Forum Flashback: Reach NC Voices

The Institute for Emerging Issues’ recent ReCONNECT to Community forum in Asheville, signaled a departure for the institution as we broke tradition with our new ReCONNECT NC series, which will include six forums held around the state over the next three years, each focusing on a different aspect of social, civic or economic reconnection.

The Asheville forum, which focused on civic engagement, was the first. Over the next three years, we’ll hold forums in Charlotte and Greenville, as well as Raleigh. Each of the forums will be more interactive than forums of the past, including community presentations, lots of networking time and audience participation.

The Asheville forum also included real-time interactive polling, thanks to our partners at Reach NC Voices. Throughout the Nov. 27 forum, audience members were able to text answers to multiple choice and opened-ended questions pertaining to the day’s speakers and topics.

“I think one of the best places Reach NC Voices polling can be used is at a forum,” said Analisa Sorrells, associate director of policy and engagement for EducationNC, the umbrella organization of Reach NC Voices.

Throughout the day-long ReCONNECT to Community forum, audience members answered questions like “In 2018, have you worked with someone in your neighborhood to address a challenge or opportunity?” That question was asked during the speech made by keynote speaker David Brooks, a New York Times columnist who spoke about America’s descent into tribalism from 1950s-era community.

During remarks made by UNC Asheville history professor Darin Waters, who focused on trends of social exclusion in North Carolina’s civic history, a polling question asked the audience “How do you feel North Carolina’s civic engagement has changed during your lifetime, if at all?”

After the questions, audience members were then asked to send in texts elaborating on their thoughts. “As newcomers have moved into the state, change is inevitable, however, there is a lack of willingness to compromise on both groups,” one audience member texted after the David Brooks question.

“An important part of policy change is dialogue,” said Nation Hahn, Education NC’s chief growth officer, who sees interactive polling as part of a “third wave” of social media focused around using technology to collaborate and discuss.

The anonymity of texting, leads to wonderful honesty in Reach NC Voices polling answers, said Sorrells, who noted that many of the big stakeholders in the ReCONNECT to Community forum audience might not have been so honest with their answers otherwise.

“I’m not used to going to conferences and being asked to elaborate on my opinions about the subjects throughout the day, except for event evaluations. Looking around, it was amazing to see people typing out long responses to some big civic questions we posed,” said Kylie Foley, IEI’s Rural Faith Communities fellow, who worked as a liaison with Reach NC Voices before and after the forum.

The interactive polling feature was developed by Reach NC Voices about a year and a half ago. The organization also uses a weekly online newsletter platform to send out weekly polling questions. Many Education NC reporters use the polling not only to gather facts, figures and opinions, but story sources as well, Sorrells said, leading to greater, well, REACH.

“Reach allows every North Carolinian, no matter who they are, to participate in our process,” Sorrells said.

–Beth Hatcher