“Love, Me, I’m a Liberal”

Maybe it’s time for the commons and liberalism to have a frank talk.  Liberals would seem to be natural allies of the commons; they certainly often profess its values and goals, however superficially.  But the politics that liberals generally deliver -- even in their re-branded guise as “progressives” – tends to be seriously disappointing.   

Consider this little vignette recounted by the New York Times last week.  It was a story about declining sales for soda, the rising popularity of water and First Lady Michelle Obama’s role as a cheerleader for healthy choices.  This paragraph jumped out at me:

“Last month, Michelle Obama heavily endorsed water, teaming up with Coke, Pepsi and Nestlé Waters, among others, to persuade Americans to drink more of it.  Health advocates complained that Mrs. Obama had capitulated to corporate partners by not explaining the benefits of water over the sodas they sell and that her initiative promoted even greater use of plastic bottles when she could have just recommended turning on the tap.”

What could be more quintessentially liberal:  sincere, passionate commitment to a laudable social goal (drinking water instead of sugary soda) but no willingness or courage to fight for the right choice – tap water.  The reason is fairly obvious:  What would the corporate benefactors think?

The corporate backers of the First Lady's anti-obesity campaign are only too willing to bask in the socially minded glow. The brand director for Dasani, the bottled water brand sold by Coca-Cola, proudly declared, “…We are looking to lead in packaging and sustainability because those things also matter to out customers.” 

Yes, let’s sell more bottled water in “sustainable” plastic bottles.

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New Round of Grants from the Taylor Willingham Legacy Fund

We’d like to encourage all NCDD members to consider applying for a grant from — or donating to — the Taylor L. Willingham Legacy Fund. You can find out more about Taylor, her work in deliberation, and her legacy here. The original NIFI announcement can be found by clicking here.


Applications are now being accepted for grants from the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) to enable individuals to develop an understanding of deliberative democracy and to launch one or more deliberative forums in their communities or organizations. Grants are expected to be in the range of $500-$1,000.

Applications should consist of:

  1. A completed application form — click on the download link above for a copy;
  2. A resume describing your experience and education;
  3. A cover letter that explains why you are interested in becoming involved in the deliberative democracy movement and what specific course of action you propose to become familiar with this work and how and where you would implement forums; and
  4. A budget indicating how the grant would be spent.

Applications are welcomed from any U.S. resident, with special consideration given to residents of Texas. The application should be received on or by November 15, 2013.  Applications may be either faxed to Bill Muse at 937-428-5353 e-mailed to bmuse@nifi.org, or mailed to:

National Issues Forums Institute
100 Commons Road
Dayton, Ohio 45459

Grants will be made by January 15, 2014 and will be for use during 2014. A report on activities will be required on or before November 30, 2014. You can find the application here.

Click here for more information about Taylor L. Willingham and her work.

Donations to the fund are welcome and can be made securely online. All donated money will go toward grant awards.

music and civic engagement (an analysis of private and public goods with intrinsic value)

A colleague recently suggested an analogy between music and civic engagement, emphasizing that both have been transformed by technological/economic changes, and there is no going back to the old days. We used to get music from recording companies and participate in public life thanks to daily newspapers, unions, grassroots political parties, and durable civic associations. The traditional institutions for both music and citizenship have been replaced by loose networks and individual choice.

We could extend the analogy by noting that civic engagement, like music, can bring satisfaction to the participants. Neither activity is a mere chore to be done to achieve an outcome. In both cases, people may be enthusiastic to participate (or not–their interest varies). Both activities are heavily collaborative. And in both cases, we should welcome a wide range of excellence. The one-in-a-million talent is admirable in politics, as in music, but we also need average people to sing and to express their political views. In both cases, people appreciate excellence better if they also contribute at their own level.

The differences are also worth noting. For one thing, civic engagement has a strong ethical aspect. Mussolini was active and skillful, but he made the world worse. We must able to evaluate civic engagement ethically with attention to means and ends. I would, for example, build into the definition of good engagement a strong desire to understand alternative views. The most ethically demanding aspects of citizenship do not come naturally. Neither does good musicianship, but I think that the ethical demands of citizenship are more onerous than the preconditions of making music.

Also, certain forms of civic engagement are rivalrous or competitive. More engagement by Tea Partiers means less success for liberals, and vice-versa.

Everyone has a right to be heard in the political domain. Although no one is obligated to listen to me sing (an unpleasant experience), my fellow citizens must give me equal time in a public meeting, just because I am a member of their community.

Finally, it is healthy in both civic life and music for people to form smaller communities of interest with diverse styles. However, as long as important decisions are made by governments, the people of each political jurisdiction must sometimes form a single political community to discuss and act on their common fate. In contrast, we never have to bring all the choirs, bands, and orchestras together to make one stream of music.

The differences between music and citizenship mostly point to the need for intervention in the civic domain. I think music will thrive in a world of digital files, free choice, and loose voluntary networks. Civic engagement needs help.

The post music and civic engagement (an analysis of private and public goods with intrinsic value) appeared first on Peter Levine.

Making Engagement More Fun with CommunityMatters

CM_logo-200pxCivic engagement and public participation can often be dry, boring, and even down right tedious, and many of us have struggled to find ways to make civic engagement more fun. Some have found interesting ways to do it, but for many of us, it’s hard to think of new ways to jazz up our work.

But that’s why our partners at CommunityMatters have been thinking and talking over the past month about how we can make our work of building and engaging community more fun. They have already started by helping show that engagement can be fun with their list of 75 ways to make your town more playful and their “leaderboard” for playful engagement projects.

And CM is continuing to help stimulate and grow those fun ways to engage with the second installment of their “Let’s Play!” conference call series, “Creating Fun Places“.  If you missed the first installment in the call series, “Making Engagement Way More Fun“, don’t worry! You can find and listen to audio of the entire call by clicking here.

The “Creating Fun Places” call is coming up November 14th from 4 – 5pm Eastern and will feature two great fun instigators who will share insights on bringing play into normal public spaces:

Public spaces bring our cities and towns to life – they’re where we gather with friends, take breaks from the office and bask in the sunshine on a warm summer day. But much of the public realm is lifeless and overly utilitarian. Wouldn’t it be nice if parking lots could make you smile, or if transit stops were so fun that you sort of hope the bus will be late?

On the next free CommunityMatters conference call, we’ll hear from Mike Lanza of Playborhood and Brian Corrigan of Oh Heck Yeah. They’re working on creative placemaking strategies to turn ordinary places into fun-filled ones. Join us on Thursday, November 14th from 4-5pm for great ideas on making your city or town a more playful place.

We encourage everyone to register now for the conference call, which promises to be both informative and, of course, fun! We know it will be a great break from the work week, so we look forward to having you join us on the call!

Jan Schaffer on the death and rebirth of journalism

(near Tarrytown, NY) If you want to know the latest development in journalism that relate to civic engagement and democracy, Jan Schaffer from the J-Lab is the person to ask. Here (shared with her permission) is her PowerPoint presentation entitled “The Death and Rebirth of Journalism.”

The big trends she sees are:

  • Metro dailies’ disappearing portfolios (Not only do the metropolitan daily newspapers lack revenue, but they are not covering foreign news, national news, or arts & culture; and their suburban readers don’t need their city hall coverage)
  • New owners – new rules? (The new newspaper owners made their money in technology and may expect entirely different models.)
  • Media entrepreneurship is at an all-time high (Lots of startups and new models)
  • Calls for new models of journalism (from reporters themselves)

And her reasons for optimism:

  • Investigative news startups (ProPublica, the Investigative News Network, etc.)
  • Indie news startups (lots of small online news sites, often devoted to neighborhoods, sometimes profitable.)
  • Niche sites (specialized, expert sites on politics, arts, climate, etc.)
  • Tech sites with news portfolios (companies like Yahoo are bringing real journalists onboard)
  • Non-narrative news (games, interactive maps, searchable databases as alternatives to news stories)
  • Soft advocacy sites (advocacy organizations for issues like smart growth or school reform that start producing genuine news without making it all narrowly subservient to their agenda.)

Much more detail in the PowerPoint.

The post Jan Schaffer on the death and rebirth of journalism appeared first on Peter Levine.

Why NCDD is so great…

I’m feeling really grateful right now for this supportive network we’ve built up over the past 11 years, and all of the amazing people that make NCDD a special, one-of-a-kind community.

I just realized we had SEVEN people renew their membership today and yesterday, and I wanted to give them a quick shout-out. Thank you to John VogelsangTim Steffensmeier of Kansas State University, Leanne Nurse of the U.S. EPA, Maggie Herzig of the Public Conversations Project, Kay Lindahl of The Listening Center, Tobin Quereau of Austin Community College, and Angela Lowrey of Delta Diablo!

Your ongoing support and involvement mean the world to us, and those of us on staff feel so lucky to be able to serve and work with who we consider to be some of the greatest people on the planet.

The photo collage below is a testament to that.


Back when we were organizing the NCDD national conference in Seattle last year, we asked our members to send in photos of themselves holding up signs about why their work has meaning for them (kudos to Susan Stuart Clark for the idea!).

We compiled a slideshow of these great photos (and photos from past events) that played while people were arriving for the first day of the conference, and you can check out that video here along with all the other videos from NCDD Seattle.

the death of an ancient commons?

Vista típica de la Huerta de Valencia.

(Near Tarrytown, NY) The huertas of Valencia, Spain, represent a magnificent example of human cooperation, but I am told they are now doomed. The reasons are endemic to modernity and require serious consideration.

Water is a scarce resource, essential for life. If you can take water for your own crops, basic economic theory says you will take lots of it even if others downstream don’t get enough. The rain and the river can’t be privatized in simple ways. The state can police water-use, but it’s hard and rare to build states that are smart, responsive, virtuous, and just enough to accomplish tasks like efficient and fair water-management.

But, contrary to a simplistic economic model, farmers in Valencia, Spain, have been distributing very scarce water consistently since before 1238. The rules and tools they developed are summarized here. Their tribunals and other processes were already in place during the Muslim period and may have predated the Islamic conquest. They continued more or less smoothly despite the Christian Reconquista, the unification of Spain, its economic decline, Civil War, and fascism.

But, as I am told by Francisco Arenas-Dolz (a distinguished Spanish academic whose own family used to farm in the huerta system), it is now disappearing. Former farmers are moving to high-rises in the city, and suburban sprawl is swallowing up agricultural land.

One cannot blame people for “exiting.” I would not want to be a farm-worker in an arid climate (or anywhere). I suspect that, despite the radical shifts in Valencia’s political and religious regimes over a millennium, one thing remained constant: peasants couldn’t leave the land. Now they can leave, and they are leaving, and I don’t lament that.

But we can lament two outcomes. First, the huertas have aesthetic, cultural, and environmental value that individual participants (as well as outsiders) prize. The individuals’ exit benefits them but destroys something that they love. They would all be better off if somehow the huertas could be preserved. The agricultural landscape could perhaps have evolved into something new and better, an economy that offered higher-skilled and more profitable jobs to a few people still in touch with their traditions. Instead, it is just vanishing.

Second, the heurtas taught ethics, skills, habits, and techniques for solving collective-action problems. Even if we give up on small-scale agriculture in Valencia, we still face inescapable problems at a bigger scale. Climate change is only the most dire example. If everyone exits the huertas and that model vanishes, how will we learn to address bigger Tragedies of the Commons?

(See also “Why Engineers Should Study Elinor Ostrom,” my obituary of Ostrom, and “Albert O. Hirschman on Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.”)

The post the death of an ancient commons? appeared first on Peter Levine.

Report on the Economics and Commons Conference Just Published

The co-organizers of the Economics and the Commons Conference (ECC) held in Berlin have just released an 80-page report (pdf file) that distills the highlights of that landmark gathering in May 2013. The conference brought together researchers, practitioners and advocates from around the world to explore the relationship of conventional economics and the commons. 

Discussion focused on several key themes: 

·      The commons as a way to move beyond conventional economics;

·      Alternative economic and provisioning models;

·      The transformations needed to move to a new type of economy.

The report consists of abbreviated versions of all ten keynote talks; brief summaries of the stream discussions; short overviews of each of the side events (with contact information for the hosts); a guide to the wiki resources on commons and economics; and an account of the Francophone network of commoners.  Videos of the keynote talks have been posted here, and as noted yesterdayRemix the Commons is releasing a series of video interviews that it conducted during the conference. 

The ECC Report also includes some final reflections by the Commons Strategies Group on the event’s significance for the commons movement.  We look back at the 2010 International Commons Conference and consider some of the ways in which our efforts have matured, and at some of the challenges that we face in the years ahead.

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New Leadership for the Journal of Public Deliberation

Our friends at IAP2 and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium just announced a great new leadership team for the Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD). We’ve been talking to some members of the team about the potential of NCDD helping the JPD with outreach and dissemination to the dialogue and deliberation community. Stay tuned for updates, and check out the full announcement below.

Announcing changes in the leadership of the Journal of Public Deliberation 

IAP2 logo

DDC logo




DDC and IAP2 Federation are pleased to announce exciting changes in the leadership of the Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD). After three highly successful years at the helm of the journal, Tim Steffensmeier and David Procter are stepping down, and a new editorial team is taking over:

  • Laura Black of the School of Communication Studies at Ohio University will serve as the new Editor.
  • Tim Shaffer, who directs the Center for Leadership and Engagement at Wagner College, will be an Associate Editor and the Book Review Editor.
  • Nancy Thomas of the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, who also directs The Democracy Imperative (TDI), will be an Associate Editor.

Since its inception in 2004, JPD articles have been downloaded over 82,000 times. The journal occupies a preeminent role in a growing, global, cross-disciplinary field. Black, Shaffer, and Thomas plan to expand the types of articles published, create a new section for shorter articles that focus on innovative ideas and best practice examples, continue the journal’s success with special issues and symposia, incorporate book reviews, and explore new possibilities for interactivity and social media. The new team will soon be issuing their first call for proposals.

Under the leadership of Steffensmeier and Procter, who are based at the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University, JPD has made great progress. Article downloads have tripled and submissions have doubled over the past three years. The production schedule accelerated to two issues per year. Special issues on Participatory Budgeting and (De)liberation Technology garnered wide attention. Steffensmeier and Procter also husbanded the journal’s transition to a new platform at Berkeley Electronic Press, www.publicdeliberation.org, which provides the new editorial team an expanded range of online tools.

In their work, Steffensmeier and Procter have benefited enormously from the work of Associate Editor William Richter, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Kansas State, and Chandra Ruthstrom of the university’s Center for Engagement and Community Development.

Laura Black is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Ohio University. She studies group deliberation and dialogue with a special focus on storytelling, conflict, and group facilitation. Some of her research has also investigated the use of online tools in deliberative forums. She has worked on several research projects with organizations such as the Kettering Foundation and the Interactivity Foundation and local civic organizations. Her research is published in JPD, Small Group Research, and several communication journals as well as edited books on deliberation and democracy.  She has served on the editorial board for JPD and also co-edited a special issue of the International Journal of Public Participation on the communication practices in public meetings.  Laura received her Ph.D. in communication from the University of Washington in 2006.

Tim Shaffer is Director of the Center for Leadership and Engagement at Wagner College. His research interests include historical and contemporary forms of civic engagement and the public philosophies that animate citizens. He has published on topics such as environmental leadership and deliberative democracy as well as higher education’s role in cultivating and supporting civic life. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from St. Bonaventure University, master’s degrees in public administration and theological studies, respectively, from the University of Dayton, and a PhD in education from Cornell University.

Nancy Thomas directs research on college student engagement in democracy at Tisch College and CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, at Tufts University. She also co-founded and directs the Democracy Imperative and serves as a senior associate for Everyday Democracy. Nancy has worked for more than 20 years in the national diversity, civic, and democracy reform efforts in higher education. In 2010, she published Educating for Deliberative Democracy and co-edited (with Martin Carcasson) a special issue of JPD on teaching democracy across the curriculum. She holds a BA in government from St. Lawrence University, a law degree from Case Western Reserve University, and a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In addition to IAP2 and DDC, the Journal is also supported by a range of other institutions, including:

For further information kindly contact:

Iris Almeida-Côté, Executive Director, IAP2 Federation

iris@iap2.org or visit the website: www.iap2.org

Matt Leighninger, Executive Director, Deliberative Democracy Consortium

mattleighninger@earthlink.net or visit www.deliberative-democracy.net


Participate in “Real Dialogues” Hangout Today!

We’re excited to invite you to participate in the most exciting phase yet of the Real Dialogues project, their very first Google+ Hangout discussion! You may remember that the Real Dialogues D&D reality show was one of the winners of NCDD’s Catalyst Awards, and we are proud to see the project entering its production phase! Now you can participate in the project yourself by joining the conversation.

This first dialogue starts Tuesday, October 29th, at 5pm Central so make sure to email realdialogues@gmail.com immediately to sign up! They are specifically seeking participants from Illinois, so please also tell your IL friends about this great opportunity by having them check out the announcement below or pointing them to the original post on Real Dialogues’ website here.

Real Dialogues Fall Update: Entering Production Phase

After months of design work and preparation, our Catalyst Award project is finally entering its production phase!

We will be using Google+ Hangouts to host three rounds of facilitated small-group dialogues online on the issue of employment and the minimum wage in the greater Chicago, IL area:

  • The first Hangout is for our participants to get to know each other and to explain and hear about their employment situations.
  • The second Hangout will feature interviews with Conservative, Liberal and Alternative experts, who will also drop in to answer questions.
  • The third Hangout aims to tie it all together: what have people learned, have they changed their perspectives, and will this affect their lives?

This first Hangout takes place Tuesday, October 29 at 5pm Central Time (that’s 3pm Pacific, 6pm Eastern).

We are very pleased to welcome Susanna Haas Lyons as our facilitator. Susanna will be facilitating a group of people from the Chicago area to discuss work and the minimum wage. They include employees, employers, minimum wage workers, unemployed job seekers and other people interested in the issue.

Participants wanted

We have a couple of spaces left for Illinois-based people to participate! If you live in Illinois and want to join, email realdialogues@gmail.com immediately, so we can get you set up.

Audience welcome

Anyone can watch this Hangout and use the new Google+ Q&A feature to ask the participants questions (to ask a question or comment, you will be instructed to join or sign in to Google+).