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We are Public Works!

April 17, 2020

We are Public Works!
You likely have heard this statement before. If you’ve spent any time on the APWA (national) website or watched any of their videos or attended PWX (annual national conference), you’ve heard these four words. 
What does We are Public Works mean to you?
What does We are Public Works mean now?
What will We are Public Works mean tomorrow?
As the President of the Minnesota chapter of the American Public Works Association, I’ve taken some time to reflect on those questions, and I wanted to share it with all of you. 
What does We are Public Works mean?
Like most good taglines, it serves multiple purposes. For APWA, it’s a concise way to share three key sentiments:
  • That APWA is an organization that serves and is a partner to those who work in public works
  • That we are all connected – in our work, in our values and in our mission
  • That APWA is on our team – and is one of us, and understands the challenges and opportunities we face 
I agree with all three sentiments and that is a big part of the reason why I have been a member for nearly 25 years. 
I’ve personally adopted the saying We are Public Works as well – and when I say it, I say it with great pride. Saying the words, We are Public Works means to me that: 
  • I strive to ensure and advance the health, safety and welfare of the people living and working in the community which I serve. 
  • I chose, and continue to choose every day, to put the collective needs of our community above individual (including my own) interests. This includes being dedicated to looking past immediate opportunities, challenges, or short cuts to make sure we are looking at the last impact on all members of the community we serve. 
  • I’m ready to do whatever it takes in response to the latest crisis, to take a stand when needed, whether I feel like it or not. It means I’m part of a team that is ready to go 24-7-365.
Okay, so what does it mean today, during a pandemic, under a shelter in place order? Well, it means the same thing it has always meant – those same sentiments, values, and missions. But during this time, that responsibility, the values we hold and the impacts we make are heightened. 
What does We are Public Works mean now?
I believe that the answer to the question What does We are Public Works mean now is we will move forward through innovation – resiliency – learning.
Innovation – this pandemic is not changing the work we do, but altering how we do the work we do. This means we will continue to do the things we’ve always done in ways we’ve never done them before, through changing the way we operate – leading to some inefficiencies but likely even more innovations. 
Resiliency - It means we stir up our creative side to think differently about how to serve those that are vulnerable and fearful. Just because we can’t do it the same way we always have, doesn’t mean we don’t do it. We challenge ourselves to think about new ways to get old work done. We challenge ourselves to keep doing the work – even during uncertain times. 
Learning – during this time, we are taking the time to learn, through individual investment and leaning on each other, sharing our ideas, and communicating our successes and hardship. As an APWA community we reach out to one another to check in – not only on best practices, but also on our peers to make sure they’re alright and to give them a smile or maybe even some laughter.
What will We are Public Works mean tomorrow?
What’s next? What does tomorrow look like? What will it mean when COVID-19 is but a memory and life is back to normal, whatever that is? It will mean that we can rejoin our co-workers, our teammates and shake their hands or slap them on the back. It will mean that we can meet face to face at an APWA-MN event and ask about that new piece of equipment or how you did that thing I’ve never done before. It will mean that we will still do the things we have always done. It will mean We are Public Works.
With National Public Works Week (May 17-23) only a month away, you still have time to prepare to tell others what it means when someone says, we are Public Works. Recognizing the unique situation we will find ourselves in this year, this may be the perfect time to further enhance your social media skills with some shout outs about what you do and the people you do it with. Photos say a thousand words; what a perfect means in which for many of us PW types to share with others. Take an opportunity to share APWA’s/our vision - Advancing quality of life for all – with those that we serve. We could all use a reminder right about now. Thank you for your efforts. Be of good courage.
Russ Matthys
President, APWA-MN Chapter

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