Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

This publication is part of a two-part series exploring the use of forums as a community engagement tool in Extension work. It is a comprehensive how-to guide designed to help Cooperative Extension professionals develop issues forums in both onsite and online settings.

Creating Successful Issues Forums – A How-to-Guide for Onsite and Online Community Engagement

Maryland Linking Farm Vitality and Health Forum 2018

By: Maria Pippidis, Bonnie Braun, Jesse Ketterman, Shoshana Inwood & Nicole Wright


Engaging Communities through Issues Forums - A How to Guide for Onsite and Online Community Engagement Copyright © Pippidis, M., Braun, B., Ketterman, J., Inwood, S. Wright, N. 2021, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International 978-1-955687-09-6. Published by eXtension Foundation.

ISBN: 978-1-955687-09-6

Publish Date: March 7 th , 2022

Citations for this publication may be made using the following: Pippidis, M., Braun, B., Ketterman, J., Inwood, S., Wright, N. (2021). Engaging Communities through Issues Forums - A How-To Guide, Kansas City: Extension Foundation. 978-1-955687-09-6

Producer: Rose Hayden-Smith Peer Review Coordinator: Rose Hayden-Smith Editorial Assistant: Heather Martin Technical Implementer: Rose Hayden-Smith

Welcome to the Engaging Communities through Issues Forums - A How-To Guide. This is a resource created for the Cooperative Extension Service and published by the Extension Foundation. We welcome feedback and suggested resources for this publication which could be included in any subsequent versions. This work is supported by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension (NTAE) grant no. 2020- 41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more, please contact the Extension Foundation at: c/o Bryan Cave LLP One Kansas City Place

1200 Main Street, Suite 3800 Kansas City, MO 64105-2122 https://impact.extension.org/













EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Origins of Our Story

10 11 11 14 14 17 18 21 22 22 24 26 31 31 31 33 34 34 34 35 35 37 40 44 50

Origins of 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2021


Who is This Guide For?

How Should I Use the Guide?

Why Use a Forum?

Our Story – Why We Used Forums to Address Farm and Farm Family Issues


What is a Forum?

Our Story – About Our Forums

What are the Principles of Successful Forums?


What is “Naming and Framing” an Issue ? Why is “Naming and Framing” So Important?

Our Story – Naming and Framing Issues for Our Forums


Identifying People

Recruiting Representatives of the Community


How to Plan a Forum Planning Timeline

Agenda of a Forum Using the Principles of a Successful Forum

Engaging Others

Our Story — Engaging Others and Creating Our Forum


THE FORUM AGENDA – THE FLOW AND ENGAGEMENT ACTIVITIES 1. Ground the Content of the Issue with Facts and Context

52 52 53 54 57 58 60 62 63 63 64

2. Our Story — Just the Facts and Context, Please

Case Studies Connect Participants to Each Other and the Personal Side of Issues

Our Story — Stories Connect People

3. Moving from Ideas to Actions - Strategic Doing™

Using Strategic Doing™ During the Forum Our Story — Strategic Doing in Practice

4. 5.

Resource Table

Post-Forum Activities

Our Story — Post-Forum Tales


67 67

Why Collect Evaluation Data?

How and When Should We Collect Data? 68 Our Story — How Knowledge, Confidence and Conditions Began to Change 70


73 73 73 73 74


Action and Accountability

Publicize Outcomes

Our Story: Keep on Keeping On


77 77

Our Story — The End or a New Beginning


79 79 80 83 83

1. Naming and Framing Issues

2. Resources to Engage with Communities 3. Community Issue Forum Examples 4. Resources for Farm and Farm Family Resilience



Tool 1: Situation Analysis and Naming and Framing Worksheet 86 Tool 2: Engaging Community — Identifying Community Capitals Worksheet 87 Tool 3: Considerations for In-Person or Online/Virtual Forums 88 Tool 4: Forum Budget Planning Template 91 Tool 5: A Planning Timeline and Checklist 92 Tool 6: Suggested Progression & Agenda Items for Planning Committee Meetings 96 Tool 7: Preparing for the Forum Day Checklist 97




Appendix 1: Stakeholder Logic Model for Linking Farm Vitality and Health Appendix 2: Invitation to Forum Attendees from the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Associate Dean and Director of Cooperative Extension, 2018/2019 Appendix 3: Email Invitation to Forum Participants from Planning Committee 2018/2019 Appendix 4: Letter of Invitation to Forum from Planning Committee - 2021 Appendix 5: One-Month Follow Up Letter to Delaware Participants and Stakeholders - 2018/2019 Appendix 6: Post Forum Letter to all Participants – 2021 Appendix 7: Case Studies 2018/2019 - Linking Farm Vitality and Health Forum Appendix 8: Case Studies 2021 Could Covid Happen Again? Forum


101 103


107 108 110 112 114 115 116 117 118 119 120

Appendix 9: Strategic Doing™ Flyer

Appendix 10: Key Informant Interview Question Guide (2018/2019)

Appendix 11: Focus Group Questions (2021)

Appendix 12: Evaluation - Sample Temperature Reading Appendix 13: Evaluation Questions used for Online/Virtual Forum Appendix 14: Evaluation - 3-Month Post-Forum Survey (2021) Appendix 15: Special Supplement to the Delmarva Farmer





Maria Pippidis, MS, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension – pippidis@udel.edu

Maria Pippidis has worked for the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension since 1992 and developed resources, evaluated and conducted workshops on Financial Management, Health Insurance Literacy, Food Safety and Personal Development. More recently she has worked on initiatives focused on Farm and Farm Family Resilience and Farm Stress. She is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and Financial Fitness Coach®. She led the New Technologies in Agriculture Education Project year 2 and is a member of the Northeast Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network.

Bonnie Braun, PhD, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland School of Public Health, Department of Family Science and University of Maryland Extension – bbraun@umd.edu

Bonnie Braun is co-leader of the New Technologies in Agriculture Education project year 2. She provides stress and resilience guidance for the University of Maryland Extension’s SARE grant targeting agriculture services providers. She led the Health Insurance Literacy Initiative. She has conducted research, written curriculum and provided professional development in family resource management, health, and resilience.

Jesse M Ketterman, Jr., PhD, AFC®, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Maryland Extension – jketterm@umd.edu

Jesse M. Ketterman teaches finance and health insurance literacy to consumers. Working with farmers, farm families, and agriculture service providers, he teaches farm stress management, succession planning, retirement planning, and resiliency. He is an active member of the Health Insurance Literacy Initiative and author of health insurance and finance curricula and educational materials.


Shoshanah Inwood, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Environment and Natural Resources, Ohio State University – inwood.2@osu.edu

Shoshanah Inwood is an Associate Professor and rural sociologist in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University. Her integrated research and extension program focuses on community and economic development through food and agriculture, and how farm household dynamics affect the trajectories, priorities, and functioning of agricultural production and food systems. She uses qualitative and quantitative methods to understand how health insurance and childcare affect economic development and quality of life in the farm sector.

Nicole Wright, Extension Educator and Lake Erie and Aquatic Research Network Coordinator Ohio Sea Grant, Ohio State University - wright.1128@osu.edu Nicole Wright is an Extension Educator with Ohio Sea Grant at the Ohio State University. Nicole manages the daily needs of the Lake Erie and Aquatic Research Network (LEARN), a regional research consortium working together to promote collaborative research, education and

networking to address the challenges and opportunities facing Ohio’s freshwater resources. Nicole is focused on sustainable, stakeholder-informed, science-based solutions that build resilience in food, agricultural, and environmental systems.

We stand ready to support you as you begin or expand your efforts to build resilience using community engagement forums.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS In this publication, we document a project and the process used to design that project. This effort included a larger group of individuals who supported our work. We gratefully acknowledge their contributions here: Recognition to our Partners in Forums ❖ Northeast Extension Risk Management Education Center ❖ Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development provided funding to support the 2018- 2019 onsite forums ❖ Extension Foundation New Technologies in Agriculture Education (NTAE) providing funding to support the 2021 online forums; three professional development workshops; and two e-publications ❖ Participants and their respective organizations who attended the forums Additional NTAE Project Team Members University of Delaware Cooperative Extension ❖ Jenn Volk, Associate Director of Cooperative Extension & Environmental Quality Extension Specialist ❖ Laurie Wolinski, Extension Agent, Agribusiness Risk Management & Director of the Northeast Extension Risk Management Education Center ❖ Georgie Cartanza, Extension Agent, Poultry ❖ Jerri Husch, Program Coordinator, Extension Cohort of the Northeast Farm and Stress Assistance Network project. University of Maryland Extension ❖ Shannon Dill, Principal Agent, Agriculture

NTAE Catalysts and Wrap-Around Service Advisors ❖ Tira Adelman ❖ Karl Bradley ❖ Beverly Coberly ❖ Ashley Griffin ❖ Rose Hayden-Smith ❖ Chuck Hibbard

❖ Megan Hirschman ❖ Molly Immendorf ❖ Rick Klemme ❖ Kinsie Rayburn, Consultant, Farm Journal ❖ Aaron Weibe

Reviewers ❖ Lynn Little, Retired Extension Educator, Senior Agent Emerita, University of Maryland Extension ❖ Rose Hayden- Smith, Cooperative Extension Advisor Emerita, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources ❖ Dr. Louis Swanson, Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University



There are times when it is not sufficient to just provide technical education to individuals, families, organizations, and communities. There are times when situations move from private problems to public issues. At those times, Extension can engage communities in collaboratively addressing the issue(s). Our most recent interest in the use of forums as a community engagement tool started while working with individuals in the farming population. We recognized the need to go beyond working with individual farmers and farm families to addressing forces that were impacting their finances, health, and well-being. Those forces go well beyond the fences of the farms.

We realized that engaging the broader community was a necessary way to:

1) Increase understanding about farming-related issues and

2) Identify and engage resources of communities to better support farming populations.

We started shortly after the completion of a USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant. That study shed light on health and health insurance problems and issues facing farmers. The study revealed the impact those problems/issues have on personal health and financial well-being as well as on farming operations. You can learn more at: https://u.osu.edu/ccwl/projects/health-care-health-insurance/. The first public engagement event, to process results from the study, was held in Vermont in 2016 under the direction of Shoshanah Inwood, lead AFRI grant researcher. Bonnie Braun served as Extension Communications Advisor; Maria Pippidis conducted a summit workshop. The interaction and outcomes of this public engagement summit inspired a team from the University of Maryland Extension, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and Ohio State University to replicate the summit, with modifications, in our respective states. We received funding from the North East Regional Center for Rural Development to conduct face-to-face community action forums in 2018-2019 and to demonstrate immediate and longer-term impact on communities. The need to move from face-to-face to online forums arose with the COVID 19 pandemic. We sought funding and consulting services to enable us to compare outcomes of face-to-face forums with those of an online forum. We received funding from the 2020-21 USDA NIFI- Extension Foundation National Technology in Agriculture Extension initiative. This project allowed us to test onsite vs online forums, to create this how-to e-Pub and to offer professional development to those wanting to learn about conducting their own forums. We identified a need for a guidebook to help Extension professionals. What follows is based on lessons learned from planning, conducting, and evaluating all those forums.



Solving complex problems and creating change usually occurs at multiple levels of systems. Cooperative Extension personnel work directly with clientele and are exposed to the complexities of systems. To help clientele even more, Extension educators often need to work with decision makers, stakeholders, community organizations and government officials, and the clientele to unravel the complexity, to find common ground and workable solutions. Using strategies like community forums helps to engage multiple people and organizations in ways that can create change and even transformation. Questions Professionals have asked:

● Why are community forums an important tool in my educational tool kit? ● When does it make sense to conduct a community forum? ● How can I hold a community forum?

We provide answers to these questions in this guide. We provide some background on the function of forums. We draw on our experience in conducting issue forums. And we describe our process for planning and facilitating issue forums. We share tools, sample documents, and resources for you to quickly get started. And throughout, we tell our story to ground the guide in lived experiences. Our goal is to help you understand theory and processes that will allow you to address challenges affecting individuals, families, organizations, and communities from an integrated, holistic perspective . We believe the socio-ecological approach we use and describe here will help communities address emerging and pressing issues. The socio-ecological approach increases engagement by a diversity of community members. And the more diverse the participants, the greater the likelihood that resulting actions will be a good fit for the community. The processes we use include listening to community members to gather local knowledge; incorporating research-based information; and encouraging action based on inclusive, engaging, and deliberative dialogue. The processes can be applied to forums of all scales, local to statewide or across state lines to address a variety of issues. The guide offers resources to help you develop an issues forum as well as links to additional information. Within this guide are examples from the 2018-2019 Linking Farm Vitality and Health Forums (MD/DE/OH) and a 2021 Could COVID-19 Happen Again ? Working Collectively to Build Resilience across our Food and Farm Systems on the Eastern Shore (DE/MD). We have included a few key references drawn from the literature. The final chapter of the guide includes Resources for Professional Development and Tools to Use in Planning and Implementing a Forum that offer materials we’ve used and created. These are included so you have easily accessible examples to use. In the Appendices, we’ve included some sample documents; worksheets for planning and Strategic Doing™, and exampl es of case studies we’ve used with farming-focused forums, etc.


Our Story Throughout the guide, we have included Our Story to bring to life what we’ve done and learned. We hope that Our Story and the how-to parts of this guide will increase your understanding, willingness, and confidence to conduct forms that engage community members in addressing public problems and public issues. This guide is your tool to plan, facilitate, and evaluate issue-to-action forums.

Origins of Our Story

Both Maria and Bonnie have experience with National Issues Forums (NIF) including moderation training. Bonnie wrote an issue guide, Sizing Up America , for the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and conducted multiple forums using the guide. She also received funding from the Kettering Foundation to investigate the conditions under which low-income, rural mothers were willing and able to participate in community issues. Bonnie wrote a play based on the findings that included a mini-forum and research from Rural Families Speak . Maria led multiple forums focused on land use issues, offered NIF training within the state of Delaware as well as assisted with a 4-H engagement project teaching young people to conduct forums within their schools. When seeking an active engagement approach for the 2018-2019 forums, we considered the National Issues Forum model. However, our planning team wanted to see more action outcomes than is typical of those forums. Hence, we incorporated the public engagement, naming and framing, and facilitated deliberation aspects of the National Issues Forums and combined them with an approach known as Strategic Doing™.

Origins of 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021 Forums

In mid-2010, health care and health insurance were leading public issues and the need for health insurance literacy became apparent. At the time, Bonnie was serving as the Founding Director of the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy at the University of Maryland — College Park. The University of Maryland Extension and the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension joined forces to create a research-based Health Insurance Literacy Initiative to educate consumers in response to federal legislation (Kim et al., 2013).

Little research existed about the health, health care needs, and status of health insurance across the farming population. In response, a research project was funded by the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Competitive Program of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Shoshanah Inwood, who at the time was at the University of Vermont, led the research study. One deliverable of the study was the sharing of results with the public so appropriate actions could be taken. Bonnie served on Vermont 2016 Summit


the research team with responsibilities for communication of findings through Extension and other outreach. To learn more about the study, go to: https://www.hirednag.net/ The research team concluded that with two-thirds of the farmers experiencing a preexisting condition and three-fourths believing that health insurance was a risk management strategy for farmers, health insurance was clearly not just a private problem but a public issue--a national farm policy issue. Farmers believed that USDA should address the issue. These research findings became the driver for engaging the public in responding to health and health insurance issues impacting the farming population. To make the findings public, researchers from the AFRI grant held a summit in 2016 where farmers, farmer-serving organizations, elected officials and interested others came together to learn about the findings. They identified actions that could be taken collectively and individually to improve access to health care and health insurance. Both Maria and Bonnie participated in that Vermont based Summit.

Based on the summit, a team from Delaware, Maryland and Ohio applied for, and received, funding to conduct a coordinated community risk management approach to health and health insurance among farm enterprises. Funding was provided by the Northeast Regional Center of Rural Development. Team members, with input from state planning committees, determined that a forum in each state would be the most appropriate means of engaging people.

By the time the forums were held in 2018-2019, mental health of farmers had risen as a public issue led by an increase in suicides among farmers and became a driver for three forums focused on strengthening health and farm vitality. Even as we were monitoring results from these two forums, we were working on reframing stress as an issue to build resilience across the farming population. We were also working on a framework to build the case for exp anding Extension’s role from one of technical assistance with stress reduction to one of public engagement in stressors that go beyond the boundary of the farm. And we were working on tools to enable Extension educators from multiple disciplines and other professionals to transcend their own disciplinary and sector boundaries.


In 2020, two new drivers, both associated with COVID-19, led the Delaware and Maryland team to consider another forum: 1) Public attention to availability and affordability of food and 2) Extension’s need to work at a distance. The team sought and received funding, through the Extension Foundation, from the USDA’s NIFA New Technologies in Agriculture Education, to address those drivers. We built on, and adapted, the previous onsite forum format. Our goal was to test the feasibility of using distance technology to effectively conduct public forums.

Delaware and Maryland 2021 Online Forum

We are sharing Our Story in this guide to bring to life the how- to” information we are providing. We’ve chosen to tell our story believing that other professionals can learn from our experiences and create their own public issues forums.



In this section, we answer two questions:

1) Who is this Guide For?

2) How Should I Use the Guide?

We leave you to answer the question: Is this Guide for You?

Who is this Guide For? Seaman Knapp, known to many of us as the Father of Extension, reportedly advised new faculty against ever referring to themselves as ‘experts.’ More than 100 years ago, new Extension agents in Ohio were introduced to their communities as ‘not a man who comes to criticize existing methods and force his own ideas but is rather a clearing house where all may bring their problems and work them out together.’ … By working in this way, we become a partner in co-creating solutions to issues people care about. The ‘work’ therefo re involves bringing local knowledge and science-based information together in a manner that recognizes and honors both. (Rennekamp, 2016). This guide is for any professional working in any field -- agriculture, community, family, finance, health -- along with decision makers who are working on complex issues. It is for individuals who are interested in making change across and within community sectors. It is for professionals who are looking for a way to break down complex systems level public issues into comprehensible pieces that can be acted upon. This guide is for those professionals who see public issues education as a means of addressing issues that call for solutions that go beyond technical or disciplinary expertise. It is for those who understand that public issues require engagement of the public and an integrated perspective--as called for by participants in a national study of Exte nsion’s involvement in issues (Gerrior et al., 2009). Participants in that study believed that public issues education would benefit from a more integrated approach. This guide is also for professionals who are dedicated to building resilient food and farming systems. Our Story began with addressing farm stressors and building resilience. This guide is organized to provide background information about how to conduct a forum, but our experience is motivated by addressing issues that, if addressed, would ultimately build vital and resilient farms. Our Story will provide more of this detail. We also wanted to share that we created a Farm and Farm Family Risk and Resilience Logic Model that focuses on outcomes for stakeholders and decision makers. This logic model can be found in Appendix 1: Stakeholder Logic Model for Linking Farm Vitality and Health . The logic model can save individual professionals’ time in developing programs; can serve as a basis for working with multiple professionals; and can provide a common base for assessing the extent to which multiple professionals are increasing the likelihood of reaching the intended short, medium, and long-term outcomes.


Radke and Chazdon (2015) noted that informed decisions were not enough — that the public had to become engaged. They described their Model for Civic Engagement shown in Figure 1. This model could help Extension educators think about how it applies to forums.

Figure 1

Model for Civic Engagement

From: Radke, B. & Chazdon, S. (2015, August). Making ResourceFull™ decisions: A process model for civic engagement. Jour nal of Extension . 53(4, 4ToT5). https://archives.joe.org/joe/2015august/tt5.php

Braun (2012), called for public issues education as a means of educating the public about health issues. She urged Extension to mobilize to address health issues across the nation. The article described a University of Maryland Extension statewide forum held at five locations with local facilitators. Each site was connected through Web technology to explore the components of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010. The focus was on the impact of the ACA on rural Maryland and was part of a core health messaging project funded by a USDA Rural Health and Safety Grant. A post-pre-evaluation method determined that understanding of the law increased and held 6 months later. This community education forum was an early demonstration of the ability to conduct forums via online technology. Land-grant universities can call attention to issues, conduct research, create materials, and work with local communities to find solutions through their outreach and/or Extension capacity. Shaffer (2017), provides a historic perspective on Extension as “a catalyst for change through community engagement.” After an extensive review of Extension’s history of community engagement, Shafer wrote: Its [Extension’s] past use of discussion groups highlights how Extension supported and catalyzed change in communities by fostering the ability of communities to create opportunities for citizens to understand and engage with public issues. (p. 5)


Gupta et al. (2019) studied 11 projects conducted by Extension in California. They drew three conclusions. The first conclusion was: Extension can achieve its greatest relevance in policy circles when it weaves together its ability to provide trustworthy technical knowledge with its capacity to influence policy dialogue, debate, and practice across multiple settings and over the long term. (p. 1) A second conclusion was that in a world where short-term thinking and polarization is common, Extension can foster a future-oriented approach to public issues and policy. Extension can help communities focus on the future by providing context-sensitive and deliberative engagement opportunities for the public over time. Their third conclusion was that Extension often undervalues the impact of the work it does and fails to make those impacts known. They suggested Extension do programming focused on public issues and then, that Extension tell a convincing story of the value of that programming. Goerlich and Walker (2015) offered a model for Extension professionals who are thinking about becoming involved in public issues education. Their model, a decision tree, can help Extension professionals, individually and collectively, think about emerging issues and what they have to offer to help a community process public issues. The model is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 - A Thought Process for Extension Faculty Considering Their Potential Role in Controversial Public Issues

From: Goerlich, D. & Walker, M.A. (2015, June). Det ermining Extension’s role in controversial issues: Content, process, either, or both? Journal of Extension. 53(3), 3FEA2. https://archives.joe.org/joe/2015june/a2.php or https://tigerprints.clemson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2242&context=joe


Multiple studies of Extension professionals found that study participants agreed to the importance of public issues education. However, most were not comfortable with moving from a technical education approach to a public issues education approach (Peters, 2002; Public Issues Education Task Force, 2002; Singletary et al., 2004; Gerrior et al., 2009; Gay et al., 2017). This guide should help reduce discomfort, increase confidence, and build capacity to do public issues education using community issues forums . Forums are a technique of engaging community members and organizations in exploration of issues and of actions. Forums are the focus of this guide.

Ask yourself:

Is this guide for you?


How Should I Use the Guide?

We encourage you to use this guide in three different ways.


Skim the guide to get a broad overview of what community forums are.

2. Think about an emerging or prevalent issue of concern to communities you serve then consider--who has a stake in the issue; what expertise, funds, and capacity you and your team have; and a timeframe to work with. 3. Decide to do a forum! Then learn from what you did for future forums. Once you decide to conduct a forum, you can use this guide as a roadmap for planning, implementing, and evaluating your community engagement activity. After working your way through the guide, you will be ready to conduct a community forum, especially an issues action forum that leads participants to use their collective knowledge and experiences to create appropriate actions to address systems level issues in their communities. Why Use a Forum? We live in a world with complex issues that often feel overwhelming to tackle. Extension professionals do their best to make a difference in their circles of influence. They feel confident in their ability to do technical education; less so to do public issues education. But . . . What if you could gather and engage people in a way that leverages everyone's circle of influence? What if you could create a collective understanding that leads to new connections and relationships, and innovative collaborative steps toward meaningful change?

Forums are a way to do both. Here are three reasons why.

Reason 1

Using a forum allows for community collaboration and public issues education. Dealing with public issues requires recognition of the difference between an issue and the related underlying problem. A public issue is a "matter of widespread [public] concern" (Dale & Hahn, 1994) and is often contentious because people have multiple ideas about causes and solutions. Normally, public issues reflect a public recognition that something isn't the way it should be and that a public remedy is called for. The concern is usually related to an identifiable problem or complex of problems. Sometimes, however, public issues are based on perceptions that may or may not be accurate (Patton & Blaine, 2001). Forums provide a way to deal with perceptions, misconceptions, multiple ideas, and solutions in a way that manages contention and focuses on finding and acting on solutions.

Reason 2

Often, as educators and professionals, we are addressing problems at the individual youth or adult and family level and in the case of farmers, at the farm level. Public issues education, and


the use of forums, increases engagement but at a community level with the goal of including diverse representation of community sectors who all have a different perspective, resources, and circle of influence to contribute to preventing, reducing, or mitigating issues and underlying problems. Figure 3 shows a Farm and Farm Family Risk and Resilience Socio-Ecological Model developed by Braun and Pippidis (2021). It illustrates the relationship of multiple levels, or environments, or systems, to each other. The model shows that levels beyond the first three (individual, interpersonal and farm) are in the public domain. Those include community, organizational and the policy/enabling environment levels. Actions and decisions made at one level usually affect the other levels.

Figure 3

Farm and Farm Family Risk and Resilience Socio-Ecological Model

From: Braun, B. & Pippidis, M. (2021). Building farm and farm family resilience in our communities: A guide for Extension professionals to engage strategically . (2nd ed., 1st rev.). Extension Foundation. ISBN: 978-1-955687-00-3. https://online.flippingbook.com/view/529228412/12/]

This model was created in response to concerns about the stress load impacting farmers, their families, farm workers and the farm itself. Most of Extension’s response has been focused on the individual through stress management education. A public issue approach acknowledges that individual stress management is necessary but not sufficient.


We believe that a sustainable change approach to resilient farms and farming populations must go beyond teaching stress management to individuals and families or risk management approaches to farm operators to how to address policies, systems, and environments. (Braun & Pippidis, 2021)

Reason 3

When something is a public issue, ways to deal with it must be identified by the community and for the community. Community members need to find the will and way to collaborate on naming and framing the issue and identifying actions that can lead to change. This community engagement process increases the likelihood that collective action, based on common ground, will be better accepted. To see how these reasons and the sociological model were used to plan and conduct a forum, read Our Story scattered throughout this guide to provide context to our lived experiences with forums.

Delaware 2018 Forum


Our Story--Why We Used Forums to Address Farm and Farm Family Issues

We were first alerted to the pervasiveness of health challenges of farmers and farm families when analyses from the USDA AFRI grant were available in 2016. Interest and concern by the public became evident during the 2016 Vermont summit. We watched the impact of farming-related stressors climb as other data became available. We cringed when we saw an increase in the number of farm suicides. We were amazed with the number of local and national news headlines focused on financial downturns in the farming economy and stress-related impacts on farmers, farm enterprises and the entire food system. We realized the stressors behind the numbers were not just of a private nature. Once stress-related information became public, we knew that the situation had moved beyond private problems to public issues.

We determined that Extension’s farm stress management programming was not enough. We knew issues would need to be addressed from a socio-ecological perspective. This perspective would allow us to engage individuals and organizations within, and beyond, food systems. We recognized that a resilience approach would reshape the conversation in a way that would broaden discussion, engage more individuals, and create not only personal solutions but systemic ones. Building resilience at the individual, family and farm levels of the socio-ecological model had to go beyond the boundaries of the farm. We were working on a resilience social-ecological framework to show how other levels impact the personal and farm. Additional levels of communities, organizations and public policy were included. And we knew we needed forums to enable shared resilience thinking and building of resilience for not only for our farming populations but for the communities in which they reside. Through our NTAE grant, we published a guide for Extension professionals wanting to build resilience available at: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/529228412/22/ We determined that a forum process of public engagement would allow us to engage community members from a variety of sectors to bring different ideas, resources, and connections to address public issues that farms and farm families face. We wanted to build a stronger support system for farms and farm families, and we hoped to create systemic changes so that history doesn't repeat itself, again and again.


ABOUT FORUMS What is a Forum?

fo·rum - A place, meeting, or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged. Merriam-Webster During informational interviews, we asked for preferred names for the community engagement event that eventually led to the term--forum. The dictionary definition of forum shown here exactly described the kind of community gathering we were seeking — a place where community members could discuss, dialogue and deliberate issues. We also wanted to go beyond deliberation to community member identification of options for actions and their tradeoffs leading to commitment to act. In addition to informational interviews, we reviewed literature on forums. As Lukas and Hoskins (2003) explained, there are three types of community forums:

1) Community Education

2) Community Engagement

3) Community Action

Some forums are for learning about issues or problems; others about discussing issues or problems and still others are about taking action to address the issues or problems. Let’s examine the difference in how we use the terms--issues and problems — and the three types of community forums. A Community Education Forum could provide education on a community problem with the intended outcome of an increase in knowledge and understanding. A community problem could be a lack of information about any given topic — such as the impact of stressors on the farming population. Many Extension systems have offered this type of community forum, perhaps by another name, as they inform communities of the presence and impact of stressors on the farming population. A Community Engagement Forum might focus on how to get more racial minority, female, LGBTQ, young and/or farmers with disabilities integrated into farming communities and into agricultural educational and support services to reduce stressors. Intended outcomes would be


behavioral in nature--taking action to be more inclusive of the diversity of farmers in the community. There is a body of literature about stressors experienced by these farmers included in the Building Farm and Farm Family Resilience in our Communities e-Publication from Connect Extension located at: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/529228412/22/. With acknowledgement of the need for more inclusion, Extension Educators are well positioned to convene community members to better understand the challenges and ways to prevent, reduce or mitigate stressors for these farmers. A Community Action Forum is designed to address public issues. Public issues are contentious; there are multiple points of view about the causes of the issue(s) and what to do about the issue(s). An example is how to prevent and respond to future disruptions that cause stress to food systems, including the farming population. The intended outcomes focus on changing a condition or situation impacting multiple people and/or systems. There are guides for using non-contentious approaches to public issues education and community dialogue (Mathews, 2016). In Our Story , you’ll learn how our forums addressed food systems disruptions. Another way to describe the differences among the forums is that Community Education Forums provide people with information about situations or conditions affecting all or part of the community i.e., educators provide information on stress across the farming population. Community Engagement Forums involve community members in identifying or responding to public problems or issues i.e., articulating the need for behavioral and mental health services in farming communities. Community Action Forums involve community members in identifying actions they and others could take collectively to prevent, reduce, or resolve public issues and problems arising from stressful disruptors to food systems, including the farming population and local communities. The objectives of your community forums will determine the type of format and the agenda. Desired outcomes, objectives, current situations, availability of, and willingness to use, electronic technologies, will also determine the type of engagement – onsite, online or a combination. (Casey, 2020)

From: Casey, 2020, https://www.kettering.org/blogs/cga-and-zoom


Online Forums

Historically, forums have been held at community sites as face-to-face gatherings. Relatively few forums were conducted at a distance. Ten years ago, the Kettering Foundation investigated the feasibility of online deliberations (Black, 2011) because of their “interest i n potential and pitfalls of the Internet as a space for democratic practice.” The lead investigator found a scarcity of information about online public forums. She detailed multiple Internet tools and concluded that online deliberations can succeed but that testing of designs and tools must be done to provide participants with an easy to use and safe space for their deliberations. The Foundation moved toward online forums in 2013 (Lee, 2013) and found the forums they conducted were effective. Another author (Casey, 2020) wrote about online Common Ground for Action forums and drew the following conclusion: “[It was] clear that techno logy cannot replace face-to- face, in person forums. But it came close.” In Our Story , learn about our findings. The Foundation’s National Issues Forums is a leader in the use of forums for deliberative public engagement. The National Issues Forums use a moderator to guide participants through an issue that has previously been named and framed. Each issue guide contains at least three options for addressing the issue with possible trade-offs and a measure of shift in thinking. (Mathews, 2016) An Extension educator, who faced many contentious public issues, told her story about conducting a community issue forum in the Journal of Extension (Haaland, 2004). After receiving training from the Kettering Foundation, she worked with others to modify the National Issues approach to public deliberation. Civittolo and Davis (2011) describe opportunities for Extension programming by engaging the citizenry in strengthening their communities. Additional stories can be found in the Journal of Extension . Try searching for Issue Forum, community engagement, Kettering. In 2020, Kansas State Extension taught issue forum facilitation skills to 4-H members. The 4-Hers facilitated forums during the 2020 4-H Citizenship in Action Day. Learn more of their story at: https://www.ksre.k-state.edu/news/stories/2020/11/4h-stories-matter-and-civic- discourse.html

Our Story--About Our Forums

We conducted forums in 2018-2019 in three states. The forums focused on strengthening the health and well-being of the farming population. Disruptive impacts of COVID-19 led us to refocus the 2021 forum as we worked with a focus group to name and frame topics for the forum. And, by 2021, we had our risk and resiliency framework. We wanted to use our new socio- ecological framework to draw attention from individual behavior to how the social environment influences behavior and conditions. The COVID-19 disruptions demonstrated the


interrelationship of systems in the framework and the need to find short and long-term solutions through a community engagement forum.

COVID-19 disruptions to our face-to-face educational programming caused us to experiment with doing the forum with online technology. We wanted to determine if an online forum could produce similar outcomes to our onsite forums. Thus, we proposed to test the technology. Fortunately, Jesse, Bonnie and Maria had all used distance technology to teach our health insurance literacy initiative curricula: Smart Choice and Smart Use Health Insurance ™ . We had learned to modify face-to-face teaching in an online environment. It was time to test technology with forums. Our NTAE grant came with a cadre of advisors who helped us consider multiple techniques to stretch our technology experience. The advisors supported us as we ventured into new experiences tied to conducting forums online.

Oh, and the answer to the question – Can online forums produce similar results as face-to-face forums? YES!

We were able to measure increases in understanding and willingness to act at a statistically significant level — similar to measures from our onsite forums. We also found similar results regarding use of the Strategic Doing™ process as we did with the onsite forums. Partic ipants were able to identify projects that contributed to the envisioned eventual outcome of improving conditions related to the issue and initial feedback is that products developed by working groups will become public in the fall of 2021. Ripple effects will likely continue.


What are the Principles of Successful Forums?

Planning the forum agenda is rooted in frameworks that look at underlying causes, interactions, and influences and methods that leverage community assets, build positive relationships, and increase capacity to impact change. The Forum is a community engagement tool to bring community members and their assets together to address an issue. To effectively engage community members to address complex problems and issues, we use some guiding principles based on research and actual success. Use these principles as you explain to your partners and planning committee why you are using the approaches you are taking.

Principle-based professional practice can help Extension educators think through how to plan and organize community forums. Principles guide decisions.

Principle 1: Use Adult Learning Recommended Practices

Adult learning principles are key to keeping participants engaged, learning, and motivated for action. These five recommended practices for adult learning build the foundation of an engaging and inclusive experience during planning sessions with committee members and throughout the forum itself (Bell & McAllister, 2012). They include: a. providing a safe environment for learning b. i dentifying learner’s knowledge and personal views about the content c. linking the content to prior experiences d. letting learners work together to experiment and solve problems with content e. giving learners choice in content process, and outcomes Adults learn much more effectively if they are fully engaged in the process. In short, most adults learn best when they do the learning themselves. Learning Library for Teachers https://sites.google.com/a/learnnorthcoast.com/learning-library-for-teachers/adult-learners

Principle 2: Facts guide thinking, decision-making, and action

The forum process is grounded in theory and research-based information. Theory and research help to create a trusted learning environment as well as provide a solid foundation for decisions made and action steps planned. a. Research-based information - as you are framing the issue and determining what will be presented during the forum, be sure to use reliable information sources to build trust with participants. Because attendees will be from diverse backgrounds, translate the


information into plain language that can easily be understood and present a well- balanced view of relevant topics and issues. b. Tested processes and best practices - use to increase understanding and when appropriate, move toward action. By using processes that help reduce complexity, prioritize, and move toward action, individuals will feel like something is accomplished and will continue to support any action-oriented initiatives. c. Existing Initiatives - if there are initiatives already underway or resources available, consider inviting those individuals to share what they are doing and learning. Have a display table available or include a mechanism for resource sharing online.

Principle 3: Relationships Between and Among People and Our Built and Natural Environments Matter

Forums allow for building on the human capital within your community. Strategic engagement of key stakeholders and other participants allows for building on their expertise and resources to develop collective knowledge and actions. Existing frameworks can help enhance engagement. a. Community Capitals Framework -- The Community Capitals framework, shown in Figure 4, identifies the types of Community Capitals and assets that can contribute to collaborative problem solving. By engaging individuals from different community capital areas, you bring a diverse set of perspectives, problem solving skills and resources. (Emery & Flora, 2006; Flora et al., 2005).

Figure 4

Community Capitals Framework

From: Flora, C.B., Emery, M., Fey, S. & Bregendahl, C. (2005). Community Capitals: A tool for evaluating strategic interventions and projects . North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, Iowa State University. https://naaee.org/sites/default/files/204.2-handout-community-capitals.pdf


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