About On the Table
On the Table is a civic engagement initiative that took place on a single day each year from 2017-2019. Residents of Columbus and the surrounding areas came together to discuss not only what’s great about our community, but also ways to make it even better — more sustainable, just, safe, strong and vibrant. Conversations are still taking place throughout the Chattahoochee Valley, and this website serves as a resource for you to continue having those meaningful conversations.
On the Table invited Chattahoochee Valley residents from diverse backgrounds, neighborhoods and perspectives to have mealtime conversations that build personal connections and explore how we can work together to make our communities stronger. Each year, thousands of residents across the Chattahoochee Valley participated in On the Table conversations, leading to new relationships, elevated civic conversations and collaborative actions. These outcomes make our communities more connected, resilient and resourceful.
The Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley’s involvement in On the Table stemmed from our belief that it takes ALL of us to build the community we want. Our mission of “enabling and promoting philanthropy that inspires, facilitates and fosters a vibrant and engaged Chattahoochee Valley” is geared toward helping people use their assets to improve their community. But who says those assets have to only be about money? We believe that people who feel connected are better, happier citizens who make their communities better.
To see a recap of the three-year initiative, watch Three Years of "On the Table," a Reflection.
Columbus was one of 10 cities across the U.S. that was selected to replicate the On the Table initiative. The Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley led this effort in the Columbus area.
The Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley’s On the Table conversations were part of a national initiative funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
In addition to Knight Foundation, support for the local project was
provided from the Community Foundation’s Community Endowment Fund and
Chattahoochee Valley Fair Fund. On the Table replicated an
annual civic engagement initiative of the same name developed by The
Chicago Community Trust in 2014. Support for On the Table
advanced Knight Foundation’s work to help cities attract and keep
talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of
civic engagement. Knight Foundation believes that successful communities
are equitable, inclusive and participatory.
Survey Data Results
Each year, participants were encouraged to share the thoughts, actions and ideas that came from their conversations by completing a short survey. The survey responses were compiled by an external research partner and asked about items such as participants’ On the Table experiences, their opinions on community issues and the topics their group discussed. Responses to the survey provided analysis about the issues and themes emerging from On the Table conversations. The results of the data are available upon request for everyone's use in an effort to help us better understand our needs and opportunities. If you are interested in receiving the survey data, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moving On the Table Ideas to Action
On the Table participants were motivated to move into action after their 2018 & 2019 On the Table conversations. In fact, nine in ten survey participants said they were likely to take specific actions regarding something they discussed during their On the Table conversation. To help realize some of the best ideas, the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley facilitated On the Table Action Grants in 2018 and 2019. Our listing of 2019-2020 recipients is available here.
Hosting an On the Table Conversation
Interested in using the On the Table format? Here are some general tips to help guide your conversation.
- Choose a location for your conversation. The discussions can be held just about anywhere – a library, church, neighborhood restaurant, office break room or even around your kitchen table. Hold your discussion wherever you can gather, talk and brainstorm with a group of 8-12 people.
- Plan your menu. Food has a unique way of bringing us together. You can serve coffee and donuts, cookies and juice, or a four-course meal. Or you can host a potluck, brown bag or even meet at your favorite restaurant.
- Invite Your Guests. The invitation list is up to you. Here are a few pointers:
- Start with a few people you know – friends, family, colleagues and neighbors – then expand your circle.
- Consider co-hosting your event with a local nonprofit organization, business or community group.
- Try to create a dynamic table by inviting people from your network who don’t already know each other or ask your guests to bring someone.
- Eight to 12 guests per table is ideal. That way, everyone at the table has a chance to speak and be heard. If you want to host a larger gathering, consider having smaller groups of guests at separate tables – such as three tables of eight guests each – and reserving time during the event for each group to discuss and report out to the larger group.
- Use an online tool like Eventbrite to manage your RSVPs, connect with your guests and share information about your event.
- Plan Your Conversation. Consider whether you want to use the sample prompts (below) or have a specific theme for your discussion; perhaps there is a particular topic related to your community or workplace that you’d like to explore. How will you use your On the Table conversation to unite your colleagues, friends, family and neighbors to lead change in your organization, neighborhood or throughout the Chattahoochee Valley? Also, consider asking your guests to ponder this question before they attend: “What will we do to create a stronger community?”
- Prompt Conversation. The fundamental question is: What can we do together to create a stronger community? Conversation guidelines and prompts below offer tips on encouraging productive discussion.
- Encourage Solutions. After your group discusses community challenges that concern them, consider transitioning the discussion to possible solutions. After all, we know that big ideas can come from small conversations.
- Plan for Action. On the Table is all about listening and learning from each other because we know that together we have the power to impact neighborhoods, communities and lives. If your table is ready to move your ideas to action, consider brainstorming next steps. Actions can include convening a follow-up conversation, collaborating with an organization addressing the issue you discussed, or raising funds for a grassroots organization working to address a gap important to you.
- Encourage guests to introduce themselves.
- Make sure each table has a host who helps ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate.
- Remember the value and benefits of diverse voices: Make sure everyone has a chance to be heard.
- Invite guests to follow-up and expand on their ideas.
- Micromanage the conversation; let it flow freely.
- Be judgmental or dismissive of any person’s comments or ideas.
- Promote argument or unproductive debate.
To help get your conversation started, below is a list of sample conversation prompts:
- What brought you to the table?
- What are your hopes for our community, now and in the long term?
- What are the positive qualities or characteristics of our community? How can we leverage those attributes to strengthen our community?
- What does our community need? What can we do individually or collectively to address those needs?
- Let’s choose a problem facing our community, neighborhood or region and discuss how we might solve it.
- Share one important thing we’ve accomplished here. What is one next step you would like to take, either individually or collectively, based on our conversation?