My Miami Story conversation at Johnson & Wales University

25 Mar MY MIAMI STORY CONVERSATIONS ARE WORKING … HERE’S HOW

Just before Election Day in November of 2018, a senior friend of mine expressed that he was unsure about who and what to vote for. Most of us remember that miles-long ballot in Florida, full of local referendums, constitutional amendments and congressional candidates. He couldn’t make sense of it all. The day before he went to the polls, I printed off his custom sample ballot and we sat together, researching the issues, looking at what the Miami Herald and others recommended and talking through his opinions. We ended up with a solid guide he felt confident about.

The next day, he took the guide down to his neighborhood precinct in Buena Vista. There were a good number of people there, so he waited in line for a while and eventually got a booth to vote. He followed our guide to the T. Once done, he announced to the room that if anyone was looking for some help on who and what to vote for, they were welcome to use his sample ballot guide, explaining he and I had done the research and made informed recommendations. One person spoke up and took the sample ballot. When they were finished using it, another asked to see it. And then, another. Two hours later, his sample ballot had changed hands more than 20 times, helping dozens of voters feel more confident about their choices.

One small act of civic participation can have an exponential impact on our community.

A group gathers for a My Miami Story conversation at Venture Cafe Miami.

That’s the entire concept behind My Miami Story conversations. They try to get every resident thinking about what they can do to take ownership of an issue they care about, whether it’s speaking up at a county commission meeting, tutoring your nephew to ensure he passes the third grade, or helping a friend vote. Every single action taken to improve the lives of Greater Miami residents is impactful and matters.

That was clear in survey results from participants in the 2018 day of conversations. On October 23rd, more than 4,000 Miami-Dade County residents sat down in small groups at hundreds of gatherings communitywide. They shared their Miami stories: how they got here, why they stay here, what matters to them in their community and what they could do to address it. Almost 400 residents took the post-conversation survey, and the research analysis, made possible with the generous support of Knight Foundation, provided deep insight into what Miamians think about their community and how they want to change it. Here are some of the top takeaways from what we learned:

Impact of the conversation experience
2018 My Miami Story participants who completed the post-conversation survey are highly engaged in their community and express a strong sense of confidence that through their actions, they can make a positive difference. Seven in 10 survey participants are involved in civic and neighborhood activities.

Among 2017 My Miami Story conversations participants who returned to participate again in 2018 (and did the survey), nine in 10 took part in an activity specifically as a result of attending a conversation:

  • Half went to community meetings and events about important issues;
  • 40% worked to build relationships with new people; and
  • Roughly one-third worked to raise awareness and educate others about important issues (34%), donated money to an important cause or organization (33%), or became more politically involved (33%).

This underscores that these conversations are about more than talking; residents are taking action around the issues discussed. In fact, behind nonprofits and community organizations, the most frequently cited entities that participants view as having the greatest impact on making their community a better place to live are the residents themselves. That is encouraging, as the true power to improve Greater Miami lies within its people.

Issues residents care about
Housing issues, including homelessness and affordable housing, are the top priorities that Miami-Dade residents want to see addressed. This is true regardless of gender, age, education level and neighborhood. There is some variation in priorities between white, African-American, and Hispanic participants. Housing was not the top issue for whites, showing a racial disparity around the issue.

Where do Miamians want to go from here?
Participants in My Miami Story conversations express a sense of optimism and positive community outlook and are far more likely to be more hopeful than worried about the future of their community. Significant majorities view their community as embodying several positive attributes, including changing for the better, having shared goals and priorities, possessing a strong sense of community, and providing opportunities for everyone.

  • Men, Millennials, and African-American participants have a hopeful outlook at higher rates, while white participants, those age 50 and older, and those from South Dade  express worry at higher rates than most.

There are a variety of ways that residents want to get involved in their community. Topping the list was joining a small group to regularly discuss and organize solutions around important issues.

This may seem counterintuitive, as getting a resident to attend an event or volunteer project is often seen as much harder than getting them to engage from where they physically are, like through digital means while at home or work. But it shows that residents are hungry for opportunities to connect face to face with others who share their passion for a cause.

The overwhelming majority of 2018 participants say it’s likely they will take specific actions to address an issue discussed at their My Miami Story conversation (86%). In addition to increasing participants’ understanding of the challenges and issues facing fellow residents across Greater Miami, these conversations had a significant impact on building a sense of community and increasing motivation to take action.

  • 83% of participants said their My Miami Story conversation made them feel more optimistic that members of their community can work together to make positive change.
  • 80% said the experience made them feel more connected to others in the Greater Miami community.
  • 79% said the experience motivated them to get involved in addressing issues in their community.

As we think about how to mobilize this community to take ownership of it, we must create forums for residents to have meaningful dialogue about their experiences around an issue and share ideas to improve it. Good conversation leads to inspiration, empowerment, and ultimately, action.

Matthew Beatty is the senior director of communications and engagement at The Miami Foundation.

Click here to view the full results of the survey.

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