Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

At the End of the Forum or as Part of the Strategic Doing™ Process A qualitative measurement at the end of the forum provides a list of actions that participants plan to take. Having participants turn in information about actions they will be taking individually and collectively through the Strategic Doing™ process will help you keep track of potential actions taken. Follow -up can then be conducted to determine what actually occurred.

Post-Forum Three months following the forum, administer a survey to gather insight into the actions taken by participants; you can ask for personal actions as well as if anything has changed within their organization/community because of their attendance. Additionally, interviews can be conducted with key stakeholders and the participants leading the Strategic Doing™ workgroups to gather data regarding the actions that occurred because of the forum. This survey is included in Appendix 14.

Harwood (2021) notes that community engagement leads to changes, intended and unintended, that ripple across communities. The change cascades and creates chain reactions and produces unforeseen outcomes. Capturing those outcomes can encourage people to work together to achieve desired outcomes.

Using the data you collect with your evaluation strategy will help to inform the big and little changes that occur. In some cases, your forum will be the beginning of a ripple; you may not ever know how far it goes out in the community, but on-going data collection can measure the effects.

Our Story — How Knowledge, Conf idence and Conditions Began to Change

One of our forum objectives was to help increase knowledge and willingness to act. During the forum we conducted a pre-, mid- and post-forum survey that asked participants to rate themselves on their understanding and willingness to act on the issue. For 2018-2019, the issue was framed as strengthening farm vitality and health of farms and farm families. In 2021, the issue was framed as disruptions to our food and farm systems on the Eastern Shore.

Participants could choose the answer best suited for them:

• 9: I understand enough about this issue now and I’m ready to take action. • 6: I believe this is an important issue that needs more attention. • 3: I don’t know enough to do anything about the issue. • 0: I didn’t realize this was such an important issue.

We collected data using flip charts in the face-to-face forum and a Qualtrics survey for the online forum. In the on-site forums of 2018-2019, we used sticky notes posted by participants on a thermometer to indicate where they were as the forum began, midway through, and at the end. As you can see from the green arrow, there was movement up in confidence.

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