The Community Forum
A community forum typically consists of a gathering of
individuals who share a common concern. They come together to address that
concern and discuss steps which may be taken to effectively address it. The National
PTA (Parent Teachers Association) has a method for organizing a community
forum which they call 10 Steps to Organizing a Community Forum
and it is a powerful tool for achieving
its goal of guided, intelligent, effective community action.
A community forum has its own integrity as an activity in
which the community may participate and as a means of potentially reducing
gang activity and youth violence. It may also be viewed as a way to build a
community-wide consensus that there is a need to address the gang (or any) situation
and set the stage for a longer-term building
10 Steps to Organizing a Community Forum
From the National
PTA, Kids need a future, not funerals..., 1998,
Reproduced here with permission from the National PTA.
Step 1: Create an action team or committee
a meeting of your PTA board or form a special committee to
discuss organizing a town meeting or community forum. Your
committee may include PTA officers and members, educators and
school officials, business and community leaders, and others who
have a stake in safeguarding children against violence in your
Step 2: Identify
priority issues or the focus of the forum
Your committee should identify
the priority issues and needs of families and schools in your
community to help you choose the focus of the forum. Could the
main purpose or focus of the forum be to: Identify problems and
possible solutions? Evaluate current programs and services and
make changes or improvements? Identify needed programs and who
could implement them? Find funding sources or continued support
for violence prevention initiatives? Realize that any one of
these things—or a combination of a few—would work as a focus
for your forum.
Step 3: Develop a
plan or set of goals
Set goals for the forum—those
things you hope will result from this meeting. Make goals
realistic and achievable (e.g., identify specific major problems
in the community; identify which of those problems the forum
body might be able to address). The forum body should be asked
to make a commitment to pursue those goals. Identify what each
organization can do and by when; plan for a follow-up meeting.
This part of the step will become clearer as stakeholders and
organizations are identified.
Step 4: Identify
the stakeholders within your community who would have an interest
in participating in a forum. Identify the groups of citizens
within the community who have the ability to influence public
action, opinion, policy decisions, or who have a stake in the
outcome. Within each group of citizens are organizations that
serve the interests of the members of the groups they support.
Determine what organizations or community leaders should be
represented in your forum.
Step 5: Determine
the format and logistics of the event you're planning
the format of your forum. Will it be small, with only the leaders
of organizations invited to attend? Or will it be large, with a
blanket community invitation being issued? Begin to develop the
forum agenda. Who will be invited to speak? Will each of the
attending organizations give greetings? Will speakers take
questions from the audience? How long will the forum last? Be sure
to identify team members who will be responsible for:
Publicizing the forum
Contacting forum speakers/attendees
Conducting the forum
Overseeing media activities
the format and interest level have been determined, set a date,
time, and place. Procure meeting site, license (if necessary),
audiovisual equipment/operators, lighting, staging, chairs, and
tables. Make arrangements for parking. When determining forum
logistics, decide who will be responsible for the setup as well as
tear down and cleanup.
Step 6: Secure
support and commitments
optimal success, have all forum participants identify what
resources their groups will provide to lend support. Identify and
secure all financial and material resources needed (rental fees,
licenses, equipment, materials for mailings, advertising fees,
postage), and determine the number of volunteers required to
manage the event. When organizations commit to action steps or
support, make sure there is someone identified to keep a record of
Step 7: Invite
speakers and participants
With the organizations that have
shown interest and agreed to lend support, determine who will
address the major issues of concern. Once you’ve identified your
potential speakers, invite them to present at the forum. Include
in the invitation an explanation of the focus of the forum, what
the speaker should address, length of speech, and other details
such as time, date, and place. For those speakers who agree to
present, let them know who will be in the audience, what time to
arrive, and ask if they have any special audiovisual needs. Also
ask them if they’ll have handouts.
Make sure speakers receive any
fliers or other promotional materials you’re sending to your
invited audience. Let them know the media have been invited, so
they can be prepared for photographers, reporters, television
lights, or one-on-one interviews following the forum.
Step 8: Plan
publicity - media coverage
Develop a promotional plan to
publicize and gain awareness of the forum. Identify the most
effective means to invite people to participate and attend. You
can use community organizations’ newsletters or mailing lists,
newspaper articles and ads, radio PSAs or announcements, direct
mail, posters, or a combination of methods. Be sure to begin
publicizing the event as soon as the date, place, time, and
speakers are finalized.
a media plan and identify who will be responsible for media
activities prior to, during, and following the event. Identify who
in the media will be invited and how (phone call, fax, press
release). Begin media contacts two weeks in advance of the event.
When you’re ready to send out a press release about the forum,
cover the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the forum; make
sure to include the name and phone number of a main contact or
spokesperson for the event. Work with those responsible for the
setup and logistics of the event to ensure there is adequate space
and electrical hookup for media personnel and equipment.
Step 9: Hold the
plans for what should be achieved as a result of the forum. Be
sure to develop and adhere to an agenda for the event. Include
questions the entire group is to address, such as identifying
problems and solutions, developing a plan, making commitments to
put the plan into action, and defining how the results will be
measured. Invite speakers to attend a brief pre-event meeting or
dry-run session the day of the forum.
Event coordinators should
arrive well in advance of the event to check staging and
audiovisual setup. Have your public relations (PR) team there
early to meet the press and to welcome speakers and guests. Set up
a place for press to conduct interviews or ask questions of
speakers/panelists following the event.
Visit this page for
a list of possible topics to present at a community-wide forum.
Step 10: Evaluate
the outcome and discuss a follow-up event
Following the forum, be sure to
send thank-you notes to speakers and send follow-up information to
the organizations that attended, summarizing what happened and
outlining the commitments or action plans each group made. Make
sure your own group is implementing the actions it agreed to.
Begin work on setting up an evaluation meeting. Notify the media
of what the group did and what will come next.
Community forums educate, and an educated public may be
more responsive to efforts to reduce gang activity and youth violence than
an uneducated one. You'll probably find the media forthcoming in providing
coverage for your event (since it's based on a controversial and timely
topic - gangs and youth violence. Properly planned, the event can be
a catalyst for needed change.
A Community Forum Success Story
I'd like to share a little story with you regarding
community forums and what they can produce. As a result of my research on
gangs, I have been asked to speak to many groups. One group asked me to
speak at a community forum. The forum planners invited 250 community
leaders and nearly 160 attended the meeting. That impressive showing was
indicative of the concern the attendees had for the problem at hand. The
group included representatives from affected neighborhood associations and
from every social institution in the community (i.e., the local schools,
faith institutions, mental health organizations, government office
representatives, social agency directors, media personalities, business
organizations, and politicians - city, county, state, and federal).
In preparation for the meeting I gathered data on: the
number of juveniles referred to the county's juvenile services; the extent
of child abuse; in-school assaults and suspensions; the number of alleged
gang members on probation or parole in the county; and the number of
juveniles coming to the local family violence center, substance abuse
center, and victim center. I also provided a profile of gang activity and
youth violence deduced from several interviews with local police and
As a result of that meeting a group was formed which met
for over a year as they went about creating a force in the community for
drawing attention to the plight and needs of local youth. A "grade
card" was also developed which provides an annual update on the
statistics I had gathered and other data as well. I am told that the
impact of that initial community forum can still be felt today.
A community-wide task force or council on gangs and youth
violence also has a great deal of potential for reducing gang activity and
and is our next topic.
Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
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writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.