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Hartford Public Library Deliberative Democracy Dialogues

Hartford Public Library

Innovation Leader: Richard Frieder, Associate Librarian for Community Development and Civic Services, rfrieder@hplct.org

Problem Statement

The Hartford community needs a way and a place to not only explore important issues but to also bring many diverse viewpoints to the table and discuss possible solutions to problems using a structure that encourages inclusivity and builds trust. The Hartford Public Library is ideally suited to fill this gap. The Library is widely trusted throughout the city, and is perceived as a community place where all are welcome and where public discourse happens.

Innovation

The Library is collaborating with Everyday Democracy, a locally based national organization that helps communities find ways for all kinds of people to work together to solve problems, to offer the first in a series of dialogues called the Hartford Public Library Deliberative Democracy Dialogues. The first dialogues will be offered in April 2010. The dialogues will employ a well established model, using specially designed discussion guides and trained facilitators, that fosters open communication and stresses the inclusion of diverse perspectives and that supports the collaborative development of an action agenda.

Also partnering on this project is the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy (IMRP) at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). CCSU has been looking for opportunities to build community involvement and has a particular interest in the deliberative democracy methodology.

The topic that was chosen for the initial dialogues is youth of incarcerated parents. This topic was chosen because it is a major issue in Hartford and because IMRP has done a great deal of research in the area.

Around the country, such dialogues have proven to be powerful forms of civic engagement by motivating people from all walks of life to come together to share diverse views and experiences on challenges relating to a particular public problem or concern. The dialogues dispel stereotypes, build trust, and allow people to work together towards solutions to issues, and launch action.

Progress

The first dialogues will take place in April 2010. We anticipate more dialogues on the topic of youth of incarcerated parents throughout the year. Working with our partner organizations, results of the dialogues will be measured in the months following. More dialogues on other community topics will be initiated later in the year. The project has the potential to be developed into a model for other libraries.