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UF's civic dialogue project is raising questions

The Wall
The aim of the project is to foster dialogue among a broader and younger spectrum of citizens, creating interest in civic life. [Photo: Andrew Innerarity/Content Creators]
Inside the University of Florida's red-brick Pugh Hall, questions posed on a 44-by-26 inch interactive wall engage students in civil debate. A recent question: "Has our federal government done enough to create jobs?"

Eighteen students voted yes; 23, no.

Among the "no's," Sara Eileen wrote: "The government needs to focus on ways to regain local jobs that have moved due to increasing globalization."

Travis countered: "Yes! Per-job-saved spending on the stimulus was $280,000 — that's enough."

The screen is part of the latest project of Jake Barton, a New York digital designer who created the interactive component for NPR's StoryCorps project, as well as that for the recently opened National September 11th Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center site.

Ann Henderson
Ann Henderson
The Civil Debate Wall was launched this fall by UF's Bob Graham Center for Public Service, whose mission is to encourage college students to become public servants. The idea is to foster dialogue about and expand the audience for the most critical issues facing Florida and the nation, says Ann Henderson, the center's executive director. In the 2010 elections, only 8% of Floridians under 30 voted. "Voting is a key measure of civic health," says Henderson. "But when you look at those numbers, it's clear that the State University System is not, in a deliberate way, saying 'How can we ensure our students are prepared for citizenship?'"

The interactive wall is the pilot in a project that is funded as part of a $3-million civics innovation grant by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. If it shows promise, the center plans to expand the project throughout campus and the Gainesville community. "Gainesville is a great place to try it out," says Henderson. "But then we should be out there — in Orlando and Naples and Miami and beyond."