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Forums Institute Policy Forums

Over the past 10 years, the Forums Institute for Public Policy has developed Informed Contemplative Dialogue, a successful method of engaging stakeholders in not only talking about an issue, but also learning new perspectives and sharing information with others beyond the forum itself. Unlike most group gatherings whose goal is to support cohesive group effort, the goal of a Policy Forum using Informed Contemplative Dialogue is to provide participants what they need to think about an issue and to take action within their own sphere of influence.

This includes providing:

The knowledge base (Informed)

  • Timely choice of emerging public policy issues
  • Clear, balanced, researched Issue Brief offering original policy analysis and bibliographic resources
  • Invited speakers representing national and local perspectives
  • Participants from executive and legislative branches of government and the private sector

The range of possibilities (Contemplative)

  • Away from the demands of the office
  • Off-the record discussion so 'what ifs' and 'maybes' can be aired
  • Policy implications included in the Issue Brief

Opportunities to build alliances (Dialogue)

  • Ground Rules ask people to listen, consider and explore topic
  • Social time before and after the formal session
  • List of participants and contact information provided
  • Range of stakeholders interested in the issue

Informed Contemplative Dialogue uses some of the ideas supported by William Isaacs and David Bohm, but adapts them to the realities of public policy on a state level. This form of Dialogue, among and across public and private sectors and at all levels of governance, provides a primary tool to open discussion, forge new collaborations and engage in what Isaacs calls a 'conversation with a center, not sides.' (William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together).

Forums Institute developed the Informed Contemplative Dialogue approach for use within a conference setting, with these core principles:

The honest broker:
The convening entity for a forum must have integrity and be neutral about policy issues. The organization cannot be — or be perceived as — an advocate for a political party, industry group or specific policy approach.

The safe harbor:
Forums provide a neutral meeting place for off-the-record, objective dialogue, intended to promote candor and honest exchange.

Balanced, non-partisan information:
Effective forums depend on informed participation, provided by national and state subject experts, dialogue with a representative cross section of professional colleagues, and written materials, such as Issue Briefs.

Under what circumstances are Forums Institute Policy Forums most successful?

Policy Forums have as their targeted audience policy makers in the executive and legislative branches of state government, as well as key stakeholders from both public and private sectors. Frequently, members of the executive and legislative branches of government are inundated with the details of the day and don't have the opportunity to step back and look at the broader picture of policy development and implementation. Policy Forums provide that opportunity.

With more than 40 Forums in 12 years and more than 3000 decision-makers from both the public and private sectors participating, the Policy Forums model has been most successful on emerging issues facing states, particularly in health care. This success led to the development of the State Forums Policy Program, a national network of nonprofit health policy organizations committed to helping state policy makers explore complex health policy issues. Policy Forums will soon expand to issues involving education and the environment, as well as broadening the focus to include city, county and local government.

Successful Forums programs, using the same model on a smaller scale, also enable private sector organizations to converse effectively with customers, employees and stockholders to build alliances and resolve differences.

The Forums Institute for Public Policy

Policy Forums is a program of the Forums Institute for Public Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization developed in 1997 to promote sound public policy among state-level decision makers through education, research and dialogue.

What was to become Forums Institute was launched in 1992, when the New Jersey League of Women Voters convened a series of candid, off-the-record discussions about health care public policy for state decision-makers.

During the last seven years, Forums Institute has brought the League's tradition of civil discourse to new arenas. It convenes forums and training sessions for state policy makers, providing venues in which they can learn, share information and build bridges through ongoing dialogue with one another and other stakeholders in the policymaking process.

To Learn More…

For more information, visit www.forumsinstitute.org. The website includes information on the organization, as well as an Issue Brief archive containing more than 50 original briefs. Resources available from Forums Institute include:

  • Facilitating a Policy Forum
  • A Tutorial on Writing a Health Policy Forum Issue Brief
  • Sample Ground Rules
  • Defining Purpose
  • Informed Contemplative Dialogue

Please send an e-mail to info@forumsinstitute.org to request the above information.

This text was submitted to NCDD by Linda Mather, President of the Forums Institute for Public Policy. For more information, please visit www.forumsinstitute.org.

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  1. Sandy Heierbacher Says:

    The Forums Institute for Public Policy shut its doors in 2009, but Linda Mather is still working in the public engagement field and can be reached through the NCDD members network.