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What is Reach? A way to be heard

I spent the weekend of the solar eclipse in a beautiful cabin a few miles outside of Asheville. A small group of us had gathered together to eat great food, hike, and talk about life. On Monday afternoon we gathered together on the front deck of the cabin to watch as the eclipse began and shadows began to fall over the valley in front of us. It was a spectacular reminder of the magic that nature and the universe still holds.

We departed soon after the near totality of the eclipse occurred, and then Oprah herself led me to another magical moment.

For the past several months, our work team had worked tirelessly to build out the Reach NC Voices initiative. We wrestled with hard questions, built technology, spent time in communities across the state, and engaged in conversation with North Carolinians around critical issues.

One of the issues we struggled with for months were the words around the project. How exactly do we describe something that is iterative in nature? How do we explain the end goal when we are in the midst of a participatory design process that leads to shifting work and technology as we figure out the needs of the community?

Enter Oprah. In an interview with Vogue that I found in my Twitter feed, Oprah shared her one big takeaway from 30,000-plus interviews: “There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t want—in any conversation, encounter, experience with another human being—to feel like they matter. And you can resolve any issue if you could just get to what it is that they want—they want to be heard. And they want to know that what they said to you meant something.”

I immediately screenshotted the image and sent it to my team with a one word text: This.

Because Oprah led us to the words we had been searching for all along. Ultimately, in ways big and small, we have been working to make sure that more North Carolinians know, feel, and understand that they matter. Our technology and our process build has been oriented to support work that shows what you, and other North Carolinians tell us, means something to us and to others.

I believe if we begin each step of our process with that mentality, then we will discover something remarkable. And that is why we tell everyone that Reach NC Voices can be defined in part by our process which is rooted in participatory design.


This week we held a design sprint to map out the next wave of work for Reach NC Voices and EdNC. We conducted user interviews, met with experts, drafted product concepts, and moved into user testing with lightweight versions of possible technology advances.

The first question: How do we make people understand that they matter to us and that their perspective matters to the future of our children, schools, communities, and state?

The second question: How do we build a sense of hospitality into our work?

A few months ago, I recommended restauranteur Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table to my team. Meyer repeatedly told the world that hospitality and service are different. “Service is delivering on your promise. Hospitality is making people feel good while you’re delivering on that promise.”

Those two sentences have become one of our mottos in recent months, but particularly this week as we explore the second key part of Reach NC Voices— our technology.

When the technology works, then we are keeping our commitment to the people of North Carolina. We are providing a service.

But we have to go beyond that and build hospitality into what we do. We also want you to feel joy and delight. I cannot wait to see how we build delight into both our technology and our process.

Education and civic engagement

Why does this matter to education?

We believe schools are a hub for the community. They are one of the great institutions of American life alongside libraries, community colleges and universities. 

Civic engagement and education matter. First Vote NC, another initiative of EducationNC, is designed to assist students with graduating civic ready. Reach NC Voices is designed to connect people to policy and policy to people. If more of our students graduate ready to participate as citizens, then we consider our work successful.

Our design sprint

We concluded our first design sprint for the project.

We asked difficult questions. How do we engage diverse communities? What definitions of community do we want to use? How do we build more structure to support communities that provide meaning?

We wrestled with how to engender more trust among North Carolinians, and we pushed to explore how we would build connections that would lead to greater empathy.

We plotted out new strategies and tools that will support us providing information to North Carolinians as one of our core service offerings. We mapped out an avenue that will allow you to choose your own civic engagement adventure. We considered new modes of communication (including emojis!) and how they would lead to more individuals having voices.

This work will inform our technology, our process, and our project. But we want to hear from you. What else would you want to see from Reach NC Voices and EdNC?

Your voice matters. You matter.


Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.