Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

A Community Action Forum is designed to address public issues. Public issues are contentious; there are multiple points of view about the causes of the issue(s) and what to do about the issue(s). An example is how to prevent and respond to future disruptions that cause stress to food systems, including the farming population. The intended outcomes focus on changing a condition or situation impacting multiple people and/or systems. There are guides for using non-contentious approaches to public issues education and community dialogue (Mathews, 2016). In Our Story , you’ll learn how our forums addressed food systems disruptions. Another way to describe the differences among the forums is that Community Education Forums provide people with information about situations or conditions affecting all or part of the community, i.e., educators provide information on stress across the farming population. Community Engagement Forums involve community members in identifying or responding to public problems or issues, i.e., articulating the need for behavioral and mental health services in farming communities. Community Action Forums involve community members in identifying actions they and others could take collectively to prevent, reduce, or resolve public issues and problems arising from stressful disruptors to food systems, including the farming population and local communities. The objectives of your community forums will determine the type of format and the agenda. Desired outcomes, objectives, current situations, availability of, and willingness to use electronic technologies, will also determine the type of engagement — on-site, online, or a combination (Casey, 2020).

From: Casey, 2020, https://www.kettering.org/blogs/cga-and-zoom

Online Forums

Historically, forums have been held at community sites as face-to-face gatherings. Relatively few forums were conducted at a distance. Ten years ago, the Kettering Foundation investigated the feasibility of online deliberations (Black, 2011) because of their “interest in potential and pitfalls of the Internet as a space for democratic practice.” The lead investigator found a scarcity of information about online publi c forums. She detailed multiple Internet tools and concluded that online deliberations can succeed but that testing of designs and tools must be done to provide participants with an easy to use and safe space for their deliberations. The Foundation moved toward online forums in 2013 (Lee, 2013) and found the forums they conducted were effective. Another author (Casey, 2020) wrote about online Common Ground for Action forums and drew the following conclusion: “[It was] clear that technology cannot replace f ace-to-face, in person forums. But it came close.” In Our Story , learn about our findings.

The Foundation’s National Issues Forums is a leader in the use of forums for deliberative public engagement. The National Issues Forums use a moderator to guide participants through an issue that has previously been


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