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.
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.