Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

Or igins of Our Story

Both Maria and Bonnie have experience with National Issues Forums (NIF) including moderation training. Bonnie wrote an issue guide, Sizing Up America, for the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and conducted multiple forums using the guide. She also received funding from the Kettering Foundation to investigate the conditions under which low-income, rural mothers were willing and able to participate in community issues. Bonnie wrote a play based on the findings that included a mini-forum and research from Rural Families Speak. Maria led multiple forums focused on land use issues, offered NIF training within the state of Delaware as well as assisted with a 4-H engagement project teaching young people to conduct forums within their schools. When seeking an active engagement approach for the 2018-2019 forums, we considered the National Issues Forum model. However, our planning team wanted to see more action outcomes than is typical of those forums. Hence, we incorporated the public engagement, naming and framing, and facilitated deliberation aspects of the National Issues Forums and combined them with an approach known as Strategic Doing™.

Or igins of 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2021 Forums

In mid-2010, health care and health insurance were leading public issues and the need for health insurance literacy became apparent. At the time, Bonnie was serving as the Founding Director of the

Horowitz Center for Health Literacy at the University of Maryland — College Park. The University of Maryland Extension and the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension joined forces to create a research-based Health Insurance Literacy Initiative to educate consumers in response to federal legislation (Kim et al., 2013). Little research existed about the health, health care needs, and status of health insurance across the farming population. In response, a research project was funded by the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Competitive Program of the USDA National Institute of Food and

Agriculture (NIFA). Shoshanah Inwood, who at the time was at the University of Vermont, led the research study. One deliverable of the study was the sharing of results with the public so appropriate actions could be taken. Bonnie served on the research team with responsibilities for communication of findings through Extension and other outreach. To learn more about the study, go to: https://www.hirednag.net/ The research team concluded that with two-thirds of the farmers experiencing a preexisting condition and three-fourths believing that health insurance was a risk management strategy for farmers, health insurance was clearly not just a private problem but a public issue — a national farm policy issue. Farmers believed that USDA should address the issue. These research findings became the driver for engaging the public in responding to health and health insurance issues impacting the farming population.

To make the findings public, researchers from the AFRI grant held a summit in 2016 where farmers, farmer- serving organizations, elected officials and interested others came together to learn about the findings. They

identified actions that could be taken collectively and individually to improve access to health care and health insurance. Both Maria and Bonnie participated in that Vermont-based summit.


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