The Community Foundation of North Florida, partnering with the local Village Square, recently received a $72,000 challenge grant to go toward renewing the dialogue regarding community issues. “The whole idea is to bring people together that don’t agree politically and bridge the partisan divide,” said Liz Joyner, executive director of the Village Square. The Knight Community Information Challenge is a highly-competitive national competition that chooses only 24 winners every year. The premise of the competition is to inspire community foundations across the country to think of new and creative ways to discuss issues. The Village Square project is called “We the People,” and implements simple, technologically-based communication ideas while fostering community involvement.

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“The context of the project is to engage the neighborhood in conversation about state and local issues, and it bridges the partisan divide,” said Joyner. “Even local issues have been seen as partisan lately, and this just helps to revitalize geographical community ties.”

“We the People” is made up of several face-to-face community events that encourage a constructive dialogue between people who may not agree politically. Some of these events include “Dinner at the Square,” “Take-out Tuesday,” “Politics, Partisans and a Pint” and “Sunday Night Supper Club.” The events are intended to draw very diverse crowds, and the programs have small incentives to encourage productive and constructive political discussion.

“There is a lot of information that suggests we are becoming more divided by ideological communities than geographic communities,” said Joyner. “It’s difficult to make community decisions in that environment. People didn’t used to see things so rigidly through a partisan lens.”

The project also incorporates technology with “We the Wiki,” an online discussion forum for local issues. The online tool is similar to that of Wikipedia ,in that it can be updated and improved by any member.

The project is also seeking blogging pairs, or people who don’t agree politically to constructively discuss their arguments for issues in the online forum.

The Village Square intends to create a national model of community forums and hopes to share “We the Wiki” with other cities to further promote community discussion in a productive way.

The project also seeks support from young people, especially students.

“With ‘We the Wiki,’ people can constructively work together to make an important decision, while engaging in constructive problem-solving,” said Joyner. “It’s a great aspect for students to get involved in.”

Students are encouraged to look in to the Leadership Next program, a similar program focused on community dialogue that is geared toward young people. More information on how to get involved and participate in community events can be found at the Village Square Web site, tothevillagesquare.org.

Ashley Annis
Contributing Writer