The Stennis Center for Public Service is part of a nationwide effort by the Kettering Foundation and the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress to create pathways for citizens to engage with each other over public problems. In late 2011 and 2012, the Stennis Center, along with its partners, the MSU Libraries and the Stennis Institute of Government, conducted three National Issues Forums based on the Kettering Foundation’s model.

The forums brought together citizens with diverse views and experiences to seek a shared understanding of various problems and to search for common ground for action. The citizens used an issue discussion guide from the Kettering Foundation that frames the issue by presenting the overall problem and then three broad approaches to the problem.

The first forum on the topic of the national debt was held on November 1, 2011, in the Foster Ballroom at Mississippi State University. Phil Hardwick of the Stennis Institute facilitated the forum, “A Nation in Debt:  How Can We Pay the Bills?” The 20 participants were very diverse and included five college students, seven African Americans and one naturalized American from India, and 12 whites. Ten were males and ten females.  The leader of the local Tea Party attended, and political views spanned a wide spectrum.

The next forum on the subject of education took place on February 23, 2012, in the John Grisham Room of the Mississippi State University Library. The specific topic was “What is the 21st Century Mission for Our Public Schools,” and it included education leaders from local public and private schools as well as Mississippi State University.

The third and final forum, What Should Go on the Internet?  Privacy, Security and Freedom Online took place on June 5, 2012, again in the John Grisham Room of the Mississippi State University Library. The participants included students, the head of Internet security for Mississippi State University, the head of technology for the local public school system, professional web designers, school teachers, and others.