What is it? National Issues Forum events are locally organized forums designed to foster deliberative dialogue about important public issues. The events are focused around a specific topic of both national and local relevance. Discussion may be led by an outside facilitator or an interested community member. Dialogue guides, moderator guidelines, and related resources are made available at free or low cost for interested communities. During the event, facilitators present issue background and offer several possible approaches to the problem. Participants share their own opinions and understandings on the issue and assess the alternatives presented. Eventually, the group works together to build a shared understanding, identify areas of common agreement, and establish a basis for future action.
How has it been used? The “Great Recession” in 2009 struck American communities hard. Community development specialists with Virginia Cooperative Extension led forums on the subject of economic security in some of the Commonwealth’s hardest hit communities. In Martinsville, Virginia, the unemployment rate reached 20%. In partnership with the city’s education, business, government and non-profit leaders, an Extension Specialist organized and conducted a local forum. While the discussion did not solve the area’s economic woes, the participants did identify different perspectives on the issue and all reported gaining insight into the various approaches for increasing family economic security. Program ideas were developed and new organizational relationships were formed. Moreover, information from the local forum participants contributed to reports to state and national policy-makers on community economic security. (Source: Virginia Cooperative Extension)