How do you gauge the authentic mood, the needs, the feelings of a community? One idea is ‘On The Table,’ the civic engagement program that returns to Philly on Nov. 8 to stimulate conversations among citizens about real social issues without politicians and VIPs.
Kicked off in May 2017, the first On the Table Philly brought together, 2,000 people to 150 different discussions – and surveys showed Philadelphians who didn’t know each other were brought closer together by the event, and began forming plans to take new civic action.
“The big takeaways were that there was an appetite in the Philadelphia community for doing this sort of citizen-led activity,” said Pedro Ramos, president & CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation. “At its core, what we’re doing is promoting a way of people engaging among themselves … it is only as powerful as the drive of citizens looking for opportunities to improve their communities and have discussions with people they otherwise might not have discussions with.”
Data, surveys, and informations garnered during the 2017 On the Table Philly, funded by the Knight and Philadelphia foundations, replicates a successful model previously held among thousands of residents in Chicago in 2014.
Organizers found the bulk of On the Table participants were interested primarily in subjects advancing public safety, education, and economic growth and inclusiveness. Ramos attended seven different conversations around Philly in 2017 and noted that 75 percent of the attendees participated in conversations with people they have never met or spoken to before.
“Almost two-thirds said they came out with some concrete idea that they didn’t have before about things that they could do to have an impact,” Ramos said. “It really shows leadership doesn’t require titles or organizations, it just requires people – hosting a discussion is itself is an act of leadership. It’s really the core leadership that makes communities strong.”
Philly Issues Go ‘On The Table’
One big change in this year’s On The Table Philly is that participants and organizers will have a chance to potentially win grant funds to actualize the ideas they come up with during their discussion.
Registered hosts and participants will be eligible to apply for an ‘Activate’ mini-grant of up to $1,000 to implement one of the ideas emerging from their group’s discussion. The grants will be administered by the Philadelphia Foundation and the Philadelphia office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national non-profit community development organization.
“The money is about taking things beyond the table,” Ramos said. “They’re for people that, following their On the Table discussion, want to take the discussion to a different place or follow up and would be able to do it, but for having a few hundred dollars to take things to another place.”
Want to participate?
Anyone can sign up to host an On The Table Philly discussion at any time on Nov. 8. Some 300 tables are expected to be organized around Philly, for groups of of eight to 12 participants. Locations will range from homes and offices to community centers restaurants, libraries, rec centers and places of worship. Participants will be sharing their experiences on media using the #LetsTalkPhilly hashtag.
To host your own discussion, potentially win a grant, or find a discussion to join, visit https://onthetablephl.org/.