Meet. Share. Do. Welcome to the On the Table National Learning Network

January 17, 2019 by On the Table NLN

Cheryl Hughes, senior director of civic engagement, The Chicago Community Trust
Lilly Weinberg, director for community foundations, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

At a time when people feel more isolated than ever, a civic engagement movement that focuses on community and the importance of listening is starting to take hold. Across the country, in big cities and small towns, On the Table is bringing local residents together to drive change in their communities by sitting down, face-to-face, over a meal and talking to one another.

The Chicago Community Trust created On the Table in 2014 as a way to commemorate its founding as the region’s community foundation almost 100 years prior. Based on the enthusiastic response from local residents, the Trust has convened this “civic holiday” every year since then. Held throughout the region on a single day, these small, mealtime conversations are providing a forum for friends, neighbors, colleagues and even complete strangers to generate new ideas aimed at strengthening and creating positive change in their neighborhoods.

The success of On the Table has inspired similar initiatives across the country. Over the past five years, the Trust has provided nearly 100 additional cities and organizations with strategic counsel and access to template materials to support their ability to replicate this civic engagement initiative. In 2017, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation further expanded this initiative by funding the replication of On the Table in communities across the nation. In total, we estimate that more than 30 communities – including 12 Knight cities – have used On the Table conversations as a powerful tool to engage residents, inspire collaboration, and generate actionable ideas to address important local challenges and opportunities.

The Trust and Knight Foundation have partnered to launch this site – the On the Table National Learning Network – as a place for foundations, civic institutions and nonprofits who have replicated or have shown interest in replicating the On the Table model to come together and collaborate as a virtual learning community to share best practices and support further expansion of this powerful civic engagement initiative.

In addition to open-source templates and other materials to help inspire planning in your community, the On the Table National Learning Network will provide a place for members to connect, ask questions and share best practices from their planning. Communities that have implemented On the Table are encouraged to upload materials to inspire others and help the Network continue to grow.

When we come together to listen to and learn from each other, we have the power to create meaningful, sustainable change in communities across the country. Please join the On the Table movement—explore and utilize the resources provided through this National Learning Network and share your own success stories with us.

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