One of our partners, the Kettering Foundation of Dayton OH, recently published this news piece about two colleagues using Every Voice Engaged Foundation’s online deliberation software. Gregg Kauffman and Leslie Kaplan have a deep passion for civic engagement and deliberative democracy. They teamed with several partners to convene an intergenerational deliberation on voting reform. Their insights on what happened and why the forum was so successful show how Every Voice Engaged can benefit other communities.
Jacksonville, Florida, is a hubbub of deliberation due in part to Gregg Kaufman’s relentless promotion of such dialogue. Kaufman, a former National Issues Forums Institute board member, never fails to take advantage of opportunities for deliberation, and he has an enthusiastic ally in Leslie Kaplan, director of the Hicks Honors College at the University of North Florida. With Kaufman’s encouragement, Kaplan has for five years involved her students in deliberation. On the evening of February 18, they all stepped up their involvement a notch.
That was when the Hicks Honors College teamed up with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and OneJax, a century-old interfaith organization, to host a virtual community supper and lead a deliberation using the NIF issue advisory How Should We Safeguard and Improve Our Elections? published before the November 2020 election. The Jacksonville effort combined Common Ground for Action technology with conversation on Zoom to probe community opinions on the issue of access to the ballot box.
For years before the pandemic, OneJax executive director Kyle Reese explained, Jacksonville has had a tradition of monthly Community Suppers, held between September and April. The pandemic made the suppers go virtual. Instead of meeting at a restaurant, people have stayed in their homes, but technology such as Zoom has enabled them to communicate with one another anyway.
The local traditions and eagerness to talk combined for February’s virtual forum. Hicks Honors College students were on hand to help the less technically inclined navigate Common Ground for Action software, which helps people deliberate issues online. They both helped people rank their choices and participated in the deliberations. All forums used both Zoom and CGA, and students helped moderate forums. A total of 72 people participated, divided into six separate forums, to discuss the issue of voting.
The blending of young and older citizens was a hit, Kaplan said. “There was a nice combination of young, first-time voters and people they could talk to at the event who have voted for decades. The students were blown away,” she said. Kaplan said she is a big believer in the approach of NIF issue guides. “The language of trade-offs keeps the discussion from becoming a debate, and having three options prevents the conversation from becoming polarizing,” she said.
Reese is eager for his organization to continue using deliberation, perhaps on local topics, during the community suppers. “I think we can continue this partnership,” he said, noting that the community suppers are so popular they normally sell out in 72 hours. “This legacy in Jacksonville, Florida, has allowed us to find common ground. What we are doing now is an offshoot of that,” he said.