We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For in 10 minutes

This video from Frontiers of Democracy 2014 is my best effort to summarize my book We Are the Ones … in 9 minutes and 39 seconds. It presents the book as an effort to answer the problem that was most on my mind during the conference–how to achieve leverage over large systems while retaining the human relationships and sense of personal agency that are most evident when we work together in small voluntary groups.

The post We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For in 10 minutes appeared first on Peter Levine.

NCDD 2014 – Meet the Team!

Just a sampling of the many great people involved in this year's event!

Just a sampling of the many great people involved in this year’s event!

Hands down the best part of planning and running our National Conferences on Dialogue & Deliberation is working with the people, both staff and volunteers, who come together to make these events amazing.  This year’s conference in the Washington, D.C. area is no different, with almost 50 members of our community offering their precious time and knowledge to make sure we bring you the best event we possibly can.

NCDD2014_blog_post_badgeWe have a page dedicated to this fantastic team, and the photo above only shows a sampling. Sandy Heierbacher is the conference director again this year and Courtney Breese is back as our unflappable and ultra-capable conference manager. These two work together to keep all kinds of plates balanced in the air.

Marla Crockett is heading up the local team this year, facilitating a great group of DC area volunteers who are handling local outreach, field trips, and arts at the conference. And Polly Riddims is back once again to manage logistics for the conference — something she has done beautifully since the first NCDD conference in 2002. Roshan Bliss is coordinating our on-site volunteers again this year, and is also serving as our youth outreach coordinator. Many others are coordinating different aspects of the conference planning, so do check out the team page.

I also want to look back at past events and thank again those who helped us get to where we are today.  We still have our planning team list from NCDD Seattle on the site.  It’s so great to see so many friends returning for our current event.  I wish I could share the list of volunteers and advisers from our 2010 regional events but there were just so many of them and, since they were working independently much of the time, no master list was collected.  But you know who you are!  Thanks for the crazy times!

As with our Seattle event, NCDD 2008 Austin’s planning team is still online, but for our 2006 San Francisco, 2004 Denver and 2002 Washington DC events you’ll need to dig into the guidebooks or reports from those conferences for the list.

To everybody — past and present — to those who joined us for just one event, and those who’ve worked with us over the years, and, yes, even those crazy enough to stick with us from the very beginning…

Thank You!

Jefferson Center Hosts Rural Climate Dialogues

Our NCDD organizational members at the Jefferson Center recently shared a write up on a series of deliberations on climate issues in rural Minnesota. The project produced positive results and a detailed report with recommendations for moving forward. We hope you will read their write up below or find the original version by clicking here.


JeffersonCenterLogoWay back in March, we talked about our plans to engage citizens in rural communities in Minnesota to discuss climate and extreme weather. Our first conversation, the Morris Area Climate Dialogue, took place at the beginning of June. Fifteen Morris Area residents came together in a Citizens’ Jury to study and deliberate on the local impacts of extreme weather and shifts in climate. Community members heard from local experts on weather and climate trends, energy & energy efficiency issues, insurance industry concerns, potential changes in agricultural production, impacts on local infrastructure, and opportunities to build a stronger, more resilient community.

Community members analyzed the knowledge gained during presentations and prioritized critical concerns, key opportunities, and potential action steps. Principal concerns include limited public awareness of changes in extreme weather and climate, disproportionate impacts on low- or fixed-income residents, and strains on local agricultural production. Opportunities for community responses include adapting local agricultural systems, developing new economic opportunities, and utilizing the skills and resources of community members. You can read their full statement, along with community action recommendations, in the MACD Final Report. You can also find more information at our Morris Area Climate Dialogue page.

Briefly, here’s what a few participants thought of the event:

“I’d like to say thank you for the information. I kinda came into this warily, but I enjoyed the presentations and information. I also really appreciated the level of intelligence and the intensity that everybody put into this. It was thought-provoking, it was challenging at times with the subjects that were coming at us, and yet everyone was very professional, very open, and very intelligent.”

“I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought it’d be a bunch of people who were very adamant about this topic and would want to get together and “hurrah” about it. I was very impressed with this group’s ability to come together as community members, as neighbors, and talk about these things in an open, civil, and friendly manner. I thought the whole thing was very well coordinated and run in a very unbiased way. A way that definitely encouraged that openness.”

“I was impressed with the group and how we worked together, everybody contributed.”

The priorities and recommendations of citizens are only the beginning. Along with our partners at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, we’ll continue to work with participants, community members, local partners and community organizations, public officials and agencies, and other interested stakeholders to pursue and realize the ambitions of the Morris Area community as citizens work to address climate and weather issues.

For more information about the Morris Area Climate Dialogue, including daily summaries and the full list of community concerns, opportunities, and actions, check out the Dialogues page of the Rural Climate Network.

You can find the original version of this blog post at http://jefferson-center.org/morris-area-climate-dialogue.

mapping the youth vote in 2014

CIRCLE’s new interactive maps of states and congressional districts are getting a lot of attention. Our congressional district map lets you view any district by various measures of demographics, turnout, socioeconomic variables, the number of local colleges and universities, and two political factors (whether any state ballot measures might mobilize youth in 2014, and whether the district is competitive).

You can compare rates by district, look over time, and see all the districts ranked from highest to lowest. Using some of those tools, we have identified four districts–IA-3, AZ-1, AZ-9, and NY-23–as especially interesting to watch in 2014 if you care about the youth vote.

Previously, we had released a state map (pertinent to Senate races, among other purposes) that shows historical youth turnout rates and other data going back to the 1970s.

The post mapping the youth vote in 2014 appeared first on Peter Levine.

The Power of Diversity and the Coming Democratic Movement in Higher Education

The forthcoming collection Democracy's Education (Vanderbilt University Press, 2015), described in my recent blog on higher education and rising inequality, makes the case for a democratic narrative of education. Such a narrative is based on "cooperative excellence," the idea that a highly diverse mix of people, interacting in settings of high expectations and public purposes, can achieve far more both in terms of individual educational growth and social benefit than education based on "meritocratic excellence."

University of Michigan professor Scott Page's book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (Princeton University Press, 2007), brings together a considerable body of evidence which also helps makes this case. Indeed, Chapter 13 alone includes fifty six notes with more than seventy sources which show the advantages of focusing on generating cooperative, diverse experiences and interactions over focusing on individual genius. As Nobel Prize winning economist Kenneth Arrow summarized in his book endorsement, "Page has brought to our attention a practically important proposition: diversity of viewpoints is of the greatest importance in solving the problems that face us individually and collectively. Diversity among a group of problem solvers is more important than individual excellence."

Today's dominant story of higher education is based on norms of hypercompetitive individual achievement in which admission to Ivy League schools is the ultimate mark of success. The costs to both individuals and society are high. As William Deresiewicz dramatically puts it in his recent New Republic essay, "Don't Send Your Kids to the Ivy League," "Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose."

But there is evidence that students today, perhaps sensing the alternative narrative of cooperative excellence, are looking for something different than the elite-making system. Their aspirations could fire a movement for democratizing reform.

In my 2004 book, Everyday Politics, I recount New York Times research which led the paper to join with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) in a new initiative called the American Democracy Project, aimed at strengthening the civic and public purposes of higher education. The American Democracy Project includes several hundred AASCU schools, regional colleges and universities called "American Dream" colleges since many of their students are the first in their families to go to college.

The Times' joined with AASCU based on unexpected discoveries about students' interests and aspirations.

The newspaper's trend analysis had shown that American culture is becoming more segmented into insulated subgroups of viewpoint, ideology, and culture. In contrast the Times depends on a readership that welcomes a diversity of viewpoints and vantages. The paper's marketing department found, to their surprise, that students may well be responsive to efforts to make real the "power of diversity."

The Times sponsored a competition among advertising and marketing students to develop a theme to attract more student readers. The majority of submissions focused on a common theme: students want to explore the world outside of their bubble, and they aspire to college experiences which stimulate, challenge, and explose them to different perspectives on the world. The campaign that most clearly captured this concept was developed by students at Indiana University-Bloomington. The team coined the phrase "Understand Why," and positioned the phrase against photographic images from the Times that illustrated compelling and often disturbing issues.

This finding was so much at odds with dominant college admission pitches which stress individual career advancement and competitive success that the paper conducted their own focus groups with students all across the country. Large schools and small, North, South, East, and West, the results were the same: students either failed to respond to or explicitly rejected the idea of "Advance your career! The New York Times helps you achieve professional success." Overwhelmingly they liked the theme, "Understand Why."

The good news was that students saw the Times as a potential resource to help them do this. The ad campaign ran and exceeded expectations in its successful recruitment of new college readers.

The bad news is that most college students do not have many experiences of deep engagement with diverse cultures, ways of thinking, and real world challenges in college education today. The newspaper's other finding was that if students do not escape their "bubbles" in college or shortly afterwards, they are likely to settle into patterns of relatively homogeneous social and friendship circles that will persist through their lifetimes.

Higher education's fledgling engagement movement over the last two decades can be seen as a response to this challenge, an effort to create more diverse, interactive, egalitarian learning cultures, across all institutions. The The Wingspread Declaration in 1999, which Elizabeth Hollander, then president of Campus Compact and I co-authored on behalf of a group of higher education leaders, called for revitalizing the civic mission of the American research university. A Crucible Moment in 2012, coordinated by Caryn McTighe Musil of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, called for extensive focus on civic learning and democratic engagement across every type of college and university.

A Crucible Moment was released at the White House event in 2012, "For Democracy's Future." The White House meeting also launched the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP), a year-long initiative, invited by Jon Carson, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, to develop ways to revitalize higher education's democratic narrative. Democracy's Education grows from ACP.

Yet it would be naïve to ignore the ways in which such efforts cut against the grain of the dominant elite, individualist narrative of higher education. John Saltmarsh, director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education, has argued that we need a new stage of the engagement movement which can effect institution-wide transformation. This new stage is essential if we are to develop a democratic narrative based on cooperative excellence capable of countering the elite educational narrative.

Democracy's Education, now available for preorder from Amazon.com, details many practical examples, some institution-wide in scale, which show that "yes we can," it can be done.

Harry C. Boyte, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and a Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, directed the American Commonwealth Partnership and is editor of Democracy's Education.

Audio of our July Confab call on “event closings”

Confab bubble imageYesterday, 50 NCDDers joined us for our July 2014 Confab call on “Event Closings” featuring four all-star practitioners: Lisa HeftAdrian SegarTim Merry and Susanna Haas Lyons.

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On this Confab, we tackled a very practical challenge that many of you face, and that NCDD itself faces every time we plan a national conference: how to plan and execute effective closings at participatory events. All four of our featured guests have extensive experience closing large-scale events using approaches such as Open Space, World Cafe, Conferences That Work, Art of Hosting and 21st Century Town Meetings.

NCDD’s director, Sandy Heierbacher, reflected on some of the ways we’ve closed past NCDD conferences, and outlined a few of the challenges we’ve faced — like dealing with people filtering out to catch flights, not wanting to over-structure the closing but needing to accomplish various goals, expecting too much of participants after the event, and more.

Though the hour went very quickly, our presenters and participants dug in further on the companion Hackpad page. At www.tinyurl.com/confab7-14, you’ll find a rich conversation on what you need to take into consideration when closing participatory events and conferences (as well as many great ideas, best practices, and resources)! We recommend you taking a look, and adding your own insights over the next few days.

Learn more about NCDD’s Confab Calls and other events (including our upcoming National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation this October in the DC area) in our Events Section.

And just for fun, here’s the photo journal that was shown during our closing session at the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin!

Public Agenda Convenes Scientists, Evangelical Pastors for Dialogue

Public Agenda, an NCDD organization member, recently shared the piece below on their blog that we wanted to share with you. It is part of a series of pieces from the PA team reflecting on the experience of facilitating dialogue sessions between scientists and evangelical Christian pastors, and it’s fascinating. You can read the piece below or find the original here.

PublicAgenda-logoWhen I told people that I was headed to LA to facilitate a conversation between evangelical pastors and scientists, most reactions fell somewhere between surprise and cynicism. “Why bother,” asked a friend, “when they’re never going to agree on anything anyway?”

But a strange thing happens when you get a small group of people together in a room for a facilitated dialogue: they listen to one another. And instead of trying to persuade the group to support their worldviews, the pastors and scientists each respectfully introduced themselves and explained why they do what they do for a living. Similarities emerged right off the bat: curiosity, compassion and an unyielding search for truth.

It wasn’t long before the conversation took on a lighter tone. One participant, a reproductive biologist, acknowledged the tension in the room as he explained his research: “We already covered religion and politics,” he said, “so I figured I’d throw sex in there too.”

And there were profound moments as well, like when a scientist explained that he wasn’t 100 percent certain of anything, and that all scientific theories exist only until proven false. “What you just said makes me feel safe,” a pastor replied, “because many of the scientists I know seem so definite in their beliefs, so I don’t feel comfortable expressing my faith.”

Three hours later the group had hammered out areas of common ground and ideas for next steps to foster collaboration between the two communities. But more importantly, the conversations continued well past the end of the formal discussion. Most participants lingered in the room and talked, exchanging contact information and discussing how to keep the conversation going.

As a facilitator, it was humbling to witness a group of people overcome significant differences to explore how to work together to improve their community. Let’s hope that they can continue to defy expectations and set an example for the rest of us.

The original version of this piece is available at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/defying-expectations.

Less Divided than We Look

Reprinted from The Huffington Post (The Blog) - July 28, 2014

Are we becoming a more polarized people, as a new and important study from the Pew Research Center seems to demonstrate? In spite of the hype surrounding this new research, I argue that the public is not as polarized as a cursory reading of the Pew study would suggest.

Certainly, this research reflects an important problem, but that problem is less about the public and more about our political system.

The vast majority of participants in the research (about 8 in 10) do not actually fit Pew's definition of ideological polarization. Further, as Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina explains in an excellent analysis of the research, the methodology used -- forcing respondents to choose between two dichotomies -- leads to a result that can exaggerate the ideological consistency of respondents.

Fiorina also examines the wider body of public opinion toward specific policy issues. He finds that most Americans are not either/or thinkers. Rather, they see merits in various points of view and are open to compromise.

In a related vein, a new public opinion analysis from the organization Voice of the People finds "remarkably little difference between the views of people who live in red (Republican) districts or states, and those who live in blue (Democratic) districts or states on questions about what policies the government should pursue."

Evidence does illustrate that common ground is not only attainable but, on many counts, already exists.

Certainly, there is some evidence in the Pew research of a hardening of positions among the ideologically minded, and we don't deny that there are important disagreements among the American public. Still, this evidence does illustrate that common ground is not only attainable but, on many counts, already exists.

Even among those who take an ideological stance toward Beltway politics, many are much more pragmatic and open to compromise when it comes to local issues.

I say this with the confidence of 20 years facilitating conversations around the country with everyday Americans from across the political spectrum. During these discussions, there will often be a handful of participants who come off, at first, as rigidly partisan, voicing talk-radio-like rhetoric. But this rhetoric is almost always superficial and falls away quickly. When the conversation digs into concrete local issues such as improving schools or making streets safer, these participants become much more flexible and less dogmatic.

The Way Forward

There is indeed a serious problem of political polarization, but its source is not the American public. Rather, political parties have realigned and are much more consistently partisan than they've been in our lifetime. Activists on both ends of the ideological spectrum are much more influential via primaries and campaign donations than are average citizens. And media coverage generally reinforces what is most conflicted about our politics. All of this adds up to a highly polarized and dysfunctional national politics.

How then can we make progress?

Fortunately, there's a lot we can do at the local level - and we don't have to wait for national politics to get its act together to do so. Broad-based public engagement can support and even drive local progress on a host of issues that people care about and are willing to work together on. When it comes to education reform, jobs, climate change, public safety and a host of other concrete challenges, we can and should get on with it locally.

In fact, metropolitan regions are already getting it done, and have become the locus for progress on public policy issues.

On matters of national policy, however, we still have some work to do before we can make real progress on difficult challenges like immigration reform or climate change. First, we need to work through the tricky issues that are making effective problem solving practically impossible.

Unfortunately, we can't expect current office-holders on the national stage to fix things like money in politics or partisan and distorting gerrymandering; they've thrived in the current system and are therefore unlikely to champion needed reform. And in any event, they can't get anything done!

Instead, some form of people power will be necessary to drive reforms that enable us to collaborate and solve national problems rather than fragment, polarize and sink into stalemate.

Citizens must mobilize to demand practical, bipartisan progress on the issues that challenge our future as a nation. Those who fight for such progress must be rewarded at the ballot box and those who undermine it must be punished. Support must build for measures that protect our national politics from interest group and partisan manipulation.

Helping the public come to terms with these prerequisites for national progress is among the central political projects of our time. The Pew study does nothing to dissuade us from this fundamental point. Rather, now more than ever, we should get to work.

Two New Issue Guides from NIF

NIF-logoOur partners at the National Issues Forums Institute – an NCDD organizational member – have just released two new issue guides for helping facilitate dialogue and public deliberation around two important issues: mental health and alcohol abuse. As always, NIFI’s discussion guides present three different approaches to addressing the problem at hand for participants to weigh.

In the mental health guide, “Mental Illness in America: How Do We Address a Growing Problem?“, the three options presented are as follows:

Option One: “Put Safety First” - This option would make public safety the top priority and support intervention, if necessary, to provide help for those with serious mental illness.

Option Two: “Expand Services” - This option would make mental health services as widely available as possible so that people can get the help they need.

Option Three: “Let People Plot Their Own Course” - This option would reduce the number of mental illness diagnoses and curtail the use of psychiatric medications, allowing for more individuality.

And in the alcohol abuse guide, “Alcohol in America: What Can We Do about Excessive Drinking?“, the options are framed this way:

Option One: “Protect Others from Danger” – Society should do what it takes to protect itself from the negative consequences of drinking behavior.

Option Two: “Help People with Alcohol Problems” - We need to help people reduce their drinking.

Option Three: “Change Society’s Relationship with Alcohol” - This option says that solutions must address the societal attitudes and environments that make heavy drinking widely accepted.

To find out more about these and other issue guides, you can visit the NIFI issue books store here.