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Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), Hartford Public Library (HPL)

Hartford Public Library

Innovation Summary

In response to unprecedented need for civic engagement Hartford Public Library has created the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE). The CCE will create a community change process, foster development of a community vision, contribute to a stronger, more successful community, and establish a civic engagement model.

Innovation Leader: Richard Frieder, Director, Community and Civic Engagement, rfrieder@hplct.org

Problem Statement

The need for civic engagement is greater today than it has been in decades. Our political system is bordering on dysfunctional to the point that little or no progress can be made on the complex issues we face. Communities and people experiencing real problems are getting caught in the crossfire of the culture wars and politically driven demands on both sides. Many people feel detached from their elected officials and the decisions they make. Distrust of government is at an all time high due to political paralysis and hyper-partisanship. Civic engagement can be an important part of the solution to this serious problem. Civic engagement involves deliberate, consistent, and purposeful outreach to create an environment in which people from all backgrounds have a voice in decisions and actions that affect their lives. A recent survey of city officials throughout the country revealed that nearly all of them believe civic engagement contributes to a stronger sense of community, increased trust between the public and government, and better solutions to local problems. In the recent report by the Knight Foundation and Gallup entitled Soul of the Community it was demonstrated that when people feel greater attachment in the communities in which they live, the communities are more successful. Civic engagement is a key to achieving this greater community attachment. Urban public libraries are uniquely positioned to serve a leadership role in civic engagement because they are trusted, accessible, stable, apolitical, positive, and are already at the heart of the community. The substantial assets that libraries offer – physical space, technology resources, knowledgeable and skilled staff, connections to influential community groups, and a history of successful and valued performance – further contribute to their ability to play a central role in civic engagement.

Innovation

Hartford Public Library (HPL) is as a leader among libraries in civic engagement. Through nationally recognized programs The American Place, the IMLS-funded Immigrant Civic Engagement Project, HartfordInfo.org (winner of the 2010 ULC Innovations award), and other activities, HPL is making significant contributions to civic engagement in Hartford. This year HPL created the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), building on existing programs while adding key new activities. The CCE includes several interrelated components: HartfordInfo.org is the informational underpinning of the CCE. HartfordInfo.org is a gateway to information and data on a variety of issues important to those who live and work in Hartford. As part of the CCE, HartfordInfo.org will receive a complete update resulting in improved branding, messaging, functionality and navigability and to allow users to have online discussions and contribute content to the site interactively. Hartford Matters is a new series of public programs on major community issues such as workforce development, education, poverty, urban planning, and others. The program content and formats are being developed in collaboration with media partners, thereby reaching new audiences and resulting in multiple formats and outlets including television, radio, print, and social media. The Hartford Votes Coalition includes fourteen organizations dedicated to increasing voter engagement in Hartford. Coordinated by HPL, the Coalition offers candidate forums and voter registration/voter education activities. Hartford Listens is a series of structured, facilitated community dialogues designed to engage diverse groups on critical civic issues, resulting in an action agenda. Hartford Acts includes partnerships and community compacts to move forward the action agendas developed in Hartford Listens. Hartford Acts will also include a community indicators project to measure progress on action. Hartford Acts also includes a volunteer program to support action implementation.

Progress

Progress is being made on each component of the CCE. HartfordInfo.org is visited 10-15,000 times monthly by a variety of people for many different purposes. Hartford Matters programs are being planned in partnership with a local online newspaper and public radio station. Hartford Votes has offered numerous public programs and is planning an initiative on voter engagement in Hartford’s Latino community. Two Hartford Listens community dialogues have been conducted and hundreds of people have participated. Under Hartford Acts, a family support group was created as a result of one dialogue, and the second dialogue is entering the action phase. An indicators project is being planned with local partners. HPL is about to launch its volunteer program. The purpose of linking these five components together as the CCE is to foster and capitalize on the synergistic relationships among them and thus achieve greater outcomes. As the CCE grows and develops, these greater results will emerge. As HartfordInfo.org becomes more interactive, community members will participate in developing content and through online discussions will contribute to public programs that will be developed in Hartford Matters and Hartford Votes. Topics addressed through Hartford Matters and Hartford Votes will become the focus of dialogue and action in Hartford Listens. Action plans developed in Hartford Listens will be implemented and progress measured through Hartford Acts. The CCE will ultimately create a framework for a community change process, foster the development of a community vision, contribute to creating a stronger and more successful community, and establish a civic engagement model for urban public libraries.