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July 01, 2024

How to Host a Listening Tour in Your Community

Overview

The goals of the ABA’s Task Force for American Democracy (the “Task Force”) include:

  1. Bolstering confidence in our elections and building support for election workers and officials.
  2. Educating the public on American Democracy and the Rule of Law and why they are foundational to every aspect of American lives.
  3. Suggesting ideas to the American people for improving and strengthening our democracy and our elections.

In furtherance of those goals, the Task Force has been convening Listening Tours in seven key states where the outcome of the 2020 election was questioned by some Americans. The format of these events has varied between the states, but they have all started with introductory remarks by the organizers, followed by a keynote address by a state election official, that leads into a panel of local election officials who provide their perspectives on why the upcoming 2024 elections will be trustworthy. The second agenda item of the Listening Tours has varied by location, ranging from a panel on the value of democracy to American life, to the need to improve civics and civility in the state’s public discourse, to strategies to educate and inform citizens to increase their confidence in our government and elections. In one state, the organizers allotted time for breakout sessions to discuss concerns and ideas for increasing trust in our elections as well as improving public understanding of and support for our democracy.  The agendas for the three states in which Listening Tours have been held to date are set forth in Appendix 1 and will give you an idea of what is possible in these events as well as a link to where a recording of those Listening Tours can be viewed.

In planning a Listening Tour, the organizers of the events have also worked to put in place prior to the event, a “Next Steps Committee” --  namely a team of committed individuals willing to lead a group of volunteers in follow up efforts after the conclusion of the Listening Tour.  Follow up events to date have included: setting up a speakers bureau of individuals willing to give talks in their communities on democracy, the rule of law, and on election administration basics; organizing additional community gatherings events in communities and universities around the state; setting up a rapid response team of community leaders willing to step up and correct misinformation and disinformation in their communities about the administration of election; and facilitating opportunities for volunteer poll workers. By having the leaders of their Next Steps Committee in place prior to the Listening Tour, organizers are better able to recruit Next Steps volunteers at the Listening Tour and explain the types of volunteer activities that will be involved.

Opportunities to Host a Listening Tour

As the capacity of the Task Force to hold Listening Tours is limited, the Task Force has come up with this Toolkit to assist lawyers, bar associations and/or other groups of individuals interested in holding a Listening Tour event in their state or community.  This Toolkit includes the basics of hosting a Listening Tour as well as a description of the support the Task Force can provide to you should you decide to host an event in your state or community.

 

The Process

Step 1:  Form a Host Committee

The process for hosting a Listening Tour typically begins with the formation of a “Host Committee” comprised of volunteer lawyers and other individuals willing to undertake the work necessary to make the event happen and be successful.  Critical in the process of forming a Host Committee is ensuring that the members of the Host Committee are a diverse group of individuals – coming from different areas of the state, from different backgrounds and ethnicities, and critically, coming from different political perspectives whether it be Republican, Democratic, Green Party, Independent, etc.  To date, most Host Committees have been comprised of 10-15 individuals.

Step 2:  Consider Whether to Include a Next Steps Effort  

If your Host Committee is willing to establish a Next Steps effort, you should recruit your chairs of that effort and get them involved at this early stage of planning. This way, they can be named at the event as the leaders of any follow-on efforts such that volunteers know in advance of volunteering, who they will be working with as well as the potential opportunities.

Step 3:  Find an Acceptable Location

Most of the Listening Tours held to date have had in the range of 75-200 attendees.  Potential venues include bar association offices, law schools, public auditoriums – any place that fits the needs of what you are planning to host.

Step 4:  Map Out Your Agenda and Recruit Your Speakers

Your agenda should focus on the topics around elections, democracy, and the rule of law that are of importance to the members of your state or community.  If there is a rule to be followed, it is to trust the judgment of your Host Committee members as to what is right for your Listening Tour, in addition to ensuring partisan balance in the various components of your agenda.  Also consider if break-out sessions would be advantageous to your gathering.  If they are, it is important to pre-arrange a moderator for each session, a discussion guide (a sample is provided in the reference materials) as well as making sure that attendees are assigned to the sessions in advance such that you get diverse perspectives and not just have friends or colleagues meet with each other in a breakout session.

Step 5: Figure Out Your Invitees and Make Your Invitations

The goal of a Listening Tour is to inform and gather the opinions of a wide variety of individuals who have the capacity after the event to build trust in our elections and support for democracy and the rule of law in their communities. With that in mind, you might start by identifying the leading lawyers, businesspeople, educators, veterans, faith leaders, and community activists  in your state or community who should be invited and who could fill that role.  While  an email invitation can work, we have found it best to have a person who knows the invitee to make the actual invite if possible.  Professional and personal relationships can increase the number of acceptances you receive. Make an extra effort to invite young lawyers, law students, and others in the legal profession who represent a range of ages and backgrounds.

Step 6: Work on Your Logistics

The more time you can work in advance on logistics, the more successful your Listening Tour will be.  Plan meetings with your moderators and panelists well in advance of the program so you now what areas will be covered and the order of speakers as well as other program logistics. For example, if your speakers will have slides, make sure the technology is in place at your venue.  You will also want to keep a running registration list, have name tags, signage, and program materials prepared in advance, a volunteer form for purposes of organizing a Next Steps effort, and a “run of show” that will help you make sure you can fit all your planned activities into your allotted time, and a participant feedback form.  You may also want to consider adding a place or a way for attendees to gather after the event for networking and follow on conversation.  In all of this, it is critical that you have a designated project manager that will be on site and responsible for program flow and ultimately responsible for any last-minute changes to the program. It is helpful for the project manager to be in constant contact with all speakers and panelists, so they know to whom to turn on the day of the event for direction.

Step 7: Host the Event

A couple of days prior to the event, it is worth your while to send out a reminder email to all registrants along with any last-minute details, such as parking information, a map of how to get to the venue, etc.  You might also consider setting up a “green room” for you invited speakers where they can gather and meet in advance.  If you will be putting together a Next Steps effort, make sure that leaders of the effort are present in order to make the ask for volunteers and to discuss what the follow-on steps will be.  An example of possible follow-on steps is included in the reference materials.

Step 8: Follow Up

After you have hosted your Listening Tour, past practice has proven it is worthwhile to reach out to all attendees, ask for feedback as well as ask for additional volunteers.  The Task Force would also greatly appreciate it if you would reach out to us to provide us with any feedback you have as to how your event went, as well as any changes you would recommend as to future Listening Tour events in other locations.

Appended Resources

To assist you in hosting a Listening Tour, the following resources are attached:

Appendix 1: The agendas from prior Task Force hosted Listening Tours along with links to the videos of prior events.  While you should feel free to create your own agendas, the attached examples might prove to be a starting place.

Appendix 2:  A listing of the types of activities Next Steps Committees can undertake.

Appendix 3: A sample invite form. Feel free to adopt any type of invite that works best for your community.

Appendix 4: A sample “run of show”.  In our experience, a run of show is valuable to make sure you have allowed enough time for all your planned activities, and it also serves as a roadmap for the day of your event.

Appendix 5: A sample Breakout Session Discussion Guide.  In the event you will be including breakout sessions in your Listening Tour, this sample may be of use in giving directions to your breakout moderators.

Appendix 6: Sample Volunteer Form.  In the event you will be setting up a Next Steps effort, you should have a volunteer form available in paper format as well as online, if possible.

Appendix 7: A sample feedback form. Even though you may not be hosting a follow-on event, it can be helpful to you (and to the Task Force) if you collect attendee feedback.

Appendix 8: A summary of recent surveys and polls that show the various issues our democracy is facing. These materials can either be handouts at the event, used by speakers to in their remarks, or turned into a slide show that rotates prior to the event starting.

Additional Resources

In addition, Task Force staff remain available to consult with you as you plan out your Listening Tour and may be able to help you in recruiting speakers and panelists for your events. Task Force staff may also be able to enlist local lawyer volunteers to help you with your event.

Feedback

Regardless of how your Listening Tour turns out, the Task Force would very much appreciate receiving feedback from you on how your event went, what issues or concerns your attendees may have had, as well as what ideas for addressing issues of import to them about our elections or our democracy. As noted in Step 8 above, your willingness to provide us with this information will help us paint a more complete picture of how Americans feel about elections and our democracy and what ideas they have for improving the same.

For More Information

For more information, please feel free to contact the Task Force at:  [email protected].