Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

What are the Pr inciples of Successful Forums?

Planning the forum agenda is rooted in frameworks that look at underlying causes, interactions, and influences and methods that leverage community assets, build positive relationships, and increase capacity to impact change. The forum is a community engagement tool to bring community members and their assets together to address an issue. To effectively engage community members to address complex problems and issues, we use some guiding principles based on research and actual success. Use these principles as you explain to your partners and planning committee why you are using the approaches you are taking.

Principle-based professional practice can help Extension educators think through how to plan and organize community forums. Principles guide decisions.

Principle One: Use Adult Learning Recommended Practices

Adult learning principles are key to keeping participants engaged, learning, and motivated for action. These five recommended practices for adult learning build the foundation of an engaging and inclusive experience during planning sessions with committee members and throughout the forum itself (Bell & McAllister, 2012). They include:


providing a safe environment for learning

2. identifying learner’s knowledge and personal views about the content 3. linking the content to prior experiences 4. letting learners work together to experiment and solve problems with content 5. giving learners choice in content process and outcomes

Adults learn much more effectively if they are fully engaged in the process. In short, most adults learn best when they do the learning themselves.

Learning Library for Teachers

Principle Two: Facts guide thinking, decision-making, and action

The forum process is grounded in theory and research-based information. Theory and research help to create a trusted learning environment as well as to provide a solid foundation for decisions made and action- steps planned.  Research-based information — as you are framing the issue and determining what will be presented during the forum, be sure to use reliable information sources to build trust with participants. Because attendees will be from diverse backgrounds, translate the information into plain language that can easily be understood and present a well-balanced view of relevant topics and issues.  Tested processes and best practices — use these to increase understanding and, when appropriate, move toward action. By using processes that help reduce complexity, prioritize, and move toward action, individuals will feel like something is accomplished and will continue to support any action- oriented initiatives.  Existing Initiatives — if there are initiatives already underway or resources available, consider inviting those individuals to share what they are doing and learning. Have a display table available or include a mechanism for resource sharing online.


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