Healthy Democracy is an organization dedicated to providing voters with accurate information and creating spaces where all different kinds of people can engage with each other. They do this through their two main programs: their Citizens Initiative Review and Community Oregon. Both of these programs are excellent examples of engagement because they bring many people together and allow them to deliberate with each other in order to discuss a topic or decide on a policy measure. Their projects are usually large in scale, so they require a lot of resources to host events. My idea for a potential project seeks to reduce the amount of resources needed while also practicing engagement. After my partnership group’s interview with Robin Teater-the executive director of Healthy Democracy-I learned something that gave me my idea for a project. I learned that Healthy Democracy used to have a program called Democracy Salons, where a group of people met to discuss important political topics. Unfortunately, the program didn’t have as much success as the other two programs so it was shut down. However, the idea of creating a space for discussion resonated with me, so I propose a project that incorporates this concept.
What My Plan Is
The idea is to have thoughtful discussions on controversial topics in a way that truly exemplifies engagement. The Democracy Salons were usually set up in some sort of venue or space and included meals, all of which was paid for by Healthy Democracy. Since they also paid for the travel expenses of their guests in their other programs, it’s safe to assume they did this with the salons as well. My idea is to cut out the middleman and use a less resource intensive method of hosting a discussion. Instead of meeting in person, individuals could meet remotely through a meeting app such as Zoom. This would allow people to connect with one another and have meaningful discussions without having to pay travel expenses. The topics can be chosen by participants by having them fill out a poll beforehand and select from a list of topics which one they think is the most controversial.
Who It Involves
One of the things that made Healthy Democracy’s work so comprehensive was that they tried to include a wide range of people from different walks of life and political perspectives. This allows for people to engage with others with differing opinions and allow both sides to learn from the other. That is something I would like to do in my own project. The upside to using a meeting app for a discussion is that it would allow a wider range of people to connect with each other. However, the one downside to this method is that it would exclude people who don’t have Internet access.
How We Will Engage
Since this project is based around hosting conversations, the most appropriate approach to engagement is the dialogical model. I want people to have productive conversations in which they explore the different facets of political issues without feeling like they are being lectured. This means that instead of the host talking at the participants, the host might ask some questions about the topic and the participants would deliberate and reach their own conclusions. I feel that this type of communication is the best example of learning through engagement because it allows people to build their ideas off of each other and learn together as a group rather than as individuals. It helps people learn more about other perspectives as well as maybe learning more about what their own views mean. The goal is not to have someone “win” the conversation like a debate, but rather to have the group share their collective knowledge and come to a mutual understanding.