JMU’s Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue is partnering with The Fairfield Center of Harrisonburg in the 4C Initiative: Campus Community Civic Collaborative. The 4C initiative advocates for, creates spaces for, and facilitates the kinds of public conversations that allow communities to move forward on tough issues. Community issues shouldn’t divide a community. They’re tough. Nobody is saying there is an easy solution, but they should bring a community together to find creative solutions together. There might be possibilities we had not yet considered that we can discover if we talk to one another. The 4C initiative hopes to teach students and community members facilitation skills that will help steer people toward those kinds of conversations.
Fairfield has hosted community summits in the past focused on issues such economic sustainability and environmental concerns, however this new partnership will increase the capacity for hosting such forums by training students as public facilitators. Britt is currently training 30 students in her course, Facilitating Community Engagement. Students are learning about the role of public deliberation in fostering strong, vital communities and are gaining practical skills at being impartial facilitators who care deeply about the quality of public discourse and helping citizens recognize the complexity of public issues that are often framed as binaries.
4C will also begin to develop an advisory board that can help identify emerging issues in the community that would benefit from opportunities for public discussion. For each issue identified, the trained facilitation team will then study the issue and determine what kind of conversation is called for. Sometimes there first need to be conversations that build trust between people and give people the opportunity to share their stories and their perspectives. Other times, conversations need to be directly focused on starting to weigh choices and make decisions together. Our goal says Britt is “to plan how the conversations are going to happen and chart a vision that gets us from where we are, the current state of affairs, to the future, to moving forward instead of getting tangled and mired down in polarization and perceived road blocks. We figure out how we work to untangle that mess to get people to see there is a way to go forward. We hope these public opportunities for talk offer people a chance to see things from a new perspective. Our goal is to advocate for better public conversations.”
We are seeking community members to serve on an advisory board and meet twice a year to collectively identify issues that could be topics for facilitated public forums. Recently 4C hosted a facilitated forum on Guns, Security and Public Life based on feedback from community members that recent high profile events raised a need for a local conversation on these issues.
The plan is to create an ongoing series of community forums, likely four a year in August, December, February and April that offer citizens an opportunity to participate in community dialogue and deliberation to shape the social, environmental, economic, and political climate.
We need you, as members of the community to be our eyes and ears and share the conversations and concerns you hear from your neighbors, friends, community groups, etc.
Please contact Lori Britt at email@example.com if you would like to participate on the advisory board or would like more information about the 4C Initiative.