Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

Our Story – Naming and Framing Issues for Our Forums

Knowing the importance of engaging people with a variety of perspectives of the issues, we sought to first find people who were willing to share their insight and to serve on our planning committees. We also searched the literature to provide facts about the issues as they emerged. We gathered information from local contacts to help frame the issue and sub-issues and to provide guidance on specifics such as when to hold the forums, where it should be held, the length of forums, potential speakers, and other useful information which we combined with our own expertise. For the 2018-2019 Linking Farm Vitality and Health forums, our planning committees recommended knowledgeable and influential people who were invited to participate in 30-minute, key informant interviews. We wrote a standard script and set of questions. The script helped to introduce some of the research and issues about farm stress and the intent of holding a community forum. The script was submitted to our university Institutional Review Board for approval before conducting the interviews. Questions focused on gathering information about what might already be happening, what the informant and their community sector knew of the issues, whether they had addressed the issues in any way, to what extent they thought the issues were worth exploring in a forum, who should be invited to the forum, and if there were any logistical considerations for us to consider. The name for the forums emerged from these interviews combined with the review of literature about the problems. We chose to put the issue in a positive frame with an emphasis on strengthening health and farm vitality. For the 2021 forum, we realized that issues had changed in the 2-3 years since the first forums. Stressors were still an issue but a new, disruptive stressor, COVID-19 had emerged. The entire food system was impacted. We began with a focus group conducted via Zoom. We even had a farmer participate from the cab of his combine! We presented some information about COVID-19 disruptions, asked for their views, offered possible titles for the forum, and received their input into wording that would both capture the issue and the interest of potential forum attendees. We ended up framing the forum as a question: Could COVID-19 Disruptions Happen Again? Working Collectively to Build Resilience Across our Food and Farm System on the Eastern Shore. The focus group identified sub-issues including labor, markets, processing, distribution, human distress, managing change, and others. These sub-issues were used to develop our case studies and to create the Strategic Doing™ workgroups who worked in breakout groups during the forum.

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