closing remarks at the Bridge Alliance summit

(Posted by request: my remarks at the close of the 2018 Bridge Alliance Members Summit, a convening of “more than 90 respected established organizations committed to revitalizing democratic practice in America,” Washington, DC, Oct 17.)

I’ve been asked to offer some reflections on the day’s discussion.

My first reflection is gratitude to the Bridge Alliance, its whole staff, and to all the Alliance members for all the work you do every day.

My second reflection is anxiety. I admit that in meetings like this, I am filled with anxious questions:

  • Are we big enough? Are enough people and resources here? Do we have enough people with us?
  • Are we diverse enough? The answer to that is clearly no. That is a problem that belongs to the whole network, not to the Bridge Alliance alone.
  • Are we experienced, knowledgeable, talented, and smart enough?
  • Are we unified enough? Today, I was privileged to participate in one small-group discussion in which the axis of disagreement was institutionalist versus insurrectionist: should we try to defend beleaguered institutions such as journalism, science, and the US Constitution, or seek to replace them because they were never good enough? I also participated in a good discussion about ideology: should we aim to be maximally inclusive or neutral, or rather develop a distinctively pro-democratic stance that some may support more than others do? These kinds of disagreements seem to threaten our unity.

What we know about social movements may be helpful. I have in mind two kinds of movements. One is the coalition or network that works for “healthy self-government”–in other words, the organizations that are in this room. As a group of groups, we could gain more of the “fizz” of a movement. Meanwhile, we see actual movements around us: #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #NeverTrump, and the Tea Party. They could operate in ways that have more collateral benefits–and do less collateral harm–to democracy.

My reading of the social movement literature suggests that social movements succeed when they have four qualities:

Size: Movements need many members, organizations, and resources. Erica Chenoweth says that no nonviolent resistance campaigns in her large database have failed if they have “achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population—and lots of them [have] succeeded with far less than that. … In the U.S. today, this means almost 11 million people.” If 11 million people came together for a reform, it would probably happen.

Depth: Participation must develop the members’ commitments, skills, knowledge, and tactics. No group begins smart enough to win; they must learn. In Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King writes, “Human beings with all their faults and strengths constitute the mechanism of a social movement. They must make mistakes and learn from them, make more mistakes and learn anew. They must taste defeat as well as success, and discover how to live with each. Time and action are the teachers.”

Unity: Social movements always present themselves as unified, because that is a source of strength. Hence the hashtags, armbands of a single color, protest songs, and mass demonstrations.

Plurality: Social movements need diverse perspectives, skills, and assets. They need both insiders and outsiders, both romantics and pragmatists. They should be demographically diverse, too, although that doesn’t always mean reflecting the demographics of the whole country. The Big Six leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement were all Black men. It wasn’t great that they were all men, but it was good they were all Black. The movement needed African American leadership and was rooted in the Black community. Still, their diversity of backgrounds, stances, and skills was essential. Randolph was a union leader, King a pastor and theologian, Lewis a youth leader, and so on.

Unfortunately, size conflicts with depth, and unity conflicts with plurality. It is very hard to have a large movement that also affects most of its members deeply, or a diverse movement that also achieves unity.

These four qualities spell SPUD, and we need more of it (even if it sounds like a lot of carbohydrates).

In interviews that Eric Liu and I conducted for “America’s Civic Renewal Movement: The View from Organizational Leaders,” Scott Reed of the faith-based PICO network said that his organization “invests lots and lots of time to connect with people and develop relations.” But “scale is what we are trying to figure out … because we are nowhere near where we want.” In short, PICO has U and D and some P, but no S. Meanwhile, Anna Galland of MoveOn acknowledged that her online organization has “tremendous scale and little depth.” MoveOn’s goal, she says, is to “move from a list of 8 million to horizontal connectivity.” MoveOn has S and U but no P or D.

SPUD is in short supply in the US as a whole. But I would suggest two reasons for hope.

First, the Bridge Alliance is not just the people in this room: organizational leaders. It encompasses all the grassroots participants in your many organizations. It is appropriate to gather organizational leaders periodically. But that strategy also has limitations–for instance, it is much harder to achieve true diversity of age and socioeconomic status when you convene the leaders of 501(c)3 organization. If we can convene our many members, we can come much closer to achieving SPUD.

Second, SPUD increases the chance of victory. It pays off. Movements that draw a diverse 3.5% of the population and build their talent and unity almost always win. Therefore, it is in the interest of the powerful movements that we see around us to cultivate SPUD. The more SPUD-ly they are, the more they are likely to win–and the more they will create diverse, empowered, deliberative groups of Americans. That should have deep collateral benefits for our republic. Because many of us are experts on group dynamics, civic education, discussion, etc., we have a lot to offer to our fellow Americans who are invested in social movements with specific agendas.

I hope this makes you less anxious than I am. We have good reasons to be optimistic.

See also: we need SPUD (scale, pluralism, unity, depth)Why Civil Resistance Worksthe power of the NRA in an age of civic desertsso, you want to strengthen democracy?; and a sketch of a theory of social movements.

An Ostrom Reader

Lexington Press has recently finished publishing a four volume collection of the work of Elinor Ostrom and her husband Vincent–before that I do not believe the work has been gathered anyplace easily accessible. Since the price is astronomical–though well worth it for the serious scholar or scholarly library, I’m sure–I’d love to have a single-volume reader that collects the most important pieces, while perhaps leaving some of the more detail-oriented empirical and modeling work behind.

Perhaps one reason no such “Portable Ostrom” collection exists is that her work has been widely pirated online–claimed by the commons if you will–a fact that made the links below easier to find. Here are some things I might include in such a reader:

Ostrom frequently plagiarized herself and many of the links above have repeated passages and arguments. She thought that the public needed access to certain information about governance and skills at self-organization that we don’t teach in school, and that mainstream economics has actively undermined. She felt an obligation–which is now ours–to find some method for expressing these insights in less technical and more accessible ways.

Join Us for October TechTues Call Feat Konveio on 10/23

In anticipation for the upcoming National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation, we have an exciting October Tech Tuesday that you won’t want to miss featuring Konveio! We have teamed up with Konveio to bring the NCDD conference guide to life by making it digital, interactive, and engaging (in addition to our classic hardcopy version). Learn all about it at the FREE Tech Tuesday on October 23rd from 2:00-3:00pm Eastern/11:00am-noon Pacific. Save your spot on the call ASAP and register today!

Konveio helps change agents, community-builders and forward-thinkers turn their collaborations into action, not just a PDF! The software is a digital outreach platform that turns bland PDFs into actionable websites to better convey ideas, collect feedback and spark action. Konveio is one of the easiest-to-use engagement tools on the market. Users simply upload their PDFs to an online viewer so others can read and navigate them in their browser. They then add maps, videos, charts, and other rich content to make it more insightful and easier to explore. Finally, they can ask for feedback using embedded surveys or comments directly on the document.

Konveio is a proud sponsor of the NCDD conference. The software will be used to bring this year’s conference guide to life, with videos, maps, recaps, and presentations, as well as ways to provide feedback on sessions. On this webinar, we will be joined by Chris Haller, founder and CEO of Urban Interactive Studio, who created Konveio (which was initially called CiviComment). During this Tech Tuesday session, we’ll give a quick overview of the software, look at some real world Konveio examples, will showcase the #NCDD2018 conference guide and ask for feedback on how to improve it and make it more useful.

It’s great for leaders in the government space, non-profits or other fields who need to convey a draft plan, policy or finding, to make an impact or inspire action. Which is exactly what we’ve heard from early customers:

“We have been getting great feedback from our community on the use of Konveio. It was really easy to load our documents and it’s been easy to review and reply to comments within the document as well.”

“I have been consistently pleased with how easy the platform is to use. Konveio has been a great experience for my government client; it has injected a feeling of transparency and customer-friendly service that they are thoroughly enjoying.”

About our presenter:

Chris Haller is a nationally-recognized User Experience designer and Online Engagement strategist, with a broad background in local government, urban and regional planning and communication technologies. These skills, combined with many years of experience in consulting for urban planning projects, are what brings Urban Interactive Studio’s mission – to provide interactive solutions that allow citizens to participate in making our cities better places to live, work and play – to life.

This will be a great chance to learn more about Konveio and see how it comes to life for the #NCDD2018 conference. Don’t miss out – register today!

Tech Tuesdays are a series of learning events from NCDD focused on technology for engagement. These 1-hour events are designed to help dialogue and deliberation practitioners get a better sense of the online engagement landscape and how they can take advantage of the myriad opportunities available to them. You do not have to be a member of NCDD to participate in our Tech Tuesday learning events.

Taylor Willingham Grant Accepting Applications Until Nov 20

In case you missed it, the National Issues Forums Institute, an NCDD member org is now accepting applications for the 2019 Taylor L. Willingham Legacy Fund grant. The grants are intended to honor the legacy of Taylor Willingham and her contributions to the field of deliberative democracy by supporting projects in the field, and we highly encourage NCDD members to apply for a grant or donate to the fund. Applications are due November 20, 2018, so make sure you submit yours before it’s too late! Click here to learn more about Taylor’s life work and past awardees’ work – 2018 winner Matt Miller, 2017 winner Lauren Gabbard, and 2016 winner Edward W. “Chipps” Taylor III. You can read the announcement below and find the original on NIFI’s site here.

Apply Now for a Taylor L. Willingham Legacy Grant to Help Your Community Talk about Public Issues

Applications are now being accepted (deadline is November 20, 2018) from individuals who are interested in being considered to receive a Taylor L. Willingham Legacy Fund grant. Grants are provided to individuals to enable them to develop an understanding of deliberative democracy and launch one or more deliberative dialogues in their communities and organizations in order to advance NIFI’s overall mission, which is to promote public deliberation about national issues.

Grants are expected to be in the range of $500-1,000.

The Taylor L. Willingham Fund was established to honor the work of Taylor Willingham in the deliberative democracy movement and is administered by the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI).

Click here to download an application.

You can find the original version of this announcement on NIFI’s blog at

youth on the brink of a watershed election

My CIRCLE colleagues are on a roll. Since October 9, they have released three reports based on their original national survey of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24:

In addition, based on an entirely separate survey conducted with Opportunity Youth United (OYU) of 1,200 youth from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, they have released:

Some highlights, for me:

It doesn’t make sense to vote as a complete individual. If 100 million others will also vote–your voice is too small. But it does make sense to vote if you see yourself as part of a group that has a voice. CIRCLE asked whether “you are part of a group or movement that will vote to express its views.”  Just 37.2% of White men said yes, versus 59.5% of young Latinas, 54% of Black men, and 46% of White women. White men were also the one group of youth who plan to vote Republican.

Women and youth of color held views that could be described as more cynical about politics and politicians. But cynicism predicted higher turnout.

We find that young people who reported feeling more cynical are actually more likely to say they are voting than those who are not: 40% vs. 26%. Importantly, being cynical about politics is not preventing young people from recognizing its importance. More than half of youth in our poll (54.8%) agree that the outcome of the 2018 elections will have a direct impact on their everyday lives, only slightly lower than 60.0% in 2016, which is remarkable given that presidential elections are generally seen as much more consequential.

These findings would suggest that young women and people of color are more energized and motivated to vote than young white men are–and that may be true overall. But the barriers to voting fall most heavily on poor youth and youth of color:

Young people, especially those from low-income backgrounds, face logistical barriers to voting, each of which may seem small, but together can make voting difficult. These barriers include having to find out where their polling place is located, not having transportation to the polling place, and having to work around their job schedule—an obstacle compounded by the fact that many have more  than one job.

… For instance, a quarter of our participants had moved within the last 12 months, but of those, only 40% had changed their voter registration address. At the same time, laws and tools designed to facilitate voter participation, such as online registration and text reminders for voting, are not widely used by low-income youth.

… Many of our participants assumed (mostly incorrectly) that a variety of minor criminal offenses and past convictions would bar them from voting. For instance, when asked if someone who has a suspended driver’s license would be able to vote, 24% wrongly believed they could not, and another 42% did not know.

Some young people are apprehensive about going to the polling place because they rarely see people there that they can identify with 74% said they don’t see poll workers that “look like them,” and 87% said they do not see young people working at the polls. Relatively few actually experienced harassment at the polls, but 59% do not believe that election officials make an effort to ensure that people like them can vote.

Overall, it looks as if youth turnout will be a contest between motivated, angry, energized young people and our sometimes inaccessible and alienating electoral systems. I predict some improvement in youth turnout compared to recent midterm elections–with lots of room to improve in future years.

Journalists Empower Citizens’ View of Role in Democracy

NCDD member org the Kettering Foundation recently shared some takeaways from journalists at the last Deliberative Democracy Exchange (DDEx). The journalists despite being from five different countries shared similar concerns about the growing global polarization and were united in their desire to both inform readers and empower people to engage in working toward solutions. You can read the article below and find the original on Kettering’s site here.

Journalists at DDEx Grapple with Helping Citizens See Themselves in Public Issues

The journalists from five different countries who gathered at the Deliberative Democracy Exchange (DDEx) had many things in common, but most of all, they were worried.

Over the past year, headlines around the world have called out the deepening of divisions, “populist” revolts, and growing polarization. What concerned these journalists was how these divisions were impeding people’s ability to make progress on issues, not just in a single country, but around the globe. And what was more, they suspected that standard journalistic practices were contributing to the deepening divisions and wanted to do something about it, but they weren’t sure how.

The journalists came from Colombia, Israel, Italy, Kenya, and South Africa. They shared experiences and frustrations in trying to encourage citizens to see issues as shared public problems instead of dilemmas to be solved by experts alone.

Each saw polarization, but acknowledged that in each country the fractures emerge in different ways. In the United States, for example, polarization is often defined in political terms, such as Democrats versus Republicans or liberal versus conservative.

Yet in South Africa, class and race emerge as dividing lines.

In Colombia, class, land ownership, and the experiences of decades-long civil war—and the challenges of negotiating a recent, fragile peace—have left citizens polarized.

In Israel, religious differences both between faiths and within them, and the societal power associated with different group identifications, divide people.

In Italy, Kettering Fanning resident Federica Marangio said that politics has become so contentious that people just walk away. They see no clear role for themselves and so become apathetic.

In Kenya, where there are numerous tribes but only a few that typically gain political power, government corruption and tribal identification are both issues that split people and groups.

The journalists at DDEx want to cover the issues, but do so in a way that people see a role for themselves in democracy and in making progress on shared public problems. The journalists all had the same question: How could they help both inform people and encourage them to see their own power?

The answers are a little different for each journalist—and each country.

In South Africa, where three-quarters of fourth graders cannot read for meaning, the answer is not simply to write another story emphasizing the need for parents to use libraries or demand more from schools. Instead, Rod Amner, a former Fanning resident and journalism professor at Rhodes University, is helping to build a network of parents, learners, teachers, NGOs, and government officials to help families become more literate and help others to do the same. Then those who have undergone literacy training will be involved in writing the stories.

In Kenya, three journalists are holding meetings with other journalists in their country about the need to go beyond daily stories of corruption that increase the feelings of apathy among readers and radio listeners. Instead, they want to discuss ways journalists can write stories that help people see what they can do. They hope to hold meetings to discuss the practices of naming and framing issues for journalists for whom those concepts are new.

In Colombia, journalists decided to take a different approach when covering the recent presidential election. They noted that the country has been divided for 50 years, between political parties and between right-wing and left-wing armed militants. Political divisions in peacetime are still prevalent, and they wanted to avoid contributing to those divisions. They tried to cover stories in a way that showed people what they have in common, even if they have different views. They gathered citizens ahead of the race to ask them what questions they wanted candidates to answer and involved officeholders who seemed most interested in a community-oriented approach.

In Israel, journalists wrote about an issue that a Jewish woman spoke about in a way that made both Jewish and Muslim women see what they all shared in common. It involved a husband withholding from his wife a blessing over a meal, done in such a way that made it impossible for her to eat without suffering public shame. Both groups saw that the use of religion to harass or abuse a spouse was not relegated to one religion alone; they coined the term, “spiritual violence” for such acts and have made it a public issue. In such stories, the journalists said, they could show people a problem that very different religions share.

And in Italy, Marangio discovered for herself that how journalists frame stories will make it more or less likely that people will respond and get involved. She first tried to hold a public forum to hear people’s general concerns, but nobody came. Then she wrote a story on increased levels of illness in areas located near factories, and then held a forum, inviting both citizens and politicians. This time, 100 people came because she had written about an issue in a way in which her readers could “see” themselves—and see the issue—as a shared public problem. The way she framed the story mattered.

The steps each journalist took were often small, but important, and contribute to their shared recognition that ordinary citizens have a role in democracy in grappling every day with issues of concern. Journalists who are open to change and who question their professional routines and the way they go about reporting stories may find that they are embarking on interesting and even exciting experiments that change the way they report the news. It might even change how those who read and hear their stories think about, and perhaps even trust, the media.

You can find the original version of this on Kettering’s site at

two approaches to social capital: Bourdieu vs. the American literature

The phrase “social capital” is used in (at least) two very different senses and discussions.

One is an Anglophone discussion among social scientists who seem generally comfortable with a liberal market order. Important participants include James Coleman, Robert Putnam, Elinor Ostrom and (using the related phrase “collective efficacy”) Robert Sampson and Felton Earls. These social scientists understand social capital as the value that derives from collaborating and solving collective-action problems together. It’s measured by rates of joining, socializing, participating in the institutions of civil society, and trusting one’s peers. It can exist in any group, regardless of wealth and prestige. For instance, Sampson, Earls and their colleagues found that levels of collective efficacy varied greatly among Chicago neighborhoods, independent of race and class.

The central hypothesis in this literature is that higher social capital predicts better outcomes (safety, education, health, employment). This hypothesis is often proven in empirical studies. The deepest explanation is that these desirable outcomes are public goods, subject to problems of collective action, and social capital is the capacity—inherent in a group—to address problems of collective action successfully. For instance, safe streets represent a public good, and when people voluntarily maintain order, the streets are safer.

The other discourse is loosely Marxian and of Continental European origin; the most influential theorist is Pierre Bourdieu. For Bourdieu, social capital can only be understood in relation to economic capital and cultural capital. All three forms are the result of past labor, which accumulates or materializes in forms that can then be owned and by–and used to the advantage of–specific individuals or closed groups, such as firms.

Economic capital means ownership, or the ability to own, the means of production (factories, offices, farms, mines). Cultural capital means personal characteristics that you can learn in order to set yourself apart as a member of an advantaged group. For example, if you know how to dress for and behave at a corporate job interview, you have acquired cultural capital. And social capital means membership in any group that has value for those who belong.

Thus a paradigm case of social capital for Bourdieu is being connected to specific aristocrats in a way that puts you within the group known as “the nobility.” You might be a poor and boorish noble: then you would have social capital without much economic or cultural capital. Still, each of the three pays off in ways that are fundamentally economic.

For Coleman et al., the effort required to build social capital is at least partly altruistic. When you try to help others around you, it turns out that you benefit as well from the public resource of social capital. Social capital is non-rivalrous or win/win. If poor people in Chicago build more social capital, that does no harm to Lake Shore millionaires. It might even reduce their tax burdens by boosting graduation rates and cutting crime in the city as a whole.

The Bourdieuian form of social capital is competitive and maybe even zero-sum. If you form a connection to an aristocrat that gives you a leg up in society, I am less advantaged. According to Bourdieu, people build social capital to advance their own interests, strategically targeting others who have various forms of capital to add to their networks:

The existence of a network of connections is not a natural given …  It is the product of an endless effort at institution. … In other words, the network of relationships is the product of investment strategies, individual or collective, consciously or unconsciously aimed at establishing or reproducing social relationships that are directly usable in the short or long term. …

The reproduction of social capital presupposes an unceasing effort of sociability, a continuous series of exchanges in which recognition is endlessly affirmed and reaffirmed. … This is one of the factors which explain why the profitability of this labor of accumulating and maintaining social capital rises in proportion to the size of the capital. Because the social capital accruing from a relationship is that much greater to the extent that the person who is the object of it is richly endowed with capital (mainly social, but also cultural and even economic capital), the possessors of an inherited social capital, symbolized by a great name, are able to transform all circumstantial relationships into lasting connections. They are sought after for their social capital and, because they are well known, are worthy of being known (‘I know him well’); they do not need to ‘make the acquaintance’ of all their ‘acquaintances’; they are known to more people than they know, and their work of sociability, when it is exerted, is highly productive.

Although these theories are different, they could both apply in a society as a whole. After a discussion with students last week, I am inclined to the following hypotheses:

  1. Access to the highest rungs of socioeconomic advantage requires (or at least benefits from) Bourdieu-style social capital. If you want to get a seat on the Supreme Court, it seems almost necessary to attend Harvard’s or Yale’s law school, partly because of who you know as a result. Social capital may also get you into those law schools in the first place. For instance, I can think of someone who attended Law School on his way to federal judicial appointments; his mother had also been a judge, and his grandfather had attended Yale.
  2. Well-being in the middle and lower rungs depends on social capital in the Coleman/Putnam sense. If you are trying to get through high school and obtain some post-secondary education, get a job, stay out of jail, and live to the median age, it’s very helpful to be embedded in networks of cooperation and mutual support. Those networks have value even if the other members are not rich and powerful.

See also: David Brooks/Pierre BourdieuBourdieu in the college admissions officeChua and Rubenfeld, The Triple Packagesocial capital and economic mobility“social capital”: political and apolitical and when social advantage persists for millennia.

Single-day Tickets for NCDD2018 Now Available!

Single-day tickets for the 2018 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation (#NCDD2018) are now available! If you want to join NCDD2018 but can’t attend the whole weekend, then join us for just the day! The single-day tickets are $175 and will give you an opportunity to learn about new civic tech tools and engagement efforts going on, and connect with folks doing dialogue, deliberation, and engagement work. We have been hard at work to design a conference that will be engaging, educational, and provide ample space to network with fellow attendees.

We’ve announced several exciting components that we encourage you to check out, like the full conference schedule, the line up of over 60 workshops, our D&D Showcase presenters, and the pre-conference sessions (happening on Thursday, November 1st). If you are looking to join us for the whole weekend, make sure you get your tickets ASAP as the late registration will kick in soon. On October 24th, late registration for the 3-day tickets will go up to $550/day, so save yourself $100 and purchase your tickets today!

Friendly reminder to our NCDD member, you get $50 off the 3-day registration with your membership! We sent the code to our members recently, but if you missed it (or just joined as a member), then please email keiva[at]ncdd[dot]org and I’ll send you the discount code. For those who are on the fence about joining NCDD as a member, now is a great time to join! Register as an NCDD member today and receive a discount on the conference, in addition to so many more benefits! Not only will you be supporting one of the major groups working to organize D&D practitioners, but the membership almost pays for itself with the conference discount.

Get extra excited for the conference with this teaser video…

Not sure what the heck NCDD conferences are? What’s all this hype you’ve been hearing throughout the D&D grapevine? Well fret not, you can read all about our past events here and watch highlight videos of our NCDD2014 and NCDD2016 conferences. Watch them and join the action!

Ben Franklin Skills for Commitments and Virtues

We love gems of wisdom like the ones below on commitments and virtues, shared by Ben Franklin Circles, an NCDD member org and presenter at NCDD2018. Last year NCDD partnered with BFC and we’ve shared many stories about the powerful way that Circles bring people together and inspire change. For those attending NCDD2018, we encourage you to participate in the BFC workshop happening during the first session block from 1-2:30 pm on Friday, November 2nd. You can listen to the webinar below and find the original on BFC’s site here.

BFC Circle Host Forum – Commitments and Virtues

For this Ben Franklin Circle Host Forum, we interviewed BFC Host, Ryan Cooke to discuss the virtues and making commitments.

For review, the basic structure of a Ben Franklin Circle meeting is as follows:

  • Welcome/ review group guidelines
  • Discuss virtue
  • Make commitments

Virtues are aspirational and are not easily defined. We may never fully reach our aspirations towards these virtues which give us something to continuously work on.

After each meeting, Ryan sends a recap of the discussion and the commitments made. Halfway between meetings, he sends a reminder of the commitments to check in with the group as well as a preview of next virtue.

Here are some of the best practices we discussed for making 30-day commitments around the virtues:

  1. Make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relatable, Time-Bound)
  2. Take inspiration from other hosts and the sample commitments provided in the Meeting Guides
  3. Start small by making micro commitments. Check out for inspiration.
  4. Track your progress. Use a paper calendar or an app track Streaks, like Jerry Seinfeld’s one joke a day habit
  5. Make the commitment appropriate to your readiness for change (see Stages of Change model)
  6. Work with others who can provide accountability
  7. Consider shared group commitments to work on together

You can find the original version of this article on the Ben Franklin Circles’ site at

ENGAGING IDEAS – 10/12/2018

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: A look at inequality from city to city. Boosting citizenship engagement in a digital world. Enrollment instability in schools. Spotting troubled students; a new role for faculty on campuses. Exploring what the CVS and Aetna merger means for the health care and pharmaceutical industry.


Estranged in America: Both Sides Feel Lost and Left Out (The Upshot)
Nearly half of Democrats say they feel this way, slightly more than Republicans. Continue Reading

Could populism actually be good for democracy? (The Guardian)
A wave of populist revolts has led many to lose faith in the wisdom of people power. But such eruptions are essential to the vitality of modern politics. Continue Reading

Elections: Understanding democracy in a divided America (Stanford News)
A divided electorate and intense partisanship have led to a tense public mood where feelings of polarization run deep. People are now more attached to their party affiliation than any other social identifier - like race and religion - according to Stanford scholar Shanto Iyengar. He argues that this only amplifies polarization further. Continue Reading


This Map Shows Income Inequality in Every American Metro Area (
Wealth and income inequality are growing areas of concern. A report from Oxfam found that 82% of all wealth created throughout the world in 2017 went to the top 1%. 8 individuals literally own as much money as 3.8 billion people. It's hard to grasp what these numbers really mean, so let's reframe the issue at the local level. How bad is income inequality where you live? Continue Reading

Poverty, Perseverance and a PhD (Hechinger Report)
An elite university helped her climb but changing class can be a lonely journey. Continue Reading

Is Your State Serving Black Students? (Inside Higher Ed)
New report from the University of Southern California's Race and Equity Center grades public institutions across the country. Continue Reading


Austin Ranks High In Voter Turnout In New Civil Health Checkup (
Residents in the Greater Austin area ranked high in voter turnout and knowledge of key issues, but have lent less of a helping hand, according to the 2018 Greater Austin Civic Health Index. Continue Reading

Bringing the e-commerce experience to civic engagement (eGov Innovation)
Boosting digital citizen interaction does not have to be complicated. Powered by the right technology and streamlined processes, both citizens and government entities benefit from a smarter approach to interactions. Continue Reading

PA Mention - Montana vote becomes a national referendum on public confidence in higher ed (Hechinger Report)
Fifty-eight percent of people polled by the think tank New America said colleges and universities put their own interests ahead of those of students. About the same proportion in a Public Agenda survey said colleges care mostly about the bottom line, and 44 percent said they're wasteful and inefficient. Continue Reading


In These Districts, Friday Is Not a School Day (Wall Street Journal)
For most students here, the weekend starts when the final bells ring on Thursday afternoons. Pueblo City Schools, in southern Colorado, this year joined a growing number of school districts hoping to save costs and attract teachers by shifting to a four-day week, a schedule once primarily used by rural districts that is now moving into suburban and urban areas. Continue Reading

Enrollment instability is a major reason why schools are struggling - so why isn't anyone tracking the problem? (Chalkbeat)
There's no question that Detroit schools are struggling with the serious consequences of students coming and going throughout the school year. What's less clear is how the problem compares to other cities and states. That's because no one is keeping close track nationally of these frequent school moves, known by academics as student mobility or enrollment instability. Continue Reading

You thought failing PE or art in high school doesn't matter? Not so, new Chicago study says. (Chalkbeat)
Failing a class like art or PE in the freshman year could be just as damaging to a student's chance of graduating as failing English, math or science, a newly released study of Chicago schools has found. Continue Reading

Higher Ed/Workforce

At a growing number of colleges, faculty get a new role: spotting troubled students (Hechinger Report)
For many faculty, this new role requires a culture shift. Some still don't consider it their job, said Patricia Rieman, an associate professor of education at Carthage who is an advocate for, and was on the subcommittee that created, that school's early-alert system. "I'm not somebody's mother,'" she said some faculty have carped. "A lot of professors also don't feel they have time. We're expected to do more and more, without additional compensation." Continue Reading

The Secrets of Getting Into Harvard Were Once Closely Guarded. That's About to Change (Wall Street Journal)
This year, 42,749 students applied to Harvard College, and only 1,962 were admitted. How Harvard decides who makes the cut has long been a mystery. That's about to change. A trial beginning Monday in Boston federal court will examine how the elite institution uses race to shape its student body. It will force Harvard to spill details about its admissions practices. Continue Reading

The Little College Where Tuition Is Free and Every Student Is Given a Job (The Atlantic)
Berea College, in Kentucky, has paid for every enrollee's education using its endowment for 126 years. Can other schools replicate the model? Continue Reading

PA Mention - Students, employees scour college finances for waste, proof of unfair pay (Hechinger Report)
As public confidence declines, university budgets and investments face growing scrutiny. Continue Reading

Health Care

Providers are going digital to meet increased demand (Modern Healthcare)
As the U.S. population ages and develops chronic diseases more frequently, provider organizations are turning to digital tools to meet increased demand for healthcare, according to a new report from Ernst & Young. Continue Reading

CVS and Aetna merger a disruptive sign of the future (Healthcare Finance)
Two provider organizations have reacted negatively to Wednesday's announcement by the Department of Justice to allow the merger between CVS Health and Aetna contingent upon Aetna divesting of its Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. Continue Reading

Healthcare prices growing slowly: 4 findings (Becker's Hospital Review)
Healthcare prices in the U.S. showed low growth in the first half of 2018, according to an analysis from nonprofit health systems research and consulting organization Altarum. Continue Reading