The Partnership for Democratic Practices in Arkansas (Arkansas Partnership), which is made up of three organizations — the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Central Arkansas Library System, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute — was formed with guidance from the Kettering Foundation in 2019. This partnership focuses on helping Arkansans learn to better communicate about and thoughtfully consider policy choices on a variety of contentious topics.

Traditionally, the partnership has accomplished this by hosting public events centered around publicly available deliberation guides from the National Issues Forums Institute. These guides focus on issues such as health care, voting, immigration, racial tensions, and other timely issues. These forums are designed to help participants with disparate views and life experiences seek mutual understanding of each other’s viewpoints and find common ground that could lead to collaborative action. 

These four topics comprise our 2022-2023 Dialogue Series. The first dialogue runs until Oct. 31, and the final will be held in June 2023.

Each forum is led by neutral moderators who use those guides to challenge participants to discuss the appeal, concerns, costs, and consequences of three to four approaches to the problem. In addition to helping community members discuss issues in a civil manner, these forums also provide valuable training experiences for student facilitators from the Clinton School. Frequently we have also been able to conduct research about participant experiences during the forums to add to the body of literature on deliberative dialogue. Over the last few years, the Arkansas Partnership has also experimented with different approaches to create a custom dialogue guide focused on water issues and Arkansas-specific supplemental guides to enhance the participant experience.  

For the past 18 months, members of the Arkansas Partnership and a cohort of other civic leaders from across the country worked with Program Officers Joni Doherty and Brad Rourke and Senior Associate Alice Diebel from the Kettering Foundation, and Betty Knighton, Senior Associate at the Kettering Foundation and President of the National Issues Forums Institute. During our 18-month program, we learned facilitation skills, practiced with a variety of existing dialogues, and learned how this work was being done in other parts of the country. We were also challenged to develop custom materials, host listening sessions, and get involved in some innovative nationwide Deliberative Dialogue Networks to continue our learning. 

We learned a lot from this experience with the Kettering Foundation and were able to develop a custom water-based dialogue that can be downloaded (in English or in Spanish ) and used to facilitate discussions in your communities. We hope to continue using this particular dialogue in partnership with the Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecture Series and University of Arkansas campuses throughout the state.

Aaron Keith Kennard

Program Officerakennard@rockefellerinstitute.org

Want to get involved? Reach out to Aaron Keith for questions or assistance! You can also click the button below to register online for any of the four upcoming dialogues.

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