Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums


In this section, we answer two questions:

1) Who is this guide for?

2) How should I use the guide?

We leave you to answer the question: Is this guide for you?

Who is This Guide For?

Seaman Knapp, known to many of us as the Father of Extension, reportedly advised new faculty against ever referring to themselves as ‘experts.’ More than 100 years ago, new Extension agents in Ohio were introduced to their communities as ‘not a man who comes to criticize existing methods and force his own ideas but is rather a clearing house where all may bring their problems and work them out together.’ … By working in this way, we become a partner in co-creating solutions to issues people care about. The ‘work’ therefore involves bringing local knowledge and scienc e-based information together in a manner that recognizes and honors both. (Rennekamp, 2016). This guide is for any professional working in any field — agriculture, community, family, finance, health — along with decision makers who are working on complex issues. It is for individuals who are interested in making change across and within community sectors. It is for professionals who are looking for a way to break down complex systems level public issues into comprehensible pieces that can be acted upon. This guide is for those professionals who see public issues education as a means of addressing issues that call for solutions that go beyond technical or disciplinary expertise. It is for those who understand that public issues require engagement of the public and an integrated perspective — as called for by participants in a national study of Extension’s involvement in issues (Gerrior et al., 2009). Participants in that study believed that public issues education would benefit from a more integrated approach. This guide is also for professionals who are dedicated to building resilient food and farming systems. Our Story began with addressing farm stressors and building resilience. This guide is organized to provide background information about how to conduct a forum, but our experience is motivated by addressing issues that, if addressed, would ultimately build vital and resilient farms. Our Story will provide more of this detail. We also wanted to share that we created a Farm and Farm Family Risk and Resilience Logic Model that focuses on outcomes for stakeholders and decision makers. This logic model can be found in Appendix 1: Stakeholder Logic Model for Linking Farm Vitality and Health. The logic model can save individual prof essionals’ time in developing programs; can serve as a basis for working with multiple professionals; and can provide a common base for assessing the extent to which multiple professionals are increasing the likelihood of reaching the intended short, medium, and long-term outcomes. Radke and Chazdon (2015) noted that informed decisions were not enough — that the public had to become engaged. They described their Model for Civic Engagement shown in Figure 1. This model could help Extension educators think about how it applies to forums.


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