Alabama Issues Forums (AIF)

AIF is a signature program designed to help Alabama communities talk through issues, rather than just about issues.

AIF provides citizens with an opportunity to come together and address an issue of public concern through deliberation. Deliberation is a form of decision-making that encourages citizens to examine multiple approaches to addressing an issue and ultimately find common ground for action. Through deliberation, we attempt to look at what matters to a community in relation to an issue, and weigh possible action ideas against costs, consequences and tradeoffs. A neutral moderator guides the deliberative discussion using an issue framework, and a neutral recorder works to capture and share the major themes and ideas. Through public deliberation, we strive to create a shift from simply bemoaning public issues to understanding why they require attention and how a community might take action to address them.

We firmly believe that you are the expert on your community, and so:

  • We do not attempt to take on an expert role. Every community its own unique history with the issue(s) at hand, and we respect the nuances and local knowledge that each community brings to the table.
  • We remain neutral. AIF moderators and recorders are trained to remain impartial and committed to avoiding bias towards any particular person or idea.
  • We adapt to your community. The DMC refrains from using a one-size-fits-all approach. The issue guides that structure our conversations are well-researched, but not comprehensive, since no two communities are exactly alike.
  • We encourage participation—not domination. We believe that with thoughtful contributions from each participant, there is common ground to be found. Ultimately, it is our hope that Alabamians will use the deliberative process to take action on an issue that matters to them in a way that represents their community’s shared values.

AIF works to bring deliberative opportunities to communities across Alabama using issue guides created by the Mathews Center in order to frame matters of public concern.

Prior to each AIF project cycle, the Mathews Center works with Alabama citizens to name and frame an issue of public concern. We recruit diverse perspectives from interested individuals across the state, and as these individuals begin to identify their personal stake in the issue, emerging themes are outlined. As possible solutions and action ideas arise, they are weighed against any possible costs, consequences and tradeoffs. Upon completion, AIF issue guides combine expert contributions with the invaluable perspective of regular Alabamians. During a forum, we use the issue guide to prompt each community to identify its unique assets, challenges, and solutions.

The Mathews Center works with a growing network of citizen-conveners to organize AIF forums in public spaces across the state.

Reporting Out

Using AIF audio recordings, written notes, and post- forum reflections and questionnaires, the Mathews Centers publishes annual reports that illustrate how Alabamians are thinking through issues of civic life, economic development, public health, and education. Reports outline major themes that emerge throughout the forum series and summarize the post-forum questionnaire results.

The Mathews Center hosts a reporting out event at the conclusion of each AIF project cycle to unveil the comprehensive report and share significant findings with the general public as well as, community leaders and policy makers.

Coaching Community Innovation Workshops (CCI)

Coaching Community Innovation (CCI) workshops equip Alabamians to identify an issue of public concern, find common ground among differing perspectives, and move towards collective action.

These workshops are designed to develop a statewide network of individuals and organizations committed to the growth of deliberative democracy. Deliberation refers to discourse focused on finding common ground and taking action; it’s a conversation that is representative of an entire community, and one that moves towards a solution, rather than simply circling around an issue or problem.

We develop deliberative democracy via our Alabama Issues Forums series, but AIF is only one step within a larger process. Through CCI workshops, we ultimately aim to place the tools for deliberation directly into the hands of Alabamians. Our staff views the people of Alabama as the experts on the assets and challenges of their communities, rather than ourselves. We offer these workshops toindividuals and organizations statewide to equip them with the tools they need to develop the deliberative model in their own communities.

What do CCI Workshops Look Like?

There are a number of different types of CCI workshops that take place throughout the year:

  • Moderator Development Workshops – These are one-day gatherings featuring an abbreviated forum, a discussion of moderating techniques, and a mock forum in which participants are able to practice their newly acquired moderating and recording skills.
  • Convener Development Workshops – Provide citizens with the tools and practices for convening deliberative forums with diverse groups of citizens in their communities.
  • Reporting-Out Events – Hosted annually by the Mathews Center, these events highlight how Alabamians are thinking about issues of public concern, and outline major themes that arise from a forum series. We also spotlight community-based actions that emerge from forums across the state.
  • Naming and Framing Workshops – Conducted regularly with citizens across Alabama. These workshops are designed to name and frame local, state, or national issues of public concern in a context that is meaningful to individuals in their own communities. Alabamians are given opportunities to voice their concerns related to a public issue, to organize those concerns by identifying three or four approaches for addressing the issue, and to think through examples of what might be done, while also considering the possible consequences of each approach. The resulting framework can be used to guide deliberation in community forums.
  • Civic Networking Events & Learning Exchanges – For citizens and community organizations that want to learn from one another, these events are meant to expand deliberation on an issue of public concern, and to continue answering the question, “Where do we go from here?”

 

To bring a Coaching Community Innovation Workshop to your classroom, workplace or community, contact Rebecca Cleveland at rcleveland@mathewscenter.org.

Jean O’Connor-Synder Internship Program (JOIP)

The Jean O’Connor-Snyder Internship builds upon a millennial spirit of connection and civic engagement by developing the next generation of Alabama leaders.

The longest-running program of the Mathews Center, the JOIP internship provides immersive civic learning opportunities for college students to research deliberative practices and asset-based approaches for working with Alabamians in community-based projects. The Mathews Center administers the JOIP program, collaborating with faculty mentors to recruit students from institutions of higher education across Alabama.

We believe you can apply an immersive civic learning experience to any field of study.

Our interns don’t fetch coffee and make copies—each experience is unique, but the internship is designed around the goal of transforming college students into active members of a community.

Many JOIP internships function as domestic study abroad experiences, where students live and work for several weeks in a partnering Alabama community. Other interns work on yearlong, intensive assignments with a partner organization, or in support of the Mathews Center’s statewide programs.

The JOIP program engages a diverse group of minds. Our interns come from fields of study including economics, finance, history, social work, sociology, medicine, political science, communications, English, peace studies, journalism, and foreign language. Their research projects explore the potential for introducing deliberative practices into the arenas of education, economic development, public health, arts, the humanities, media and religion, to name a few.

Who is Jean O’Connor-Snyder?

Our internship program is lovingly named in honor of Jean O’Connor Snyder, better known as “Mrs. O’C” to the Capstone Men and Women who were directed by her from 1969-1975, during Dr. Mathew’s tenure as President of the University of Alabama. Jean was a cherished, life-long mentor to students at UA. The JOIP program is an effort to build upon her legacy of inspiring and supporting students.

What’s the outcome?

Through JOIP, we seek to extend Mrs. O’Connor-Snyder’s legacy by:

  • Creating immersive civic learning opportunities in Alabama communities.
  • Providing professional development for college students, with an emphasis on  community-based collaboration and communication skills.
  • Supporting asset-based approaches to community development and capacity-building at  the local level.

What is immersive civic learning?

Immersive civic learning is characterized by active, continuous participation in both formal and informal civic spaces, and through personal experiences with a community and its individuals.

 

If you would like to apply for an internship, or learn more about the program, contact Rebecca Cleveland at rcleveland@mathewscenter.org.

Civic Fellows

In May of 2016, the David Mathews Center for Civic Life launched the Civic Fellows program to equip recent college graduates for more effective, deliberative civic engagement through a year of service.

DMC Civic Fellows engage in immersive civic learning experiences while assisting with DMC signature programming focused on strengthening civic life in all sixty-seven Alabama counties.

The 2015 Alabama Civic Health Index highlights the low participation rates of Millennials (those born 1981 or later) in nearly every indicator of civic health, painting a stark picture for our state’s civic future. Alabama must make genuine investments in equipping the next generation of active citizens and engaged community leaders to improve civic health in our great state.

The DMC Civic Fellows program seeks to prepare the next generation for active civic life. The Civic Fellows program builds upon the successful immersive civic learning model of the Mathews Center’s Jean O’Connor-Snyder (JOIP) undergraduate internship program. Civic Fellows engage in shared learning on democratic practices, conduct research on public engagement, and support the DMC’s work to strengthen civic life in Alabama.

In 2017, the Civic Fellows program will expand the immersive civic learning experience of the Fellowship by embedding Fellows more deeply in communities across our state. One Fellow will work closely with partners in Montevallo, Alabama while another Fellow will work closely with Renaissance Marion, a nonprofit organization in the community of Marion.

If you’d like to apply to be a 2017 Civic Fellow, now is your chance! Visit our online application to get started.

Students’ Institute

Students’ Institute is designed to encourage active citizenship among Alabama’s young people in grades four through twelve.

This signature program of the Mathews Center consists of an intensive series of community-based field trips and workshops. It provides young Alabamians with the opportunity to deepen their understanding of active citizenship, explore assets and challenges within their community, and develop skills for more effective engagement. During the Institute, students are challenged to craft a vision of their community that improves youth engagement and strengthens their community’s future. At the conclusion of the process students are recognized for their achievements at a Community Showcase event in front of friends, family, teachers and public servants.

We believe that “[young people] can only learn how to be civically engaged by being civically engaged.”1

Through Students’ Institute, students learn how to develop sustainable community projects, and grow into civic leaders by:

  • Defining—in their own words—what it means to be an active community member.
  • Participating in the naming, framing and deliberating of community assets and challenges.
  • Becoming acquainted with other students across grade levels, creating informal peer mentorships.
  • Identifying and describing civic leadership roles, basic civic processes, and exploring civic spaces in their community.
  • Learning from community members who are making a difference.
  • Continuing to develop civic strengths into the future. Believing they can positively impact their community.

Ultimately, we hope that Students’ Institute will

  • Further develop and support a sustainable and positive culture of youth civic engagement.
  • Better prepare Alabama’s next generation of community leaders.
  • Inspire and reinforce the development of civic infrastructure for youth engagement and leadership.
  • Exhibit greater levels of civic efficacy and civic responsibility following the program.

1Guilfoile, L. & Delander, B. (2014). Guidebook: Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning.

If you are interested in bringing Students’ Institute to your school or community, contact Cristin Foster at cfoster@mathewscenter.org.

Teachers’ Institute

Teachers’ Institute is designed to equip educators to enhance civic learning through classroom deliberation.

This two-day workshop is an opportunity for teachers to develop the skills, tools, and understanding to increase student engagement in the classroom and ensure lifelong civic learning. During the Institute, teachers from across Alabama engage in issue analysis and participate in moderator development exercises.

Teachers’ Institute was developed in response to increasing calls for civic education in Alabama schools as a means for furthering civil dialogue in a polarized political and social climate.

The 2015 Alabama Civic Health Index shows startling gaps between millennials and their older counterparts when it comes to public engagement and political action. Teachers’ Institute is one of the ways we seek to address these concerns.

We believe that the deliberative process is fundamental to civic learning and public life.

Deliberation is a form of decision-making in which participants examine multiple perspectives of a complex issue, weigh possible action ideas against their costs, consequences and tradeoffs, and identify common ground for action.

To introduce the deliberative model and the role of the moderator, we use an issue guide based on a well-known historical issue like the Civil Rights Movement or the War of Independence to frame the conversation for deliberation. We also use issue guides from Alabama Issues Forums and National Issues Forums. Teachers develop their moderating and recording skills with the aid of the DMC Moderator Development Handbook, and learn moderating techniques and practices.

What’s the outcome?.

By participating in the Institute, teachers learn to implement deliberative practices in their classrooms. In addition, they network with teachers and community leaders who are successfully using the deliberative model in classrooms and other settings.

Participants receive resources including the DMC Moderator Development Handbook, National Issues Forums and Alabama Issues Forums issue guides, documents that correlate NIF and AIF to state and national standards, and lesson plans. Participating teachers are awarded Continuing Education Units (CEU).

Alabamians Who Make a Difference (AWMAD)

“Alabamians Who Make a Difference” (AWMAD)  is a documentary video series dedicated to telling the stories of everyday citizens who make a difference in their communities.

In more small ways than big, and without much fanfare, these individuals strive daily to make the world a better place, starting with where they are. This series is a well-deserved celebration of these people, and you can hear their stories right here!

 

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