Today’s complex challenges require citizens who can work together by identifying shared interests and, then, act collaboratively to achieve common goals. It is troubling, therefore, to note that North Carolina faces a crisis of disengagement. According to the 2010 Civic Health Index, North Carolina ranks 42nd in the nation for volunteering, 44th for participation in non-electoral policy activity (such as public meetings), and 39th for group affiliation/membership. Too few of our citizens are willing to contribute their civic ideas, and those that do worry that their thoughts are not being heard or supported by people with the capacity to implement them. Many people who would like a seat at the table often feel as though they are stuck on the outside looking in. Our state’s Civic Health Index suggests that the people of North Carolina would engage at more substantial levels if they were informed about opportunities and asked to act. The need we face, then, is to identify new ways to educate and engage our citizens and to help them solve problems and recognize the importance and necessity of their participation.
IEI was founded in 2002 to do just that. We work at a statewide level each year, but our statewide efforts, by their very nature, benefit from and inform local work. We understand that the best solutions for community problems will come from communities themselves. When people are working with people they know, and on problems that are real to them, they are more invested in the work and better appreciate their own agency in finding opportunities for action.
That said, the will to act collectively is far from enough. If people do not have the knowledge and resources needed to improve their local communities, North Carolina cannot expect to confront today’s challenges and emerge as a strong competitor in the global economy. IEI provides important knowledge and resources when it brings individuals and groups of stakeholders together with shared purpose and a common agenda to produce outcomes that none could produce through singular effort. The new Emerging Issues Commons uses technology to offer individuals, groups and organizations in North Carolina knowledge and resources, as well as more opportunities to participate in communities as defined by place or a set of interests.