Creating forums for the community to discuss important issues in a non-partisan environment will be the objective of the new Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University.
Public deliberation is the cornerstone of democratic and community politics and connects people – even those with opposing views – in ways that allow decisions to be made to address problems or challenges, said Martin Carcasson, director of the new center and assistant professor of speech communication at Colorado State.
"It is human nature for us to be selective listeners and selective learners; to surround ourselves with people who agree with our views, which can lead to polarization and cynicism," Carcasson said. "Through public discourse by talking and, more importantly, by listening to people who disagree with you in a civil environment, many issues can be addressed and new solutions can be derived.
"Deliberation requires safe places for citizens to come together, good and fair information to help structure the conversation and skilled facilitators to guide the deliberative process. The center is dedicated to providing these three key ingredients to Northern Colorado."
Enhancing the local civic culture, expanding collaborative decision making and improving the quality of civic education in the community are the three primary goals of the center. Deliberation is an approach to politics in which citizens, not just elected officials or experts, are involved in public decision making and community problem solving, Carcasson said. Trained facilitators will assist the community in coming together to address underlining tensions and difficult decisions with reasoned public judgment to seek a conclusion or a course of action.
A core of 10 to 20 Colorado State undergraduate students will work on projects as student associates for course credit for two semesters. The Center for Public Deliberation will moderate public forums, host workshops for moderators, moderate traditional debates on state and local issues, and be available to work on special projects for Colorado State, Poudre School District, city of Fort Collins and Larimer County. The center also hopes to partner with local community organizations on issues of interest.
"Part of what we are trying to do is convince local institutions to incorporate the public more often as well as get the public in general more involved in community problem solving," Carcasson said.
The Center for Public Deliberation will hold a kickoff event and its first annual Community Issues Forum from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 24, at the Lincoln Center’s Columbine Room, 417 W. Magnolia St. in Fort Collins. At the event, the center will be introduced to the community, and center students will facilitate a discussion among those attending to brainstorm potential topics for the center to focus on in the coming year. Participants will be asked what they think are the most important issues in the Northern Colorado community and then participate in some preliminary discussions about the most frequently mentioned issues. The forum is open to the public, but anyone interested in attending is asked to RSVP to Carcasson for planning purposes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 491-5628.
The center will hold its first moderator training workshop as part of the National Issues Forum training program on Feb. 2 and 3. Participants will be taught how to moderate public forums using the NIF model (for more information, see www.nifi.org). People interested in attending should contact Carcasson at email@example.com or (970) 491-5628.
The Center for Public Deliberation is primarily supported by the Department of Speech Communication. It was also awarded a $15,000 grant from the Council on Public Policy Education this past summer to facilitate its establishment. In December, it was awarded a $5,280 Pharos Fund grant from the Bohemian Foundation to enable Carcasson and a representative from the city of Fort Collins to attend a series of workshops put on by the International Association of Public Participation. Also, the Kettering Foundation recently awarded the center a $10,000 grant to participate in a research project to study the impact of public forums on community politics.
Carcasson is assisted by an advisory board consisting of community leaders, including representatives from the city of Fort Collins, Poudre School District, the Coloradoan newspaper and various campus institutions such as the Student Leadership and Civic Engagement office and the Colorado Institute of Public Policy. Karrin Anderson, associate professor in the speech communication department, serves as assistant director of the center.
For more information about the Center for Public Deliberation, visit www.cpd.colostate.edu.