Towards a civic communications ecosystem for thriving community

Experience Engagement, held at the University of Oregon’s Turnbull Center in October 2015, brought together 105 journalists, community members, students, educators, and others to explore the relationship between journalism and community. When Journalism That Matters and the Agora Journalism Center hosted the gathering, we committed to dive behind the unconference sessions and plenary conversations to make visible what we learned.

We used a practice called Developmental Evaluation because it is designed to support innovators doing social change work where there’s complexity or uncertainty. It definitely fit the bill for this unconference! A team of us poured through the conference session notes, Tweets, post-it notes from plenary sessions and other materials generated during and immediately after the gathering to uncover themes, ideas, and patterns in the conversations.

We were rewarded with discovering some simple, yet profound insights. A summary follows. For more details, check out the full report.

The premise: Journalism and community are inseparable —

  • Information health is vital to community well being.
  • Journalism is vital to community information health.
  • Community support is vital to journalism.
  • Ultimately, communities are responsible for their stories; journalism is part of that.

Engagement defined

We discovered consistent themes in how people talked about engagement throughout the conference: authentic connections, valuing people, and mutual exchanges so that what’s best for individuals and the community emerges. This type of engagement moves beyond journalism towards a civic communications ecosystem that provides robust information, feedback, inclusive dialogue, strategy and action for serving community goals. It points towards journalism of, by, and for all.

Principles for engaging

Three principles were frequently cited and tweeted by conference participants:

  • Listening is our superpower
  • Nothing about us without us
  • Speak truth to empower

Strategies for evolving a civic communications ecosystem

How do we bring about the type of community-journalism relationship imaged at Experience Engagement? It involves:

  • Strengthening the communications capacity within communities, including structures for people to tell their own stories.
  • Strengthening the engagement capacity within journalism to be more participatory.
  • Fostering a symbiotic relationship between communities and journalism, developing a community of practice.
  • Nurturing a third way: a communications ecosystem that cultivates a thriving civic sphere of engagement.

These actions form a strategy for amplifying work underway and insight into where to invest resources towards a civic communications ecosystem.

For a taste of the conference experience, check out this video:

Visit Experience Engagement for more about the gathering and the Developmental Evaluation.