Elevate Engagement Manifesto

Building connections to support engaged, community-driven journalism

Crafted on behalf of the Elevate Engagement participants by Joy Mayer, Kyle Bozentko, and March Twisdale.

A dynamic group of 130 journalists, researchers, engagement practitioners, and community leaders gathered in May 2017 at the Agora Journalism Center for the Elevate Engagement workshop. Over a four-day journey, participants explored a common goal — envisioning how engaged journalism can help communities thrive. More specifically, how could we take listening, connection, and trust to the next level?

Journalism That Matters and Agora brought us together, and we built on the insights gained at previous gatherings, including Experience Engagement in 2015 and manifestos from The Engagement Summit in 2016.

We used Open Space to focus our conversations, learn from one another, and envision possibilities for accomplishing this goal. We discovered that while we came to the issue from a variety of perspectives, we shared many experiences and challenges.

As a community of practice, we learned from one another in ways that were both comforting and uncomfortable. We grew and learned. We attempted to make one another feel respected and heard. And we prepared to go back to our diverse workplaces and lives with new tools, energy, and determination.

On our last morning together, we turned our attention to our mutual responsibility to one another, as intentional practitioners of or supporters of a deeply engaged and community-driven form of journalism. What did WE need in order to thrive? How could we commit to supporting one another?

Like journalists usually do, we looked for guidance in our notes and data. What themes had emerged as we talked about our work over our days together? Here’s what we looked at:

  • Notes taken by University of Oregon students throughout the sessions and developed into Themes by Yve Susskind
  • The graphic records made of our discussions by Nitya Wakhlu
  • Notes from our breakout sessions and plenary sessions (uploaded here)
  • Twitter conversations using our event hashtag, #PDXEngage17
  • Notes from conversations had among participants before the event
  • Postcards participants wrote to themselves at the end of the event
  • Themes generated from imagining a thriving engagement community of practice

We propose the following guidance for our emerging community of engaged journalists:

We belong to a community of remote colleagues, and we crave connections.

“We may never see each other again but the experience will last.” (Quotes are from Experience Engagement participants)

Engagement can be lonely work. Many of us do not have in-person colleagues who understand or even support our efforts. We crave a sense of belonging — that feeling that other people get us, like us, and have our back. We want to feel like we’re part of an intentional community. We have a need to remember this feeling of belonging and know that we are not alone, even when this work challenges us.

The community we need shouldn’t, however, come with a membership application. There shouldn’t be people at the door to a clubhouse, deciding who gets in and who doesn’t. There’s room for diverse motivations, organizations, goals, and strategies under the large umbrella of engaged journalism.

Because we feel a burning passion and ethical obligation to bring this work into the world, we need to stay connected in a way that allows all of our voices to matter and offers a clear, practical way to ask for support.

Our community of practice is seeking guidance and mutual support to elevate engagement in our work.

Our values and goals unite us.

“We want to see journalism be less transactional/extractive and more about partnerships.”

We are a community of possibilities, not problems. We actually have the tools necessary — listening, collaborating, dialogue, reconciliation — to engage the communities we serve and our own community of practitioners (which are not mutually exclusive). We recognize that people need experiences, connections and relationships, not just information. We start with curiosity and a desire to be a force for good through our storytelling and communication. We offer our own vulnerability and are willing to step out first into difficult conversations and situations. We are inclusive, bringing diverse stakeholders, partners and communities to the conversation.

One of the ways that journalism serves is by covering what is happening in communities. As we convened, we discovered that when we are “covering communities,” we need to hear from and reflect people who often go unheard. By cultivating relationships, we reduce the high risk of doing harm to people who are already misunderstood or misrepresented. We value leaving our comfort zones and finding ways to communicate with people whose experiences are different from our own. We want to move from debate to dialogue. We recognize the limitations of our own skill sets and are seeking to enlist the public to serve the public’s needs.

We often face institutional constraints and struggle with issues of organizational culture. We recognize, however, that fear, conflict, and vulnerability can be constructive. Some of that fear comes from economic necessity. We know that financial sustainability is often tied to trust. We believe engagement can help us build with the public to provide something useful and valuable that sustains community, rather than trying to sell people content they don’t want. We’re seeking business models that allow us to pursue our journalistic mission sustainably.

Many of us are wondering whether we should work within existing institutions or find/build new institutions to accomplish our goals. Some of us see our brand of community building as a type of activism and are navigating whether we have a place within the umbrella of journalism.

We need to learn from one another.

“Let’s conspire — meaning to breathe together. To breathe new life into our work, community, dreams.”

Journalism is a byproduct of the community it serves. And if we’re going to be each other’s community, we need to stay strong. We need to put on our own oxygen masks first.

We can’t afford to move slowly on this path. Our community of practice needs to act with urgency to be of better service to the world. Journalism too often does harm, and our civic institutions are in jeopardy. It will take dedication and passion to give our work the meaning, purpose, and expression required to create a stronger democracy.

Journalism is just one vital organ in the public body. We strive to be meaning makers, story weavers and boundary pushers. As engaged journalists, engagement practitioners, and community members, we can be catalysts in the path toward healthier communities.

To do this, we need a shared narrative, along with access to best practices and resources. We need support for creation and sustainability. We need to talk about the influence of money in our work, and about the cultures of our organizations. We need to invite and embrace the full range of our experiences.

Success means creating unity rather than division, and projecting a positive image of our future.

What comes next?

“I need to always stay in a place where I don’t know what I am doing, because if I ever come out of this humble and sacred place then I am not learning, and that doesn’t do any good to anyone.”

These are tall orders. We need to invest in connecting with and supporting one another. Gather is one tool to do that. It emerged from the Experience Engagement gathering in 2015. It was designed based on what participants at that gathering said they wanted and is being brought to life by members of our community.

In addition to continuing to support and use Gather as a point of connection and resource hub, members of our community committed to:

  • Supporting one another on specific projects.
  • Connecting via the Experience Engagement Facebook Group.
  • Helping one another get jobs and make industry connections.
  • Bringing Open Space Technology and communication tools to our own workplaces with a goal of better sharing and listening.
  • Tracking our community of practice’s own work and sharing results.

Please join us.

Let us know if you want to be notified when Gather officially launches. Comment below if you have suggestions for what this community needs or if you can offer yourself as a resource point of connection. Or if you prefer, email Joy Mayer, our community manager, at joy@joymayer.com.

Add your voice.

Whether or not you participated in Elevate Engagement, what would you put in your engagement manifesto? We invite your thoughts in the comments, and we also welcome longer reflections on this topic, for future publication. Email those to joy@joymayer.com.

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