Bridgeport (Connecticut) Community Conversations
- General Issues
- Scope of Influence
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- New Media
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Problems and Puropose
A deliberative initiative was launched in order to address serious problems in the education system in a declining industrial city. Forty official "Community Conversations" were widely imitated in the city, leading to an unknown number of deliberative forums. Participants were called on to make difficult decisions, such as shifting limited resources from teen after-school programs to programs for younger children. The ultimate purpose of the initiative was to create a new school plan and to gain support for a ballot initiative.
The city filed for bankruptcy in 1991. The next mayor was sentenced to nine years in federal prison for corruption. The schools were so troubled that 274 teachers were arrested during a strike in 1978.
Originating Entities and Funding
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The meetings were open to all citizens, but there was concerted outreach to parents, city officials, business leaders, and leaders on local colleges and universities. Approximately 139,000 people participated with some events registering 500 attendees.
Methods and Tools Used
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Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Forty official "Community Conversations" were widely imitated in the city, leading to an unknown number of deliberative forums. Study Circles were widely used. A community Summit in 2006 drew 500 people. Participants made direct decisions regarding education program measures to be included on the ballot such as shifting limited resources from teen after-school programs to programs for younger children.
Influence, Outcomes and Effects
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Analysis and Lessons Learned
Specific Effort Made to Include Disadvantaged Groups
Some effort to address disadvantaged groups
The paper by Friedman et al includes a section on "inclusion" but it is not specific about the inclusion of disadvantaged groups. Poor and minority residents would, however, be predominant among parents and students in Bridgeport, CT. (96 percent of the city's students are low-income; 70% of city residents are African American or Hispanic.)
Specific Effort Made to Strengthen Democratic Capacities
The main purpose was to build skills and expectations of deliberation.
Will Friedman, Alison Kadlec, and Lara Birnback, Transforming Public Life: A Decade of Citizen Engagement in Bridgeport, CT, Case Studies in Public Engagement, no.1, Public Agenda Foundation, 2007.
The case is also mentioned in Elena Fagotto and Archon Fung, “Sustaining Public Engagement: Embedded Deliberation in Local Communities,” an Occasional Research Paper from Everyday Democracy and the Kettering Foundation, 2009.
The original version of this case study first appeared on Vitalizing Democracy in 2010 and was a contestant for the 2011 Reinhard Mohn Prize. It was originally submitted by Peter Levine.