Residents and Reporters Collaborate to Address Community Concerns

July 20, 2018

Illinois Humanities works to build a dialogue across all sectors of society to examine issues important to democracy in public policy, media, business and art. Using the humanities as a tool to stimulate discussion, it creates experiences across Illinois through programming, events and grant-making to engage a diverse public on ideas and issues that matter. With Voqal’s support, Illinois Humanities cultivated more civically responsive media coverage in under-reported Chicago communities with facilitated dialogue through its Reporting Back series.

Working with another Voqal grantee, City Bureau, Illinois Humanities empowered communities to influence media conversations and take informed action on the issues that matter to them. It provided dialogue facilitation and program design training for City Bureau staff, reporters and fellows. It worked with those individuals to design and develop programs in conjunction with City Bureau’s Public Newsroom initiative.

As part of this effort, City Bureau Reporting Fellows led a workshop in the Garfield Park neighborhood, driven by their reporting on a nearby disused industrial incinerator site. Several local residents said they had attended similar community meetings in the past and were skeptical about their value. They’d seen this before, they said, and nothing much had changed. The facilitator leading the program’s response: “You tell us what we should do differently, and we’ll do it.”

During this conversation, residents identified cultural and economic needs, assets and desires for their neighborhood. But the group went further than just talking about it – it worked together to draw up a concrete vision for the incinerator site that reflected the conversation. And it wasn’t just a list – first in small groups, then all together, it created a rough “blueprint” for how the community wanted to see the site used.

While the future of the incinerator site is still uncertain, this effort has provided city decision-makers concrete community input. This not only makes it easier for these decision-makers to gather the community feedback they value, but it also makes it easier for the neighborhood to hold the decision-makers accountable around this issue.

Voqal is a strong believer in creating a more informed and empowered public. The work of Illinois Humanities and City Bureau to directly engage communities with the media is an important step towards accomplishing this goal. Voqal is proud to have supported this important work in the Chicago area and looks forward to future efforts to engage the public in the policies that affect their daily lives.