How do you get a room full of people to truly engage with the complex topics of access to childcare and early childhood education, juvenile justice reform and the education system, and maternal mental health support and services? Based on my experience at the YWCA’s Utah Women’s Policy Conference, the deliberative community engagement model is great option.
In August, over 100 people gathered at the Thomas Monson Center’s Town Hall to learn about issues affecting women in Utah. The YWCA used a deliberative community engagement approach offered by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute to help attendees learn and think about the well-being of women in Utah, and the complexity of addressing three priority issue areas – access to childcare and early childhood education, juvenile justice reform and the education system, and maternal mental health support and services. Using deliberative community engagement means bringing people with a wide variety of perspectives together, providing them with a foundation of high quality information, and allowing them to share perspectives and work collaboratively to find productive ways forward.
Since one of the cornerstones of deliberative community engagement is providing a foundation of high quality information, the abundance of research and experience shared at the conference was vital to success. The conference began with Chandra Childers – senior research scientist at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) – outlining their latest report on the well-being of women in Utah, including findings showing that Utah women continue to have a 70% ratio of women’s to men’s earnings (compared to 80% nationally) and are less likely to be working in managerial/professional occupations than their counterparts nationally (37.5% compared to 41.6%).
Once the IWPR report provided the big picture, the real work for conference attendees was to consider the different concerns and actions steps associated with YWCA’s three priority issue areas. The day of the conference, all of the attendees learned about the deliberative community engagement model. Perhaps most importantly, they learned that most of the issues they would be discussing are considered “wicked” problems – problems where no complete solution exists, where potential reforms have trade offs, and where moving forward requires a wide array of people from different sectors to work together and adapt to change.
In addition to high quality information, deliberative engagement follows ground rules such as: “listen to each other,” “