The future is now

Nonprofit looks to coordinate Vineyard leaders in collaborative effort to face Island issues.

Bob Johnston, director of Vineyard Future Works, says other plans that have looked ahead are collecting dust on shelves. — Lexi Pline

The room is flooded with sunlight. There are 16 people sitting in groups of four in the Martha’s Vineyard Museum meeting room. There are people with touches of gray in their beards, three well-spoken and thoughtful middle school girls from Vineyard Montessori, and a few people in between. Some folks are involved in Island government. Nonprofits are well represented too.

At the front of the room is Bob Johnston, the enthusiastic leader of Vineyard FutureWorks, a fledgling nonprofit that’s hoping to guide the discussion about the Island’s future through collaboration at all levels.

Johnston splits those gathered into smaller groups. He gives them some prompts to promote lively discussions on addressing climate change, transportation issues (electric ferries!), and the dreaded “r” word of regionalization.

The day before the meeting, Johnston visited The Times, spurred by our challenge to folks from all walks of Island life to answer the prompt: “How we saved Martha’s Vineyard.” Johnston, a big proponent of collaboration, encourages members of Vineyard FutureWorks to contribute to the conversation. “In a way that sums up the mission and intent of Vineyard FutureWorks,” Johnston says. “One Island is stronger together.”

To that end, Vineyard FutureWorks has been working with the many Island organizations concentrating on climate change — particularly Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Adam Turner and the commission’s Climate Change Task Force led by Ben Robinson.

“We’re looking into the future for how we can bring organizations together, towns together, leaders together to address different common issues,” Johnston says.

It’s been tried before, which became apparent during Johnston’s early research. The Island Plan was crafted in 2009. It’s artfully put together and has exhaustive information, Johnston says. But it sits on a shelf collecting dust, barely mentioned in newspapers (though it was highlighted in someone’s obituary). “It’s an extremely well done document, a couple of hundred pages,” Johnston says. There was a big problem, though. “None of the town leaders — selectmen, planners — were engaged. There was no buy-in.”

This time around, Johnston is hoping to keep the momentum of looking ahead going. He’s in the process of scheduling visits to boards of selectmen.

After visits with the leaders of the Cape Cod Commission, including a visit here by Cape Cod Commission executive director Kristy Senatori and deputy director Erin Perry, Johnston is looking to copy something the Cape has done for six years called the “One Cape Summit.” That summit brought together leaders from all 15 Cape towns to work on water quality issues on the peninsula.

Vineyard FutureWorks is looking to duplicate that model here with the One Vineyard Summit bringing together all six towns and all of the groups on the Island working on climate change, Johnston said. “It’s still in the works. We’re still developing and working with other Island organizations that are in some way touching climate change. They’re coordinating their efforts. That’s really good news for me, Vineyard FutureWorks and the Island. We’re looking to coordinate with what they’re doing.”

And so that nothing gets lost in all of the work — Vineyard FutureWorks is developing an online platform called VINE (Vineyard Network) where documents and reports can be collected and easily accessed, Johnston says. “This idea of having an online place before someone goes out and does another Island plan that collects dust is something Vineyard FutureWorks is hoping to do,” he says.