the Danish Parliament’s paternoster

Earlier this month, my family and I took the free and excellent tour of the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen. There were many serious insights to be gleaned about parliamentary government, unicameral legislatures, multiple-party systems, and the cultural norms that prevail in Scandinavia, such as egalitarian informality.

But I write not to share insights; I write to relate an anecdote. Although the embedded sideways video is not mine, it shows part of the same tour that we took. The machine in the background is a “paternoster”–like an elevator except that the doors remain always open and a sequence of boxes passes by continuously. You have to jump on and off. Characteristically for Denmark, this contraption is considered too dangerous for tourists and reporters, but MPs and their staff can ride it. As the guide notes, this makes it a good refuge from journalists (who otherwise are allowed everywhere in the parliament building, at will).

The guide–or one of his colleagues–once explained to some Danish 7th-graders that the paternoster goes up, over, and down. That means that if you ride it up on the left, soon you will be coming back down on the right, still standing comfortably upright. The oldest Member of Parliament at the time, who was also a minister in the government, heard this explanation as he rode up. A few seconds later, down he came on the left–standing on his head.

It is fairly hard to imagine this happening in the US Capitol.


Learning from Feedback Frames: An Innovative Decision Making Tool

Feedback+Frames+logoLong time NCDD member Jason Diceman is introducing an accessible new tool for public engagement this summer called Feedback Frames. His project is a great example of the innovation and creativity inherent in our network, and we thought the strategies he’s using to leverage social media, crowdfunding, and crowdspeaking platforms would be useful one for other NCDDers to learn from.

The love child of a polling station and a game of Connect Four, Feedback Frames offers a fun and flexible way to gather input from participants at large or small group events. Featuring private voting, built-in validation, flexible data-gathering, and quick visual results, this highly adaptable tool offers an elegant solution to group think and the bandwagon effect that can adversely affect any deliberation program.

Creator of Idea Rating Sheets, originally called Dotmocracy (featured at NCDD2006), Jason serves as Senior Public Consultation Coordinator for the City of Toronto. He has led public consultations for some of the City’s most controversial and high profile infrastructure studies, including downtown separated bike lane installations, the redesign of Front Street at Union Station, new roads and bridges in Liberty Village, contentious multi-use trails, and the Gardiner Expressway financing.

Jason is about to launch an Indiegogo campaign to support the manufacture of Feedback Frames, and he’s tapping into every modern tool and technique he can find to get the word out.  Having started with more traditional media (check out his humorous Prototype Video below), Jason has now turned to Thunderclap to make sure he can get his crowdfunding endeavor off on the right foot.

thunderclapThunderclap is especially useful for smaller programs which can’t effectively encourage the critical mass needed to benefit from the power of Twitter, or Facebook, or even the likes of Tumblr. Thunderclap is very much the “Kickstarter” of social media, but instead of pledging money a supporter pledges their social connections. When a project successfully hits its goal, Thunderclap will “blast out a timed Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr post from all your supporters, creating a wave of attention.” Referred to as “Crowdspeaking” platforms, Thunderclap and its competitor, the more economical Headtalker, have been around a while and provide interesting companion services to crowdfunding projects. Both are interesting strategies that may be useful for helping NCDDers launch or promote their projects.

And Jason is facing the same problem all limited-budget social entrepreneurs face: how do you get the word out and make your great idea a reality without a second mortgage and an exclusive diet of ramen noodles? Of course, Jason could use all the “likes” and “upvotes” NCDDers can give him, so visit his project on Thunderclap at if you’re interested in showing your support.

But even if you don’t support it, we encourage our members to take note of Jason’s strategy for getting this D&D project out there into the public eye. We think there are some good lessons from this kind of effort that can apply to all of our members.

Learn much more about Feedback Frames at

Infrastructure Victoria Engagement Process

Infrastructure Victoria is a statutory authority set up by the Victorian state government to independently assess the state's infrastructure needs in the coming decades. The first action the agency embarked on was a community consultation in the form of two concurrent citizens' juries in two parts of Victoria. The juries...

Teaching in Turbulent Times is the Saturday Morning Keynote Topic for FCSS!

Hey, social studies folks! The time is fast approaching for the FCSS annual conference! PLEASE join us in late October (28-30) for what will be a great couple of days of sessions. We have made arrangements with some excellent folks to ensure that Sunday will be devoted at least in part to making sure the needs and desires of Advanced Placement folks are met! And I DO have some more exciting news to share about sessions and speakers and events, but I want to make sure that news about the keynote speaker for Saturday morning is out.

We all know that it can be difficult to teach social studies in a climate that does not often allow for deep discussion and discovery and where inquiry sometimes becomes a dirty word. Our keynote speaker for Saturday is coming to talk to us about that. Dr. Murali Balaji is the  Director of Education and Curriculum Reform for the Hindu American Foundation. In his role, Balaji works on empowering educators in culturally competent pedagogical approaches. He also serves as an advisor to numerous organizations around the country in promoting religious literacy and civic engagement. A Fulbright Specialist and former award-winning journalist, he has taught at Temple University, Penn State University, and Lincoln University, where he served as Chair of the Department of Mass Communications, overseeing assessment and curriculum building efforts. A longtime advocate of minority issues, Dr. Balaji is the author of several books, including The Professor and The Pupil (2007), and the co-editor of the seminal anthologies Desi Rap (2008) and Global Masculinities and Manhood (2011). A native of the Philadelphia area, Balaji earned his B.A. in journalism from the University of Minnesota and his doctorate in Mass Communication from Penn State.



Dr. Balaji will be talking about ‘Teaching in Turbulent Times: Navigating through the New Normal in Public Education’. I have had the distinct pleasure of attending Dr. Balaji’s sessions at conferences in North Carolina and nationally, and he is an engaging, witty, and insightful speaker on issues relating to public education, controversial topics, and the getting kids (and teachers!) to think critically and intellectually.

We are excited he is able to join us Saturday morning, and I look forward to his keynote!

public support for civics

PDKThe annual Phi Delta Kappa survey of public attitudes toward education is out.

Adults are asked whether preparing students to be good citizens is important and how well schools are doing it. Eighty-two percent say it’s extremely or very important, and 33% say schools are doing it extremely or very well. As a priority, it ranks somewhat below developing work habits and providing factual information, it ties with critical thinking, and it comes ahead of working in groups.

In a different question, respondents are asked to pick the single main goal of education. About a quarter choose preparing students to be good citizens, which is on par with preparing students for work but behind preparing students academically.

The advantage of a forced choice is that most people will favor a whole set of good outcomes if allowed to pick them all. However, there’s something a little artificial about the results of a forced choice. My job is to study and advocate for civic education, so I’d pick the “citizenship” choice. I nevertheless believe that preparing students academically and for work are essential goals, and are complementary with civics. So it’s not the case that 26% of Americans think only citizenship matters, or that 74% think it doesn’t matter at all.

Still, the forced-choice reveals that education for citizenship is the top priority for quite a few Americans. That’s valuable to know, because the major reforms that have passed through education like earthquakes’ seismic waves since 1980 have hardly mentioned civics at all. The PDK survey doesn’t prove that Americans put the civic mission of schools above all else, but it does suggest a lot of support, which ought to be reflected in policies.

Further, the forced choice reveals differences within the public. It appears that the civic mission is most important to young and older citizens; parents and other adults in the traditional child-rearing years are more concerned about academics.

There’s also a partisan and ideological split: “Fifty percent of conservatives emphasize academics vs. 43% of moderates and 40% of liberals. Liberals instead are more likely (33%) than moderates (24%) and conservatives (22%) to say schools should focus on building citizenship. Republicans are less apt than others to value a role for citizenship instruction in public schools.” The partisan divide creates challenges for proponents of civic education. In my opinion, citizenship should be a core value for conservatives, and it’s important to make that case.

The PDK poll doesn’t ask people what they mean by “good citizens.” We know from other studies that answers would vary. Some think of good behavior–obedience in the kindergarten classroom or staying out of trouble as a teenager. Others think of patriotism and support for the regime; still others, of activism and debate. Note that support for citizenship education is strongest among liberals and young people, and I doubt that most of them favor simple obedience.

One thing we can conclude is that good citizenship shouldn’t be an afterthought for policymakers, for 82% of adults think it’s at least very important, and 26% think it’s the main goal of schools.

Missed Our “Democracy Machine” Confab Call? Hear it Now!

NCDD hosted another one of our Confab Calls last week, and it was one of our most engaging calls yet! We hosted a conversation with the dynamic duo behind the concept of the “Democracy Machine” and had a very lively discussion with nearly 40 participants about the possibilities and practicalities of building a massive, integrated, deliberative online commons. You really missed out if you weren’t there!

Confab bubble imageOur presenters were John Gastil and Luke Hohmann, who have been working together to outline the technical, organizational, and collaborative process that would be needed to begin to link and integrate the many existing online D&D tools and platforms to create a functioning digital public commons that could facilitate sustained deliberative engagement and send ongoing feedback to both government and citizens to improve how the public interfaces with the public sector. It’s hard to understate the enormity of this undertaking, but the Confab Call presentation and discussion with John and Luke was a great opportunity to wrap our heads around the idea and discuss its pros, cons, and potentials.

If you missed out on the call but still want to see and hear the presentation and conversation, then we encourage you to watch the recording of this Confab Call by clicking here. This Confab Call also had one of the most active discussions we’ve had in the accompanying chat box, and the great back and forth is also worth reading along with the presentation, so you can find discussion from the Confab Call’s chat by clicking here.

NCDD is proud to have supported John and Luke in taking another step in making the Democracy Machine a reality by hosting this first broader conversation on our Confab Call. As you can hear in the call recording, there is still a lot more work to do to make the idea feasible. But the next step that John and Luke have planned is to use their interactive session on building the democracy machine during our NCDD 2016 conference in Boston this October 14th-16th. They’ll be using the session to collect more feedback and ideas from leaders in the field and also to enlist collaborators for the future, so if you’re interested in being involved in their project, be sure to register for the conference today so that you can continue the conversation in person!

Source: Challenges to Democracy blog

If you are looking for a bit more background on the idea of a “democracy machine,” we encourage you to read about the basic concept in John’s recent post on the Challenges to Democracy blog or read his full essay, “Building a Democracy Machine: Toward an Integrated and Empowered Form of Democracy,” by clicking here.

Thanks again to John and Luke for relying on NCDD to help advance their ideas and for collaborating on this Confab Call! To learn more about NCDD’s Tech Tuesday series and hear recordings of past calls, please visit

Integrating Civics across the Curriculum and Into Reading!

One of the most difficult tasks for a social studies teacher to do is to effectively integrate our content into alignment with the expectations of state reading standards. Here in Florida, we use the ‘Language Arts Florida Standards‘ (or LAFS), which are a modified version of ELA Common Core.  Over at Citrus Ridge, Polk County’s new K-8 Civics Academy, Ms. Heather Paden, who works as a special education and reading teacher for grades 6,7, and 8, has worked to provide her fellows, and their students, with support in reaching the civic mission of the school while still meeting the expectations of the LAFS benchmarks.

Using the short readings that are available through ‘Achieve 3000‘, Ms. Paden has developed guiding PowerPoints that help the students think through the reading using a civics lens. These activities prompt students to develop their civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions while also working to ensure growth in their reading, writing, and speaking proficiency.

For example, one of the weekly reading tasks involves using a reading from ‘Achieve 3000’ that concerns the plight of refugees who are fleeing oppression in Myanmar. In this reading, with features Angelina Jolie discussing her visit to a long-term refugee camp in Thailand, students are exposed (at least on a surface level) to what it might be like to be forced to live without a true home to call your own. Throughout the reading, vocabulary terms are hyperlinked to better ease students to an understanding.

In the accompanying PowerPoint, NO PLACE TO CALL HOME 9-6, Ms. Paden provides students with an overview question that will drive their thinking with this reading throughout the week. In this case, that question is ‘How can we help others whom are homeless?’. She then introduces students to terms and concepts, particularly ones that can be related to the discipline of civics, through a variety of reading and writing strategies.

No Place Image 1

For me, the acronym activity is particularly powerful and capable of provoking deeper thought. As the example here suggests, students can connect their background knowledge and their reading to civic dispositions through this model.
acronym activity

After working on reading strategies with the students, such as locating key details, she asks students to make a prediction (an important skill that is relevant both for ELA and for Social Studies!) that is rich in civic meaning:


This question is capable of prompting a great deal of discussion, and serves to really get students to think about consequences and how actions of governments may impact the individual.

Using both graphics and text, Ms. Paden then works on building student background knowledge and their personal vocabularies to facilitate reading.


Finally, she finishes up on at least three days with a ‘Civics Connection’, ensuring that she connects to the underlying purpose of this wonderful civics academy at Citrus Ridge: integrating civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions wherever and whenever possible.

wrap up no place like home

These questions dive deep into the well of civic dispositions, having students consider ways in which they can facilitate change while connecting their classwork to their own lived experience!

Kudos to Ms. Paden for the work she has done and for her efforts on behalf of the students and teachers of Citrus Ridge. It is only with the hard work of teachers like her that the mission of Citrus Ridge, the creation of a strong generation of Florida citizens, will be realized.

If you or your school are doing excellent work in civic education, please shoot me an email or leave a comment. We would love to hear from you!

Recent Radio Interviews, French Translations & More

Every few weeks, I seem to give extended radio and pocast interviews about the commons, and write occasional talks and essays that find their way to the Web. Here is a quick round-up of some of my more notable recent media appearances.

Writer’s Voice on Patterns of Commoning. One of my favorite interviewers is the skilled and sophisticated Francesca Rheannon of the syndicated radio show Writer’s Voice.  In early August, she aired our half-hour conversation about Patterns of Commoning,  the book that I co-edited with Silke Helfrich that profiles dozens of successful commons around the world.

Progressive philanthropy and system change.  In June, I had an extended interview with Steve Boland, host of the podcast Next in Nonprofits. We talked about progressive philanthropy and system change, a dialogue prompted by my April essay prepared for EDGE Funders Alliance on this same topic.

The importance of public squares.  The Hartford, Connecticut, public radio show, The Colin McEnroe Show, featured me and two other guests talking about “Democracy in the Public Square," on April 28, 2016. I focused on the tension between the government as the lawful guardian of public spaces, and the moral authority and human rights of the people to congregate in public spaces.

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