Healthy Democracy does a lot of work to repair democracy within the state of Oregon and beyond. The two main ways that they go about doing this is through increasing the spread of accurate and thoughtful information for voters and creating engagement opportunities between people from all walks of life across the state. The two main ways they do this are through their programs Citizens Initiative Review and Community Oregon. The work that Healthy Democracy does is incredibly comprehensive and thoroughly planned and the majority of what they work on is engagement. It’s difficult to determine the ways they could improve because in many ways I see their work as a perfect example of the opportunities for engagement. However, after speaking with Robin Teater–the executive director–and looking back on all the research we have done this semester I’ve determined that one way they could improve is with the scale of the projects they work on, especially that of Community Oregon.
Community Oregon is designed to bring people together who come from a variety of experiences and knowledge backgrounds to help them build upon their communication skills and target controversial issues. The program primarily brings in people who are leaders in their community and consists of three different parts: camp, exchange, and expo. I think that this program does an incredibly good job of promoting engagement across differences and because they try to work with community leaders, it creates opportunity to spread its impact beyond participants and into their communities. I think that Healthy Democracy could improve their engagement by creating a partner program that focuses on decreasing the scope of the program itself and increasing the scope of its community and statewide impact.
What can we do?
The scope of Community Oregon means that the events involved don’t take place on a regular basis because of the planning involved in the process. I think Healthy Democracy would benefit from a program with similar goals to those of Community Oregon, but that happens more regularly on a smaller scale. Social media and technological tools are under-utilized by Healthy Democracy and I think that they would be very useful for creating ongoing engagement opportunities across the state. The program I envision would have city based groups that get together on a monthly basis to discuss local, statewide, and national issues. The meetings would begin with participants sharing in their local groups about these issues and then using an online platform like Zoom to engage with other groups across the state in an organized manner. These meetings can and should include opportunities for engagement as well as education about how to engage as well as information about any more nuanced aspects about the issues being discussed.
Who should & will be involved?
The who of this program should include as diverse of a group of people as possible and not just be limited to community leaders. Accessibility of involvement is an important part of the who of Health Democracy so that those who would like to be involved do not feel that they are unable to for any reason. Community Oregon reimburses gas for travel, provides childcare, housing and many other things that may prevent involvement. While a Zoom meeting does not have the same impact as an in person experience, it does take away even more barriers to involvement and makes it easier to include more people. It also allows more people from more communities to more easily interact with one another. To increase participation from a wider variety of individuals it could be beneficial to provide some sort of monetary or other incentive for involvement. Without an incentive it seems likely that there would be a similar group of people to those involved with Community Oregon rather than an even more comprehensive group of people.
How can we do it?
I think that the primary goals of this extension program should be communication based both within communities and in interaction between communities. That being said, there is also room for education both about how to engage and also on the issues being engaged with. This means that the program will primarily be based in the dialogic model of engagement that seeks to promote two-way dialogue and learning, but may also include some aspects of the framing or dialectic models of engagement. Primarily utilizing the dialogic model ensures that everyone involved in the process feels like they have a voice and are a part of the conversation. I think that increasing the frequency and involvement of the kinds of conversations Healthy Democracy is already promoting can bridge divides across the state and even potentially promote the other work they do.