Johnson County, KS Public Library

The Johnson County (KS) Library (JCL) staff participated in an ALA training session and then began establishing criteria and guidelines for how to select forum topics in 2002. Recognizing that partners are essential when working on local issues, they developed a list of local organizations that might be interested, but quickly recognized that the Library needed to do the work and to have a successful track record before others would join the effort. A number of organizations got involved and the Kauffman Foundation gave a small grant and provided moderators. JCL now partners with KC Forums for moderators and assistance in planning, and with the University of Missouri Extension–Community Issues Program. JCL has been asked to partner with this group to build a “different kind of talk” in the metro Kansas City area. Partners help find speakers, share costs of mailings and advertising, draw a crowd, provide expertise in the subject area, and provide moderators. A report about the state of the region prompted the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City to develop a series of five issues forum guides around critical issues in the KC area–Regionalism, Race Relations, Healthy Neighborhoods, Economic Development and Transportation. Action teams were formed by the empowered participants and are still active in the area. JCL held 4 of the forums in Johnson County and developed their own deliberative dialogue discussion guide, “Educating Kansas Children.” Since that time, JCL has hosted NIF forums, locally framed forums, and participated in the “Our Budget/Our Economy” national forum with AmericaSpeaks.  This year, the library is hosting a series of forums related to the 150th anniversary of the Missouri Compromise.

JCL has also used deliberative dialogue to improve its decision-making process. A few years ago, the Library wanted to include the public in budget deliberations when facing significant service cuts. The library held focus groups and gleaned information from the public to determine the public’s voice on the impact of service reductions. This past year, Johnson County PL incorporated the deliberative dialogue technique with staff who tackled programming cuts with greater understanding and support. These successes have interested the county manager in using deliberation to involve the public with budget downsizing.


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