Table for Two: Rolling Out Research Findings

June 4, 2019 by On the Table NLN

The conversations that happen when people gather for On the Table isn’t the end — it is just the beginning. Reporting on what happened, what people are concerned about and their plans for the future is an important way organizers and participants can stay connected and keep the momentum going.

On the Table creates new opportunities for community members to build and maintain connections not only with each other, but also with the foundation or planning organization. This idea of staying connected and sharing what was discussed is essential to the On the Table model. While foundations or planning organizations may not be able to address every concern or implement every idea, many are committed to the important role of elevating community voice and sharing back with the community what was learned as a result of On the Table conversations.

Research has been an effective tool to gather such feedback. The Chicago Community Trust and Knight Foundation cities have worked with academic and professional public opinion research partners to conduct surveys of On the Table participants in order to learn more about their experience, topics discussed during their conversations, current perceptions of issues and opportunities facing their communities, and actions they might be inspired to take afterwards.

In this “Table for Two,” we sit down with John Garofalo (JG), vice president of community investment at the Akron Community Foundation, and Cherise Arrendale (CA), strategic initiatives and communications manager at Central Carolina Community Foundation in Columbia, South Carolina, to learn about how their organizations shared those survey results with the community.

How did you share your data with the community?

JG: In Akron, we decided to unveil the data from our 2017 On the Table conversations at a public event. We invited all participants, community leaders and other stakeholders from the Foundation’s outreach lists, and received 500 RSVPs. We felt an event, rather than just sending the results out via email or distributing printed reports, made sense because this was the first time our Foundation was sharing research directly from the community at-large. We wanted everyone to know we took it seriously and that it was making an impact on our work. Specifically, we wanted to tease out the Foundation’s future plans – both as they related to On the Table and how the conversations were impacting our grant-making. Our event featured a presentation of the survey highlights, as well as a panel discussion with various On the Table hosts sharing what they had taken away from the conversations and their insights on the data.

Following the event, we shared the results to our network with an email push, driving them to the full set of materials on our website.

CA: Central Carolina Community Foundation also wanted to use our survey data to keep our community engaged – so we decided to host a breakfast reveal with On the Table hosts and participants, our Board of Trustees and other community stakeholders. In all, around 50 people attended, a perfect audience size that allowed us to conduct a lively conversation and answer every question our guests asked.

The conversation was so productive that we’re continuing the dialogue throughout the year and are in the process of planning a series of “Table Talk” events – three small group discussions focused on the areas of opportunities identified in our data.

JG: In addition, we sent the reporters who had previously covered On the Table all the results – the full report, sortable data and a highlights report we created a few weeks in advance – along with a request to not release the results until the evening of our event.

CA: We reached out beyond the audience at the event, as well. We distributed a news release to local media, and included information in our biweekly e-newsletter that was sent to all of the On the Table participants and the Foundation’s outreach database.

We also designed a report with key takeaways from the survey that was printed and shared on our website.

What tools or tactics did you find most helpful in rolling out your data to the community?

CA: Our breakfast reveal provided an opportunity to hear stories about our hosts’ conversations; many were excited to share that they are continuing to meet regularly with their table guests. A number of attendees shared their ideas on how we can continue the conversations and some scheduled time to meet with other attendees to develop ideas for our Beyond the Table grant initiative.

JG: I agree that bringing people together at an event to roll out the data was beneficial – it gave the report more visibility and allowed people to get an overview of the results and hear what the panelists thought, giving them some additional perspective.

I’ll also say that sharing the report with media in advance really worked for us. The reporters who covered the event for us appreciated getting extra time to sift through everything so they could run their stories that day and with more depth than some competitors. They also seemed more interested in covering the second year of On the Table conversations.

What was most surprising to you in your data?

JG: If there was one thing the data showed, it reinforced our belief that Greater Akron is a very caring, generous and collaborative community – a community where residents are willing and able to come to the table to discuss our strengths and our weakness and come up with possible solutions to help make our cities and neighborhoods a better place to live, work and play. Over 86 percent of those who responded to the survey expressed a willingness to help be part of the solution. The data also highlighted our willingness to listen to one another and to not judge based on differences we all face – differences in socioeconomic status, nationality, race, religion or sexual orientation. Some survey respondents said they planned to continue their conversations into the future, so that the momentum started on October 3 would continue today, tomorrow and long into the future.

CA: The overwhelmingly positive and hopeful attitude of the survey respondents, regardless of demographics, was the most surprising aspect of our data. We believe that recent tragic events, such as the Mother Emmanuel mass shooting and the removal of the Confederate flag at our Statehouse, have united, not divided, our state. The numerous floods and hurricanes we have experienced in recent years have also turned strangers into heroes.

And while the optimism reflected in the survey was very good news, we did not want people to think we weren’t aware of the issues that needed to be addressed in our community. To do this, we divided our data into three key sections to share – The People, Their Attitudes and Our Opportunity. In this way, we were able to acknowledge the gaps and areas of opportunity, while also celebrating the positive aspects of the report.

How is your foundation using survey insights to inform your work – programming, grant-making, partnerships – moving forward?

JG: Our Foundation’s Community Investment Committee will use data from the On the Table Impact Report, as well as research and information from a community-wide needs assessment generated by the Center for Community Solutions, to help inform strategic, proactive community investments. These investments will be directed to programs and services that are addressing community needs with a defined impact in mind. Akron Community Foundation will also seek to engage current and potential donors, as well as other funders, to co-invest in these proactive grantmaking priorities – informed in part by what we heard from On the Table participants over the past two years.

CA: At our breakfast reveal, we announced our Beyond the Table’ mini-grants. These grants will fund projects that address one of 10 issues identified as a community priority through the On the Table survey. The issues include both community strengths and community needs. A total of $20,000 in grant funding will be awarded, and both nonprofits and individuals with a fiscal sponsor are eligible to apply for grants of up to $2,000.

JG: We’re also in the process of rolling out Community Impact Awards coming out of our 2018 conversations. We are offering up to $50,000 in grants (up to $2,000 for each grantee) for ideas/programs that emerged from On the Table. We received 38 applications requesting $75,000 and were able to fund 26 initiatives.  

How have other community leaders and organizations used the On the Table data in your community?

CA: We just released our data, but our hope is to build collaborations with local organizations doing similar work in order to have a wider understanding of our community’s strengths and needs.

JG: The City of Akron and the County of Summit have both reviewed the data and developed some initiatives based on the information gathered in On the Table conversations. For example, the data showed the importance of our park system to the success of our community. Based on that, The City of Akron established the Parks Challenge, a program that encourages resident to create a sustainable model of maintaining Akron parks that are clean, inviting and engaging public spaces.

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