Healthy Democracy is an organization whose goals include providing voters accurate and unbiased information and creating opportunities for people to engage with one another on important topics. Their ideas and methods about engagement inspired our group to come up with our own project. Specifically, we were inspired by how Healthy Democracy goes about hosting conversations where different kinds of people can share their perspectives. Their methods are a good model of what engagement looks like. By engagement, we mean individuals seeking out others and interacting across differences (Proctor 2019). It is precisely the interaction across differences that we hope to accomplish in this engagement project. The idea is to have an engagement focused dialogue with Oregonians about environmental policy in an effort to bridge the rural and urban cultural divide.
An important part of this project is the type of approach we will take in regards to communication. While learning about engagement, we learned about several different models of communication that can potentially foster engagement. Since this project is focused on bringing different kinds of Oregonians together, the model that we will be primarily using is the dialogic model, however, there could be room for the other two models. We want citizens to engage with each other rather than having them be informed by us. The point is that urban voters might not understand rural perspectives and vice versa. We believe it would be better for citizens to learn more from each other about why they hold the views that they do on environmental policy. This belief stems from the idea of “coproduction of knowledge”, whereby individuals work through their differences to discover profound truths they wouldn’t have discovered using only their perspective (Jasanoff 2004). Similarly, if Oregonians can share their individual sets of knowledge, they may be able to find a common truth, or at the very least, common ground.
So then in order to get these different groups of people to interact with each other, we would have to provide a space to do so. Setting up a meeting place for those available will be necessary, as well as providing some sort of online connection such as Zoom for those who want to participate but cannot do so in person. In this setting, small groups with a mixture of rural and urban citizens can be formed in order to make sure the conversations are diverse and enriching. Groups can then break off and discuss the environmental policy issues they find most important and learn from each other’s views. Then these smaller groups can come back into the larger group and share what they discussed and what conclusions they reached. It’s important to note that the intended goal isn’t to create a consensus amongst the participants or to change anyone’s minds. We hope that rural and urban Oregonians might be able to reach across to the other side and have meaningful conversations with each other. We decided to focus on rural and urban voters because we recognized that they were far apart geographically and politically speaking. Our overall goal is to reduce the cultural division between the two groups by allowing them to engage with each other, much like Healthy Democracy seeks to reduce division in the entire country through their programs.
Jasanoff, Sheila, ed. 2004. States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and the Social Order. London: Routledge.
Proctor, James D. 2019. “When Our Ideas Differ: Three Options.” EcoTypes: Exploring Environmental Ideas(blog). June 23, 2019. https://jimproctor.us/ecotypes/about-ecotypes/when-our-ideas-differ-three-options/.