As part of a new initiative from the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon, European and North American news organisations can apply for grants to expand existing engagement projects focused on getting people with different views to have a productive dialogue through face to face conversations.
Announced earlier this week, Finding Common Ground is funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the News Integrity Initiative, and will offer seven grants of up to €10,000 each. Zeit Online and the International Journalism Festival are also partnering with the Agora Journalism Center on the project.
The goal is for newsrooms to build on their existing initiatives through events in their communities, but also to support cross-border collaboration and knowledge sharing between organisations doing this type of engagement work.
"Each local ecosystem will be different and that's the most important thing: how do you foster that dialogue in your community, whether it's a city, a region or a state-wide conversation? Those will always be unique based on the political background and citizens in that area," said Andrew DeVigal, project director for Finding Common Ground.
"There is clearly an opportunity for participants to learn about each other's processes, what works in dialogue, how they find the common ground based on the people facilitating those dialogues..so that's where we are hoping they will be able to learn from each other and collaborate."
Finding Common Ground will also provide successful applicants with a fully-funded trip to the International Journalism Festival in Perugia in April, where they will participate in a workshop to learn and share best practices. The development phase will take place after the conference between May and July, and during this time, the project teams will also host and visit one of their fellow participants to learn more about their communities and approach to engagement.
To apply, news organisations should fill out the online form by 23 February with details about their project and its proposed outcome, how they are planning to use the funding and whether they have done any other engagement work.
Some examples of the type of engagement projects that would suit the goals of the initiative include 'Germany Talks' from Zeit Online, which algorithmically paired people who lived in the same area but had opposing political views for face-to-face discussions based on their answers to five questions; 'Ask A...';, a series of conversations from KUOW radio station in Seattle between two groups of people who want to learn more about each other (for example 'Ask a Trump supporter' or 'Ask a transgender person'); and 'Breaking Bread' from Colorado Public Radio, which brought three Trump supporters and three Clinton supporters together to discuss and listen to each other over dinner.
DeVigal said they are looking for projects that can help identify elements such as: best practices for convening groups of people that are "diverse both in societal and political views", frameworks that support engagement (such as Breaking Bread's conversations facilitated through a meal) and ways to "meaningfully assess and evaluate the projects' impact".
"You wouldn't want a room full of people with the same point of view because that's not helpful, it just amplifies the echo chamber that we witness in many of our social media networks. We want to break down that echo chamber so that people in our communities want to participate and have that meaningful dialogue.
"Another opportunity for shared learning with the rest of the cohort is to bring people together who want to learn about their projects' eventual outcome and whether it really changes people's behaviour over time because they met with somebody with an opposing view, and they were open to their way of thinking," DeVigal explained.
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