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CFN shares first Consensus Report with Washington State Legislators — 2,328 voices speak

How do you get over 2,300 people to take the time to engage in conversation and to provide feedback on an issue? For Community Forums Network (CFN) it starts with one word: “ownership.”

Not only is the feedback process user-friendly, safe and respectful for diverse groups and people to express themselves, but we also give our Community Partners, our Advisory Board, community and government leaders ownership in the development of the topic, topic survey and video presentations by encouraging input along the way.

We also give ownership of the engagement process through a network of nonprofit organizations — our Community Partners. These organizations host forums and encourage online survey participation with their members and supporters. We provide additional incentive through CFN’s grant program that rewards levels of participation by our nonprofit Community Partners.

We have also clearly defined what CFN’s main goal and “end product” are as it relates to strengthening citizen engagement. If we are to create an effective public engagement model, we must answer the question that all participants ask; “why does this matter?”

Citizens must feel that they have the power as individuals to influence the policy making process. CFN has made a clear appeal that the purpose of bringing diverse organizations and people together is to discover consensus on a topic. That is why we quantify citizen feedback with a survey and take that data to create a “Where’s the consensus?” Report that summarizes the areas of agreement and provides further analysis through the polarization/consensus methodology developed by Dick Spady. On July 23, CFN testified before a joint committee working group of the Washington State Legislature on young adult unemployment — closing the link between citizens and their representatives by sharing the survey findings with state policy makers.

By giving ownership for outcomes within our engagement model and by demonstrating to citizens the link between their feedback and the policy making process, we can create a more robust civic infrastructure that in the end:

  • lowers barriers to engagement
  • builds bridges between individuals and groups — understanding of different perspectives
  • provides valuable insights for policy makers to focus on solutions

Former Seattle Mayor, Norm Rice, once said, that “if you ask the people for their opinion, you better plan on using that feedback.” I often share that quote as the moral under pining for why we do what we do as a public engagement platform. It captures that enduring democratic adage of government of the people, by the people, for the people.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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