The 4-page issue advisory, How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? was published September 2016 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address the tragic realities of mass shootings that are occurring in our communities. The issue advisory is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here.
The tragic attacks in Orlando, Florida, San Bernardino, California, and other places have raised concerns among many people across the nation. Other violent episodes, such as a teenager who was gunned down after returning home from the president’s inauguration, have also drawn attention. While mass shootings are infrequent, they may be increasing. Each event has devastating effects on the entire community.
Overall, the United States has become safer in recent years. Yet mass shooters target innocent people indiscriminately, often in locales where people ordinarily (and rightly) feel safe—movie theaters, college campuses, schools. How can we stop these violent acts and ensure that people feel safe in their homes and communities?
This issue advisory presents three options for deliberation, along with their drawbacks:
Option 1: Reduce the Threat of Mass Shootings
The problem is that we are too vulnerable to violence. Communities and homes should be places where people are safe. The means for carrying out mass shootings are all around, and those who might perpetrate them are free among us. It is too easy for individuals to obtain weapons that are designed to kill a large number of people in a short time. We cannot stop all violent impulses, but we can and should make it much more difficult for people to act on them. We need to restrict the availability of dangerous weapons, identify potentially dangerous people, and prevent them from carrying out their plans.
Option 2: Equip People to Defend Themselves
The problem is that most people are unable to defend themselves against sudden danger from violence. There will always be some people who are a threat to those around them. In such situations, we cannot afford to rely on someone else to rescue us. We need to be prepared for violence and have the means to defend against it. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees this right.
Option 3: Root Out Violence in Society
The problem is that we live in a culture that perpetuates violence and numbs people to its effects. Violence and criminality are pervasive in popular music, films, television, video games, and sports. Mass murderers gain notoriety through nonstop media portrayals. This results in a culture in which stories of mass shootings circulate and gain momentum, increasing the likelihood of further shootings. We need to root out and stop the glorification of violence to break this cycle.
Note about this Issue Advisory
Recent horrific events involving mass shootings have touched a deep chord in many of us. Deliberative forums on this issue will not be easy. It will be important to remember, and to remind participants, that the objective of these forums is to begin to work through the tensions between security, freedom, and a healthy society.
Mass violence evokes raw emotions. Participants in this forum may become angry, and those with strong feelings may feel attacked by those who hold other points of view. This may sidetrack the deliberation. In productive deliberation, people examine the advantages and disadvantages of different options for addressing a difficult public problem, weighing these against the things they hold deeply valuable. This framing is designed to help people work through their emotions to recognize the trade-offs that each of us must wrestle with in deciding how to move forward.
The framework outlined in this issue advisory encompasses several options and provides an alternative means of moving forward in order to avoid the polarizing rhetoric now growing around the major policy options. Each option is rooted in a shared concern and proposes a distinct strategy for addressing the problem that includes roles for citizens to play. Equally important, each option presents the drawbacks inherent in each action. Recognizing these drawbacks allows people to see the trade-offs they must consider in pursuing any action. It is these drawbacks, in large part, that make coming to shared judgment so difficult—but ultimately, so productive.
One effective way to begin deliberative forums on this issue is to ask people to describe how the issue of mass violence has affected them or their families. Some will have had direct experience; many more will say they are affected by the fear of such acts. They are likely to mention the concerns identified in the framework.
The goal of this framework is to assist people in moving from initial reactions to more reflective judgment. That requires serious deliberation or weighing options for action against the things people value.
About NIFI Issue Guides
NIFI’s Issue Guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, Issue Guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.
Follow on Twitter: @NIForums
In honor of President’s Day, we wanted to share this piece by Big Tent Nation on some lessons from George Washington that was posted on NCDD member org, the Bridge Alliance‘s website. This post lifts up some of the gems the first president wrote about on the power of dialogue and importance of civility especially within conversation. In addition to BTN and BA, there are several organizations in the NCDD network like the National Institute for Civil Discourse and The Village Square, have been working to improve civility just as G.W. advised. You can read the post below or find this version on the BA’s site here.
Lessons from George Washington: It’s Time We Listened!
We all want America to flourish and prosper, but disagreements on “how” keep tripping us up. How is much more than picking between policy prescriptions – at its core it involves how we treat each other, and particularly those we disagree with.
The person most essential to realizing America in the first place thought about this issue a lot. It’s time to revisit his legacy.
George Washington was incredibly wealthy, physically imposing and a war hero of epic proportions. He probably could have gotten away with being a total jerk and still been revered! The fact is, many Americans wanted to give him almost limitless power. Some even wanted to make him a king.
His response? To a degree unprecedented in history (with all due respect to Cincinnatus), he put nation ahead of personal power and glory. Was it because he wasn’t ambitious? Was it because he never felt like knocking Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s heads together and telling them to just behave? Absolutely not. He had the same desires and frustrations we all struggle with.
In fact, Washington was a highly emotional person who worked incredibly hard to manage his impulses.
He started cultivating self-control and interpersonal wisdom at an early age. At just 16, he created a book for himself now called “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” In it he transcribed 110 guidelines for personal conduct, manners and social relations. Reading them now, I’m struck by how relevant they are to today’s political challenges – and the degree to which we’re systematically ignoring them. Below are a few that would contribute enormously to authentic American greatness, if only we put them into practice:
At a profound level, Washington recognized that discipline and respect for others are essential to achieving greatness as a person or a nation. We’ve strayed too far from these principles – and that represents an existential threat to our democracy.
Too many of us have allowed “our side” winning to triumph over the best interests of America as a whole. The political dysfunction we suffer today has its roots in this toxic, zero sum mentality. Is there a way forward? The jury is out, but I can’t think of a better guide for all of us than the saying George Washington wrote down last:
You can find this version of the Big Tent Nation’s blog piece on the Bridge Alliance site at www.bridgealliance.us/lessons_from_george_washington_it_s_time_we_listened.
We’re excited announce the upcoming National Week of Conversation (NWOC), which is taking place this April 20-28.
The National Week of Conversation is designed to:
- Turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division
- Begin mending the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides
- Bring people together again–from ‘us vs. them’ to ‘me and you’
- Build relationships by listening first to understand the other
NCDD took part in the initial planning meeting for this project last October, which was convened by the Bridge Alliance and sponsored by the Chicago Community Trust, and we’re excited to continue supporting it and hopefully mobilize many in our community to get involved!
Organizations coast to coast can host an event or activity, share NWOC with their members, build public awareness through press and social media, recruit others and more. You do not want to miss out on this landmark event, for America and for the growth of this movement — so please complete the Partner Sign-up Form today!
Here are a few things that are ALREADY in the works for NWOC:
- April 20: The Village Square will be hosting Jefferson Dinners in Charlottesville, VA at which diverse groups will enjoy enriching conversation on topics of their choice.
- April 21: Listen First Project will be hosting Listen First in Charlottesville to support the progress of healing and reconciliation in Charlottesville with a number of local and national influencers.
- April 20-22: bridgeUSA and Future 500 will be co-hosting the Bridge Summit in Dallas, Texas that will bring together groups and people to advance a national movement.
- Throughout the week, large libraries such as the Boston Public Library and Kansas City Public Library as well as small public libraries and schools will bring conversation programs to people across the country.
– NCDD will work with our members offer in-person facilitation at some libraries.
– Mismatch will assist online conversations between people with different backgrounds.
There will be “take-home” options such as Living Room Conversations and Civic Dinners from the library events.
– AllSides for Schools will help teachers and classrooms participate.
Email NWOC@BridgeAlliance.US with any questions you may have.
According to Freedom House, “Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—came under attack around the world.”
This statement deserves unpacking if we want to understand in what ways democracy (or “freedom”) is declining worldwide. The statement combines several ideals that may not fit neatly together in practice. It’s not obvious why Freedom House mentions some rights instead of others. For example, if the key concept is “democracy,” we might look for equality of voice, power, and status. Finally, the statement never defines the alternative to democracy: what is gaining at the expense of the basket of values that Freedom House endorses.
I think what’s gaining is authoritarianism, meaning a system that relies on the arbitrary will of leaders. It is a government by rulers without (many) rules. An authoritarian leader can say “Do this” and can evade any explanation other than, “Because I said so.” Authoritarian leaders typically undermine precisely the values that Freedom House lists: fair elections, minority rights, a free press, and rule of law.
The opposite of authoritarianism is “non-domination,” in Philip Pettit’s influential sense. A system without domination is one in which, although citizens must follow rules and face restrictions, nobody can simply tell anyone else what to do. Pettit argues that non-domination was the core value in the long tradition of civic republicanism that began in antiquity and flourished in the Italian city states, the English Revolution, and the American founding. His framework suggests a spectrum that runs from an absence of domination (republicanism) to pervasive domination (authoritarianism).
Evidence like the material I collected recently shows that republican institutions are in decline in many countries. Republicanism is in retreat.
Within the republican tradition, there is room for debate about democratic processes. Do democratic institutions (such as popular voting) prevent domination or create opportunities for majorities to dominate? There is also room for debate about liberal rights. For example, do property rights prevent or enable domination?
I’ll leave liberal rights aside for this post, although they are important. If we focus on democratic participation (lively debate, mobilized citizens, and a strong scope for elections), then we can view it as theoretically distinct from republicanism. Below, republicanism is on the horizontal axis; democracy on the vertical. Quadrant A stands for a system in which the people rule, yet majorities or popularly elected leaders dictate results without having to justify themselves. B is a society with equal voice and power, where everything is open to debate and no one can dominate anyone else. C is classic authoritarianism: no rules, no voice. And D is a system in which the government is limited and rule-guided and obligated to explain itself, but the people don’t have much of a voice. (Austria-Hungary in 1890?)
It is then an empirical question whether democratic processes tend to accompany republican safeguards. Is B common? Is it even possible?
In the V-Dem database, in 2016, for nations that held elections at all, there was a correlation of 0.4 between the degree to which the executive branch honors constitutional constraints and the degree to which free elections were held without intimidation.
There was a stronger correlation between respect for the constitution and robust public discussion (.53). (This means that that “large numbers of non-elite groups as well as ordinary people … discuss major policies among themselves, in the media, in associations or neighborhoods, or in the streets”).
I show here the correlation between respect for the constitution and whether the government consults with a broad range of stakeholders before making decisions (0.6).
These results are consistent with the hypothesis that elections and a strong public sphere help to check arbitrary power. Perhaps limited governments are forced to permit elections, to consult with stakeholders, and to accept robust deliberation.
There are no examples in the world today of strongly rule-guided governments that don’t deliberate at all, nor are there any governments that consult and deliberate widely but pay no attention to constitutional safeguards.
However, the correlations are far from lockstep. Countries do fall in all of the four quadrants, albeit not deeply into A or D. If your values are strongly republican, democratic methods seem to be helpful–but they won’t get you all the way to non-domination. And if your values are strictly democratic, republicanism may get somewhat in your way.
The 5-page review written by Stacie Molnar-Main of Democracy, Deliberation and Education (2017), by Robert Asen was published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 1. In the book, Asen compiled and analyzes case studies of three school boards’ deliberations over a two-year period and how they addressed concerns of accountability and policy change. Read an excerpt of the review below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.
From the review…
Democracy, Deliberation and Education is comprised of case studies of three school boards’ deliberations over a two-year period, during which board members addressed local educational concerns in the context of accountability and market driven state and federal policies. Through these cases, Robert Asen demonstrates how theoretical issues in deliberative decision-making manifest in the work of local boards as they decide how to approach issues like district extra-curricular activities, finances, personnel and open enrollment. Drawing on the work of deliberative theorists such as Habermas, Rawls, Dewey, and others, the book explores themes raised by the boards’ deliberation and argues that school boards are positioned to play a pivotal role in advancing the “Great Community” that Dewey envisioned.
The book includes five theme-based chapters, in addition to an introduction and conclusion. Early on, Asen references public sphere theory when he describes school boards as “strong publics” – publics engaged in both opinion formation and policy-making. As such, they serve as sites where “participants might engage one another to develop collectively perspectives and positions that each might not hold individually and to act on these perspectives and positions in charting a common course” (p. 35). Asen argues that school boards are distinct from most other examples of strong publics because they operate within an “education policy network.” This requires them to spend time interacting in state and federal policymaking environments, as well as in direct interaction with local constituents. From this unique space, the book explores how board members—as interlocutors— negotiate a policy environment which may constrain deliberation, while responding to contingent developments, localized needs and contested matters within their communities.
The next three chapters focus on individual cases and address the themes of ideology, scarcity and expertise. “Ideology” is explored through an analysis of one board’s decision to officially recognize a Gay Straight Alliance that had been informally meeting in the district’s schools. The chapter describes how dynamics of ideology interact in school board deliberations where participants’ individual commitments, district policy, and the law produce public tensions and board members are forced to make a decision under threat of a discrimination lawsuit. The next chapter considers the resources a district needs to deliberate productively. By examining budget deliberations in a community severely impacted by the 2008 recession, Asen explores how “scarcity” influenced the board’s decision to adopt a budget that would paradoxically result in a decrease in state funding. In this case, a system of scarcity—demarked by high community unemployment rates, a strained school budget, relative power differences among community stakeholders and perceptions of people’s economic suffering—influenced deliberations and produced results that were both non-rational and counter to the intent of state laws 1 Molnar-Main: Review of Democracy , Deliberation and Education seeking to ameliorate funding inequalities. The theme of “expertise” is explored through the case of a school board serving a more affluent community. In this school district, board members disproportionately engaged expertise over community values when making decisions about which students should be welcomed into the district under state laws promoting school choice. The chapter reveals how market models of expertise and education can pervade deliberations and limit the scope of information and concerns engaged in decision-making. This, in turn, can produce outcomes that weaken opportunities for public school students to learn in classrooms that reflect the economic, racial and ethnic diversity of the broader public.
Download the full review from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.
About the Journal of Public Deliberation
Spearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.
Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem
Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA
Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol13/iss1/art10/
NCDD hosted another one of our informative and exciting TechTues calls earlier this week! We were joined by around 100 participants from across the world to learn more about Citizens Foundation, their digital democracy solutions, and how they are working to strengthen civic engagement in Iceland and internationally.
We recommend you listen to the recording if you weren’t able to make it because it was a great call!
On the call, Robert Bjarnason of Citizens Foundation walked participants through a brief history of how democracy has evolved throughout the last millennium in Iceland and set the stage for the work they are doing today. Founded in the aftermath of Iceland’s economic collapse in 2008, Citizens Foundation sought to improve public participation in government and policy change, by creating open source tools and implementing more democratic processes. They specialize in participatory budgeting, policy crowdsourcing, and other open source projects spanning several countries in Europe and in Australia.
Some of our favorite quotes from Robert during the Tech Tuesday:
- “A key factor is to make participation fun. Make it informational and educational, but it can’t be boring. People have too many other options, there’s competition for attention, so make it an enjoyable experience”
- “Lower the barrier to reach more people and not just the usual suspects”
- “It’s key to let people know about the effort, they can’t participate if they don’t know about it.”
- “If you listen to the people, the people will listen to you.”
- [In response to a question on how do you make participation fun?] “Complicated is how you kill fun, make it simple and use pictures!”
If you were unable to join us on the call, never fear! We recorded the webinar which can be found on the archives page here. Access to the archives is a benefit of being an NCDD member, so make sure your membership is up-to-date (or click here to join). We had an active chat discussion which raised some really interesting questions and examples, and you can check out the transcript of this chat by clicking here. Robert also shared the slides from his presentation, which you can find by clicking here, in case you wanted to scroll through them.
Big thank you to Robert and everyone who participated on the call to make it engaging and informative! We encourage you to check out the TechTues recording and learn more about Citizens Foundation’s ongoing work at https://citizens.is/. To learn more about NCDD’s Tech Tuesday series and hear recordings of past calls, please visit www.ncdd.org/tech-tuesdays.
Finally, we love holding these events and we want to continue to elevate the work of our field with Tech Tuesdays and Confab Calls. It is through your generous contributions to NCDD that we can keep doing this work! That’s why we want to encourage you to support NCDD by making a donation or becoming an NCDD member today (you can also renew your membership by clicking here).