Five steps that would turn Ford into a leader of the ongoing discussion of America's future.
TO: William Clay Ford, Jr., Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company
RE: Leading A Real Discussion About America's Future
Dear Mr. Ford:
I write to you as a citizen concerned about America's future, at a time when so much seems to depend on the fate of the U.S. auto industry.
To clear up any confusion before it begins, I believe that (1) the auto industry is the backbone of American manufacturing and (2) the debate over a 'bailout' for the Big 3 is in fact a conversation about how to rescue our national economy. To anyone who asks: I support the requests for Congress to grant loans and lines of credit to Ford, Chrysler, and GM. And yet, despite my commitment to the U.S. automotive industry, I also believe the Big 3, and Ford in particular, have a far greater responsibility in our national life than manufacturing. They have a responsibility to lead a real discussion about America's future.
Accordingly, in this letter I suggest five (5) steps that would turn Ford into a leader of the ongoing discussion of America's future simply by showing some leadership in an industry summit already planned for June 2009. Here are those steps:
Step One: Step Up To Lead The National Summit
To lead a national discussion, Ford must convene a large public forum. As luck would have it, Ford is already a major sponsor of such a forum: The National Summit, organized by planned by the Detroit Economic Club to be held at Ford Field, June 15-17, 2009. The good news: since The National Summit is already planned, the heaving lifting is already done. The bad news: In its current form, The National Summit is little more than a PR stunt for big industry, masquerading as a 'national conversation' about energy, technology, and innovation. The National Summit should be Ford's starting point, but for Ford to lead a truly meaningful national conversation in June 2009, it will need to make several key additions to the forum.
Step Two: Invite Real Environmentalists
To turn the National Summit into a real discussion about America's future, Ford must use its influence as sponsor to make sure key environmentalists are included in the agenda as speakers. I recommend the following list as a starting point. Beyond experts on new energy, such as Al Gore, Ford should push to include speakers on all aspects of sustainability, including such experts as John Todd (sustainable waste management), David Orr (sustainable building) and Maud Barlow (sustainable water policy). This brief list is just a starting suggestion. Following the example of Denmark, Ford should invite environmental experts to consider manufacturing and sustainability as a single, unified topic critical to America's future. Equally important, Ford should dissuade the remaining corporate presenters to refrain from using the National Summit as a stage for criticizing environmental thinkers as 'unrealistic' or otherwise in opposition to the future of manufacturing.
Step Three: Host Deliberative Discussions
Leading a national discussion begins by rejecting staged productions that look like 'Town Hall' meetings and embracing authentic, deliberative discussion between citizens and leaders. To do this, Ford should persuade the Detroit Economic Club to bring grassroots organizing tools into the National Summit planning phase. Ford can find a blue print for this kind of organization in the 2008 Obama campaign interactive website, which used interactive online media to spark participation and self-organizing. Using an online system would not only enhance deliberative discussion, but would bring a wider range of participants to the forum (e.g., students, union members), as well as participants unable to attend the actual summit due to cost or distance.
Step Four: Reach Out To Bloggers
Given the incredible number of citizen journalists writing everyday about the future of the U.S. automotive industry, Ford should press the Detroit Auto Club to (1) invite bloggers to the National Summit as credentialed media, (2) give them full access to panels/discussions, and (3) provide wireless access to encourage live coverage from the summit, (4) and use the event as an opportunity to initiate permanent channels of communication between bloggers and the automotive industry. Although Ford has the resources to reach out to state-level and national bloggers by itself, it would be helpful to first convent a working group of active bloggers with knowledge of this area of new media, and who would then be tasked with soliciting summit attendees.
Step Five: Debate Lobbying Practices
To initiate a truly meaningful National Summit, Ford must take a leadership role in opening up automotive industry lobbying practices to debate. While it is good that environment, labor, healthcare, innovation, and streamlined manufacturing are already on the National Summit agenda, the relationship between the Big 3 and government must also be included. Particularly in an environment of economic crisis and potential financial bailout, no honest discussion about America's future can take place unless current automotive industry lobbying practices together with alternative approaches are debated. For Ford to take a leadership role in this difficult discussion would ber precedent setting for any leader of U.S. manufacturing, let alone for the Big 3. But this step is crucial at a time when huge segments of the American population view Ford, GM, and Chrysler with suspission due to past lobbying practices.
In summary, these are the five steps that Ford should take to become a national leader in the discussion of America's Future:
- Step Up To Lead The National Summit
- Invite Real Environmentalists
- Host Deliberative Discussions
- Reach Out To Bloggers
- Debate Lobbying Practices
Keeping in mind that 'Rome was not built in a day,' if these five steps are followed, the June 2009 National Summit would be transformed from a PR stunt by big industry in Detroit into a national forum on the future of America with Ford as its most vocal and forward looking discussion leader. The result of the forum would be structural as well as economic. Ford would have initiated new relationships with key voices in sustainable development and new media politics, and would have set a high bar for the rest of the industry. As Ford looked ahead to its accounting benchmarks for 2010 and 2012, the new relationships established at the 2009 National Summit would become starting points for innovative and long-lasting citizen-industry partnerships.
Of course, I could also write a long letter about where I believe Ford could do 'under the hood' to drive America towards a future filled with promise--but I will leave those discussions for the National Summit where they belong.
At the end of the day, American citizens are not interested in telling Ford (or GM, or Chrysler) how to run its business. What we want is to be able to trust the Big 3--again--specifically when the Big 3 have asked every American taxpayer to become their business partners for the next 5 years. The five steps I suggest are inexpensive and easy to take. By taking them as a starting point, Ford can become a catalyst for trust that results from extending a hand to a willing public, and can inspire the promise of a nation.
I am sure you receive many letters from the public each day, so I thank you for taking the time to consider the suggestions in this one. Please feel free to contact me anytime to discuss these ideas further.