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Since the 1970’s, participation in civic groups across the United States has been in a steady decline. Some civic organizations have seen attendance decline by as much as a quarter.

Few organizations have been immune from the decline. Faith leaders, of every creed, report waning attendance. City council and school board meetings are often well attended only when a controversy occurs. Some small town newspapers publish less frequently and struggle to maintain subscriptions. 

Reach NC Voices team members recently visited a small town in eastern North Carolina to meet with 10 community leaders. When asked where they received news, they said they largely consume it through Facebook shares. They said the Facebook comment section is where the debate lived. Their local paper published weekly,and they said the news was out-of-date by the time it arrived on their doorstep.

Last summer and fall, as we drove around the state, we began to consider the challenge in front of us. Too many voices were left out of the debate around critical issues. Too many communities were being ignored.

After the election, as organizations and individuals in power began to consider what they had missed, we were concerned that one-dimensional answers and stories would emerge if leaders only parachuted into communities without taking the time to have a two-way conversation. We believed it was possible to truly get to know the communities across the state who had been left out of the conversation.

Enter Reach NC Voices.

Reach NC Voices is EducationNC’s 21st century virtual public square that allows community and civic leaders — from newsrooms to nonprofits to public officials — to reimagine their relationships with citizens and communities. Reach wants those community members to be agents in developing the story of, and vision for, their communities. Reach NC Voices is a technology platform and a set of strategies designed to reach and amplify the voices of as many North Carolinians as possible.

We have included 55,000 North Carolinians across all 100 counties of NC so far in this effort. We talked with teachers about professional development, heard from students in rural North Carolina who feel as if bullying is also perpetuated by unfair policies within their school, and surveyed more than 7,000 teachers on the future of the profession.

Your voice may well have been included in the 55,000.

You have shared more than 33,000 stories and thoughts.

You have surprised us.

My kids are all currently in college and they are great kids so my dreams for them are on track. What helped them to get to this point? Good teachers who took the time to meet each ones individual needs. One was very shy and needed help socially. One needed extra help with reading in 3rd grade. One needed extra time on assignments in class. Good teachers recognized these issues and worked with both parents and curriculum to get my kids where they needed to be.

-Parent from Raleigh, NC

Challenged us.

If you could tell your Congress members and state representatives one thing about your views on healthcare, what would you tell them?

Compromise. The instability of the healthcare debate creates more anxiety than they realize.

-Parent from Apex, NC

Made us think.

Many times, students come to the teacher and say they cannot afford the supplies. At our school, we have resources for that, but not enough for everyone who needs it. Most teachers I know go out and buy those supplies themselves including myself. When you are in a classroom day in and day out, you develop such a bond with the students. It is painful to witness students who are lacking the best resources to learn. We just won’t accept that. Teaching is a calling. I just wished the state of North Carolina truly understood the reality of the classroom. God bless all my teacher friends!!!

-Teacher in Wake County, NC

And inspired us to dig deeper on the issues facing our communities.

I want my children to feel fulfilled in their chosen path, to be healthy, to be loved and to be safe. I want them to care about their fellow humans and the world around them, and I want them to have passion about making the world a better place in whatever way suits them the best.

-Parent from Durham

We cannot thank you enough for being part of the chorus of voices over the course of the last eight months.

Now let’s take a look at what is next.

Technology Platform

We built a host of tools over the past eight months including a unified dashboard, a web-based chatbot and a census weighting tool.

One of the critical elements of civic action is participation so we built all elements of our technology with the idea of participation at the core of the process.

This week we are conducting a five-day design sprint aimed at asking hard questions and focusing on what you, the user, might need in your daily life.

We will bring the participatory design process into each piece of the technology. We are asking what it would take to inspire delight. We are hopeful that in the months ahead that we will build technology that makes it easier than ever for you to engage in the work of improving our state.

 

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the director of growth for EducationNC.