Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

Lessons Learned These considerations and lessons learned come from informational interviews and NTAE team reflections post 2021 online forum. Some of these are relevant for on-site forums as well.

Post-forum debrief discussion with the team offered these observations:

The whole morning worked fine; people stayed engaged; Tools worked to help the audience be part of the conversation.

 The door prize helper/fun game gave us feedback incrementally throughout the day; positive reinforcement helped in Zoom format.  Thing s were scripted and organized, but they didn’t seem scripted.  The less formal we got in our interactions, the more comfortable the attendees became with interacting.  The temperature reading evaluation tool worked: People were engaged.  Staying on scripted times set for steps in the Strategic Doing™ process made a difference in how far groups progressed. Review times carefully when planning.  Because this forum engaged participants from both Maryland and Delaware, solutions couldn’t necessarily be implemented in the same way in each state. People did learn from each other, though, and interesting ideas emerged.  At the end, be sure to connect the Strategic Doing™ work back to the “big” issue and urgency to act. Pre- Forum Considerations  Relationships are important. They create an atmosphere of accountability, motivation, and camaraderie. Find ways to build relationships before, during, and after the forum.  Build in funding resources to assist in project output development: i.e., mini grants or sponsorships  Inform forum attendees of the Strategic Doing™ process and the idea of project development ahead of time. This may increase the likelihood of continued participation, or it may deter people from attending. This is a research question.  Use skilled facilitators to help move groups through the Strategic Doing™ process during and after the forum; following protocol and the timeframe are important for prioritizing what can be done, identifying actions and next steps, and identifying who is doing each of the actions.  Skilled facilitators are also helpful to groups when identifying doable short-term projects. We found that groups that framed their actions around a more concrete problem — i.e., lack of an inventory of food assistance, were able to work together across time and distance and make progress. Those who tackled less focused actions with a less clear outcome seemed to have more trouble.  There needs to be doers and decision makers and managers invited to the forum. Doers are those who will help complete the projects. Decision makers and managers will provide information and encourage other doers to get involved as the project moves forward. Post-Forum Considerations:  Sharing leadership of group management can help ease the burden across group members.  Engaging community members outside of the team — those who were not part of the project development — helps inform and hone the project outcomes.  Expect Strategic Doing™ group members to drop out.  Be okay with the project shifting once more information and resources are provided through community engagement; be okay with inviting more people into the project.  Be okay with letting projects go if the Strategic Doing™ group falls apart.  Communicate with attendees and Strategic Doing™ groups to show progress of projects; consider reconvening to help re-energize and motivate continued movement forward.

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