A research organization chose two UF faculty members to work through social issues that don’t have explicit solutions.

Michael Spranger and Muthusami Kumaran, both from the UF Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, will join a program through the Kettering Foundation, which promotes conversations about issues such as poverty, obesity, public safety and environmental concerns, known as “wicked issues.” 

“They pit people against one another,” said Kumaran, a UF nonprofit management and community organizations assistant professor. “People do not agree on the process and consequences of the issues. So that completely derails the democratic process or civic engagement.”

The 18-month program brings together 14 participants from around the country in fields spanning from academia to media.

There will be five trips to the Kettering Foundation’s headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, which will focus on methods of discussion like constructive dialogue, as well as the application of these techniques in the community, Kumaran said.

“This process doesn’t teach us to resolve issues, but deliberate on issues,” said Kumaran. “Instead of throwing ideas at each other, let’s sit together and talk about different perspectives.”

The pair plan to bring back the techniques of “deliberative democracy” to UF. Then they will train county Extension agents to help local leaders work through theses controversial problems.

They have talked with multiple UF centers and departments, such as the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Center for Leadership, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service and the UF Center for Building Better Communities about the possibility of creating a virtual center to allow these groups to collaborate efficiently.

“I think it would be of great value once they’ve completed their work to share it with the campus community,” said David Colburn, director of the Graham Center. 

[A version of this story ran on page 9 on 2/27/2015 under the headline “UF faculty selected to tackle improving social issue talks”]