A short history of Community Conversations

Since its founding in 2006, the Center for Michigan has sought to engage Michigan citizens statewide in small, informal town hall meetings we call “Community Conversations.” To date, we have engaged more than 20,000 citizens in this process. Importantly, participant demographics – gender, race, geography, age – look like the face of Michigan. This is the largest public engagement project in Michigan history.

Motivated by our deeply challenged state economy and a hyper-partisan political culture, we launched the Center with the following mission statement: “Conducting research into public policy issues affecting the people of the state of Michigan, developing public policy initiatives for the improvement of civic leadership in Michigan and educating civic leaders and concerned citizens in Michigan as to more effective approaches to public policy and governance through dissemination of written materials and sponsorship of conferences or forums.”

Our initial effort, Michigan’s Defining Moment Public Engagement Campaign, quickly became the Center’s central project. We launched “MDM” in 2007 in partnership with Public Sector Consultants, Inc. and the more than 100 statewide “Founding Champions”. We sought in-depth citizen deliberation rather than the standard telephone polls that allow brief and shallow comments to shape public policy. We worked to collect and disseminate detailed non-partisan information about Michigan’s challenges and, in turn, gathered pragmatic, grass-roots ideas to build a better future.

The agenda created by the participants of Michigan’s Defining Moment campaign included several issues related to Michigan’ PreK-12 education system. Because of this imperative from Michigan residents, the next round of community conversations focused on the future of education in Michigan. In 2012, the Center spoke to more than 5,500 Michigan residents, gathering input on improving Michigan student learning.

In 2013-2014, the Center embarked upon a round of Community Conversations that asked nearly 5,000 participants statewide to identify their priorities for Michigan’s future in the lead-up to the 2014 election. The findings of this report outline the issues considered most urgent to our state in the following areas: the economy, education, quality of life, and public money.

Working our way up the education and training ladder, the Center led a public engagement campaign in 2015 titled “Getting to Work: Opportunity and Hurdles to Prosperity in Michigan.” Topics of discussion included career navigation for young people, college value and affordability, and challenges to upward mobility. The public’s agenda that resulted from this campaign gave recommendations to state leader for improving workforce development from classroom to career.

In a divisive year in state and national politics, the Center asked the Michigan public about their trust in state government. Throughout 2016, the Center’s engage team led discussions about public trust in state government services, as well as the state’s ability to foster representative government. The results of these discussions were analyzed and where common ground was reached, public sentiment and ideas for improving trust in state government became our latest citizens’ agenda, Fractured trust: Lost faith in state government, and how to restore it.