Purpose Power Town Hall Tour

December 12, 2023 dallasl

Purpose Power created a town hall tour lasting from March-May 2019 to engage citizen discussion about a variety of topics.

Mission and Purpose

Through her experience in the social sector working on redefining brands and producing events for non-profit organizations and her experience in the political realm assisting in Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, Alicia Bonner Ness witnessed problems in democracy. The main issue she witnessed through her experiences was that lack of effective communication is at the core of the problems the nation faces. [1] She saw just how isolating social media and technology can be because we spend time interacting with people we know, which limits our perspectives on the world. [2] Ness also saw just how toxic “tribal politics” was to political discourse. [3]

Through the Purpose Power Town Halls, Ness hopes to foster communication across people with different perspectives and experiences to “create an open and inviting space in which to envision the better future we all want.” Through facilitating conversation with people across the political spectrum, people can expand their understanding of the world and hopefully use that knowledge to participate in civic engagement. The toolkit provided in the meeting helps participants apply what they learned in their community. [1]

Origins and Development

Alicia Bonner Ness founded the Purpose Power Town Hall after leaving the social sector to pursue assisting the Hilary Clinton campaign in 2016, she saw how “our failure to communicate is at the heart of our political dysfunction.” [1]

So, she began facilitating conversations in North Brooklyn. Over the course of 90 minutes, attendees reflected and answered five core questions:

  1. What are the values you hope will guide your political leaders?
  2. Name a leader you admire. What qualities make them effective?
  3. What are the qualities of a good civic citizen?
  4. How can leaders and citizens collaborate to strengthen our community?
  5. Imagine you have fallen asleep for ten years and awakened to find that our democracy is thriving. What do you see?

After answering them individually, everyone is invited to share their thoughts with the group. The facilitator scribes the responses for all to see. The Brooklyn workshops are a part of the Vision Project, which is a coalition of organizations to envision a future for the Brooklyn community. [1] Ness wanted to expand this discussion to across the nation, which is why she launches the Purpose Power Town Hall Tour, which occurred across 15 cities across 15 states, including: New England, New York, Virgina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. [3]

Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding

One of the biggest challenges for this organization is funding. [2] Alicia Bonner Ness launched a crowdfunding campaign on to raise funds for costs associated with the tour, including, venues, staff and operations, promotion, and an “engagement toolkit,” which is given to participants to help continue civic engagement and communication in their community. The campaign is closed and raised $8,150 out of their $75,000 goal. [3]

In the meetings, participants are provided with blank notebooks to collect their thoughts. These notebooks were generously donated by Unruled. [4]

Their May 11th, 2019 Town Hall was co-sponsored by the Serve America Movement (SAM), which is an independent political party designed for those that are fed up with the tribal politics that defines the majority of American politics today. SAM is not focused on candidates or representatives, but rather on people and participation. Their goals focus on policies that give people more power such as voting and gerrymandering reforms. [1]

Specializations, Methods and Tools

The meetings focus on transmitting four core skills: dialogue, understanding, trust, and progress. [3] They are held in public spaces. For example, in Hartford, the event was held at the Hartford Public Library Center for Contemporary Culture. [5]In Nashville, participants met at Bongo Java Cafe. The NYC Town Hall was in the civic hall. In DC attendees met at Open Gov Hub. [6] Each event has three parts. In the first part attendees make meaningful connections, where they engage with others and find shared values. Then, they imagine future possibilities where they join group discussions and collaborate together. The last part is where they commit to take action, promising a future of sustained engagement. Some locations have guest speakers to begin. For example, in Hartford, Dr. Oz Griebel spoke. [1]

The event is free and open to anyone that can come. It is unclear how exactly the cities were chosen, except we can assume that they wanted highly populated cities to encourage civic engagement. Although originally there were 15 selected cities, only three were actually visited, based on the organization's facebook and instagram. [5] [6]

The process of each of the meetings went as follows:

  1. Know your neighbor: Each person says their name, where they are from, and a word that describes them. 
  2. Establish community guidelines: shape community guidelines that they will adhere to during their time together. Example: using “I” statements discourages generalizing and emphasizes personal experience. These commitments create a sense of community where individuals can feel safe to feel vulnerable and imaginative. 
  3. Know your mind, have some fun: Participants can use markers to reflect in notebooks before speaking to the group. Colorful markers help people think imaginatively, which is necessary when discussing the possible future.
  4. Connect with others: Now, people pair up to warm up with a couple of questions. Some of them include: Why are you here? What makes you angry? What are you afraid of? These questions help build trust among the group to continue into more thought-provoking discussion. 
  5. Share your values and vision the future: participants then share their most important values in life. After this, leaders invite the group to answer the following question, “Imagine you have fallen asleep for 10 years and awakened to find our democracy thriving. What do you hope to see?”
  6. Be real about the present: Now, participants are invited to acknowledge the obstacles that block the envisioned future. Next, they can create paths to overcome these obstacles and create a future they want to live in. 
  7. Commit to solidarity: attendees pair up to commit to take action and check in with each other to ensure they are upholding their commitments. [4]

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Over a 2 month period, Purpose Power connected with almost 200 people from more than 25 states. [5] Although the original plan was to visit 15 states, according to the organization’s Facebook and Instagram, the tour went to three cities: NYC, Hartford, and Washington DC. The attendees all have the tools needed to continue important political discourse in their communities and have connected with other people with similar values and goals.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Overall, Purpose Power Town Hall was successful in facilitating democratic discussion. It provided thought-provoking discussion in an inclusive setting. However, it also shows what lack of funding does for democracy and democratic entities. Without sufficient funds, the tour was unable to be fully completed as the founder had originally planned. Since 2019, there has not been any word of Purpose Power on any forum.


Alicia Bonner Ness’s book titled “Purpose Power: How Mission-Driven Leaders Engage for Change.”

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