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Civic Engagement Series

Poudre River Public Library District, CO

Innovation Summary

Poudre River Public Library District and the Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) at Colorado State University are partnering on a civic engagement, series of six programs. The intent is to provide the communication tools necessary to mend the fractures created by national ultra-partisanship, starting first with our local community.

Innovation Leader: Sarah Scobey, Reference Librarian, sscobey@poudrellibraries.org

Problem Statement

As a nation we are paralyzed by partisanship, and bogged down by political rhetoric, unable to move forward. As a community, the city of Fort Collins is further divided by the contentious issues of damming our Cache la Poudre River, and the development of fracking operations for the production of natural gas. Nationally and locally, diverse democracies require high quality communication and collaboration, particularly to address the problems that currently dominate the political landscape. Unfortunately, current communication practices often fall woefully short. This series of programs introduced the work of the Colorado State University‘s Center for Public Deliberation and the growing deliberative democracy movement it supports. Throughout the series, Dr. Carcasson, an associate professor, of Communication Studies at Colorado State and head of the CPD at Colorado State, examined why the nature of many 21st century problems requires a different way of talking, and then made the case for the importance of building local capacity for deliberative practice and "passionate impartiality" in order for communities to enhance the quality of their communication, address key issues, and improve their communities.

Innovation

The current dominate forms of political talk are counter-productive and make the case for the further development of more deliberative forms of communication. The library district and the CPD at CSU, are partnering on a civic engagement, series of programs. A public library is the quintessential democratic institution to host a series of programs on civic engagement. Public libraries are the very embodiment of an open and free democratic society. Our library hosts and provides the tools necessary to bring the community together on neutral, apolitical territory, with the intent being the exchange of ideas in a civil manner to foster a greater sense of community. Some library staff, including executive director, Holly Carroll, was also trained in the principles of civil discourse. This training was imperative for the transformation of the library into a center of civil discourse. Each forum session begins with Dr. Carcasson providing the community participants with an overview of that evening’s question/problem. The series also provides an opportunity for Dr. Carcasson’s students from Colorado State University to practice their newly acquired facilitation skills. Our well-attended forum on “Higher Education’s Role in Our Future,” attracted the likes of college professors, two state representatives, a school board member, members of the League of Women Voters, teachers, seniors, and college students. After Dr. Carcasson’s opening comments the participants were divided into smaller groups, guided by the student facilitators. Participants then dove into to the evening’s topic. The exchange of ideas was lively, civil and productive. Our state representatives were eager to hear the thoughts of their constituents, while community members appreciated the opportunity to explore ideas on a level playing field.

Progress

The public library as a highly trusted, and respected institution, is the perfect site to host an ongoing series of programs on civic engagement. The programs have attracted over 200 participants. Our final program of the year is, “How Can We Best Improve Political Decision-Making and Community Problem Solving in Our Communities?” Invitations were sent to city council members, state representatives, student organizations, and colorful brochures highlighting the Civic Engagement series were displayed at all of our branches. The library and CSU’s Center for Public Deliberation brought community members together from all walks of life. The series started with broad national topics, introducing the tenants of civil discourse. The broader national scope of the Civic Engagement series allowed for participants and staff to practice their newly acquired skills of civil discourse. The final event of the season focused on problem solving for our communities. Next fall the CPD and the library will begin to tackle the local issues, damming the river and fracking that divide our community. The positive impact of the Civic Engagement series is the acquisition of the skills of civil discourse necessary to move our community forward in a positive manner. A final profound outcome of the series is that the Poudre River Public Library District is now viewed as the perfect venue for the civil discussion of important community issues.