MML #3 – The workshop stimulates creative thinking and colleague connectivity

MML #3 – The workshop stimulates creative thinking and colleague connectivity

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 15, 2022)

Muskegon, MI – As elected officials and city administrators from across Michigan gathered for the Hacking Creativity workshop, they found small jars of Play-doh, boxes of crayons, printouts and piles of candy on the tables. Several instinctively dove in, while most waited for instructions.

And then there was an icebreaker. Icebreakers are part of the course at workshops and team building retreats, but are often not considered back in the workplace. Tim Dempsey and Julie Durham of Public Sector Consultants hope to change that. The consulting firm has provided a range of technical services to government and other entities for over 42 years in Michigan. One of the ways they keep their team engaged and critically thinking is by setting aside time for icebreakers, fun conversations, and activities.

That day was an opportunity to talk about music. And with people from across the state, of varying ages and musical tastes, it made for some fun discussions. Their task – think of songs that relate to local government.

“We Built This City on Rock and Roll” popped into many minds, and one group ventured into comparisons between Sly and Family Stone’s “Everyday People” and Arrested Development’s hit “People Everyday” from the 1960s. 1990.

The discussions helped those who didn’t know each other feel more comfortable, and it was the type of conversation where the more input and ideas, the better the results. Often in work environments there are those who share ideas more than others. And fun conversations can be a way to break those patterns.

According to Dempsey, creativity can:

-Helping people learn.

– Create a memorable experience.

-Free us from groupthink.

-Bring people together.

– Disrupt ingrained power dynamics.

“It’s not just for arts, culture and music,” he said. “It’s a process that helps us solve problems.

One problem with creativity is that it’s not valued as much as productivity and it’s something adults can easily unlearn and forget. “When we are children, creativity is part of learning. But when kids go to school, they are taught to color inside the lines,” he said. “We unlearn creativity.”

But can things like coloring, music, and Play-doh sculptures make a difference at City Hall?

“City government is one of the toughest places to insert creativity,” Dempsey said. Yet the effects are noticeable if local leaders make the effort to create a creative environment. He and his team demonstrated this by having the tables work on some of the challenges their communities face. Topics included things like communication, addressing social media challenges, housing needs, serving the elderly and more. Each group was tasked with coming up with a variety of solutions, no matter how silly or unrealistic.

For communication, for example, some ideas included creating policies around communication, website improvements, videos modeling civil discussions, kids sharing messages, and more fun solutions like writing in the sky and airplane banners. Participants also shared their own experiences in creative problem solving.

Ferndale Mayor Melanie Piana was among the attendees. As in many communities, the contentious nature of politics and discontent on social media have begun to impact public meetings. She took an idea from another convention, and now has a reflective moment at the start of meetings with guided relaxation to help diffuse the tension in the room.

Another concrete example of creative thinking played out in the room. In Muskegon, the city has partnered with Grand Valley State University to use a “Be-Bot” robot that runs over beach sand and picks up trash, like self-propelled vacuum cleaners. A representative from Montague was at the same table and will now tune in in hopes of bringing technology to their city.

Road repair also saw creative solutions. A Burton official explained how in their community they have a program in place where residents can ask the city to set up an assessment just for their street, where residents pay 50% of the cost of repaving and the city pays the other half. . Residents have a 12-year payment plan on cost. Petitions require 50% + 1 of households to sign the petition.

Another community is looking at transit options by reaching out to local businesses and large corporations to help them sign up for their system and not just relying on tax funds.

As they discussed solutions as a group, being able to play together allowed ideas to flow more freely. It was easier for someone to suggest writing in the sky, say, with Play-doh in their hands, or for someone else to talk about communication challenges while doodling with crayons.

“Creativity helps bring people into conversations,” Durham said. “Being able to talk about music allowed us to relax and laugh.”

Public sector consultants can help municipalities with a variety of issues, with creative approaches. Learn more at

This article is part of a series about the 2022 Michigan Municipal League convention that took place in Muskegon from October 19-21. We’ll be sharing articles from the convention over the next few weeks to help readers better understand the issues facing local governments. If you’re not already on our list for Daily Headlines, please subscribe HERE so you don’t miss out on this exciting and informative series! Find other MML-related articles HERE.
To learn more about the Michigan Municipal League, visit their website at

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