Finally, a designated global event to celebrate the commons and explore it in serious ways!
The International Association for the Study of the Commons – the academic body founded by the late Professor Elinor Ostrom and other scholars – is helping organize World Commons Week from October 4 to 12. At many locations around the world, commoners will host public talks and discuss various aspects of the commons, especially from a scholarly perspective.
Three main activities are planned: a policy seminar and conference in Washington, D.C., several dozen local events in different places worldwide, and a marathon of webinar talks for 24 straight hours by commons scholars. (I’ll be doing one of the talks!)
The policy seminar will take place on October 4 at the International Food Policy Research Institute, in Washington, D.C., organized by Dr. Ruth Meinzen-Dick of the Institute. The next day, October 5, you may want to attend the conference “Celebrating Commons Scholarship” at Georgetown University on October 5, co-organized by Professors Sheila Foster and Brigham Daniels.
The local events range from teach-ins and workshops to mini-conferences and talks delivered by local scholars or commons practitioners. In Mexico, there will be a conference on watershed sustainability. In Germany, a talk on “Pseudo-Commons in Post-Socialist Countries.” In Africa, an examination of transboundary wildlife protection, “Commons Without Borders.”
If you’d like to host your own event and have it noted on the World Commons Week website, contact Professor Charles Schweik of the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy at cschweik /at/pubpol.umass.edu.
In an article published today (“Deliberation or Simulated Deliberation?” in Democracy and Education, 26, 1, Article 7), I respond to a valuable previous piece by Margaret S. Crocco and her colleagues, “Deliberating Public Policy Issues with Adolescents: Classroom Dynamics and Sociocultural Considerations.” These authors analyze classroom “deliberations” of current events and find disappointing results. Their analysis is rigorous and insightful. One finding particularly caught my eye.
It is interesting that even students at the school with a large immigrant population tended to talk about immigrants as “they” when they deliberated about national policy. They were essentially role-playing the government or perhaps a body of influential citizens of the United States. As Crocco and her colleagues write, “Participating in the public debate about immigration in U.S. classrooms positions one as an insider with all the privileges of excluding outsiders that result from this status” (Crocco et al., 2018). This is evidence that the students experienced the discussion as a kind of role-play.
That finding leads me to propose that discussions can vary on two dimensions. Talking can result in an actual decision, or it can be about a simulated or hypothetical decision. And the participants can either speak for themselves or role-play characters. Those distinctions produce four types, all of which can be found in actual classrooms (and in settings for adults, such as community fora.)
I think Crocco et al. provide some grounds for skepticism about simulated decision-making discussions in which the speakers represent themselves (cell 3). When we ask students (or adults) to discuss what “we” should do, where the “we” is actually a vast or distant entity, such as the US government, we position them as insiders even though they know they are outsiders. This disjunction could be fun or interesting, but I think often it just alienates.
The other cells are more promising. It’s better to be able to: (1) govern a real entity, such as a student-led association, (2) give advice to a real decision-maker, or (4) pretend that you hold a decision-making role, such as a Senator in a fictional Congress.
There are benign reasons to turn national issues into topics for small-group discussions. The goal is to make students (or others) feel that the government is theirs. It does belong to them, as a matter of justice, and it’s great if they take away that feeling. But we must be serious about their limited power, or they will perceive the discussion as fake and perhaps draw the conclusion that democracy is fundamentally a false promise. As I write in the article:
The students in these three classes did not actually decide about immigration. At most, they might shift their individual opinions on that topic, and if they encouraged others outside the class to change their opinions in similar ways, that could possibly affect national policy by influencing those people’s votes. But that is a remote form of impact for any citizen to consider, and especially for students who are not old enough to vote themselves. The United States is an “Imagined Community” (Anderson, 1991), not a group of people who literally make decisions. The real group—a classroom full of students—was pretending to deliberate.
That is how I would explain why the results were disappointing.
NCDD member org, Public Agenda, in collaboration with fellow NCDDer the Kettering Foundation have recently released the inaugural report of their Hidden Common Ground Initiative. This is an effort which seeks to dive deeper into issues that have been polarizing, in order to illuminate where there is common ground; with the hopes of better uniting the public around concrete, actionable solutions. This first round of research explores incarceration, and the following report that is slated to be released in May will revolve around healthcare. You can read the press release from Public Agenda below and find more information on the Hidden Common Ground Initiative here.
New Research Initiative Fights Narrative of Absolute Division of Americans on Critical Issues
Inaugural project of the Hidden Common Ground Initiative elevates areas of agreement on incarceration and criminal justice reform in America
The state of America’s national politics has led many to believe the country is irreparably polarized and gridlocked. Recently, a storyline has taken hold that portrays this dysfunction as a reflection of our profound divisions as a people. However, a new research initiative launched by Public Agenda, in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation, shows that Americans can find common ground on many of the problems our nation faces.
It has taken decades for our national politics to become as polarized as it is today, leading to stagnation on critical issues like gun control, immigration and health care. While it is important to acknowledge the differences and disagreements that do exist, our divisions are hardly the whole story. The Hidden Common Ground Initiative aspires to tell the story of where the public agrees on concrete, actionable solutions and make those areas of agreement more salient and potent in our public life.
“We believe that dispelling the myth that we are hopelessly divided can not only help fuel progress on a host of issues, but also help us better navigate our real, enduring divisions.” said Will Friedman, President of Public Agenda. “We are grateful to have the Kettering Foundation as a collaborator on this initiative that has the potential to fight the often-inflated narrative of an America that is so divided, progress is impossible.”
The Hidden Common Ground Initiative will explore a variety of issues facing our nation and will include the release of a series of reports on our research findings. The first report, “Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Incarceration,” focuses on hidden or otherwise underappreciated common ground in the realm of incarceration and criminal justice reform.
In cross-partisan focus groups held around the country, reinforced by a review of existing survey research, we learned that:
- The focus group participants felt incarceration serves important functions, such as keeping dangerous people off the streets, but agreed that the criminal justice system can be unfair and make mistakes.
- Participants were strongly focused on preventing people from becoming criminals in the first place.
For drug crimes, and possibly some other nonviolent offenses, alternatives to incarceration made good sense to most people in the focus groups. But they were unwilling to accept alternative sentencing for violent crimes.
- Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences was a confusing, unresolved issue for participants.
Focus group findings are summarized in the new report, “Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Incarceration.” Three focus groups were conducted in September 2017 across the United States in urban Hamilton County, Ohio; rural Franklin County, Missouri; and suburban Suffolk County, New York.
The next report from the Hidden Common Ground Initiative, scheduled to be released in May, will explore how people talk across party lines about the problems facing our health care system and what people agree should be done to make progress.
You can read more about the Hidden Common Ground Initiative on Public Agenda’s site at www.publicagenda.org/pages/hidden-common-ground-where-americans-see-eye-to-eye-on-incarceration.
As Director of Development, Katie works collaboratively with senior staff to raise funds for Public Agenda's projects and operations. Prior to joining Public Agenda, Katie was the Associate Director of Institutional Giving at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City and she worked for six years at the Brooklyn Museum in many capacities, including Interim Co-Head of Development and Senior Development Officer. Katie brings with her a wealth of experience in fundraising and development, having worked as the Associate Director for Donor Stewardship at Columbia College and the Grants Writer at the Osborne Association, an organization that works with incarcerated populations and their loved ones.
Katie has a Master's from Columbia in Fundraising and Nonprofit Management and a Bachelor's degree from Rutgers College, where she graduated with honors.
Donald Trump says many things. Some are innocuous and banal. Quite a few are inconsistent. And some provide evidence that he belongs in these three categories:
- A “populist” in the particular sense proposed by Jan-Werner Müller. (I also like to retain more positive definitions of the same word.) For Müller, a populist is someone who believes that the whole authentic people is unified behind a set of values that the populist leader explicitly expresses. Therefore, the opposition is illegitimate. Elections that favor the populist leader are sacrosanct, and anyone who criticizes or strives to reverse these results is an enemy of the people. But elections that challenge the populist must have been rigged or stolen. “A los amigos, justicia y gracia. A los enemigos, la ley a secas.”
- A chauvinist, meaning someone who explicitly and apologetically favors an in-group and disparages an out-group. In the United States, racism is a major variety. But in some other countries, the leading chauvinists are inspired by religion or nationality instead of race.
- A media personality who projects a combative personality, who disparages opponents, who cultivates “outrage,” who “seem[s] to always react to controversy and even aversion by leaning into it,” and who claims honesty or authenticity on the basis that he says things that give offense or cause pain–except not to his core audience. This style is prevalent on talk radio, certain reaches of cable news–but equally important, in supermarket tabloids, WWF, and reality TV shows like The Apprentice.
These three categories need not intersect. You can be an outrageous media personality who isn’t a populist or a chauvinist, a chauvinist who isn’t a celebrity, etc.
None of these categories is new. White Supremacy has been near the center of American politics since the beginning. Various forms of populism and chauvinism were much more extreme around the world in 1939 than today. But there does seem to be a global boom of unapologetic chauvinist populists who use media effectively.
The right doesn’t own these categories, and the left doesn’t consistently avoid them. I know plenty of people who believe that the Tea Party is pure Astroturf, a creature of right-wing billionaires. That is a populist move in Müller’s sense: it declares a large number of actual Americans to be illegitimate participants in politics. By the way, it’s different if you hate and fear your political opponents. That is partisanship, but not populism, so long as you acknowledge that your opponents are fellow citizens and you must share politics with them.
We’ve seen plenty of examples of these categories, but we have never had a president who fits all three. The combination poses a severe threat to our institutions and world peace.
Insofar as the problem is populism (in Müller’s sense), then I think an electoral shellacking will be the best remedy. Even if Republicans lose the 2018 election badly, the strongest Trump supporters (30-40% of the population) will continue to think that he speaks for the whole genuine American public and the election was rigged. However, Trump can’t govern without conservative and business elites. I think they will abandon him if they see that he is dragging them into the minority.
By the same token, if Republicans do better than expected in ’18, and/or Trump is reelected, we are in for much more populism. And if Trump’s presidency ends for a relatively extraneous reason, such as personal criminality, then the picture will be muddy enough that populism will remain an attractive option. (I often think that we are fortunate in our populist; if he were smarter and more disciplined, we would really be in trouble.)
Apart from elections, we have two other assets in the struggle against Müller-style populism. One is pluralist populism , which portrays “the people” as highly diverse (I discuss that rich tradition here).
The other is genuine conservatism. Real conservative thought is diametrically opposed–in principle–to the idea that any government can ever be authorized by a unitary public. The left/right spectrum originated in the French Revolution, and the Jacobin left was the populist side, in Müller’s sense. Conservatism emerged in reaction to the revolutionaries’ claim to a popular mandate, and great conservative thinkers have always opposed such claims. Many Republican politicians will go along with Trumpian populism as long as it wins elections; but conservatives will denounce it from the rooftops. The question is how many conservatives actually exist.
Insofar as the problem is chauvinism (meaning, in the USA, racism, religious bigotry, and sexism), then it’s the next chapter in a basic American story. Progress is hard-won and tends to have a zigzag pattern. I am a fan of Barack Obama for other reasons than his race, but it is significant that he was the first leader of a majority-white nation to have modern African ancestors–and the first US president in modern times to have a foreign father. That was the zig; Trump is the zag. The struggle continues.
Finally, insofar as the problem is celebrity politics, I am actually optimistic. I believe that Trump came first in a crowded and splintered Republican primary field because his persona appealed to a minority of the US population. He then beat Clinton in the Electoral College because partisan polarization gave him most Republican votes in key states, and she was deeply unpopular. Compared to a generic incumbent president who enjoys a strong economy and who hasn’t actually passed any controversial legislation (other than a tax cut), Trump is remarkably unpopular. And a key reason is his style. So I think acting like a reality TV star exacts a political cost and is not likely to be replicated.
The 27-page article, Focus Group Discussions as Sites for Public Deliberation and Sensemaking Following Shared Political Documentary Viewing (2017), was written byMargaret Jane Pitts, Kate Kenski, Stephanie A. Smith, and Corey A. Pavlich, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 2. From the abstract, “This study examines the potential that shared political documentary viewing coupled with public deliberation via focus group discussion has for political sensemaking and civic engagement”. Read an excerpt from the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.
From the introduction…
While the field of political communication has paid attention to the importance of entertainment media in the last decade (e.g., Hmielowski, Holbert, & Lee, 2011; Young, 2004), little research has focused on political documentary as an influential medium and source for public deliberation and meaning-making (Nisbet & Aufderheide, 2009). A few studies have shown that political documentary has the potential to influence public perceptions and behaviors. For example, Howell (2011) found that UK viewers became more pro-environmental after being exposed to a film depicting the negative effects of climate change. Stroud (2007) found that the viewers of the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 were more likely to discuss politics with friends and family than were non-viewers. Related research has demonstrated that mass media generally, and political film and documentaries specifically, can enhance learning in the classroom (Krain, 2010; Sunderland, Rothermel, & Lusk, 2009) and influence the electorate (LaMarre & Landreville, 2009). Additional research has shown that combining media viewing with deliberative discursive engagement can further increase positive civic outcomes (Kern & Just, 1995; Rojas, Shah, Cho, Schmierbach, Keum, & Gil-De-Zuñiga, 2005). This may be in part due to the greater potential for collaborative sensemaking—the negotiated and discursive engagement in shared meaning making that happens during public deliberation (see Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 2005). However, opportunities for collaborative sensemaking and public deliberation centered on a popular text are rare. Thus, we were interested in exploring focus groups as a potentially rich context for discursive engagement following the shared viewing of a political documentary (i.e., 2016, Obama’s America). We argue that when placed within the context of viewing popular political documentary, focus group discussions offer a meaningful site for public deliberation and collaborative sensemaking and as such should be added to the toolbox of deliberative pedagogy.
Download the full article 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/iss2/art6/
The National Week of Conversation is wrapping up tomorrow, April 28th, and many across the nation have participated in this collective movement to bring Americans together to talk and heal divisions. Which is why we wanted to lift up this piece that fellow NWOC partner AllSides recently shared on their Perspectives blog on Hearing Every Voice written by Tom McSteen of Sacred Discourse. The article talks about the experience of connecting through conversation in a way that honors every voice present and the importance of utilizing structures like those of Living Room Conversations, also a partner of NWOC and an NCDD member. Read the post below and find the original on AllSides site here.
Hearing Every Voice
We all want our voice to be heard. We all want to feel self-expressed. We all want to leave a gathering where we had something to say, having said what we wanted to say. If that does not happen, feelings of frustration, disagreement, and aloneness can creep in. These feelings, particularly when experienced over time, can lead to states of separation and division.
Unsurprisingly, I have experienced many conversations and public events where I felt my voice was not heard, from extended family gatherings at holidays to governmental forums on whether to build pipelines. Leaving these situations with the experience of not being heard left me feeling isolated.
Hearing every voice can be literal, as in taking the time at a particular gathering to give everyone a chance to speak. It can also be figurative, when people feel in some collective way that their views or experiences have been dismissed. This figurative example is often seen in national elections, when groups of people feel glossed over and unheard. Yet, this state is more likely to develop over time when there are not tangible forums for people to fully eexpressthemselves.
We have choices, both in the literal and figurative sense. We can act so as to not hear or marginalize certain voices, to selectively hear only what we want to hear. When we do so, however, we add, often unintentionally, to the current division in our politics, our public discourse.
Or, on the other hand, when we intentionally make an attempt to hear every voice, in any setting on any topic, literally or figuratively, we create the possibility of conversation or discourse that is more inclusive and connective.
When people do not feel heard, they are more likely to be dismissive of others’ voices. And, when people feel heard, they are more likely to allow others to be heard, in turn.
It may not always be easy or simple to create the space for every voice to be heard. But it’s possible. Setting rules of engagement and establishing a safe and clear container in a structured environment are two key ways to allow for every voice to be heard.
The new and rising organization, Living Room Conversations, provides a safe place to hear every voice. Having been a part of multiple conversations using this methodology, I know firsthand that people with very different points of view can come together and have a civil conversation. And, most importantly, they can walk away with a new understanding of the “other.”
A key differentiator, perhaps, is a well-stated intention to hear every voice no matter the setting. Whether in families or at the office, imagine what is possible when there is a concerted effort to hear all voices. Business journals, as an example, laud corporations that invest the time and effort into really providing time and space to listen to each and every employee. Could not the same be true for public discourse? Particularly for local issues, town halls can be a forum where there is a clear intention to give time and space to hear every voice on a given topic.
The experience of being heard can go a long way toward acceptance of a decision that goes against what I want to happen. When I feel that I have had the opportunity to express myself fully, and I feel the self-respect that comes from being able to do so, I can much more easily accept whatever the decision may be, even if I disagree with the outcome.
Might this simply be a return to respectful dialogue? In early April, the organization A Peace of Mind set up a studio at a leadership conference focused on cultivating civil discourse. They asked participants, “How have you cultivated civil discourse in the past year?” The responses were wide-ranging, and they provide numerous examples of what people can do to promote this practice.
One participant said: “I try to really learn about the speaker’s perspective and not just wait for them to pause so I can jump in and talk.” What a difference this could make toward returning to an experience of civil discourse that is respectful and constructive and that does not separate and divide.
As we move forward to the 2018 national elections, and then on to the 2020 presidential elections, what are ways that we each can be sure that those voices, particularly of people with whom we disagree, are heard? What community forums might we create to give people an opportunity to fully express their beliefs and concerns?
In addition to creating the forums, it helps to prepare people for these conversations. That is what we do at Sacred Discourse, following a relational framework that supports a shared intention to leave the others in a conversation feeling more whole, inspired, and connected after the conversation. Our framework begins with a commitment to hear all the voices, because without including everyone, we cannot move forward together.
You can find the original version of this article on AllSide Perspectives blog at www.allsides.com/blog/hearing-every-voice.