its community wished for, as it envisioned Oregon, rising.