New CommNS partnership with Urban Rural Action sparks dialogue across Wisconsin

Through the generous support of the Schlecht Family Foundation, the CommNS began a collaboration this summer with Urban Rural Action (URA). URA is a nonprofit organization which works to bring together Americans across divides to engage in constructive dialogue, deepen understanding of societal challenges, and take action to address those challenges. Together, the CommNS and URA launched Uniting for Wisconsin’s Civic Health.

We know that isolation and polarization have eroded our collective “civic health”– our capacity to address problems together and build stronger communities for all. With the Civic Health of Wisconsin Initiative, the CommNS has helped form a Wisconsin-wide network of organizations working to strengthen civic health. The Civic Health of Wisconsin initiative has worked to promote civic engagement opportunities and to investigate the state of civic health in Wisconsin, including barriers and opportunities. URA is a well-matched national partner in this work. Their model – based in part on decades of work in global settings affected by and healing from deep divides – helps to depolarize, build connection, and support collective steps toward stronger communities.

With Uniting for Wisconsin’s Civic Health, the CommNS and URA were able to offer URA’s constructive dialogue training in a pilot program. The pilot included a webinar, which brought together Wisconsinites eager to learn how to engage across differences, and a deeper-dive workshop in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Attendees practiced constructive dialogue techniques, which they used to workshop solutions to civic health challenges in Wisconsin.

URA’s Deborah Tien also facilitated a “problem tree” exercise, where participants winnowed toward a concept of “A Summer of Love Wisconsin.” The proposal encourages community members to host gatherings that bring together a variety of individuals and groups, share about their local experiences, and nurture more connectivity across community members. Participants developed this idea based on their own observations on disconnection across groups in Wisconsin communities, which was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also noted the impact of other factors, like political divides and increasing reliance on social media and digital means to connect and gather information.

WLOO, a local television station, created this video about our workshop.

We are looking forward to future collaboration with URA, including:

  • Publishing Civic Health Heroes profiles on the Love Wisconsin platform
  • Creating an inventory of constructive dialogue tools for Wisconsin groups and organizations
  • Fostering student opportunities to support civic health efforts (thanks to Liz Haefli, who has been our Civic Health intern this summer!)
  • A federally-funded collaboration with URA and a group of organizations in Southeast Wisconsin, focusing on building civic health as a way of fostering stronger, safer communities
  • Building upon URA’s constructive dialogue and community action workshop at our CommUnity Conference on April 16th
  • Supporting the “Summer of Love Wisconsin” concept in Summer 2024 – stay tuned!