To talk to Envision Utah’s leaders is to learn that they value the organization’s procedures almost as much as they do the tangible changes. From the beginning, Envision Utah has been successful at engaging citizens. Nearly 20,000 people participated in the first round of developing a “quality growth strategy” more than 15 years ago. Robert Grow’s goal for the latest effort, known as “Your Utah, Your Future,” is 50,000 people. Programs have been launched in communities ranging from Salt Lake City to the towns of Provo, Magna and Kearns.
Today, a decade and a half in, Envision Utah has become a national model for planning. It now faces new, divisive challenges. And there’s one major exception to the success story: education. Envision Utah has been unable to do much about Utah’s public schools — the state has slipped in most performance rankings and per capita spending per pupil is the lowest in the country. The state education budget has endured years of stagnation since the Great Recession began; only this year has Gov. Gary Herbert begun to recommend a significant new investment in the public school system.
But on balance, at a time when dysfunction seems to define government at the national level — and, increasingly, at the state and local level — Envision Utah’s grassroots, nonideological, transparent process, blending sophisticated research into relevant facts and community values, has a story to tell that extends far beyond the borders of its state.