At each forum, we have participants (including the facilitator and panelists) sit in a circle, and then proceed through these steps:
Centering Question. To gather everyone and get them settled and focused, the facilitator asks a question related to the forum theme and invites participants to reflect on the question quietly.
Welcome. The facilitator introduces the forum theme and the structure, makes acknowledgments, thanks panelists for helping lead the conversation.
Introductions. Go around the circle sharing names and community roles (briefly). Panelists introduce themselves at this time also.
Share Framing Questions. Facilitator presents 2-3 framing questions. These can be shared beforehand, and/or posted on a screen/wall.
Panelists speak. Each panelist shares brief thoughts (3-5 minutes each) in response to the framing questions.
Moderated discussion. All participants join in a facilitated conversation. This can involve follow-up questions, suggestions, advice, reflections, etc.
Formal wrap-up. Facilitator thanks panelists and participants, and invites continued conversation.
Mingling. Panelists and participants informally continue conversations in same space, with snacks.
Community Engagement Forums
Community Engagement Forums are optional, larger-group events that supplement cohort meetings. We invite current and continuing Fellows to Forums, and also open them to the public.
Our forums have had between 15 and 45 participants. We average around 20-25.
Forums are an opportunity to have a discussion about an important issue in our region. A facilitator and 3-4 panelists help initiate the discussion around several framing questions.
We schedule forums to last for 75 minutes, though we reserve the space for two hours to allow people to linger and chat afterwards.
Our principles and practices for organizing Community Engagement Forums include:
The title matters.
Pay attention to the themes/issues that interest many people in the program, including potential panelists and the community generally. Give your forum a catchy title, if you want people to choose to come.
Food is a draw.
Providing simple snacks and drinks is an important gesture of hospitality.
Invite diverse panelists.
Your panel should represent a variety of perspectives on an issue, and several different organizations. Panelist can be from within and outside the Fellows program.
Make it accessible.
Choose a location that has ample parking, is easy to find, and is accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Share the air.
During the facilitated discussion, encourage participants to keep their comments and questions brief, so many people can be heard. No impromptu speeches!
Pick the right day and time.
We often schedule forums on Thursday afternoons from 3:30-4:45. People can then attend at the end of their work day without sacrificing the evening. Think about what will work best in your circumstances.
Encouraging other offices or organizations to co-host a forum can keep things fresh, spark new collaborations, spread out the work, and bring in new voices.
Protect socializing time.
An extended time to informally mingle at the end of a forum is essential for people to ask each other follow-up questions, exchange contact information, catch up, etc..
WWU faculty Ruth Sofield, Environmental Sciences, and Greg O'Neil, Chemistry, worked together to organize a workshop helping scientists communicate better with the public.
"The CE Fellows program served as a catalyst to get me acting on the ideas I had about community engagement."