This week in the Lab, Mariah Barksdale, Caroline Lamb and I continued to address our group’s central question: how do you closely link community members and local government? To answer this, we started out the best way we knew how — by talking to community members about how they’d like to better be informed about local and state government activities.

Imagining a fictional scenario in which our product was successful enabled us to explore exactly where we want to go with our ideas. Photo credit: Whitney Harris.

Imagining a fictional scenario in which our product was successful enabled us to explore exactly where we want to go with our ideas. Photo taken by Whitney Harris.

After choosing to focus on restaurant owners, we decided to visit Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and a group of restaurants in Carrboro, seeking advice from managers, bartenders and owners. What do bar and restaurant owners want to know about their government? What aspects of bar and restaurant operation are regulated by the government? Do bars and restaurants have trouble keeping up with government mandates? If so, can we provide a service to ease this burden?

Our first stop was Linda’s on Franklin, which was our most beneficial visit. We sat down with the manager on duty and discussed just how regulated restaurants are. We learned that alcohol alone is regulated by three different agencies — ABC, ALE and Chapel Hill PD — and managing these three groups can be difficult. When fire hazards, capacity rules and food regulations are factored in, bars and restaurants often have a hard time keeping up with all of the legal responsibilities.

As we spoke with others, we found these same sentiments echoed time and time again. Rather than inform business owners of regulations they likely already know, we learned that these professionals want to consolidate the information in order to make it more accessible. This would protect owners from avoidable fines and would satisfy governmental officials concerned with public safety.

Taking this feedback, our group decided to reconvene and discuss our progress; however, this wasn’t as easy as it seemed. We found that we were confused about what our product originally was and where we wanted to go with it, and none of us quite knew what to do next. At the suggestion of John Clark, the executive director of the Lab, and Sara Peach, the associate director of the Lab, we decided to try an exercise. In order to visualize our product, John suggested we grab a piece of poster paper and quickly envision our product as wildly successful. What magazine would feature it? What would the headline be? What are the focal points of the article? In less than 10 minutes, we had established that our product would be mentioned in Forbes magazine for revolutionizing the food industry. (We also proclaimed ourselves the top three on Forbes list of the 50 Most Influential Women of this fictional year, but that’s a completely different story).

We found that the exercise was extremely beneficial in allowing us to follow our ideas uninhibitedly. We uncovered ideas we ordinarily wouldn’t have come up with. We’re far more confident that we have a solid direction at this point, despite the fact that our idea for a physical product is still up in the air. Numerous suggestions from business owners, professors and professionals in the media industry have exposed us to different markets and possibilities that we wouldn’t have considered before, leaving us with one incredibly important question: Where do we go from here?

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