Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

named and framed. Each issue guide contains at least three options for addressing the issue with possible trade-offs and a measure of shift in thinking. (Mathews, 2016)

An Extension educator, who faced many contentious public issues, told her story about conducting a community issue forum in the Journal of Extension (Haaland, 2004). After receiving training from the Kettering Foundation, she worked with others to modify the National Issues approach to public deliberation. Civittolo and Davis (2011) describe opportunities for Extension programming by engaging the citizenry in strengthening their communities. Additional stories can be found in the Journal of Extension . Try searching for “Issue Forum,” “community engagement,” and/or “Kettering.”

In 2020, Kansas State Extension taught issue forum facilitation skills to 4-H members. The 4-Hers facilitated forums during the 2020 4-H Citizenship in Action Day. Learn more of their story.

Our Story – About Our Forums

We conducted forums in 2018-2019 in three states. The forums focused on strengthening the health and well-being of the farming population. Disruptive impacts of COVID-19 led us to refocus the 2021 forum as we worked with a focus group to name and frame topics for the forum. And, by 2021, we had our risk and resiliency framework. We wanted to use our new socio-ecological framework to draw attention from individual behavior to how the social environment influences behavior and conditions. The COVID-19 disruptions demonstrated the interrelationship of systems in the framework and the need to find short- and long-term solutions through a community engagement forum. COVID-19 disruptions to our face-to-face educational programming caused us to experiment with doing the forum with online technology. We wanted to determine if an online forum could produce similar outcomes to our on-site forums. Thus, we proposed to test the technology. Fortunately, Jesse, Bonnie, and Maria had all used distance technology to teach our health insurance literacy initiative curricula: Smart Choice and Smart Use Health Insurance ™. We had learned to modify face -to-face teaching in an online environment. It was time to test technology with forums. Our NTAE grant came with a cadre of advisors who helped us consider multiple techniques to stretch our technology experience. The advisors supported us as we ventured into new experiences tied to conducting forums online.

Oh, and the answer to the question “Can online forums produce similar results as face-to- face forums?” YES!

We were able to measure increases in understanding and willingness to act at a statistically significant level — similar to measures from our on-site forums. We also found similar results regarding use of the Strategic Doing™ process as we did with the on -site forums. Participants were able to identify projects that contributed to the envisioned eventual outcome of improving conditions related to the issue, and the initial feedback is that products developed by working groups will become public in the fall of 2021. Ripple effects will likely continue.

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