Shared “Somethingness” and Common Bonds That Bring Us Together
OUTdrive Episode 43 with Michael Sweeney
In this episode of OUTdrive, Cliff visits with Michael Sweeney, Missouri State Bicentennial Coordinator for The State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSMO). In his role, Michael works with the Missouri Bicentennial Commission and a variety of state organizations and agencies to increase awareness and generate participation in Missouri Bicentennial-related activities and events. He is passionate about discovering the shared “somethingness” of Missourians, celebrating our state’s rich history and laying the groundwork for a successful future.
Read more for insight into the power of market research and the role it has played in the Missouri Bicentennial, as well as the extensive planning that set the foundation for Missouri Bicentennial events and activities. They also discuss diversity in Missouri and across rural America and the importance of common bonds to build connections.
The Power of Market Research
The Missouri General Assembly recognized the significance of the upcoming Missouri Bicentennial years ago and they wanted to share the importance of the event with others. Knowing that a successful, state-wide celebration would be quite the task, they got to work early, building a strong foundation based on research and information before planning activities and events.
In 2013, the Missouri General Assembly requested that SHSMO begin envisioning what the Missouri Bicentennial commemoration may look like. The team quickly began conducting market research to learn what Missourians would be interested in and what they’d like to see happen. These focus groups and their findings quickly became a great resource for Michael and his team.
“The important thing they did was in 2014 and 2015, spending time doing focus groups across the state to get a sense of what people might be interested in,” said Michael. “Certainly in Columbia and Jeff City, but also Hannibal, Cape Girardeau, St. Joe and Kansas City and around the state, to ask people what their expectations were and what kind of things they’d like to see happen.”
Facilitating focus groups allowed the SHSMO team to fully understand their audience and enabled the team to put together a plan for the activities and events that would enhance the Missouri Bicentennial experience. Conducting research at the beginning of the process enables teams to be better prepared, a point that Cliff emphasizes.
“I love the approach they took with doing the research before they really get started doing much of anything,” said Cliff. “So many people jump over that step and start making strategic marketing decisions, or even business decisions or event planning, based on intuition or what they think they know or what they do know. Research serves as such a great foundation for any kind of communications program, marketing program and business planning. Sometimes it confirms what you know, and many times it tells you a lot of things you don’t know.”
Initial research and focus groups provided valuable insight that paved the way for the Bicentennial team’s efforts moving forward. “A couple of things became pretty clear pretty quickly,” says Michael. “I think we’re all pretty aware of the state’s extensive geographic and cultural diversity. It’s a fairly fragmented place, not just an urban-rural divide, but segments of our state are all a little bit different. One of the things that the focus groups tried to come to was, ‘What are the unifying things for Missouri?’ and those are actually really hard to come by.”
In addition to recognizing the need to find common bonds for Missourians, the team also recognized the need for core principles to guide their work. By developing these principles early on, Michael and his team were able to focus on planning activities and events guided by the team’s established principles.
“The mission of Missouri 2021 is to promote a better understanding of Missouri and its regions, communities, and people, both past and present. The Missouri Bicentennial provides opportunities for citizens to celebrate, explore, and share perspectives on the state’s rich history and culture.”
There is no doubt that an event as significant as the Missouri Bicentennial is a great cause for celebration. Backed by research and developed with strong guiding principles, the team’s hard work began years ago and is coming to fruition throughout 2021, and specifically on August 10, 2021, the day that officially marks the 200th Anniversary of Missouri becoming the 24th state to enter the United States.
Highlights for the 2021 Missouri Bicentennial Celebration
Missouri Bicentennial Quilt. In partnership with Missouri Star Quilt Company and the Missouri State Quilters Guild, the team created the Missouri Bicentennial Quilt. With one quilt block to represent every Missouri county and the independent City of St. Louis, the Missouri Bicentennial Quilt showcases the unique characteristics of Missouri culture and style.
My Missouri 2021. From May 15, 2018, through November 1, 2019, Missouri 2021 invited professional and amateur photographers to capture and share unique and meaningful aspects of Missouri to showcase the state’s tremendous geographic and cultural diversity.
Endorsement program. This program encourages nonprofits, communities and government agencies to create Missouri Bicentennial-related projects that align with the Missouri 2021 mission.
All of these initiatives were developed with one goal in mind: promoting a better understanding of communities, counties, regions and people in the past and present. The team wanted to provide individuals with the opportunity to incorporate a Missouri Bicentennial spirit into things they were already doing and make it easy for them to participate. They encouraged other organizations to join their efforts. Several organizations banded together as the Missouri Bicentennial Alliance and kicked off the early programs while also launching their own complementary programs.
Missouri 2021 Ice Cream Social. As time went on, Michael and his team began planning the events that would take place on or around August 10, the official day of the Bicentennial. They continued to focus on things that people could easily be involved in, engage with and make their own. After creative brainstorming and strategic planning, the Missouri Bicentennial Alliance recognized that an ice cream social would be the ideal way to celebrate Missouri’s statehood. Simple, engaging and open for personalization, the state-wide ice cream social will offer community, conversation and shared experiences that are the foundation of Missouri’s livelihood.
Diversity in Missouri and Across Rural America
The Missouri Bicentennial provides the opportunity to study and celebrate the rich history of Missouri while looking ahead to the future. As Michael and the Missouri Bicentennial Alliance have learned, there is unique fragmentation, both demographic and geographic, throughout Missouri and across rural America. However, we all share common experiences and bonds that connect us at the core.
“Rural Missouri is incredibly diverse in ways that we don’t always recognize, and that diversity is a strength,” says Michael. “It is farmers, but it is not just farmers. It is all kinds of businesses, new businesses, it is people who are educators, it is all of these people who are building and sustaining communities that support the well being of their fellow community members. And there’s lessons to be learned from that.”
Gain additional insights and hear more from Cliff and Michael in this episode of OUTdrive. We also encourage you to learn more about our state’s history while celebrating the future and invite you to join us in celebrating the Missouri Bicentennial. Visit Missouri2021.org, the Missouri Bicentennial team does a great job of capturing the unique culture of Missouri and telling its story through high-quality photography.