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Introducing a new way for you to engage: Reach NC Voices

In the weeks leading up to and then after the election, Mebane Rash and I wondered whether folks living on Jake’s Mountain Road and other similar roads in rural parts of our state were being polled. We wondered whether those involved in the Charlotte protests were being polled.

Whose priorities and voices were really being heard and included in debates about the future of our state and our country?

It was clear to us that EdNC’s architecture of participation needed to grow to provide more opportunity for North Carolinians to participate in our work and shaping the future of our state.

To help us do just that, I couldn’t be more excited to formally announce Reach NC Voices.

Reach NC Voices will allow us to survey North Carolinians in real time to understand how they feel about the broad array of issues facing our students, parents, educators, and communities. We will be testing innovative methods to survey individuals across the state, while also collecting their stories.

In response to their priorities and stories, EdNC will create content, presenting news in real time and providing a comprehensive set of policy briefs giving context to issues in an effort to build understanding and awareness across the 12-plus communities we will initially survey and then the entire state. This is in keeping with EdNC’s move towards knowledge journalism.

At the core of the initiative, citizen priorities, stories, and responsive content will drive conversation, understanding, and engagement about the role that food, health, and early childhood experiences play in educational outcomes.

Reach NC Voices is modeled in part on Parents’ Voice, a network of parents interested in improving the food and activity environments of Australian children in a positive manner in order to influence their quality of life and educational outcomes. Parents’ Voice (originally Parents’ Jury) was introduced to us by Kathy Higgins, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), who discovered this innovative platform during her 2005 Eisenhower Fellowship in Australia and New Zealand. Reach NC Voices would not have happened without a lead investment by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, an invaluable thought leader in the design of the initiative.

It is also modeled on the Utah Foundation’s Priorities Project. The Utah Foundation is a member of the Governmental Research Association with EdNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. Last year, the Center worked with Elon Polling to begin the process of better understanding statewide the priorities of North Carolinians.

Reach NC Voices is already securing a number of partnerships that will allow us to break new ground.

One such partner is GroundSource. GroundSource promises to help us listen to the stories of our community by having a conversation with them. Their suite of products are designed to allow us to get to know the people we serve, gather critical context and data, and build stakeholders in the process who will be part of our architecture of participation moving forward.

Andrew Haeg of Groundsource noted, “Our mission is to help organizations close the gap with the people they serve through mobile messaging. But our tools aren’t worth much without a commitment to listening to what people have to say. EdNC clearly has the desire to reach out and listen to people to ensure education news and policy reflects their needs and experiences. This is an ideal project for us, and with luck, will lead to a model that can serve as a guide for others looking to more effectively serve their communities.”

Another is CityZen, a Raleigh-based technology startup. CityZen designs interactive content to help their partners engage their audience. We will be working with them to deploy online surveys and polls across our targeted twelve-plus communities and the state itself.

Impact Thread will serve as our data analyst. English Sall explains their work by saying, “Impact Thread offers a data driven approach to better understanding the perspectives and related behaviors of North Carolinians on issues that are impactful and important to them and that is why we are so enthusiastic about being part of the Reach NC Voices team.”

Each of these partners, with more to come, will work together to build out a technology platform for citizen engagement unlike anything North Carolina has seen in the nonprofit sector or news industry.

The combination of surveying in real time, capturing nuanced and in-depth stories, and then distributing our content back out to all of you feels like the next big leap forward for our (read: your) architecture of participation.

What will this mean for you and for our state?

First, we will have included more than 100,000 North Carolinians in the process by asking you what you think about important issues.

Second, we believe that tens of thousands of you will then dive deeper into our work. How will we ask you to engage? We hope you will share surveys, share content, take more in-depth surveys, create content, and use tools to engage on the issues in a variety of ways.

Finally, we believe that the Reach NC Voices infrastructure will help all North Carolinians have a better understanding of the issues, building a more informed electorate.

We are excited to launch this project. If you have ideas that might shape our work, please reach out on Twitter via @EducationNC and @NationHahn. We are excited to bring you on this journey.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.