E X E CU T I V E S UMMA R Y
Solving complex problems and creating change usually occurs at multiple levels of systems. Cooperative Extension personnel work directly with clientele and are exposed to the complexities of systems. To help clientele even more, Extension educators often need to work with decision makers, stakeholders, community organizations and government officials, and the clientele to unravel the complexity, to find common ground and workable solutions. Using strategies like community forums helps to engage multiple people and organizations in ways that can create change and even transformation.
Questions professionals have asked:
Why are community forums an important tool in my educational tool kit? When does it make sense to conduct a community forum? How can I hold a community forum?
We provide answers to these questions in this guide. We provide some background on the function of forums. We draw on our experience in conducting issue forums. And we describe our process for planning and facilitating issue forums. We share tools, sample documents, and resources for you to quickly get started. And throughout, we tell Our Story to ground the guide in lived experiences. Our goal is to help you understand theory and processes that will allow you to address challenges affecting individuals, families, organizations, and communities from an integrated, holistic perspective . We believe the socio-ecological approach we use and describe here will help communities address emerging and pressing issues. The socio-ecological approach increases engagement by a diversity of community members. And the more diverse the participants, the greater the likelihood that resulting actions will be a good fit for the community. The processes we use include listening to community members to gather local knowledge; incorporating research-based information; and encouraging action based on inclusive, engaging, and deliberative dialogue. The processes can be applied to forums of all scales, local to statewide or across state lines to address a variety of issues. The guide offers resources to help you develop an issues forum as well as links to additional information. Within this guide are examples from the 2018- 2019 “Linking Farm Vitality and Health” forums (MD/DE/OH) and a 2021 “Could COVID -19 Happen Again? Working Collectively to Build Resilience Across Our Food and Farm Systems on the Eastern Shore” (DE/MD). We have included a few key references drawn from the literature. The final chapter of the guide includes “Resources for Professional Development and T ools to Use in Planning and Implementing a Forum ” that offer materials we’ve used and created. These are included so you have easily accessible examples to use. In the Appendices , we’ve included some sample documents, workshe ets for planning and Strategic Doing™, and examples of case studies we’ve used with farming -focused forums, etc. Throughout the guide, we have included Our Story to bring to life what we’ve done and learned. We hope that Our Story and the how-to parts of this guide will increase your understanding, willingness, and confidence to conduct forms that engage community members in addressing public problems and public issues.
This guide is your tool to plan, facilitate, and evaluate issue-to-action forums.
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