The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Oct 21, 2011

Public forum for school board candidates engages Charlotte community

Posted by Susan Patterson

Charlotte got a taste of a new kind of candidate forum this week and it went down well. 

Mecklenburg Citizens for Public Education is a nonprofit organization that provides information and opportunities for the community to learn about and get engaged with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Tuesday night, it hosted, along with WFAE public radio, a public forum for 12 at-large school board candidates with an important interactive twist. For one thing, it was live-streamed, with an audience of about 50 outside the auditorium. Those inside the hall and elsewhere got to vote on the topics to be addressed by the candidates, and those at home could submit questions to be asked since they couldn't walk up to a microphone.

It was an experiment in using technology and in giving the audience more control over the discussion, said Meck Ed CEO Bill Anderson. The reaction from audience and candidates alike was overwhelmingly positive.

From a Facebook fan: "I want to commend you on the innovativeness of providing an interactive/on-line venue for people to participate, ask questions and engage in dialogue. Great!"

From candidate Twitter feeds: "Tonight's @MeckEd interactive live-text-polling debate felt like taking part in a historic moment." "Kudos for pushing the tech envelope."

Sitting in the audience, I can't say it was a historic moment, but I do think it was an important one. Getting to vote on the topics to be discussed by candidates is a good start and a welcome change from a few loud voices dominating a discussion.

I'm eager to see how MeckEd and other organizations use technology tools to inform and engage more residents in community problem-solving. This week's event was clearly a good start.

Susan Patterson, program director/Charlotte at Knight Foundation

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