The Partnership for Democratic Practices in Arkansas is planning a series of four public dialogues using the National Issues Forums discussion guides, which explore divisive topics by breaking them down into distinct options and exploring the pros and cons of each approach. Dialogue participants are asked to share their personal opinions on each option and the experiences that led to those opinions. It is not structured as a debate but as an honest exploration of why each participant feels a particular option will or will not work. 

There are options for in-person participation at the main library of the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock (in both English and Spanish) as well as a virtual option via Zoom (in English). During each session, we will be exploring the following topics. Click the buttons below to RSVP online!

2022-2023 Dialogue Series

The Institute is a proud member of the Partnership for Democratic Practices in Arkansas alongside the Clinton School for Public Service and the Central Arkansas Library System. The partnership was originally organized through the Kettering Foundation as a two-year program involving partners across the nation experimenting with facilitated dialogues over different issues. Owing to the passion for transformational change that we share with our partners, this program has grown beyond its initial pilot period into its current form — a series of facilitated dialogues on issues relevant to Arkansans.

The overall goal is to test old theories and find new ways that deliberative practices can be used to address issues in communities. By the end of each dialogue, participants will have engaged in a conversation utilizing the framework specialized for their communities aimed at helping people come together to talk about hard issues. Our partnership also gives us an opportunity to run dialogues with existing frameworks as compiled by the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forum Institute.

In these free facilitated dialogue sessions, participants do not debate each other — quite the opposite. In small, randomized groups led by trained, nonpartisan facilitators, participants evaluate and discuss three options related to a topic or issue. Past topics have included addressing concerns over water resources in Arkansas, the partisan divide in the United States, and how to jump-start our economy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Issues Forum Guides provide a safe and structured experience for participants that lasts no longer than two hours.

“Democratic practices are ways citizens can work together — even when they disagree — to solve shared problems.”

Kettering Foundation

Past dialogues

“Would having uniform national standards for voting, instead of having state and local officials continue to set the rules, give us more confidence? Do ID requirements for voting, in order to help maintain the system’s integrity, merely discourage voters by placing hurdles in their way?”

Many Americans are concerned about our country’s election systems, despite disagreeing on what the specific problems are, or how to solve them. Are the systems too easy to manipulate? Do we have rules that make voting fair and accessible to all? Are we doing enough to ensure accuracy and credibility?

There was a record voter turnout in November 2020; almost 160 million Americans cast ballots even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. However, this record number of Americans voted despite worries about how elections are carried out. Unease about aging voting machines, out-of-date registration lists, vulnerable computer systems, foreign interference, and bureaucratic snafus predated the 2020 election, and concerns about those issues persist today.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a major expansion of absentee voting took place in the 2020 elections, resulting in improved access to the ballot, but also, in some places, delayed vote counts that prompted fears among some about ballot tampering and voter fraud. Americans believe we need a better system, one that ensures that all eligible voters can vote and that we can all trust the accuracy of the results.

How can ordinary citizens constructively address climate change and its impact on water resources in their communities?

Many Arkansans are experiencing the impact of climate change, especially on water resources in their communities. Weather cycles have brought extreme heat waves during longer summers, as well as warmer winters punctuated by periods of unprecedentedly freezing temperatures. Water resources also face extreme conditions: aquifers are drying up yet the state is also experiencing more unusually intense storms with severe and destructive flooding.

In a state significantly reliant on agriculture, Arkansas residents in both rural and urban areas are keenly aware of these climatic changes and their often negative effects, especially on water, which tend to affect residents of marginalized communities more severely than more affluent residents.

“What should we do to ensure equal justice and fair treatment in our communities?”

The United States is in conflict, as most Americans demand change in the policing practices that are intended to create safer neighborhoods. In the spring of 2020, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks sparked nationwide protests as many citizens voiced their concerns about the unjust treatment of racial minorities. All three died during encounters with police, and their names joined a lengthy list: Eric Garner in New York City in 2014, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD in 2015, Philando Castile in St. Paul, MN and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA in 2016, to name only a few.

During this facilitated dialogue, participants were presented with three broad options for improving police practices and suggested actions that could be taken to make progress on each. As with all ideas for change, all of these actions involved risks and trade-offs as well as benefits.

“How should we make sure people have the food they need?”

That was the guiding question that was addressed during the Land of Plenty dialogues on food security. As a major producer of rice, poultry, and other food staples, Arkansans have an especially close relationship with the food system in America and around the globe. That’s why, as an additional bonus, these sessions featured a look at several Arkansas-specific options prepared especially for these dialogues.

How will our nation recover from COVID-19? What will it take to rebuild a healthy economy after a pandemic?

Those were the guiding questions for these Back to Work dialogues, whose purpose was to help people deliberate on how best to rebuild the economy after the 2020 pandemic left more than 36 million people without a job.

How can we get the political system we want?

The purpose of these inaugural pair of dialogues was to help people deliberate on how we should approach the issues of division and outrage that prevent us from making progress on urgent problems in the United States. Participants evaluated and discussed three options that could help heal our country’s partisan divide and give all Americans a way to move forward, together.

Contact Person

Are you interested in attending the next dialogue? Would your organization like to sponsor this program? Do you have a great idea for a topic you think we should build a dialogue around? Let Aaron Keith know!

Aaron Keith Kennard

Program 727-6265