By Timothy Shaffer, Ph.D.
Last week I was presenting to two groups of the Sunflower Foundation’s Advocacy Fellows program here in Kansas in Wichita and Topeka. We had great groups filled with people really interested in learning more about civil discourse and engagement methods. I was there to speak about the different ways that people can approach dialogue and deliberation through various streams of engagement. I ended up telling them a story that I’ve shared with other groups in recent months regarding my work in deliberation and the need to acknowledge and find the right method and approach to community engagement.
I spoke about the work that I was doing with students here at Kansas State University regarding the (then) impending change in state law about concealed handguns on campus. I noted how I had originally tried to use a National Issues Forums (NIF) model for deliberation, but quickly realized that what we were trying to do wasn’t lining up with what NIF can be really good for—deliberating about various options and trade-offs. We were trying to have a different conversation, and that meant we needed to approach it differently. We shifted to a more exploratory framing akin to how the Interactivity Foundation approaches discussion guides. It was an important moment for students—and myself—to be reminded of the appropriateness of using the right model and method for what you’re trying to accomplish, rather than the one you might be most familiar with or most comfortable using.
Dr. Shaffer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Kansas State University. He also holds positions of Assistant Director of the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy, Principal Research Specialist of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, and Associate Editor for the Journal of Public Deliberation.