What we’ve learned
Earlier this year the Rhode Island Foundation successfully launched Together RI – a new initiative open to all Rhode Islanders and designed to create space for folks to be heard, to listen, to reconnect, and to promote civic and civil dialogue. As the state’s community foundation, we work to meet the needs of the people of Rhode Island and we believe that each and every Rhode Islander has a role to play in ensuring our collective success; that is why we initiated Together RI, and that is why we are eager to share what we’ve learned.
Together RI was a series of 20 neighborly get-togethers that began on March 22, 2018 and ended on May 5, 2018. Nearly 1,300 Rhode Islanders enthusiastically participated alongside their neighbors, strangers, and friends – sharing a family-style meal and talking face-to-face at schools, community centers and other places that were well known and accessible. The Foundation’s role in Together RI was to provide the platform, and a meal for participants, and then to step back and listen carefully. Independent professional facilitators guided each session and University of Rhode Island (URI) researchers synthesized the table discussion notes and surveys completed by participants.
When we initiated Together RI we did so with two goals in mind:
To find out, first-hand, about where individual Rhode Islanders see opportunity in our state, and where they identify challenges.
To create a neutral place for dialogue on topics that are critical to our common future, and a place where divisiveness and polarization was successfully left at the door.
Thanks to the thoughtful participation of so many Rhode Islanders – who shared their experiences, their time, and a meal with us – we collectively accomplished those goals.
As the state’s community foundation we will use what we’ve learned through Together RI to inform our civic leadership efforts. We plan to communicate the full results directly to state leaders, and we will encourage our partners – and more deliberately find opportunities ourselves – to create space for civic and civil dialogue, community engagement, and face-to-face connection between Rhode Islanders. We will also continue to encourage individual Rhode Islanders to get involved, and stay involved in our community – to engage and work alongside other Rhode Islanders to help ensure our collective success.
Over 100 pages of data and information from Together RI, prepared by a talented team of researchers at the URI Social Science Institute for Research, Education, and Policy can be found at https://web.uri.edu/ssirep/. Their report provides aggregated, anonymous details by topic area, location of each conversation, and includes information on research methodology and demographics.
Examples of the findings
Nearly 1,000 anonymous surveys were collected from Together RI participants and over 450 sets of table discussion notes were also collected.
Public education, the size of the state, natural resources and open spaces, housing, public transportation, and diversity were among the topics that came up most frequently across survey results and the analysis of table discussion notes.
Many participants noted that our state’s greatest strength, and what they are most proud of, is related to natural resources. Participants thought that the coastal environment, the beauty of the state, and a focus on green energy and environmentally-friendly policies were major strengths for Rhode Island.
The biggest opportunity cited by many participants is that there is great potential for our state’s economy. Participants believe that farms, food, restaurants, and tourism (particularly related to the ocean) all present opportunities for economic success.
In terms of challenges, participants noted many different social issues that impact individuals and families in our state. Including challenges related to lack of employment, drug and alcohol use, inequality, aging, and homelessness.
The most challenging topics discussed at the Together RI sessions varied by region.
For example, surveys collected at the Providence, East Bay, and Aquidneck Island sessions frequently mentioned education as a challenging discussion topic;
Surveys collected at West Bay and South County sessions frequently mentioned government and taxes as the most challenging discussion topic; and
At session in Northern RI survey respondents mentioned that community was the most challenging discussion topic.
Rhode Island’s strong sense of community and small size came up repeatedly by Together RI participants as both strengths and opportunities for our state. Participants found Rhode Islanders to be interconnected and willing to help one another, and they also valued how our state’s small size helps to contribute to collaboration across the state.
Participants also believed that the public education system and issues related to government and politics presented challenges for Rhode Island. Education was also an issue that many participants were willing to spend time working to improve.
When asked about the tone of the conversation that they participated in over 60 percent of survey respondents answered that the tone was friendly, over 40 percent noted that the tone was thoughtful (respondents could choose more than one option in answering this question). These results held true across geographic region, gender, race, age, and income.
More than 72 percent of survey respondents said they better understand the issues their community faces.
Nearly 75 percent said that after participating in Together RI they are now more likely to get involved in community issues.
99 percent of survey respondents reported meeting someone new.