Changing the way people talk can change the way they relate to each other and their problems – and that can eventually change the community.”

– David Mathews

Frequently Asked Questions

Are you an advocacy organization?

We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. We’re non advocacy and not affiliated with any political agenda. We firmly believe that Alabamians should be involved in making decisions that affect themselves and their communities. However, rather than advocate for Alabamians, we work with Alabamians and Alabama communities as they seek to work better together. We do this by equipping local communities to convene and moderate deliberative forums around important public issues, and as moderators, we are dedicated to remaining impartial. We take particular care to not advocate for specific solutions to the issues deliberated on in DMC forums.

What is a deliberative public forum?

Deliberative public forums provide opportunities for citizens to come together and address an issue that affects them and their communities. To ensure productive, respectful conversation, a neutral moderator establishes ground rules and introduces the issue. Participants are asked to identify their personal stake in the issue at hand and examine multiple approaches (rather than a polarizing one or two options), weighing possible actions against their costs, consequences and tradeoffs. The moderator facilitates this process, asking questions that identify shared values and common ground, while a recorder chronicles the key themes of the conversation. This is what we call public deliberation.

Why use public deliberation?

The goal of public deliberation is working towards identifying common ground for taking sustainable action.

“We were at your forum on the issue of ____________. Is that what your organization is about?”

We’ve heard many variations on this question. It’s natural that people associate us with the context in which they first encountered us, whether that was at a forum on investing in early childhood development, a discussion on prison overcrowding, or addressing the issue of bullying in schools. Though regularly moderating deliberation around these and many other issues, the Mathews Center’s primary goal is not to address a specific issue. Instead, we work to build infrastructure, habits, and capacities within Alabamians and Alabama communities for more effective civic engagement. We do this primarily by serving as a neutral facilitator for civil conversations around important issues. Our ultimate goal is to strengthen civic life in Alabama by encouraging civil, productive, and solution-oriented conversations. This is described more broadly in our vision and mission statements.

Who is David Mathews? Why are you named for him?

Dr. David Mathews is a native of Grove Hill, Alabama. At 33, Dr. Mathews became the youngest president of a major university, the University of Alabama where he served from 1969-1980. Mathews also served in President Gerald Ford’s cabinet as the 11th secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He is currently the president and CEO of the Kettering Foundation, an organization that strives to answer the question: “What does it take to make democracy work as it should?”

 

The Mathews Center’s co-founders, Ray Minor, Bob McKenzie, and Cathy Randall, were deeply impacted and inspired by Dr. Mathews’ lifelong work on deliberative civic engagement and renamed the Alabama Center for Civic Life in Dr. Mathews’ honor in 2007.

Where are you located?

The David Mathews Center for Civic Life is located on the campus of the American Village a unique attraction in the heart of Alabama, on 183 acres of rolling pasture in Montevallo, 30 minutes south of Birmingham. The American Village is a nationally pioneering education institution focused on building good citizens through immersive and engaging experiences. Here visitors discover the power and drama of America’s journey for independence, liberty and self-government.

Highlights include Washington Hall, inspired by George Washington’s Mount Vernon; replicas of the White House Oval Office and East Room; Concord Bridge; and a Colonial Chapel.

Although these facilities play a key role in presenting these ideas and stories, the American Village campus is not about its buildings. It is instead about building in the hearts and minds of students -- young and old -- a sense of stewardship of what George Washington called “the sacred fire of liberty.”

Learn more about the American Village.

How much of Alabama do you reach?

We’re close to reaching our goal of working with all 67 of Alabama’s counties! Currently, the Mathews Center’s signature programs have reached 59 of Alabama’s 67 counties.

 

We want to remain genuine in our mission as a statewide organization. While research, program evaluation, and reporting out constitute a critical aspect of our work, we are ultimately a practice-based organization. Our commitment to reaching all of Alabama means that half of our time is spent on the road, holding forums and workshops in communities across the state. We strive to engage all Alabamians, and to remain accessible to anyone interested in participating. While the DMC does contribute to the growing body of research on civic engagement - for example, we author the Alabama Civic Health Index - our work is informed just as much by the perspectives and experiences of regular Alabamians as it is by tested academic theories.

Who do you partner with?

The DMC works with a growing network of organizations and individuals to strengthen civic life in Alabama. Because our signature programming is varied, this network often includes school systems, local organizations, community colleges and universities, public institutions, concerned citizens, and other community-based organizations and institutions. In past AIF cycles, we have worked with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, faith-based leaders, elected officials, office holders, educators, nonprofit representatives, and various other community stakeholders.

What do we mean by neutrality?

Because we are a nonpartisan organization, and take our role as neutral facilitators very seriously, all DMC staff are trained to assume an impartial role in our work. We know that to abandon objectivity would be a violation of the trust that communities place in the Mathews Center and in the deliberative process. This means creating an environment where any and all perspectives are welcome, and none are favored.

Want to know more?

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