Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

HOW TO P L AN A F O RUM F O R S U S T A I N E D E NGA G EM E N T

How to Plan a Forum

A. It takes time and a team to plan a forum. The steps include:

1. Enlist a Planning Team. Diversity of experience and knowledge will help ground the content of the forum, draw in broader audiences, assist with varying tasks, and keep the process moving.

2. Identify Key Stakeholders Who Will Help You. Stakeholders will help name and frame the issue. They can identify individuals who should be invited to the forum. They can help identify decision- and policy- makers who need to be involved as well as agencies’ and organizations’ staff members who make change happen. They can also identify forum sponsors. Identify stakeholders from different Community Capitals sectors to ensure diversity of perspectives on the issue and resources. 3. Name and Frame the Issue . Be sure the naming and framing is inclusive, engaging, timely, and relevant. Remember to conduct a literature review to ground the forum in fact and engage members of the community to provide local insight, perspectives, and resources. 4. Determine Intended Outcomes . Outcomes from a forum can range from increasing awareness and shared understanding to community action. Your desired outcomes will influence the types of activities and the flow of your forum agenda. 5. Select Evaluation Strategies . Evaluation is built on intended outcomes. Evaluation can focus on pre-forum knowledge, understanding, confidence and/or actions. It can focus on post-forum results and change over time. And evaluation can focus on processes. There are multiple techniques and tools to collect data to guide decision making and for reporting on outcomes to a variety of stakeholders. And remember, evaluation is the judgement about what the data is telling you — whether provided by statistical analysis, observation, or other means of determining conclusions. 6. Identify Forum Location and Method of Conducting Forum. Just as in real estate, location is important. Location can encourage or discourage participation. Key informants and focus groups can provide guidance on whether to conduct the forum in-person or virtually. If the decision is made to conduct the forum in person, local people knowledgeable about their community can advise on where people are willing to gather — what places are welcoming to the diversity of people who might attend. Other considerations include:  If in-person, how many people can you handle and might attend? The number of possible attendees is key to finding adequate space for how the forum will be conducted, including seating, shape, and size of tables for participants, displays and food; the amount of food and beverages needed; the number of flip charts and materials needed; and adequate acoustics, microphones, and other AV equipment.  If conducted virtually, online, you'll want to be sure the conference-hosting platform allows for chatting, breakout rooms, video recording, and possibly translation services (depending on the topics). Additional considerations for in-person or virtual forums are included in “ Tool 3: Considerations for In- Person or Online/Virtual Forums” in the Tools section of this how-to guide.

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