How does Democracy thrive, and specifically at a local level?
One essential piece is opportunity for productive community dialogue that engages citizens in city policies and the governing process. UNC Greensboro is helping that happen.
Over the past two years, the Greensboro History Museum, with Department of Communications Studies faculty members Dr. Jenni Simon, Dr. Christopher Poulos, Dr. Jovanovic, and their students, hosted a series of city-wide public conversations on three topics: voting and democratic participation; police, community, and justice; and housing and equity.
They weren’t your typical conversations. “The guidelines for Democracy Tables are based on what’s called intensive dialogue,” explains Poulos, whose research focuses on connections between dialogue, openness, and trust. “Rather than engaging in argument, we speak from our own point of view and listen deeply to others.”
How to dialogue
They use a three-round structure that begins with conversation about where participants are from and their knowledge base, followed by a deeper dive into the topic, and then a wrap-up and formulation of questions.
“It’s storytelling, a personal experience,” explains museum curator Glenn Perkins who received his graduate degree from UNCG. “So, if the topic is voting, we’re asking people to talk about the first time they voted, and why voting is important to them. What are some challenges that they’ve run into in registering to vote or making sure their vote counts?”
Follow up events with subject experts addressed questions raised by table participants.
Impact for the community, by the community
The project aims to engage community members, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, and to strengthen community leadership – giving citizens tools to influence city-wide decisions and the governing process.
Responses from the Democracy Tables and surveys fed into infographics to be shared with decision-makers in Greensboro – and a museum display is under development by a UNCG museum studies graduate student. The researchers also presented their work at a 2021 Smithsonian conference and are preparing a manual for other museums interested in pursuing similar experience-based dialogues.
Democracy Tables is one of five recent projects supported through Center for Communication, Community Collaboration, and Change – or NCA-CCCC, which launched at UNCG in 2019, with the largest-ever grant awarded from the National Communication Association.
Learn about UNCG’s Department of Communication Studies
“We teach and research communication to connect people, create change, and work toward a just world.“
Story by Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications, excerpted from UNCG Research Magazine
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications