2017 Civvy Award Winners Announced

We are excited to share NCDD member org, the Bridge Alliance, recently announced the winners for the 2017 Civvy Awards! Congratulations to all the awardees and special shout-out to the fellow NCDD member orgs, New Hampshire Listens and National Institute for Civil Discourse! The American Civic Collaboration Awards (aka the Civvys), co-sponsored with Big Tent Nation, are the first ever national awards that honor individuals and organizations doing work around collective action to improve communities, beyond partisanship and divisive ideology. We invite you to join us in celebrating the winners of the Civvys and learn more about their important work in the post below or find the original on the Bridge Alliance’s blog here.


Announcing The 2017 Civvys Winners!

This last Friday at the National Conference on Citizenship the winners of The 2017 American Civic Collaboration Awards were announced!

New Hampshire Listens is a winner in the regional category for their work facilitating civil conversation in the state of New Hampshire on controversial public challenges. They also train others to facilitate such productive dialogues. Bruce Mallory and Michele Holt-Shannon have developed programs to elevate the state’s problem-solving capabilities, modeling a respectful and inclusive approach that many hope will be replicated nationwide. As the person who nominated them put it, “People feel relieved and respected when Bruce and Michele enter the room.”

Nationally, a partnership between the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, the National Institute for Civil Discourse and the National Foundation for Women Legislators has resulted in a new leadership program designed to deliver insight, inspiration and techniques to legislative leaders working to improve public policy discussion in their states. With NICD’s expertise in training community leaders and legislatures, SLLF’s success in providing state legislators with nonpartisan information and a forum for discussion, and NFWL’s work in empowering leaders, this partnership aims to replace gridlock with progress and criticism with compassion. In the words of their nominator, “since many of our federal leaders begIn their political service in state legislatures, success in this program will eventually improve our federal government.”

In the youth category, the Student Public Interest Research Groups from several college campuses were nominated for their work supporting voter education, voter registration and creating safe spaces for dialogue between students with diverse perspectives. Student PIRGs promote learning and understanding about a host of current issues, while providing a forum for students to become politically active and effective. As one elected official put it, “the work PIRGs do is vitally important in a democracy and serves as such a great role model as a set of engaged citizens so necessary to building effective public policy.”

Thank you to all those who submitted nominations and helped take part in recognizing organizations doing great collaborative work. A special thanks to our judges Peter Levine, Betsy Wright Hawkins and David Sawyer as well as our co-sponsor Big Tent Nation.

Here is to another year of innovation and collaboration!

You can find the original version of this on the Bridge Alliance’s blog at www.bridgealliance.us/blog.

the Tisch College initiative on gerrymandering

Gerrymandering displays several features that are typical of 21st century problems. It’s a consequence of deliberate human action that’s not in the public good. It’s highly technical. If you possess the data, the methods, and the authority, you can draw district lines that will give your side enormous advantages. These methods are scarce and monopolized by self-interested actors who have power of various sorts. It’s tempting to imagine a technical solution, such as programming computers to draw electoral districts, but there is no self-evidently best map. Well-intentioned people who draw district lines (or who write algorithms for computers to draw maps) must balance valid goals, such as competitiveness, compactness, and representativeness. Each of these general values can be defined in several reasonable ways. Tension among values under conditions of great technical complexity is typical of our age.

I’m proud, therefore, of Tisch College’s Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, led by Tufts Math Professor Moon Duchin. Her Group conducts advanced research on the math of redistricting, helps develop a more diverse cadre of people who can participate in these debates (including as expert witnesses in litigation), and educates the public. One of their approaches to education is working with k-12 teachers to teach the geometry of district maps.

Moon and I have a new piece in The Conversation drawn from this work: “Rebooting the mathematics behind gerrymandering.

Building Civic Capacity in an Era of Democratic Crisis by Hollie Russon-Gilman and K. Sabeel Rahman

About $3 billion was contributed to influence 2016 federal campaigns. In a new paper entitled “Building Civic Capacity in an Era of Democratic Crisis,” Hollie Russon-Gilman and K. Sabeel Rahman suggest a much better way to spend some of that money.

I realize, by the way, that political donors want candidates to notice their support. It would nevertheless make all the difference if they gave one percent of their $3 billion to activities that strengthen democracy–compensating for irradiating the body politic with polarizing and demoralizing messages. Progressive donors would also build the base for more progressive policy by investing for the longer term.

Russon-Gilman and Rahman argue “that today’s populist moment emphasizes the need to create a genuinely responsive, participatory form of democratic politics in which communities are empowered, rather than alienated.” They advocate investments that “self-consciously strive to build constituencies and identities that are more inclusive and accommodating. Think of this as ‘us’ populism, as opposed to ‘them’ populism.”

That basic stance supports two strategies:

  1. More investment in community organizing, especially the types that build “new bridges across racial, gender, and geographic divides.” Russon-Gilman and Rahman advocate broad-based, long-term organizing instead of mobilizing people around specific issues.
  2. “Reforming our institutions of governance” so that agencies offer citizens more “hooks and levers” to influence power, and so that public sector workers have skills and incentives to engage the public better.

These strategies imply (as the authors note) a broad understanding of democracy. It is not all about elections, nor even about the official government. It’s about how people come together and exercise power.

The paper offers valuable case studies. For instance, under the heading of organizing:

  • “The Center for Rural Strategies (CRS) … based in Whitesburg, Ky. in the central Appalachian coalfields, provides rural communities and nonprofit organizations with resources on innovative media and communications strategies in order to strengthen their work.” CRS provides information, challenges stereotypes about its communities, and lobbies for better access to the physical infrastructure for communications, because both content and conduit matter. (See “Building Democracy in ‘Trump Country’” by Ben Fink for a similar case.)
  • “Coworker.org (Coworker) is a digital platform for workers’ voices founded in response to the decline of formal institutions organizing workers and geared towards building a twenty-first century model of worker power. The organization provides tools directly to workers to self-advocate within the workplace, usually where no labor structure or organizing already exists.” Like CRS, Coworker invests in people who develop as leaders.

Examples under the heading of institutions include:

  • “The Office of Community Wealth Building (OCWB) was established as a permanent city agency in Richmond, Va., in 2015 to provide anti-poverty strategy and policy advice to the mayor and to implement municipal poverty reduction initiatives and systemic changes around housing, education, and economic development.”
  • “The Public Engagement Unit (PEU) is a division in New York’s city government started in 2015 [is] devoted to knocking on doors and making calls to hard-to-reach constituents to enroll them in city services, as well as foster long-term individual relationships with city staff.”

Overall, “Building Civic Capacity in an Era of Democratic Crisis” helps make the case for investments that are less short-term, less oriented to immediate efficiency, less split between government and civil society, but more experimental, more open-ended, and more truly inclusive than we normally see (especially, I would say, on the left).

See also: why the white working class must organizeto beat Trump, invest in organizingfighting Trump’s populism with pluralist populism; and community organizing between Athens and Jerusalem.

A Case Study of Wing: Has the 2011 Localism Act succeeded as a democratic innovation

Author: 
Note: the following entry is a stub. Please help us complete it. Problems and Purpose History Originating Entities and Funding Participant Recruitment and Selection Methods and Tools Used Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction Influence, Outcomes, and Effects Analysis and Lessons Learned Secondary Sources External Links Notes

Constitutional Rights Foundation Upcoming Webinar Around Civil Conversations!

CRF Con

Friends, we have been asked by the Constitutional Rights Foundation USA to share the following webinar announcement, and we are quite excited to do so. This looks to be an excellent pedagogically oriented webinar around civil conversations! You can register for the webinar here, but be sure to review the information below!

Now is the time to empower students to constructively discuss controversial issues; develop speaking, listening, and close reading skills; and improve understanding of their role in a democracy.
Join us for a free webinar that will help you facilitate engaging, structured, and standards-aligned academic discussions in your classes!
Thursday, November 2, 2017
7:00 p.m. (ET), 6:00 p.m. (MT), 5:00  p.m. (CT) , 4:00 p.m. (PT)
To view our list of free Civil Conversation resources visit our Curriculum Library.



A drawing for $25 Amazon gift cards will be held for participants that attend and complete the webinar survey!
 

Implementation of the 2011 Localism Act in Wing (Buckinghamshire, UK)

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After the passing of the Localism Act by the UK Parliament in 2011, power over planning and development was largely devolved to community and local governments. The Civil Parish of Wing quickly embraced the Localism Act's provisions, embarking on a series of public consultations to plan their neighbourhood's future development.

Turning to Eachother During Unwelcome Conversations

As tragic events seem to constantly fill our lives and newsfeeds, we wanted to lift up a poignant piece from NCDD member org Essential Partners‘ blog in response to the Las Vegas tragedy. Parisa Parsa, Executive Director of EP, writes about the tendency to jump to assessing a situation and pinning down the blame, and that while this helps us cope with tragedy, often limits our ability to grieve and genuinely process. She reminds us to hold space for these painful storytelling opportunities and how these conversations can allow us the chance to come together in community, in order to find understanding and a collective way to move forward. We encourage you to read the piece below or you can find the original on Essential Partners’ blog here.


Unwelcome Conversations

“I can’t even get my mind around Las Vegas” the woman next to me exclaimed. We were both staring at the TV blasting the news while waiting to board our flight last week. As ever, the media was already flooded with analysis to explain what had happened, while we struggled again to understand why it happened. The world rushed to the usual rallying cries: gun control, mental health, male violence…the list goes on.

A typical media pundit or post usually includes some phrase critical of what others are talking about. “It’s not about [what the last commenter said], it’s about [my deepest conviction].” And with great assuredness, folks far from the situation quickly move to assert their go-to explanation. A mad dash to do this kind of assessment of a crisis offers a great coping mechanism. When we can put an unspeakably tragic event into some frame of meaning, our bearings return and panic is reduced. Because the truth is, we don’t want to be talking about terrible moments at all. We don’t want it to have happened, and we most definitely don’t want it to happen again. Having someone or something to blame, especially if it is singular, definite and not ourselves, help us detach ourselves from these horrible acts of violence and hate. Yet so far, collectively, retracting and finger pointing has not helped us prevent the unspeakable from happening again, and again, and again.

Venturing away from defining it as “all about” mental health or guns or testosterone opens up a whole new world. In the midst of our shock and horror, listening to our grief can provide answers. When we sit with the many explanations, hear the cries of those who feel misunderstood, hold one another in our pain, sorrow and anger, we begin to connect to another story. Many voices, conflicting views, and multiple understandings arise. Those stories forge a new way out of the mire, lets our pain and our hope speak to one another, and begins to carve a path to creative solutions.

Turning to one another in community to share our responses, our meaning-making and our experiences can create another possible future. Let’s talk and listen more deeply, and see what happens.

You can find the original version of this on Essential Partners’ blog at www.whatisessential.org/blog/unwelcome-conversations.

Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies

I recently read Chenhao Tan et al’s 2016 WWW paper Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies in Good-faith Online Discussions, which presents an interesting study of the linguistic features of persuasion.

Coming from a deliberative background, the word ‘persuasion’ has negative connotations. Indeed, Habermas and others strongly argue that deliberation must be free from persuasion – defined roughly as an act of power that causes an artificial opinion change.

In its more colloquial sense, however, persuasion needn’t be so negatively defined. Within the computer science literature on argument mining and detection, persuasion is generally more benignly considered as any catalyst causing opinion change. If I “persuade” you to take a different route because the road you were planning to take is closed, that persuasion is not problematic in the Habermasian sense as long as I’m not distorting the truth in order to persuade you.

Furthermore, Tan et al gather a very promising data set for this investigation – a corpus of “good faith online discussions” as the title says. Those discussions come from Reddit’s Change My Mind forum, a moderated platform with explicit and enforced norms for sharing reasoned arguments.

Each thread starts with a user who explicit states they want to have their opinion changed. That user then shares said opinion and outlines their reasoning behind the opinion. Other users then present arguments to the contrary. The original poster then has the opportunity to award a “delta” to a response if it succeeded in changing their opinion.

So there’s a lot to like about the structure of the dataset.

I have a lot of questions, though, about the kinds of opinion which are being shared and changed. Looking through the site today, posts cover a mix of serious political discussion, existential crises, and humorous conundrums.

The all time most highly rated post on the site begins with the opinion, “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.” So it’s unclear just how much we can infer about debate more broadly from these users.

However, Tan et al, intentionally restrict their analysis to linguistic features, carefully comparing posts which ultimately win a “delta” to the most similar non-delta post responding to the same opinion. In this way, they aim to “de-emphasize what is being said in favor of how it is expressed.” 

There’s a lot we lose, of course, by not considering content, but this paper makes valuable contributions in disambiguating the effects of content from the effects of syntactic style.

Interestingly, they find that persuasive posts – those which earn a delta from the original poster – are more dissimilar for the originating post in content words, while being more similar in stop words (common words such as “a”, “the”, etc). The authors are careful not to make causal claims, but I can’t help but wonder what the causal mechanism behind that might be. The similarity of content words matched by the dissimilarity of stop words seems to imply that users are talking about different things, but in similar ways.

There’s a lot of debate, though, about exactly, what should count as a “stop word” – and whether stop word lists should be specially calibrated for the content. Furthermore, I’m not familiar with any deep theory on the use of stop words, so I’m not sure this content word/stop word disjunction really tells us much at all.

The authors also investigate usage of different word categories – finding, for example, that posts tend to begin and end with tangible arguments while become more abstract in the middle.

Finally, they investigate the features of users who award deltas – e.g., users who do change their mind. In this setting, they find that people who use more first person singular pronouns are more likely to change, while those using more first person plurals are less likely to change. They posit that the first person plural indicates a sort of diffuse sense of responsibility for a view, indicating that the person feels less ownership and is therefore less likely to change.

I’d love to see an extension of this work which dives into the content and examines, for example, what sorts of opinions people are likely to change – but this paper presents a thought-provoking look the persuasive effects of linguistic features themselves.

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new research on “civic deserts”

(Washington, DC) My colleagues Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and Felicia Sullivan coined the phrase “civic deserts” to name places where there are few or no opportunities to be active and constructive participants in civic life. The analogy is to “food deserts”–geographical communities where there is little or no nutritious food for sale. You can still be an active citizen in a civic desert, just as you can grow vegetables in your back yard; it’s just that the whole burden falls on you.

Today at the National Conference on Citizenship, we are releasing Civic Deserts: America’s Civic Health Challenge by Matthew N. Atwell, John Bridgeland, and me. It’s a 36-page report that documents the declining opportunities for civic engagement in America. John Bridgeland and Robert Putnam also write about it today in a PBS opinion piece.

This is an example of a table from the report:

Thanks to friends at USC’s Center for Economic and Social Research, we were able to ask a  large, representative sample of Americans whether they belonged to various kinds of groups; if so, whether they participated actively in any of them; and if so, whether they thought that the group’s leaders (a) usually did what they promised and (b) usually tried to serve and include all the members. It turns out that only 28% of adult Americans actively belong to groups whose leaders are accountable and inclusive. That statistic does not tell us how much geographical space is taken up by civic deserts, but it suggests that they are common. And the historical data implies that civic engagement used to be much more widespread.

I separately formed a hypothesis that lacking direct, personal experience with good leadership would make a person more tolerant of the leadership style of Donald J. Trump, controlling for one’s political ideology. In other words, given two people who agree with Trump on issues, the one without experience of good local leadership would be more supportive of Trump as a leader. This was testable with the USC data, which includes a whole battery of questions about ideology, issues, and Trump. My hypothesis turned out not to be true: partisanship and media choice seem to explain opinions of the current president almost completely, and experience in groups adds no explanatory power. Still, I think there may be a more circuitous story about civic deserts as a cause of Trump’s victory: the decline of civic associations increases the power of partisan heuristics and ideological media. Even if that hypothesis is also false, civic deserts are still a problem, because civic engagement benefits health, economic development, safety, education, and good government.

See also: The Hollowing Out of US Democracy (my blog post for USC); Mitigating the Negative Consequences of Living in Civic Deserts – What Digital Media Can (and have yet to) Do (a new CIRCLE article); America needs big ideas to heal our divides. Here are three by Bridgeland and Putnam; and the power of the NRA in an age of civic deserts.