National Issues Forums (NIF) is a nonpartisan, nationwide network of locally sponsored public forums for the consideration of public policy issues. It is rooted in the simple notion that people need to come together to reason and talk — to deliberate about common problems. Indeed, democracy requires an ongoing deliberative public dialogue.

These forums, organized by a variety of organizations, groups, and individuals, offer citizens the opportunity to join together to deliberate, to make choices with others about ways to approach difficult issues and to work toward creating reasoned public judgment. Forums range from small or large group gatherings similar to town hall meetings, to study circles held in public places or in people's homes on an ongoing basis.

Forums focus on an issue such as health care, immigration, Social Security, or ethnic and racial tensions. The forums provide a way for people of diverse views and experiences to seek a shared understanding of the problem and to search for common ground for action. Forums are led by trained, neutral moderators, and use an issue discussion guide that frames the issue by presenting the overall problem and then three or four broad approaches to the problem. Forum participants work through the issue by considering each approach; examining what appeals to them or concerns them, and also what the costs, consequences, and trade offs may be that would be incurred in following that approach.

NIFI DEFINITIONS

Forums
Usually small gatherings where people come together for a few hours to deliberate about important and difficult public problems (or issues) with the help of a neutral moderator and a discussion guide that presents several possible approaches to the problem.
 
Moderator
A person who remains neutral while helping participants at a forum use an issue guide as they deliberate about possible approaches to a public problem.
 
Convener
A person (sometimes the moderator), group, or institution that does the work of organizing a public forum where people can come together to deliberate about a public problem. Sometimes the convener will also produce a report about what happened during the forum.
 
Issue Guide
Sometimes also called an “issue framework,” this is usually printed material that presents an overview of a public problem, or issue, and three or four possible approaches to the problem, along with the potential costs, consequences, and tradeoffs that would likely result from following any of the approaches. The issue guide is intended to help forum participants focus on the issue and to deliberate about possible courses of action. Some NIF issue guides have companion videos that provide an overview of the issue framework.