Video Overview of LFI/FJCC Resources

Good afternoon, friends! Yesterday, we were invited by Orange County Public Schools to provide some of their civics teachers with a webinar overview of resources available over at Civics360 and Florida Citizen. This video covers our middle school civics lesson plans, Civics360, the mock election, Students Investigating Primary Sources, and more.

We are always happy to meet with folks to provide professional development about pedagogy and content, as well as simple things like resource overviews, to anyone anytime anywhere (within reason!). Feel free to email us!

2020-08-05 09.00 OCPS Civics Online PD

Watch our Confab on D&D Pedagogy in an Uncertain Fall

Last week NCDD hosted our special July Confab Call for our Higher Education folks.  On the call, 30 participants engaged around how they are planning to teach dialogue and deliberation pedagogy this coming fall, and what resources or tools they could use to assist them. Thanks again to all who participated, and to those who captured notes from the breakouts!

During this event three topics were discussed by participants as they explored their plans for fall. The notes from these breakout groups have been captured in the Google Doc accessible here. This is the start of a gathering of resources for folks in Higher Ed which NCDD will pull together over the coming weeks and months. If you have a resource you would like to share so others know about it, or if you are interested in offering your expertise in a brief video, as a guest speaker, etc. please fill out this brief survey so we can get you in touch with those interested!

In addition to the notes, the event recording includes brief report-outs from each of these groups on their discussions. Check out the recording here.

Many thanks to Lori Britt for helping organize this event, and to all who participated! NCDD is pulling together resources to share more broadly, so if you know of something that could benefit the Higher Ed community, let us know below or in the survey linked above! We’ll follow up once this resource page is up and running.

Confab bubble imageTo learn more about NCDD’s Confab Calls and hear recordings of others, visit We love holding these events and we want to continue to elevate the work of our field with Confab Calls and Tech Tuesdays. It is through your generous contributions to NCDD that we can keep doing this work! That’s why we want to encourage you to support NCDD by making a donation or becoming an NCDD member today (you can also renew your membership by clicking here). Thank you!

The Civics Renewal Network Offers A Great Collection of Resources!

The Civics Renewal Network is a resource-sharing network made up of civics education organizations from across the country.


If you are looking for excellent resources for virtual and in-person instruction, this is the clearinghouse you want to go to! We ware currently in the process of expanding our own offerings on their website, but there are so many others available as well, especially around the US Constitution!

Want to teach about voting and elections?

How about media literacy?

And here is a collection of excellent stuff around the responsibilities of citizens! 

Be sure to check out what they offer!

Newest Civics in Real Life: Voting Rights

As you plan for the new school year, please consider using our Civics in Real Life series, available on Florida Citizen! The newest one, on Voting Rights, is now available!

These will be updated once a week throughout the school year, addressing or relating to current events and civic concepts, without necessarily directly connecting to any particular state standards and benchmarks. We hope you find these one page resources useful!
You can find an overview of the ones from spring here! These are all still available over on Florida Citizen.

Kettering and NIFI Release Publications on Developing Deliberation Materials

Kettering and NIFI: Developing Materials for Deliberation

The Kettering Foundation researches and develops issue guides, and the National Issues Forums Institute (NIF) shares the materials across the country along with the deliberative practices on which they are based.

How Kettering and NIFI think about developing materials that support public deliberation is freely available in two publications: Naming and Framing Difficult Issues to Make Sound Decisions, which outlines the conceptual foundations of this approach, and Developing Materials for Deliberative Forums, which is aimed at people in communities who might want to do this work themselves, in their own contexts on their own issues. When KF and NIFI work on national materials, we use the same approach. There are many ways to do this, and the more one does it the more readily it comes. In this way, this work is a “practice,” learned and improved upon by doing, yet accessible to all. It does not take experts. (Another resource, a little more schematic, is this two-page overview.)

This is not necessarily the best way to develop such materials, but it is the one that we have developed and used over decades. Other innovations are most welcome, and we are always interested to hear about them.

What we mean by “public deliberation” is simple: people deciding together about how they should address a shared problem by weighing options for action against the things they hold valuable. It is particularly useful, and some might even say it is needed, on certain kinds of problems, including when the cause of the problem is in dispute, people from all walks of life will need to act, there is no objectively correct solution, and any potential path forward brings with it drawbacks that affect things that are held deeply valuable. Some call such problems “wicked.” The main idea is that they don’t have a correct solution, but the problems are pressing, so we must still decide how to move forward in the absence of complete agreement. NIF issue guides are designed to be a support to deliberation by people in communities on a range of these kinds of issues. People deliberate all the time in their personal and professional lives. It is not a new skill that needs to be learned. The NIF issue guides are simply designed to prompt the process. (Some people use them for educational purposes, but their main intended use is to support direction-setting that leads to public decision-making.)

The challenge for anyone trying to develop a document that supports people deliberating on such a problem is to 1) describe the problem in such a way that it is universally recognized as a problem that merits discussion and 2) present options for action that lay bare the tensions between the things that we might do. The first item is called naming, and the second framing.

All of this work starts with research. It is not work suited to just one or two researchers who go off and write—it is collective work aimed to be useful to collectivities of people. In terms of “desk” research, the chief areas of inquiry are: What arguments are being made about this issue? By whom? How do they differ? What solutions are being proposed? The public research is the most important aspect of developing these materials.

This public research starts with gathering concerns of people. This is usually done in small groups, as people share their concerns about a topic. The name of the issue is not yet known—it will develop and emerge iteratively throughout the process. We are trying to learn two things: What is the question that people feel we must grapple with? How does this issue relate to the fundamental things that everyone holds valuable, but in differing degree? By talking about their concerns, people lay bare these things. We typically try to have broad-based concern gathering sessions, eliciting input from many groups, across difference. The broader the better.

Once there is a good, broad set of concerns (usually hundreds), we begin to “cluster” them according to things that are held deeply valuable that appear to be driving them. They typically will readily narrow down to a handful of main driving concerns such as collective safety, equity and being treated fairly, having freedom to act, having control over one’s future, and so forth. It is useful to get down to three or four main groupings. These clusters will become the options of the resulting issue framework, and three or four options is about as many as one can get through in one discussion.

What emerges from this clustering work is a name for the issue and the beginnings of a framework of options (each a major direction for addressing the problem). To give a sense of specificity to the options, it is useful to have examples of specific actions that each option suggests. The result of all this work is the “grid” format that you can see at the back of most NIF issue guides: a description of the problem, three options for action, each with a set of actions. Each of these options will have a trade off—the downside will be unpalatable, or it will pull against one of the other options, or both.

At this point, we develop a draft of such a framework and test it by holding deliberative forums with groups of people. We are looking for how well it sparks deliberation.

We have learned that a useful framework will:

  • Name the problem in such a way that people immediately respond
  • Include a range of options that are in tension with one another
  • Give voice to marginal and sometimes unwelcome views
  • Clearly and fairly show the downsides of any suggested course of action
  • Shake up the dominant left/right polarized discourse
  • Often leave people stewing as they consider ideas they may not have encountered

In my own experience in doing this work, this testing almost always results in improvements and sometimes major revisions. Sometimes an option needs a complete rework. Sometimes the name is clearly wrong. For instance, once we thought we were framing an issue related to “campaign finance,” and people in concern gathering sessions literally laughed at how narrowly that was drawn and insisted that the problem was almost the entire political system.

One of the challenges of doing this work is that it works best if one approaches it with openness and a willingness to alter course based on what is learned. It makes it difficult to create hard-and-fast timelines and to provide early specificity.

Once the overall framework is working, we develop a full-length issue guide. These are all reviewed anonymously by people who are familiar with the topic at hand before publication. At this point, we are looking for balance between major viewpoints and major gaps or errors.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Kettering Foundation site at

navigating the disciplines

In a year of virtual orientations, I made a video to help inform Tufts undergraduates who may be thinking about what disciplines to explore as they choose courses and–later on–majors. I addressed “civically engaged” students: those who want to improve their communities, nations, and the world and are trying to decide what academic disciplines might help them to do that.

My presentation is not argumentative or judgmental in the sense that I advocate some disciplines over others. But I do impose an organizational scheme with classifications and generalizations that would probably be controversial. For example, I say what I think a “science” is and why the social sciences are scientific. I acknowledge that these definitions are personal and contentious, but they might make the video interesting for some people beyond Tufts.

Lessons from the Pandemic: Three Notable Essays

One of the most difficult things to endure in this pandemic, apart from the biophysical threat of Covid-19 itself, is the evaporation of meaning. Familiar institutions and norms are being revealed as dysfunctional or anti-social, leaving us in a fog of disorientation. Can the old, familiar narratives about “free markets” and a (seemingly) benign state truly be trusted to help us deal with the dangers we face? Reasonable people have reasonable doubts.

While sense-making has become a hothouse activity over the past five months, I have encountered three essays that have been of particular help to me in coming a clearer understanding of our current plight. These pieces are by ecophilosopher Andreas Weber, my long-time commons colleague Silke Helfrich, and systems-change activists Nora Bateson and Mamphela Ramphele.

In “Nourishing Community in Pandemic Times” Andreas Weber notes how the lockdown of the past several months underscores a point that neoliberalism has generally avoided – that “the individual can only live if the collective, which she constitutes with all others, is able to thrive.”

Market economics and corporations have little direct interest in the thriveability of a society, of course. They are structured to extract and privatize wealth, and monetize it for market exchange. That is their avowed mission, bolstered by a culture of individualistic materialism. Now that investors have largely commandeered state power to make this the top priority in societies, many governments around the world only pretend to serve the citizenry with any vigor. Everything is really about market growth.    

Given the realities of the pandemic and an array of ecological crises, including climate change, Andreas Weber writes, the imperatives of living systems will have to become foremost concerns: 

“Only if we understand that the metabolic process through which we participate in life is an act of nourishing a community shared with other beings, can we move away from treating others – human and non-human beings – as objects, which need to be dealt with efficiently. Sustainability politics, therefore, should include the experience of creating fertile life within a community, considering human and non-human beings as kin, and putting the other’s wellbeing first. For millennia, and until today, this position has been taken by societies labelled as 'animistic.' From the perspective of a community of life, these lessons of animism need to be revalidated, as being able to inform our actions with etiquette of reciprocity in the great society of being.”

Another wonderful essay that helps us take stock of the structural problems of the moment is Silke Helfrich’s piece, “How the coronavirus is forcing us to think beyond market and state.” Silke clarifies how market/state thinking is part of the problem that must be identified and overcome:

“….our economic system is so dependent on the production of goods and relentless consumption that, despite ample inventories, public debate is all about the imminent catastrophe and collapse that would occur if we were to take just two or three months to turn the energy levels down, relax, take a rest, catch our breath, do nothing, live off of reserves, share and scale down. Yet in one of the richest industrial nations of the world, where the needs of most people are met, or can quickly be met, through redistribution, this option is seen as a trauma.

“On the other hand, not only the production of goods, but also our political system is designed to require that nobody ever relaxes, takes a break, catches their breath and does nothing for a while, even though controlling the pandemic and healing the environment dictates it. The state’s singular job is to either stimulate consumption to re-jumpstart the economy or to stimulate the economy to jumpstart consumption. If the wheel ceases to turn, the system is in danger of collapse. Anything more than a short-term “shutdown” seems unthinkable. Therein lies the design flaw of our economy.”

Helfrich notes that an obvious response is commons-based thinking, which focuses on what people are able to do with each other in a self-determined, self-organized, needs-oriented manner, without market exchange. For example, in the early days of the pandemic, the protest movement in Hong Kong took infection control into their own hands, as she writes: 

“On the very same day that the city had its first reported infection, a team of citizens who had been engaged in political protests set up a website to track cases of Covid-19 infection, identify transmission hotspots, and cross-check news stories across multiple sources.  In a remarkably short amount of time, without government assistance, nearly everyone in Hong Kong equipped themselves with masks despite the government’s ban on covering one’s face in public (a rule imposed in the wake of the protests). The use of masks was entirely voluntary, not mandatory.”

More broadly, Helfrich argues that the commons address the design flaws of our economy. They "create resilience, reduce dependence and lessen power imbalances… Everything is not already over-leveraged to provide returns to capital. It becomes possible to operate at a relaxed pace, in ‘power saving mode,’ as long as we have enough to live on. There is no need to produce gratuitous things just so that people can keep their jobs and ensure their survival. With commons, it becomes possible to engage in many meaningful activities that have nothing to do with profit-driven business models.

Finally (for now), consider another brilliant essay by systems thinker Nora Bateson and Mamphela Ramphele, Co-President of the Club of Rome. They suggest that we are at an inflection point in how our society approaches environmental and social change. “It turns out that it is not traction that is needed, but relationship,” they write in an essay, “Finding a Way.” 

Fifty years ago, the ecologist Garrett Hardin, who gave us his (in)famous “tragedy of the commons” fable, also promoted what he called the “lifeboat ethic.” This parable suggested that the human species, as endangered by environmental threats, resembles a group of 50 people in a lifeboat that can hold only ten additional people, even though there are 100-plus people in the water.

Therefore the questions are:  Whom shall “we” save, and using what criteria for making those choices? This is the cold logic of experts who apply believe that their rigorous, imperative reasoning is the only way to approach a problem and solve it. 

But Bateson and Ramphele note in their essay that people are not simply numbers and roles; life cannot be reduced to a set of simple narratives and formulas.  People are living, creative organisms who are embedded in a dynamic, contingent context.  Their sentiments of care and imagination – and their relationships to each other – are themselves generative and can open up new paths forward.

“Finding a way” is therefore about the unique possibilities that arise through relationships among particular people, in a particular body of water, on a particular day. There is no formula, no method… 

The point of the essay is that people improvise and discover new approaches through their living relationships and actual circumstanceds. Instead of an inexorable lifeboat scenario, it’s possible that people would decide to take turns swimming, or tie clothing to hold people together, or find some other novel means to survive together. As Bateson and Ramphele note, we soon discover that “capacity cannot be front-loaded; it is emergent.” 

Given his "lifeboat ethic," it is not entirely surprising that Harden expressed a lot of eugenicist, nationalist and white supremacist ideas: simple, formulaic approaches that trade on fear.

Whereas commoners are co-inventors and co-discoverers of new answers. Bateson and Ramphele: “The eagerness to define community and to define set formulas for responding to the needs of community are creating a blindness to the necessary complexity, perpetuating the elimination of contexts and failing to perceive the uniqueness of the ways in which communities are alive and entangled.” You can read the entire essay here. 

Read New 2020 Summer Edition of National Civic Review

If you are looking to get some more civic reading under your belt, NCDD member org, The National Civic League, announced the release of the 2020 Summer Edition of the National Civic Review. This esteemed quarterly journal offers insights and examples of civic engagement and deliberative governance from around the country. Friendly reminder that NCDD members receive the digital copy of the National Civic Review for free! (Find the access code below.) We strongly encourage our members to check out this great resource and there is an open invite for NCDD members to contribute to the NCR. You can read about NCR in the post below and find it on NCL’s site here.

National Civic Review Summer Edition 2020 – Access Code: NCDD20

2020 is turning out to be a year of sudden, unexpected crises and angry civil unrest. The need for people to distance themselves from one another has led to feelings of anxiety, loss and social isolation. Anger over police brutality and racial inequity is making this a time of tough conversations but also increased civic activism. In this issue of the National Civic Review we learn about efforts to engage the public in collaborative efforts to make our communities more sustainable, resilient, age-friendly, democratic and healthy. We also take a look at some examples in history where civic leaders and members of the public have faced tough challenges and risen to the occasion by experimenting with new ideas and practices.

To access this edition, go to the table of contents where you will be prompted to enter your unique access code: NCDD20.

One of the Nation’s Oldest and Most Respected Journals of Civic Affairs
Its cases studies, reports, interviews and essays help communities learn about the latest developments in collaborative problem-solving, civic engagement, local government innovation and democratic governance. Some of the country’s leading doers and thinkers have contributed articles to this invaluable resource for elected officials, public managers, nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, and public administration scholars seeking to make America’s communities more inclusive, participatory, innovative and successful.

College graduates, high income earners most likely to feel helped by government during pandemic

Latinos, those with only high school education, and under-30s hit harder by layoffs than other groups, according to new Tufts University national survey

This is the latest from the Tufts Priority Research Area on Equity, which I co-lead.

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (July 30, 2020)—College graduates and high earners with incomes between $85,000 and $150,000 are most likely to feel that the government has helped them during the pandemic or that other individuals have assisted them, according to a national survey from Tufts University.

At the same time, the national survey found that Latinos, people under the age of 30, and those with only a high school diploma were more likely to have been laid off than other groups.

“The survey results provide insight into Americans’ differing perceptions of who is helping them through these unprecedented times, and who is bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s economic impacts,” said Wenhui Feng, assistant professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, who contributed to the study. “Layoffs have affected all population subgroups, but the economic toll of COVID-19 has hit particularly hard a segment of the population that was struggling even before the pandemic.”

The survey was designed and analyzed by Tufts University’s Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement. The research group previously released data showing that only 57 percent of Americans would get vaccinated for COVID-19 if a vaccine were available. It also has released additional research about who has been more likely to self-isolate and to be tested for the virus during the pandemic.

Government, nonprofits provide assistance

About one third (33%) of survey respondents say that the government has helped them deal with COVID-19 or its effects. The survey did not ask specifically how people were helped, but the federal government has provided financial assistance to some individuals and companies, and various federal, state and local governmental entities have provided testing, information and healthcare.

Individuals with higher education levels are more likely to feel that they have received assistance. About a quarter of people (24.5%) without a high school degree, 29% of high school graduates, 32% of people with some college, and 39% of people with at least a bachelor’s degree say they feel they have been helped. People from households with incomes between $85,000 and $150,000 are most likely to report that the government has assisted them. 

By contrast, the study reveals that nonprofits have been a critical source of assistance for underserved segments of the population. Overall, 6% of Americans say a nonprofit has helped them with the virus or its impact, but that rate is triple (18%) among those with an income below $20,000/year. Latinos are most likely to report receiving assistance from nonprofits (13%), compared with 8% of non-Latino Black individuals, 4% of non-Latino white individuals, and 8% of those with less than a high school degree.

Employment also impacted

About one in seven (14%) of those surveyed say they were laid off due to COVID-19. Layoffs are more than twice as common for people with only a high school degree than for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (17% versus 9%). Layoffs have been more common for Latinos (20%) than for African Americans (13.5%) or whites (12%). They have been most common for people under 30 (23%) and least common for those 60 and older (8.5%).

Other research conducted by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, part of Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life, has also documented the adverse economic impacts of COVID-19 on youth—particularly on youth of color.

About the study

The survey was designed and analyzed by Tufts University’s Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement. It was fielded online by Ipsos between May 29 and June 10, 2020, using its KnowledgePanel. The sample was nationally representative, and the number of complete responses was 1,267 non-institutionalized adult residents of the United States.

More technical information about the survey is at

Tufts University’s Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement was established in 2019 as part of a strategic effort to use resources and expertise across the university to address major global issues. It brings together researchers from across the university to discuss and investigate aspects of equity and inequity in the United States and the world. The research has been funded by Tufts University’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research as one of several such initiatives.

The group’s principal investigators are Jennifer Allen, professor of Community Health in Tufts’ School of Arts and Sciences; Peter Levine, associate dean for academic affairs and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts; and Tom Stopka, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Tufts School of Medicine. Other members of the group can be found here.

By September 2020, the Research Group will launch a website at that will allow anyone to explore numerous dimensions of equity and inequity with an interactive data-visualization tool. Tufts’ Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life is funding the data-visualization tool.


For more information o, contact: Robin Smyton 617.627.5392 or Jen McAndrew 617.627.2029.

About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university’s schools is widely encouraged.

FJCC Senior Fellow Wins Award!

The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship  is delighted to have relationships with a number of excellent civics and social studies scholars. Among them is our own senior fellow out of the University of South Florida, Dr. Michael Berson.


Dr. Berson has been heavily involved in civic education for many many years, and with his wife, the excellent scholar Dr. Ilene Berson, helped to create Kid Citizen, a resource for K-5 students that we cannot recommend enough.

We were thrilled, then, when the news came down that our dear friend Dr. Berson had been awarded the Irving Morrissett Award for Outstanding Contribution to Social Science Education this month at the Social Science Education Consortium’s (SSEC) 2020 Annual Meeting!

morriset award

Congrats to Dr. Berson. It is well deserved!