Utah Community Partners: A New Model for Statewide Civic Engagement

March 14, 2017

Essential Partners is thrilled to announce that the organization has been awarded $45,000 in grant funding through the Bridge Alliance 2017 Collective Impact Fund - a grant program designed to fund innovative, coordinated impact projects headed by organizational members of the Bridge Alliance. As one of ten funded projects, Essential Partners is partnering with Village Square, Living Room Conversations, Salt Lake Civil Network and Utah Humanities to build a statewide training program for Utahns seeking to become skilled leaders in supporting and facilitating community dialogues.

In the current atmosphere of mounting socio-political hostility, American citizens across the ideological spectrum are calling for change. More effective and bipartisan governance and more civil policy debates are in order, but communities are grappling with deeper questions of community, of connection, and of engagement. This statewide civic engagement incubator is an innovative approach to meeting the demand for a culture of healthy engagement across differences - the cornerstone of resilient communities and a strong democracy.

This collective impact initiative focuses specifically on Utah as an opportune place for shifting the dialogic culture because, in addition to a pronounced need for change, organizations and citizens from across the state have already begun building the kind of framework needed for a comprehensive effort to inspire a new era of civic engagement. The Utah Citizen Summit, a recent gathering led by a coalition of groups including project partners Village Square and Living Room Conversations, galvanized public support around creating a more robust civic ecosystem.

According to Salt Lake Civil Network director John Kesler, the groups met to “brainstorm how to bridge differences of opinion on hard issues, how to respect interfaith traditions and cultural diversity found throughout Utah, and how to build and inspire civility, compassion, inclusion and collaboration as we find common ground solutions to some of our most intractable challenges.”

Catalyzed by that initial gathering, the partners reached out to other civic organizations to launch a statewide civic engagement initiative. Utah Community Partners will build the strength and capacity of a broad (and ever growing) group of facilitators across the state to simultaneously offer effective and transformative experiences of dialogue and stoke public awareness that this type of dialogue is not only possible, but crucial to the future of civic life in Utah.

Essential Partners envisions working with groups of target citizen leaders in the following ways:

  • Beginning in May 2017, the partners will train 50 community leaders in two sequential cohorts (25 each, two cohorts per year) — representing diverse locales throughout Utah and various issues/expertise/interest areas.
  • Versed in facilitation, these leaders will engage at least 2,500 every-day citizens to participate in different kinds of dialogues, including Living Room Conversations, Jeffersonian dinners, larger town-hall events and facilitated dialogues.

The network of partners invested in the statewide initiative now includes the Salt Lake City Public Library System, The Deseret News, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams’ office, the Utah Commission on Civic & Character Education, the NAACP, and the conservative Sutherland Institute. We believe this model of partnership-building, training, and community dialogues will develop a robust ecosystem for civic engagement, and can serve as a compelling example for other states eager to find positive ways to engage differences and strengthen our democracy.

Applications are currently being accepted for trainings in May and November, and will be evaluated on a rolling basis until maximum enrollment is reached for each workshop.

APPLY HERE.