People in the Davidson area and beyond who are interested in public policy now have a great new resource, thanks to the college's Bonner Scholars. The Bonner Scholars recently unveiled their latest project–a comprehensive website called PolicyOptions.org focused on bringing together in one place information regarding public policy, policy changes and social services.
Naomi Coffman '16 and Rashaun Bennett '16 are the Bonners primarily responsible for keeping the website up to date.
The project began at Davidson in the fall of 2013. Kristin Booher of the Center for Civic Engagement office encouraged Coffman, along with Zoe Williams '14 and Philip Yu '16, to get involved, and Coffman immediately saw the potential.
"Our website is one of 12 similar sites around the country affiliated with the national Bonner Scholars office, and we were excited about creating the Davidson-specific version of it," Coffman explained. "The national Bonner organization built the template, so we just had to add information specific to our region."
The site includes three levels of relevant news–Davidson, North Carolina and National.
As editor-in-chief, Coffman decides what goes online. The website is updated at least twice per week with information pulled from multiple news sources and RSS feeds.
"For example," Coffman explained, "I might pull information from the Charlotte Observer, a public school system newsletter, North Carolina Justice Center reports or North Carolina Policy Watch articles."
The site also includes a community calendar listing local upcoming events, informational meetings and discussions. For example, one post on the calendar highlights a public refugee discussion in downtown Charlotte. A directory is also available for the public to find people, programs and organizations working on similar projects or focused on similar issues.
Creating the site was a massive undertaking. Coffman and other students began by building up a foundation of information, so that site visitors could search back several years.
"We did that so people would trust it," Coffman explained. "We don't want people going on and thinking the website looks too new. We opened up the site this spring, but we included information dating back to September 2014."
Bennett, a political science major from Charlotte, Truman Scholar and Presidential Scholar who holds the Samuel H. Bell Scholarship, joined the project with Coffman last fall.
"The thing that attracted me to working on PolicyOptions.org was the emphasis on linking the community with policy engagement and the activities of so many community organizations," Bennett said. "Providing a new platform where people can get engaged with what's happening around them is really rewarding."
Bennett has always been interested in public policy. "It's a way to get people to realize their agency to affect change around them," he said.
Coffman and Bennett hosted a site opening event in late February during which they asked community members to visit the site, interact with it and give feedback.
"We asked people to do a Google search on the word ‘homelessness.' Then we asked them to get more specific–‘homelessness in NC' and ‘programs to combat homelessness in NC.' The searches took them to many different sites and avenues," Coffman said. "We hope that PolicyOptions.org will become the central location for these searches, so people can get in-depth information without having to navigate through dozens of different sites."
Bennett and Coffman both agreed that this educational event was the most rewarding part of the project.
"Before we introduced it to the community we weren't sure if it would be user-friendly," Coffman said. "We were uploading information without knowing if it was accessible or understandable, so opening it up to the public and getting positive feedback was validating and fulfilling."
One of the main goals of PublicOptions.org is sustainability. Though both Coffman and Bennett are graduating this year, they are confident that the program will continue at Davidson through the Center for Civic Engagement and Bonner Scholars programs.