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Group of people sit around tables at an Open OHIO event

AIA-Supported Projects: Open OHIO

The following story is the final in a three-part series about projects currently being supported by the 2017 cycle of the Academic Innovation Accelerator. These projects already have made significant strides at OHIO. Each project is unique and made possible by many different teams of University individuals working together. Read the first story in the series

by Emily Baxstrom
August 2018

Current-day polarized dialogues and what she sees as a devaluation of scientific information have motivated Sarah Davis to explore alternative methods of communicating science that might have a broader appeal to different audiences. She wants to create a space for hosting an open dialogue among students, staff, faculty, and community members alike. From this desire, along with countless conversations and meetings and sharing and evolving, a project emerged: Open OHIO.

Open OHIO is a project intended to provide a place and time to have face-to-face communication with people that don’t typically converse with one another. “The basic idea is to encourage a culture of open dialogue on campus and to open lines of communication,” said Davis, associate professor in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service, “not just within the student body, but among everyone that is part of this community that we interact with daily.”

“I think we’re starting to see a separation between the academic community and the general public,” she said. “As an academic institution, we have a role and an educational mission to also serve the community, to ensure that the things we’re learning and advances in knowledge we’re making are not going to just be contained in the academic community, but that we benefit the broader society as well.”

To help bridge the University with the surrounding community, Davis began studying civil discourse. She connected with the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) over a year ago; they have developed tools to help individuals work through difficult dialogues, as well as trainings for state legislators to lead to a more effective dialogue around policy.

Davis emphasized today’s society has moved so much communication to social media that people have less and less experience engaging in challenging dialogue face-to-face with people who are not their close friends. “I think everywhere needs this idea,” said Davis, “but I think Ohio University is a good place to do it because there is a lot of passion for community here.”

Sarah Davis speaks with faculty at the 2017 Ideation Event.
Davis engaged with other Ohio University faculty during the 2017 Ideation Event, which led to support from the AIA to help move her idea forward.

Gaining Support

Davis first started diving into her idea over a year ago. She began bouncing thoughts off coworkers and other faculty, eventually forming a series of groups composed of faculty, staff, and community members. The groups explored different tools from NICD and the Art of Hosting, which is an international strategy for developing more effective community conversation. The groups discussed a variety of issues/topics and brainstormed strategies that would allow different disciplines and community positions to better connect and engage with a broader swath of individuals, rather than sticking with their core group of friends.

The following fall semester, Davis taught an experimental graduate course about environmental leadership and civil discourse. Here, she tested some of the tools and processes she learned with her students. “It was interesting to hear the different perspectives and ideas that emerged out of the conversations with students,” said Davis.

In fall 2017, Davis attended the Ideation Event and listened in on a conversation with other faculty. “I kept an open mind and then it just sort of came together,” she said. She wrote a proposal, with input from those who participated in the working group and students that had been in her class, and submitted it to receive support from the Academic Innovation Accelerator (AIA). Through the AIA, the Office of Instructional Innovation has provided funding for materials, support for engaged artists and scientists, and catering. The Division of Student Affairs and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion also are sponsoring the project.

“If faculty have an idea they’re curious about exploring, they should just start talking to people about it and see if it goes anywhere,” said Davis. “Be prepared to adapt it if it doesn’t work. Don’t give up on it, but be prepared to get feedback and other people’s input.” She attributes the strength and power of the Open OHIO project to the number of interested people that have contributed to it. Her one-page project proposal only was possible after over a year’s worth of conversations with around 25 different people.

Participants engage  in a discussion during Open OHIO 2018.
Participants engage in a discussion during a pilot run of Open OHIO in the spring of 2018.

Three-Phase Rollout

“One of the hopes is that we’re also going to get intergenerational involvement with these conversations,” said Davis. She noted both the faculty/staff/community working groups and her graduate student groups identified there would be a benefit to having other generations represented in the conversations to get either the long or most recent view of a topic.

Davis sees the topics of discussion including anything people want to talk about. “We have a lot going on right now and I think everyone is overwhelmed,” she said. “I expect there will be some politics, but it’s really just whatever people are concerned about.” She noted dialogues across the University about race and sexual misconduct—but instead of being reactionary to these issues, Open OHIO is more about opening the door to let people talk about their concerns. For example, the role that social media plays or how political dialogue has become more polarized over time. “There are things for which the younger generation doesn’t have the historical experience of what it was like and how different things may be now,” she said. “But at the same time, the older generations watched a transition into social media and many of them may use it, but in different ways. So talks get interesting.”

The Open OHIO project will roll out in three phases:

Phase 1: Providing a space and time for face-to-face dialogue to happen. An inviting space will be established that will include prompts and facilitators to help spark conversations.

Phase 2: Once topics of interest emerge from these conversations, a panel of scientists and a panel of artists will collaborate to develop an art installation for further discussion. The scientific group will identify topic experts and review what is known empirically about the topic. They then will work with the artists on the art installation—the art will be accompanied by collected information. The artists and scientists will ideally be on hand to answer questions, providing people more opportunities to continue the dialogue.

Phase 3: The art installation will go on tour around the community to allow the community to provide feedback and facilitate new conversations with different perspectives around the art.

Davis emphasizes that this project was created with the intention to evolve. “The point of it is to just keep growing and get more and more people involved, seeing what direction it takes us in,” she said. Discussions will be launched in fall 2018, with conversations happening in Baker University Center on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons. More details can be seen on the Open OHIO web page.

The Office of Instructional Innovation (OII) serves as a catalyst to spark bold experimentation and sustainable discovery of innovative instructional models that fulfill the University’s promise of a transformative educational experience. OII provides a variety of services to faculty, staff, and students in support of academic units and online programs, as well as to advance initiatives to further the institution’s mission. Visit our home page for more information.