CIVIC: An Emerging Framework to Support Extension's Evolving Role in Public Dialogue

CIVIC, Community Voices Informed Choices, was launched in 2017 at the University of Florida/IFAS Extension to frame and support ongoing work on community capacity building. The CIVIC program will provide Extension agents with professional development trainings on engagement processes and best practices to effectively create Florida-specific frameworks for public deliberation.

Article by Ramona Madhosingh-HectorRegional Specialized Agent, Urban Sustainability, UF/IFAS Extension, Pinellas County

Is your community dealing with recurrent flooding? Do you have new community members who'd like to get plugged in but don't know where to start? CIVIC, Community Voices Informed Choices, was launched in 2017 at the University of Florida/IFAS Extension to frame and support ongoing work on community capacity building. The CIVIC program will provide Extension agents with professional development trainings on engagement processes and best practices to effectively create Florida-specific frameworks for public deliberation. Additionally, CIVIC will identify and develop specific plans to engage local community leaders to become champions who can move the needle on actions and behaviors to improve local community conditions.
 
CIVIC activities are not new in the Florida Extension system but it provides a home for new and existing programs that educate participants about public issues and provides them with tools to leverage ideas and actions. This program can educate participants about a wide variety of topics (e.g. urban flooding, stormwater, climate change) and provides a framework for collecting ideas and opinions to solve the issue. This approach can be especially useful to gauge public opinion and guide efforts on contentious issues in many local communities.
 
CIVIC has already been successfully applied in Pinellas and Brevard counties with successes demonstrated through the Sustainable Floridians SM program where participants assumed new leadership roles and engaged in more sustainable behaviors to support resource conservation. New CIVIC related activities in these counties have focused on community forums to collect public opinion about stormwater and climate change. These forums use a structured approach to educate participants, engage in deliberative dialogue, and conduct assessments through pre and post evaluations. When forums are conducted with a partner group, the Extension facilitation team prepares a written report to summarize the process and provide feedback for further action.

So far, three forums have been conducted with a total of 40 attendees. Evaluations from climate change forums showed 70% participants (n=23) "willing to take action" to solve problems but only 26% (n=27) knew what to do to solve problems created by climate change. At least 44% (n=27) were "thinking differently" since participating in the forum. With regards to the stormwater forum, 100% (n=8) were "very satisfied" with the "opportunity to talk about issues with others" and 89% reported "thinking differently" since participating in the forum. The Extension facilitation team also conducted a follow-up evaluation with a forum partner to collect information on the value of CIVIC and obtained the following outcomes: (a) partner believed that forums can serve the needs of their community (b) was willing to host other forums in partnership with UF/IFAS Extension, (c) had been approached by forum participants after the forum for additional information, and (d) had budgeted funds for future forums. Lastly, the report provided by the Extension facilitation team was useful to demonstrate impact and guide future programs.
 
Participation in community forums supports community engagement through an emphasis on social action and creates common citizen knowledge which can lead to an increase in community capacity. Educating citizens about necessary but sometimes costly projects may result in more community buy-in to support important public projects. The lack of reported ability to address climate change and stormwater problems indicates the need for continued education at both the community and leadership level. Extension's role in the public issue arena is not new but we must be prepared to embrace and challenge our ability to deliver meaningful and impactful programs. CIVIC can provide Extension educators with a wide variety of tools and approaches to ensure that Extension provides added value to our communities.
 
Contact Ramona Madhosingh-Hector or Dr. Martha Monroe for more information about the program and how you can get involved! 
 
 
 
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