Help Develop a New Game About the Civil Rights Movement!

Friends in civics and social studies, this came across my desk and looks to be a potentially wonderful opportunity to contribute to the development of a new resource! Take a look at the details below.  It’s only two hours of your time and includes compensation! 

WNET and CUNY’s American Social History Project are creating a new Mission US game (Mission US []) to help middle and high school teachers and students learn about the Civil Rights movement.

We’re hoping that at Teaching with Primary Sources Midwest Region you may know committed teachers in grades 7-10— particularly people of color and people in different parts of the country — who might be willing to share their ideas and experiences in teaching this history, in order to inform the development of the game and curriculum, in return for a small honorarium.

Participants will: 

  • Read a treatment document describing the proposed game ahead of time (30 min)
  • Join a 90-minute video call with 5-6 colleagues and an educational researcher from EDC and:
    • Share their goals, challenges and successes in teaching students about Civil Rights
    • React and respond to the proposed game design
  • Receive a $100 gift card as a thank you

 Interested? Let us know when you’re available by answering this survey:

If you have any questions, please email me, Jamie Kynn at

Explore D&D Future in New Cosmopolis2045 Website

Imagine a world in which communication practices are centered in social interactions and the way society operates, where the whole community lives dialogue and deliberation practices every day?

This is the vision for the exciting new website that just officially launched – Cosmopolis2045, which offers a vision of a future communication-centric society in the year 2045. This project has been an on-going, multi-year collaborative effort between scholars, practitioners, and community members; you may remember we announced this endeavor several years back on the blog and it’s wonderful to see this come to fruition. Thanks to NCDD member Kim Pearce for sharing this update with us! We encourage you to read more in the post below and especially to explore the future vision of the Cosmopolis2045 website here.

Cosmopolis2045: Imagining a better social world in which communicating matters

What if a whole community treated relationships with other people as if they really mattered? What if a whole community took dialogue and deliberation seriously? And what if that community tried with all their hearts to bring about a better social world in all the myriad of ways we engage in communication with others in our world?

These were the questions asked by a group of scholars and practitioners sponsored by the CMM Institute, a NCDD member organization. The Cosmopolis2045 website is their answer, visit

The Cosmopolis2045 website depicts an imagined community set in the future (circa 2045) in which residents and leaders of the community have adopted a communication-centric view of how their own and other social worlds function. This website offers an intriguing look at a possible near future in which dialogue and deliberation are an integral part of everyday community events and are at the heart of city functioning. The website is also an information-rich resource for teaching classes on communication, especially cosmopolitan communication and for exploring the implications of a communication-centric view for a range of educational, legal, governance, and associated community practices.

Behind the scenes

How might we, as scholars, practitioners, citizens and all those concerned with the quality of our social life, respond to such an invitation?

What might it take to act wisely, if only for the moment, in our response?

What resources, stories and other experiences do we have to draw on to respond?

What can we share with others that might enhance all our capacities to act wisely in the making of better social worlds?

Those are the questions we asked ourselves as we set about imagining a community where a new social fabric could emerge out of treating communicating seriously.

In this section, we give you behind-the-scenes information which addresses the above questions. Our starting vision and guiding theory are described in Inspiration for the Cosmopolis2045 project. Here we also outline the futurist research we drew upon; elaborate at greater length on our “non-utopian” attempts at being visionaries; and describe what we mean by cosmopolitan communication.

The Cosmopolis2045 project is a collaborative thought experiment that has involved an international group of scholars and sponsors. These people and organisations are described in Collaborators and sponsors.

If any particular topic or underlying theory attracts your attention please go to Want to know more? Here we offer introductory background material on the Coordinated Management of Meaning, our guiding theory. We also include references and websites to a range of supporting material from futurist research to pedagogy, to sustainable food practices and procedural justice, and more. You can also find links to like-minded websites, scholars and practitioners. All these references and links show the breadth and depth of social change going on now and how much our vision for the near future is possible and not far removed from reality.

Inspiration for Cosmopolis2045

The Cosmopolis2045 project has been a collaborative thought experiment involving many people and taking place over a number of years. It is, in fact, still on-going.

The website depicting our vision of Cosmopolis is one, but not all, manifestation of our response to the challenge of how do you envision better social worlds, knowing that there is no “best” goal outside of the very process of communicating itself.

Here we offer some of the behind-the-scenes material that, hopefully, explains how we responded to the challenge we set ourselves. We lay this out under three themes:

What we are trying to achieve

 Our goal with this website is to create and maintain a virtual depiction of a community set in the future (circa 2045) in which residents and leaders of the community have adopted a communication-centric view of how their own and other social worlds function. It is our belief, and one that can be substantiated, that this communication-centric view is what we need for the evolution of better social worlds.

However, we have found, as scholars, practitioners and involved citizens, that this communication-centric view is not one commonly shared. Mainstream communication theories, both formal and implicit, narrowly focus on the content and quality of messages, along with an implicit assumption that successful communication is the receipt of an unsullied message or the creation of shared understanding.

Our primary challenge, then, in creating the imaginary world of Cosmopolis2045, has been to depict ways of living in communicating that many have not imagined and others only in part. On the other hand, we also know from our collective experiences that there are many social change initiatives happening around the world that point the ways to meet this challenge.

In our imagination we have drawn together many of the social change initiatives and woven them within a communication perspective“loom”. And in doing this, we have created new imaginings of what can happen if we treat communicating seriously.

The stories, the new social institutions and the dialogic practices of the citizens and leaders in our imagined community have been developed to point to new ways and new possibilities for personal and social evolution. Given the local and global challenges we all face in the 21stcentury, we hope our new imaginings offer some hope and some new directions to explore.

Our guiding theory

The Theory of the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) is the primary impetus behind the Cosmopolis 2045 Project. Barnett Pearce and Vernon Cronen at the University of Massachusetts developed CMM theory in the late 1970s. The seminal expressions of the theory can be found in Pearce and Cronen’s Communication, Action and Meaning: The Creation of Social Realities (Praeger, 1980), Pearce’s Communication and the Human Condition (Southern Illinois University Press, 1989), Pearce and Littlejohn’s Moral Conflict: When Social Worlds Collide (Sage, 1997), and Pearce’s Making Social Worlds: A Communication Perspective (Blackwell, 2009).

A more comprehensive account and further references on CMM can be found in Want to know more?

CMM is premised on the belief that the social worlds we inhabit are constructed in the many diverse forms of everyday communication we engage in. Put simply, we live in communication. CMM, which can perhaps best be described as a “practical theory,” provides heuristic tools for understanding the ways in which we do this living-in-communication. The same tools and broader communication perspective can also guide mindful practice in communicating.

We believe that the communication perspective offered by CMM has greater potential to meet the challenges of the contemporary global environment than narrower, instrumental beliefs in which the process of communication is taken to be immaterial or insignificant. The latter views of communication are, in particular, unable to address the many challenges arising from distinct, if not colliding, cultural values and patterns of behavior that abound in our contemporary world. From our CMM perspective, these cultural challenges need to be coordinated and navigated rather than subjected to efforts at persuasion or clarity of meaning (i.e., as reflected in the dominant Western paradigm for theorizing about communication).

CMM proposes that creating and sustaining a cosmopolitan form of cultural communication is a better model for communicating with diverse others than extant models such as monocultural, ethnocentric, or modernistic forms of communication (see Want to know more?). The Cosmopolis 2045 website is designed to render one expression of what cosmopolitan cultural patterns might look like in the everyday life of a community.

By definition, cosmopolitan cultural patterns bring about an environment in which humans thrive, both in terms of personal and social evolution. This culture is characterized by one in which the members:

  • hold a communication-centric view of social worlds, recognizing that their social worlds (i.e., relationships, selves, groups, episodes, and culture itself) are “made” and “remade” in everyday communication patterns
  • value their own cultural traditions, beliefs and values yet recognize that, except for the accident of birth, they would likely hold some other set of beliefs and values (thus are profoundly open to the value of other traditions)
  • treat “others” (strangers, non-members of their community) with engaged curiosity, seeing them simultaneously as “different from us” (in that may they have different values or social practices), and yet “like us” (in that both of our beliefs and practices are socially made). In this way, each of our “ways of being” are treated as partial expressions of what it means to be human
  • understand that they live in multiple social worlds and are able to draw resources from several social worlds in constructing new ones
  • are able to make conscious choices about what forms of life they wish to enact in given situations
  • work collectively as citizens to make their social worlds better places to live—they see designing their public life together as an indication of “conscious evolution”
  • believe that patterns of life that are not productive or helpful can be altered through conscious collective effort.
  • have developed skills for “making better social worlds,” including: framing and reframing; identifying and choosing wisely how to act into (as well as out of) contexts; sensing the flow and rhythms of “logical forces” (deontic logic of should/ought); identifying/creating “bifurcation points” and acting wisely into them.

Projecting futures and making better social worlds

Cosmopolis 2045 is a collaborative thought-experiment, a partnership in imagining a plausible version of a future social world(s), particularly if we act wisely in dealing with the trends and counter-trends already happening around us.

“Futurists” have been projecting worlds of tomorrow for ages. In developing Cosmopolis, we consulted many sources on future trends in technology, medicine, work and economics, politics, education, and many other aspects of social life. In our Research the Future topic in Want to know more? we share some of that research, identify books you can read, or connect you to websites that summarize future trends.

In using this research, we wanted to make sure that how we depict a fictional future in 2045 is plausible, according to the best research and projections. Among other things, that research suggested that dialogic communication—that found in cosmopolitan cultures—could be an important driver of change; where the change is to what one future scenario group called a “transformed world”. For a fascinating review of this research, see Barnett Pearce’s essay “Reflections on the role of dialogic communication in transforming the world”.

In this “transformed world” there is a vision of shared power in which grassroots organisations co-operate effectively and in which sustainable development, socially, economically and environmentally, is a collective goal.  And while we have drawn on the ideas projected for such a transformed world we have also consciously tried to avoid making Cosmopolis an unrealistic or impossibly utopian vision.

You can find the original version of this information on the Cosmopolis2045 site at

what is Civic Science?

At Tisch College, we have a Civic Science initiative, which has roots in an NSF-funded effort under the same name. Here is my own personal working definition of “Civic Science.”

The word “science” in this phrase is relatively clear, although there may be significant questions about whether Civic Science should extend to the social sciences (in which there are other movements for greater civic relevance) and whether Civic Science has different implications for science and mathematics as compared to technology and engineering—the four components of “STEM.”

The word “Civic” is more contested, having assumed many meanings since the Roman Republic. We find the following definition useful. To be civic means to ask the question: “What should we do?” (Shaffer 2013). (Apologies for some self-plagiarization in the next three paragraphs.)

This question ends with “do” because a civic life requires acting: changing or preserving things in the world, not just forming opinions about them. The word “should” in the question signifies that the civic perspective is an ethical one. Civic agents must identify right or good goals and decide which means are proper.

The subject of the question is “we”: a real, identifiable group to which one can belong. The subject is not “I,” because any individual lacks sufficient capacity to change the world and has too narrow a perspective to be wise. Although individual ethics is important, a civic perspective requires working in groups. Importantly, the subject is “we” rather than some entity outside the group. The civic question is not “What should be done?” or “What should the government do?” but “What should we do?” Sometimes other people bear the primary responsibility for addressing an injustice, but we must still clarify that obligation to them. Communicating a critique or a demand is an action that groups take. Because the question is about “we,” it reflects a fundamental “feeling of responsibility for the world” (Havel 1992) that is definitive of civic life.

People who ask the civic question face myriad concrete challenges (climate change, racial injustice, and many more). They will also confront three general questions just as a result of trying to take civic action:

  1. How to form groups that actually work? Specifically, what structures, incentives, and rules allow groups to accomplish their goals, sustain their activities, and coordinate the efforts of their individual members? Functioning groups include associations, organizations, institutions, firms, and networks, any of which can be designed well or badly.
  2. How to deliberate contested questions of value? Since the civic question is “What should we do?” civic actors necessarily confront matters of value. As human beings, our best method for addressing such matters is to discuss them with other people who hold different perspectives. (Here we use the term “discussion” very broadly, to include reading an ancient text or watching a film from a distant land to learn other perspectives). Discussions can promote learning, but they can also fail because of propaganda, ideology, group-think, motivated reasoning, and many other dysfunctions. So the question is: How to make discussions go relatively well?
  3. How to gain access for excluded groups? Even a well-functioning group with a good internal discussion may erect unjustifiable barriers to outsiders. A clear example would be a system of de jure racial segregation or apartheid, but there are many subtler cases, in which some people have official rights to participate but are placed at systematic disadvantage. Civic action is then about gaining inclusion on fair terms and without triggering a cycle of violence. (A related goal may be peaceful separation, as, for example, in a movement for national independence.)

Science is deeply involved with each of these three questions.

First, science is a set of functioning institutions. It consists of laboratories, training programs, credentials, titles, journals, societies, government agencies, grants, contracts, data, and intellectual property, among other components. Science employs distinctive organizational techniques, such as blind peer review and an obligation to cite previous work. These techniques may reflect high ideals, such as Robert Merton’s CUDOS norms (1942):

  • Communism: a scientific discovery is given away to all, as quickly as possible, along with all the necessary background information, procedures, data, etc.
  • Universalism: the quality of the work, not the nationality or race or gender of the researcher, counts
  • Disinterestedness: no pay for particular results; academic freedom. Blind reviewing keeps those under review from currying favor with the powerful
  • Organized Skepticism: every theory is taken to be falsifiable.

At the same time, science may be deeply influenced by indefensible norms, such as deference to authority within a lab or the motives of funders.

Science is not a democracy: there are no popular votes on what constitutes scientific knowledge. And science is not a market: basic knowledge is not for sale. However, both democratic governments and markets are thoroughly implicated with science. The question for Civic Science is whether the organizational forms that science takes today are satisfactory for a public that seeks to ask, “What should we do?”

Second, contested questions of value—which constantly arise for civic actors—often have scientific dimensions. There are no purely empirical answers to such questions as, “At one point do developing human beings gain intrinsic value?” or “How much pollution should we allow to enable economic growth?” Yet these questions do have complex empirical aspects that can be challenging for non-specialists to understand. The logical positivists of the early 1900s made a sharp fact/value distinction and held that science could—and should—be value-free. Values were opinions; scientists produced facts. Although many professionals in STEM disciplines still hold that view implicitly, it is not philosophically defensible. So the civic questions are: How can scientists be part of good conversations about contested values that involve science? And how can the broader public have good conversations about science?

Third, questions of exclusion constantly arise in science. For example, LGBTQ Americans were largely excluded from decision-making about research on AIDS when the epidemic began. Their highly effective organizing changed science—its priorities, its demographics, and even the details of how clinical trials were designed and interpreted. It is not an exaggeration to say that “a strong and internally differentiated activist movement along with various organs of alternative media, including activist publications and the gay press” actually created scientific knowledge about HIV/AIDS by interacting with “immunologists, virologists, molecular biologists, epidemiologists, physicians, and federal health authorities” (Epstein, 1995). ACTUP was a classic example of a contentious or adversarial social movement that made demands on target authorities (Tilly 2004), but in this case, one of its outcomes was new scientific knowledge and medical treatments. This is an example of how the third generic problem faced by civic groups (how to gain access) can play out in science.

Civic Science works at the intersection of these three circles, and especially where “the civic” overlaps with science.

Civic Science in Relation to Other Movements

Given the definition developed in the previous section, it is clear that Civic Science does not stand alone but relates importantly to other fields and movements, both intellectual and practical.

Science, Technology and Society (STS): This is the interdisciplinary research field devoted to understanding science as a set of institutions in society and its relationship to other institutions, such as states and markets. It is ideologically pluralist and encompasses valuable disagreements, but the goal is not knowledge for its own sake. STS promotes understanding of science so that scientists and others can improve science. Feeding into STS are specific sub-disciplines such as the sociology of science and the philosophy of science.

Citizen Science: At its core, Citizen Science means enlisting laypeople to collect scientific data, such as environmental samples or observations of wildlife. Its goals can be to harvest more and better data or to give amateurs interesting tasks, but there is also sometimes an implicit reform agenda: to reduce status hierarchies that might otherwise keep laypeople out of science.

Community-Based Participatory Research: Particularly strong in the health sciences is the development of partnerships between credentialed scientists and community-based groups (usually nonprofits) that jointly shape research questions and methods and collect and interpret data together (Minkler 2002). Sometimes the goal is to generate better knowledge or to make sure that activists will be ready to use scientific findings, but (as with Citizen Science), there may also be an agenda of reducing status differentials between scientists and laypeople.

Civic renewal: Many organizations have arisen and come together in coalitions to advance “civic renewal” in the United States. This tends to mean efforts to strengthen deliberation, collaboration, and relationship-building in civil society (Levine, 2013). One signal moment was the National Commission on Civic Renewal in the late 1990s, but today such groups convene in the Bridge Alliance and other settings. Sirianni and Friedand (2005) map a Civic Renewal Movement.

Civic Studies: Launched with a manifesto by three past or future presidents of the American Political Science Association, a future Nobel Laureate in economics, and others (Boyte et al 2017), Civic Studies is a nascent field and intellectual movement that aims to study civic life with a combination of empirical, normative, and strategic methods (Levine 2014).

Dialogue and Deliberation: Such major political theorists as Jürgen Habermas (1987) and John Rawls (1997) have defended a role for public deliberation, meaning a relatively fair and reasonable discussion (the precise criteria vary) that influences government and public policy. Meanwhile, a large number of practical nonprofits actually organize dialogues or deliberations in various formats (Gastil & Levine 2005). There is a burgeoning literature on the impact of these efforts, creating a rich scholar/practitioner community.

Social movements that target science: In the tradition of ACTUP, citizens may come together to demand changes in the priorities, methods, and dominant paradigms of science. [Current examples? Gun violence? Climate?]

See also: Tisch College Postdoc in Civic Science; exemplary civic science: the CAFEH project; Civic Science; and science, democracy, and civic life


  • Boyte, H., Elkin, S., Levine, P., Mansbridge, J., Ostrom, E., Soltan, K., & Smith, R. (2007). Summer institute of civic studies—Framing statement. Tufts University Summer Institute of Civic Studies, 28.
  • Epstein, Stephen. 1995. the construction of lay expertise: AIDS activism and the forging of credibility in the reform of clinical trials. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 10/4 408-437
  • Gastil, John & and Peter Levine. 2005 (The Deliberative democracy handbook: strategies for effective civic engagement in the twenty-first century. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  • Habermas, Jürgen. 1987. The Theory of Communicative Action, translated by Thomas McCarthy Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Havel, Vaclav. 1992 Address at Wroclaw University, Wroclaw, Poland, December 21,
  • Levine, Peter. 2015. We are the ones we have been waiting for: the promise of civic renewal in America. Oxford University Press
  • Levine, Peter 2014. The Case for civic studies. In Peter Levine and Karol Soltan, Civic studies (Washington, DC: AAC&U/Bringing Theory to Practice
  • Minkler, Meredith & Nina Wallerstein. 2002. “Introduction to community based participatory research.”  In Minkler & Wallerstein (eds.) Community based participatory research for health. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 3-26
  • Rawls, John. 1997. The idea of public reason revisited. University of Chicago Law Review. 64/3, 765-83.
  • Shaffer, Timothy J. 2013. What should you and I do? Lessons for civic studies from deliberative politics in the New Deal. The Good Society, 22(2), 137-150.
  • Sirianni, Carmen & Lewis A. Friedland. 2005. The civic renewal movement: community-building and democracy in the United States. Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation Press, 2005
  • Tilly, Charles. 2004. Social movements: 1768-2004. Boulder/London: Paradigm

Insights on Co-Creating Collaboration That Fosters Participation and Equity

NCDD member Beth Tener recently posted the article, Collaboration That Fosters Equity, Participation, and Co-Creation, on the New Directions Collaborative website. In the article, she shares several powerful insights from a co-hosted learning exchange, which offer important reminders on co-creating collaborative spaces that are equitable and liberating. We encourage folks to check out the upcoming workshop, Working in Collaborative Ways, happening next Wednesday March 6th, which will offer skills and methods for collaborating more equitably. You can read the article in the post below and find the original on the NDC’s site here.

Collaboration That Fosters Equity, Participation, and Co-Creation

In the last couple of years in the US, we have witnessed many examples of white supremacy – how the patterns of power, domination, oppression, and separation play out. These patterns are hundreds of years old. What does it take to work and live from patterns and behaviors that embody mutual respect, dignity, equity, belonging, and being more together? I gratefully had the experience of teaming with four other facilitators* to host a learning exchange with people working on collaboration and equity, primarily in New Hampshire. The invitation was to build our collective understanding of how to create collaborative spaces centering on equity and liberation. We offered a spacious series of conversations for these experienced practitioners to share knowledge and experiences.

Here are some key ideas that surfaced from the conversations and insights from the day:

Where Do You Come From?

At the start of a meeting or gathering, it is traditional to go around and introduce ourselves with our organization and role. This gathering began instead with an invitation to reflect on where you come from, from several dimensions, and then share where you now work. People’s sharing was poetic and moving. We heard of the ancestry, places, challenges, traumas, resilience, people, and ideas that shaped them. Some people in the room I primarily knew through a work context. When I heard their stories, it made me realize how limited the lenses I had seen them through were.

This reminded me something Melinda Weekes-Laidlow said in a class I took with her on racial equity. She spoke of the importance of “locating ourselves” within the history and systems around us, saying: “the past is present in people, things, and systems of oppression. Because our histories, upbringing and socialization create the lenses by which we see the world and make sense of it, as leaders, we must become aware of the lenses by which we understand the world and the biases those lenses bring with them.” 

The metaphor of location in a system/community is helpful as that implies a vantage point, where I see and experience things in ways that differ from others in a different location.

Vision: What Does Equity Look, Feel, and Sound Like?

In these times, so much attention and focus is on what we don’t want, resisting, criticizing, and galvanizing action. In equity conversations, there is a great need to name and illuminate the patterns and statistics of inequity and the deliberately hidden histories of those oppressed. Yet, we also need to imagine a different future. adrienne marie brown, in her book Emergent Strategy, writes “How do we cultivate the muscle of radical imagination needed to dream together beyond fear? Showing Black and white people sitting at a lunch counter together was science fiction.” Using the process of 1-2-4-All, we explored the questions of What vision, or elements thereof, guide you in your work? What does equity and liberation look, feel, and sound like? What are we working toward?  We can see that it is not only some distant goal, but we can glimpse what is possible in microcosms in the present. We recognized that this looks different to different people. Here are some of the themes that were shared:

  • The experience of being oneself without being judged. Being seen and respected as a person – not needing to act or play a role.
  • In all settings (family, work, school, etc.), people experience authentic relationships where others genuinely see them and care about their well-being and growth.
  • Education institutions are about helping individuals to thrive and become fully themselves.
  • Now the level of fear in relationships, community, and society is higher than the level of love and trust. When the level of love rises higher than fear, it changes everything.
  • There is an emphasis on truth telling and seeing the world as it is, feeling what is happening, and being empathetic. We excavate and acknowledge the problematic histories that shape the present situation.
  • When those who see power in an “either/or” way experience sharing it, they see that there are other kinds of power in collaborations that are not as hierarchical. It is possible to move beyond that one lens of power.
  • Those who have a dominant identity, e.g., whites, take leadership and active roles in dismantling the racist patterns and systems.
  • We relate across identities with solidarity in many forms: accomplices, mutual lines of support, thinking partners, networks of friendship and sharing resources.
  • “Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people. Healed people create systems for healing.” A vision of the future is a large and varied investment of time, energy, and ways to bring about healing and restoration individually and collectively, and with the earth.

Moving from Transactional to Relational

We shared stories of what we find most challenging and most promising in our work for equity and liberation. A common dynamic is that leaders and those in positions of power may say they value equity, yet, their urgency to get action on narrowly defined outcomes can override the raising of concerns or conflict, allowing the patterns of injustice to perpetuate. It takes time to fully understand the dynamics and history that underlie inequitable situations. It takes time to build authentic relationships that are trusting enough to support fundamental change. Truly valuing equity means prioritizing the relational aspects of the work, seeing the health of that as critical beyond the success of one transaction.

*Thanks to my co-facilitators Jennifer NearCurtis Ogden, and Karen A. Spiller…and Michele Holt-Shannon for hosting. Great working with you to co-host this rich learning exchange.

On March 6th, I will be offering an on-line workshop called Working in Collaborative Ways that will offer practical methods for designing meetings and collaborative work that foster equity and participation.

Multilateralism and the Commons

What a pleasant surprise to learn that some people at the United Nations – specifically, its Inter-Parliamentary Union – want to know more about how commons might be relevant to the “multilateral system” of international governance and assistance.   

I was happy to oblige by participating on a conference panel last Friday, February 22, called “The Multilateral System in the Public Eye: The Impact of Mass Communications.” (The conference itself was entitled “Emerging Challenges to Multilateralism: A Parliamentary Response.”)

This panel focused on the ways in which new communications media, especially the Internet, are affecting the effectiveness, credibility, and reputation of multilateral institutions such as the UN. The clear takeaway that I took from the conference is that certain players within UN are openly worried about the ability of multilateral institutions to solve the urgent problems of our time.

That’s a legitimate concern. As countless problems pummel the world order – climate change, inequality, cyber-warfare, data surveillance, the list goes on – the UN is an obvious forum in which to discuss issues. But with limited authority to solve problems and unwieldy internal governance structures and processes, no one expects bold, timely action. Yet the rise of participatory online media is showcasing the limits of the UN. Hence the open hand-wringing.  

I was pleased to learn that there is at least a glimmer of interest in commoning as an appealing option. Regrettably, my sense is that UN discussants are not prepared to explore the commons very deeply or seriously. This is not entirely surprising. Most participants in UN deliberations, after all, are representatives of their national government and are immersed in the bubble of state power and conventional politics. There is a general conceit that policy, legislation, and other top-down actions are the most meaningful and effective ways for dealing with problems.

They’re not, of course. There are other important approaches. Many centralized state and multilateral structures are themselves part of the problem. They tend to consolidate power too much, inviting political gamesmanship, media optics, and corruption at the expense of substantive on-the-ground results. They privilege capital-friendly “market solutions” at the expense of socially minded, creative innovation from the bottom-up. For their part, state bureaucracies often feel threatened by stable, locally grounded commons that assert their own interests and self-sufficiency. And so on.  

Below are my prepared comments for the panel, which a presented were abbreviated to accommodate the five-minute limit for each speaker. A video of the panel can be found here. My presentation is at the timemark 11:50 through 16:40.

Multilateralism and the Commons

It wasn’t so long ago that nation-states strictly controlled the types of news, information, and culture that citizens could see and hear. While certain authoritarian regimes still tightly control domestic communications – notwithstanding the Internet – the interconnected global village that Marshall McLuhan predicted in the 1960s is well upon us. Cheap and easy transnational communications is the norm for a great many of the world’s people. Communications from other cultures and countries routinely influence our everyday lives.

It’s not just that people can hear or see unauthorized, novel, and foreign information, however. It’s that they can now generate their own news, videos, and podcasts. They can write their own software code, develop their own wikis, and start new movements with modest resources.

This is enabling people to assert moral and political claims to global audiences that was previously impossible – and that traditional state and media authorities cannot control. Distributed media technologies have essentially changed the political and cultural ecosystems of individual nations and global culture, often in profound ways.

Naturally, nation-states and multilateral institutions tend to find these developments disorienting and troubling. They may still be able to assert their authority, sometimes with sufficient coercive power to enforce their will. But the legality they invoke is not necessarily the same thing as perceived legitimacy. The latter is more of an open question – a question that national governments may try to influence, but which ultimately only the citizenry can address.

This tension is not going to go away. It is now baked into the very structures of modern telecommunications, the economy, and politics. Indeed, the Trump Administration is largely based on exploiting the tension between new media and legacy state institutions.

I characterize the problem as a deep structural conflict between the centralized, hierarchical, expert-driven institutions of a prior era – and the bottom-up, self-organized, participatory communities made possible by open networks and various apps. The very ideas of centralized state power and shared national identity are under siege when everyone can easily create a diversity of new publics and subcultures on their own terms.

While social media have plenty of proven dangers – fake news, Facebook algorithms, venues for authoritarian populism and hate – let’s remember that open networks – especially when organize as commons – hold some fairly significant creative, productive, and democratic powers. For me, the question is whether state power and multilateral institutions are capable of recognizing and supporting these constructive powers of the commons.

As an activist and policy strategist, I have been studying and working with commons around the world for the past twenty years. I’m not talking about the “tragedy of the commons” that Garrett Hardin made famous in his 1968 essay immortalizing that phrase. Contrary to Hardins claims, a commons does not consist of unowned resources. It is not a free-for-all in which you can take as much as you want.

A commons is a self-organized social system for the stewardship of shared wealth over the long term. It’s a distinctly different form of governance and provisioning than either the market or state. Commoners devise their own rules, social practices, traditions, and rituals that are suited for their particular context and culture. They self-monitor for free-riders and they impose punishments on those who violate the rules.

The commons is not just small bodies of natural resources such as farmland, fisheries, forests, and irrigation water, as studied by the late Elinor Ostrom, who won the Nobel Prize for her work in 2009. The commons also consists of shared management of systems in higher education, in cities, in diverse social settings, and in digital spaces. 

Commons are especially robust in the world of free and open source software and Wikipedia; open access journals that are making science and scholarly accessible to everyone; open educational resources that are making textbooks and curricula more affordable to students; and Creative Commons-licensed sharing of everything, bypassing the monopoly rents imposed by the intellectual property industries. 

There are many other commons to which I will turn to in a moment. But my basic point is that commons are generative and value-creating, not a “tragedy.” And they are huge potential partners for state and multilateral institutions, if the latter can understand commoning properly.

If we want a world of greater inclusion and participation, and greater freedom in both a political and consumer sense, then we need to be talking about the commons. It is worth remembering Hannah Arendt’s concept of power. She wrote in her book The Human Condition that power is something that “springs up between men when they act together and vanishes the moment they disperse.”

In other words, power does not inhere in our institutions themselves. It must be constantly created and re-created constantly, socially. In this respect, many state and multilateral institutions are losing their struggles to retain power and perceived legitimacy. They are not offering credible, effective responses to urgent societal needs. I’d like to suggest that state institutions would do well to enter into partnerships with various commons to:

1) leverage the generative, creative power that commons can offer;

2) empower peer governance and responsibility among people in ways that can nourish wholesome participation and, indirectly, state legitimacy; and

3) support locally appropriate, stable, self-supporting solutions that affected people can create themselves; and

4) enable transboundary cooperation on ecological problems.

In other words, state and multilateral institutions need to see the challenge of social media in a much bigger context. It’s not just about clever messaging and better tweets. It’s about developing a deeper modus vivendi with the largely unrecognized power of the commons. This, in fact, is what the French Development Agency has been doing recently as it explores how commons could enhance its development strategies in Africa and other Francophone countries.

So imagine an expansion the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, DNDi, which is a partnership among commons, state institutions, and private companies to reduce the costs of drug R&D and distribution. DNDi releases medically important drugs under royalty-free, non-exclusive licenses so that benefits so that the drugs can be made available everywhere inexpensively.

Or imagine how the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team has helped various states in the wake of natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti. HOT brings together volunteer hackers to produce invaluable Web maps showing first-responders and victims where to find hospitals, water, and other necessities. This is a notable commons-driven solution, not a bureaucratic one.

The System of Rice Intensification is a global open-source community that trades advice and knowledge about the agronomy of growing rice. Working totally outside of conventional multilateral channels, SRI has brought together farmers in Sri Lanka and Cuba, India and Indonesia, to improve their rice yields by two or three-fold.

We should think about how Community Land Trusts are decommodifying land and making them more available to ordinary people. Let’s consider the Open Prosthetics Project that is producing affordable, license-free prosthetics….and cosmo-local production that shares knowledge and design globally, open-source style, while producing physical things (farm equipment, furniture, housing) locally. 

The King of the Meadows project in the Netherlands is a commons that has mobilized citizens to steward biodiversity connected with cultural heritage. The Bangla-Pesa is a neighborhood currency in Kenya that is helping people exchange value and meet needs without the use of the national fiat currency. 

I think you get the idea. If multilateral institutions are going to adjust to the new world unleashed by distributed apps and digital technologies, they should begin by exploring the great promise of commons in meeting urgent needs, giving people some genuine control over their lives, and compensating for the inherent limits of bureaucratic state systems and markets.


Many Great D&D Online Events Happening This Week

We are excited to share this roundup of the online D&D events happening over the next week! There is a wide offering of topics and most of these events are free to join, so we encourage you to utilize these opportunities to build skills and deepen connections. We’re proud to feature many events from the NCDD Coalition – check out events from NCDD member orgs New Directions CollaborativeMetroQuestBridge Alliance, and Living Room Conversations, as well as, International Association of Facilitators and At the Table Colorado.

Do you have a webinar or other event coming up that you’d like to share with the NCDD network? Please let us know in the comments section below or by emailing me at keiva[at]ncdd[dot]org, because we’d love to add it to the list!

Online Roundup: Living Room Conversations, MetroQuest, Bridge Alliance, At the Table Colorado, IAF

Living Room Conversations Inspired Event – Men & Women in Relationships: Building Trust & Intimacy by Honoring Boundaries

Tuesday, February 26th
10am Pacific, 1pm Eastern

Join us for a free, online (using Zoom), two-hour special event inspired by Living Room Conversations! The topic will be Men & Women in Relationships: Building Trust & Intimacy by Honoring Boundaries. This event has been designed and will be hosted by two of our talented, long-time hosts, Lewis & Sushila. This Living Room Conversations format has been adapted to include Empathy Circles( that will give participants a chance to further reflect on what was discussed.


Living Room Conversations webinar (2 sessions!) – Tribalism 101

Tuesday, February 26th
11am Pacific, 2pm Eastern and again at 5pm Pacific, 8pm Eastern

Inspired by the podcast Next Door Strangers (KUER, Utah) this Living Room Conversation begins with a 15-minute podcast: listen to this podcast prior to your conversation.

Tribalism: the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group. People on the left and right may disagree on many things, but they generally agree that “tribalism” is bad for our politics and our country. Although most people want communities where all people have dignity and respect, respectful interactions are often not what we see modeled in the media and in politics. How do we build strong and unified communities in a divisive time?

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of Tribalism. Please see the conversation guide for this topic.


At the Table Colorado – Civic Conversation in Libraries

Tuesday, February 26th
11am Pacific, 2pm Eastern

At the Table Colorado (ATTC) brings people from all walks of life together, during the same month, to participate in a series of free community-wide conversations about what makes their neighborhoods, communities, and regions great and what can be done to make them even better — more sustainable, stronger and vibrant. The next statewide ATTC will take place in April 2019, and will bring focus to conversations about: water, mental health, healthcare, affordable housing, equity, and immigration. Join us for an update on ATTC for an overview of the program and to learn how your library can participate by hosting community forums for civic conversation.


International Association of Facilitators webinar – IAF Methods Library

Thursday, February 28th
10 am Pacific, 1 pm Eastern

Come and join us to learn more about one of the most practical resources the IAF has to offer: The IAF Methods Library. This library is a compilation of methods, activities and exercises curated and carefully reviewed. You will be able to see how to access this wealth of information and make use of SessionLab the facilitation event planning platform.


Living Room Conversations Inspired Event – Gillette’s Ad “The Best Men Can Be”

Thursday, February 28th
10:30 am Pacific, 1:30 pm Eastern

Join us for a free, online (using Zoom), special event inspired by Living Room Conversations! This event has been designed and will be hosted by two of our talented, long-time hosts, Lewis & Sushila. This conversation will be following a traditional Living Room Conversations format and will discuss the controversial Gillette AD, “The Best Men Can Be”.

You can view the ad by clicking here. The complete conversation guide will be shared via email before the event.


Living Room Conversations webinar – Power in Relationships

Thursday, February 28th
12 pm Pacific, 3 pm Eastern

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of Power in Relationships. Please see the conversation guide for this topic. Some of the questions explored include: How do you know you are respected? How do we treat boys and men differently from girls and women? How do power and status impact seduction and dating? What should the signals be from women? From men? How are power dynamics expressed in relationships? at home? at work? What makes for a healthy exchange of power between any two people?


Living Room Conversations Training (free): The Nuts & Bolts of Living Room Conversations

Thursday, February 28th
12 pm Pacific, 3 pm Eastern

Join us for 60 minutes online to learn about Living Room Conversations. We’ll cover what a Living Room Conversation is, why we have them, and everything you need to know to get started hosting and/or participating in Living Room Conversations. This training is not required for participating in our conversations – we simply offer it for people who want to learn more about the Living Room Conversations practice.

Space is limited to 12 people so that we can offer a more interactive experience. Please only RSVP if you are 100% certain that you can attend. This training will take place using Zoom videoconferencing. A link to join the conversation will be sent to participants by Wednesday 10am (PT) / 1pm (ET).


Living Room Conversations webinar – The Search for Purpose

Friday, March 1st
2 pm Pacific, 5 pm Eastern

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of The Search for Purpose. Please see the conversation guide for this topic. Some of the questions explored include: Where did you learn about your personal values and develop self esteem? How has money or “keeping up with the Jones’s” played a role in defining you? Where did you learn about the relationship between individuals and community?


Bridge Alliance #DemocracyChat [on Twitter]

Tuesday, March 5th
2 pm Pacific, 5 pm Eastern

On March 5th, @BrdgAllianceUS will ask supporters questions on Bridging Divides. The event, titled #DemocracyChat, will give you and anybody else who is interested in the revitalization field the opportunity to connect with Bridge Alliance leaders and become part of the conversation. So make sure to follow @BrdgAllianceUS and use the hashtag #DemocracyChat once the questions are revealed next Tuesday.

Living Room Conversations webinar – History & Society

Tuesday, March 5th
1:30 pm Pacific, 4:30 pm Eastern

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of Free Speech, Fighting Words and Violence. Please see the conversation guide for this topic. Some of the questions explored include: Have you seen any examples of history that conveys a certain overarching “story” in a way that felt either positive or negative to you? If so, please share. When you were taught history of your country or the larger world, were you presented with multiple views of historical events? (Ex: winning and losing stories of a conflict) What role do historical monuments play in sharing our history?


New Directions Collaborative webinar  – Working in Collaborative Ways

Wednesday, March 6
9 am Pacific, 12 pm Eastern

Given the complex inter-related challenges our communities and organizations face, it is becoming imperative to work across disciplines, organizations, and cultures to develop workable solutions.

This on-line workshop will build your understanding and skills participating in and leading collaborative work. You will learn: Core personal and collective leadership qualities that support collaboration, what is means to practice “collective sensemaking”, how to enable people and groups to do their best thinking and experience the benefits of networked ways of working together, and several participatory methods that can also work online.


MetroQuest webinar – Celebrating Women | Balanced Engagement for Equitable Plans 

Wednesday, March 6th
11 am Pacific | 12 pm Mountain | 1 pm Central | 2 pm Eastern (1 hour)
Educational Credit Available (APA AICP CM)
Complimentary (FREE)

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter. On March 6th, let’s have a candid conversation about how to achieve balanced and equitable public engagement in planning for better mobility and livability. Women in transportation, urban planning, and public participation are doing outstanding work in this area – join us to celebrate their success!


Living Room Conversations webinar – Police-community Relations

Thursday, March 7th
2 pm Pacific, 5 pm Eastern

Join us for a free online (using Zoom) Living Room Conversation on the topic of Police-community Relations. Please see the conversation guide for this topic. Some of the questions explored include: What has been your personal response to instances of police-citizen shootings, if any? What do you think is contributing to the police-citizen shootings right now? What role, if any, do you see racism playing in our current attention to law enforcement?


when the lotus bloomed

I was so distracted, tense, and busy
That I missed the lotus bloom.
Though preoccupied and hasty
I sensed something in the room—
Caught that subtle scent of longing,
That mute yearning to be still—
But I hadn’t yet an inkling
That the flower was my will.

(Answering Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali #20, “On the Day When the Lotus Bloomed,” which begins—in Tagore’s own English translation—“On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying, and I knew it not. My basket was empty and the flower remained unheeded.”)

NCDD Listserv Recap on Bridging People Across Divides

Bringing people together across divides is likely to be a challenge that our world will continue to face for a while, and it will be an area our field can offer some unique insight or at least a space to explore this challenge. Adrian Segar posted a thorough recap of an engaging discussion held on the NCDD Main Discussion listserv, which he shared a couple weeks back on the Conferences That Work website. Shout out to Chris Santos-Lang who initially reposted the recap! While this listserv conversation was held almost two years ago now, we still find its commentary and content to be useful. You can read the recap of this listserv discussion below and find the original version of Adrian’s post here.

Bringing People Together Across Divides

by Adrian Segar
originally posted Monday, February 4th, 2019

Note about article: A HT to Chris Santos-Lang who reposted this conversation recently and sparked me to reproduce it here.

How can we bring people together across divides?

In April 2017, I posted the following to the NCDD-DISCUSSION list. (The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation [NCDD] is “a network of innovators who bring people together across divides to discuss, decide, and take action together effectively on today’s toughest issues”.)

The resulting conversation was fascinating and instructive. So I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it here, and have added links when possible to the participants. I hope you find it a valuable dialog on the important issue of bringing people together across divides.

Adrian Segar: It’s an advertisement and carefully staged, but I wonder if there are lessons for NCDD folks in the largely positive response to this recent Heineken ad. –

Deb Blakeslee: I loved seeing two people get to know each other quickly before tackling a subject. I don’t see any of the presented issues being discussed during the participant’s time together, so see neither “left” nor “right” changed views. The issue they worked on was constructing a bar and participating in a get-to-know-you exercise.

“Right” viewers may have changed their willingness to discuss their viewpoint with someone on the “other” side, but we can’t assume they were any less willing to discuss differences before being invited to participate in this filming.

After their joint beer, the opponents may keep their original beliefs, although now appreciate someone with an opposing belief.

Maybe our differences continue because no one invites us to discuss issues and we don’t have public places to discuss and work on them outside of establishments selling products. –

Chris Santos-Lang: Ouch! Yes, there is a lesson in the largely positive response to this advertisement. The general public is not offended by the suggestion that bridging the divide is simple.

For those of us who actually try to address the divide, this can feel like discovering that the Matrix is real–there are few allies to be found because so many people are lost in fantasy.

But that lesson can be misleading. Fantasy can’t last forever. When the world actually collapses, the public response to this advertisement will change. At that point, people will see Heineken as an intoxicant. Cigarette ads used to get positive responses too, but don’t anymore.

Today I enjoyed the pleasure of playing with a three-year-old. Fantasy. Fantasy. There is no point at which people fully escape the instinct to fantasize or the instinct to honor the fantasies of those we love. Reality does force itself upon us from time to time–but not typically at times when we are likely to formulate a response to a Heineken ad. –

John Backman: I’m not seeing this as fantasy. It includes echoes of interactions I’ve had or seen myself. I would say that it doesn’t represent the full range of possible outcomes for such conversations: no one walked out on their bar-building partner, for instance, and there were no heated words. Of course, it wouldn’t include those things: at bottom it’s an ad. Perhaps its value is to get people thinking about the possibility of dialogue—people who’ve never even considered it before. –

Linda Ellinor: I was disturbed that there was no dialogue. Before the beer and the bar segment, there were only statements of belief and projections onto the ‘other’. Very sad that they used beer and a bar to seduce us into thinking that the divide could be crossed in that way. If there was anything positive about this ad it was that they were able to portray well several real divides (naming it publicly is a first step towards moving into it and past it) and that people had the capacity and willingness to form relationships even though the divides still exist. We can hope that in their willingness to form relationships that might last, that they could eventually dialogue about their differences.

It will take more than beer, however!! –

Cynthia Kurtz: Be careful about discounting fantasy. It’s one of the ways children and adults deal with reality. Yes, fantasy can be used to deny reality, but it can equally well be used to cope with reality by playing with its elements and making sense of it. When you see a child playing with fantasies, you are quite often seeing a child dealing with stark frightening reality in an oblique but much needed way.

The key to using fantasy to face rather than avoid reality is multiplicity, which is why children will tell the same story dozens of times, with slight variations, to explore a very real danger or concern. For narrative sensemaking to work, there can never be only one story. We’ve forgotten this function of fantasy because Disney and other cultural appropriators have unified and sanitized some of the deep and dangerous stories with which we used to make sense of reality. But fantasy is still a useful mechanism for coping with reality, and there are ways to help people use fantasy to face difficult problems, get new ideas, come together, and thrive. –

Peggy Holman: To build on what Cynthia is saying, fantasy, or dreaming, is also how we envision a desirable future. In fact, it’s essential for imagining what we aspire to.

The social science behind Appreciative Inquiry points to the role that aspirations play in moving towards what we can imagine. In fact, it can be a matter of live and death. Social scientist Fred Polak, author The Image of the Future (1973), found that cultures die when they cease to have a positive image of their own future: “As long as a society’s image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.”

More recently, Gervase Bushe’s research on generative images found transformative change involves embracing generative images, like “sustainable development”.

Generative discourse matters. So kudos to activities that help us imagine a better world. –

Chris Santos-Lang: I agree with Cynthia and Peggy that fantasy is a tricky topic. To be anti-fantasy is to be anti-human. And yet, to be anti-reality is also to be anti-human. If we believe fantasy should have non-trivial limits, then we need to do the work of specifying those limits.

I also agree with John that it is kind-of-encouraging to see that Pepsi and Heineken bother to address the divide at all. What makes me say “Ouch!” is the uncritical public response to it.

To me, the good situation would be that the ad starts a conversation which makes a constructive difference. I assume that was what Adrian had in mind (and I do appreciate his raising the issue, even if I say “Ouch!”). Unfortunately, the following more public response (which does call-out the fantasy) seems too angry to be constructive.

Honestly, I find it difficult to be surprised that fantasy did not inspire a constructive conversation. The only experiences we share are those of reality, so reality must be the basis of our common language. In public deliberation to solve communal problems, I think we should privilege science (when available) over fantasy. I hope no one interprets that as discrimination, because I do think there are other contexts in which science should not be privileged (e.g. generative, instead of comparative).

There is a problem when people drag the communal conversation into fantasy because they can’t (or don’t want to) learn the science. Three-year-olds who do this face something at least as violent as being forced to go to bed. We expect the conflict to be different among adults. In modern democracies, we even insist that adults who don’t do the science nonetheless have a duty to vote…

Mere voting or empathy will not satisfy me when I bring scientific evidence to a disagreement. I cannot be convinced that truth changes just because I love you, or because you outnumber me. Call me stubborn and unfeeling, if you must, but I don’t think I am alone in this, so I don’t think it would be helpful to dismiss this view. –

Ken Homer: We should probably not attempt too deep of an examination of a beer advertisement lest we discover that its motives are at root, capitalistic – surprise!

On the other hand the message – as I interpret it – demonstrates a valuable lesson. An important prerequisite to exploring differences of opinions/ideologies, is making sure that we have humanized and legitimized every person holding those opinions. In this ad, I see a brilliant (if truncated) example – for those of you who know him – of Humberto Matujrana’s definition of love; which is granting legitimacy to the other.

True, we did not see where the conversations went after the beer was opened. I don’t think we need to, that, for me at least, is beside the point. What struck me was how the set up of:

  • needing to collaborate while building something concrete
  • getting to know the other person in their own words (the 5 adjectives)
  • appreciation by the other person for positive qualities they see in me

– were all vital building blocks. Once that foundation of connection between two people was in place, it allowed for a different kind of conversation to emerge even though the participants have opposing ideological stances.

The Heineken ad, along with this one from TV2 in Denmark on All That We Share, show that when we humanize the people we have been conditioned to think of as “other”, we are in a much better place to enlarge our collective options, than if we keep thinking of people as fixed sets of characteristics or as believers in this or that system that we personally find abhorrent. They also show a vastly different approach between European and American commercials! [quote continues after video]

We are all of us, far more complex, nuanced, mysterious and extraordinary than any model or theory. From where I stand, it seems pretty clear that there are very few thoughts that are easily and quickly shared with others that produce an immediate resonance. On the other hand, people very easily and quickly share emotions. It is instinctual (unless life has conditioned it out of us) to feel joy when we see it being expressed by those around us – even if it comes from another species – think the joy we get when our pets are excited to see us. Likewise with sorrow or fear.

My experience as a facilitator is that when we focus on creating the conditions to feel empathy and kindness and friendship towards people, we get a lot farther in opening people to work with diverse and even conflicting viewpoints than we will if we are focusing solely on changing minds. In the Heineken ad, this seems quite clearly shown. The people who stayed for a beer were not sitting down with someone who represented a threat to their ideological position. They were sitting down with someone they had come to respect as worth listening to. And that is something that in my book, is worth paying attention to.

I am aware that what I am pointing to regarding creating the conditions for engagement is anecdotal and does not rise to the level of peer-reviewed science. I invite anyone who doubts that this approach is effective to engage in experiments to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Perhaps working together, we can create a science of collaboration through conversation? –

Tom Atlee: Here’s a bit of how and why Heineken made the ad, from Fast Company magazine.

Chris Santos-Lang: Thanks, Tom! That’s another “Ouch!” because the ad is based on the techniques of conflict resolution experts. That’s right, instead of telling people that disputes which can be resolved through scientific test ought to be resolved through scientific test, conflict resolution experts are telling Heineken (and the world) that these disputes should be resolved through empathy. I’m not suggesting that empathy is not part of the solution, but it’ the easy part–not the actual bottleneck.

I think this is a case of “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” and so-called conflict resolution experts having little more than empathy in their toolbox. –

Rosa Zubizaretta: Ken, thank you for a thought-provoking post… indeed, “we are all of us, far more complex, nuanced, mysterious and extraordinary than any model or theory.” your evocative words strongly remind me of one of my teachers… while he may not be so well-known in this community, many of us in the Focusing world are mourning the passing of Dr. Eugene Gendlin, philosopher, psychologist, and extraordinary listener…

As to the connection with this topic… Chris, I’m curious about what you mean, when you say “science”… do you mean mainly the “hard sciences”, such as physics and chemistry?

reason I’m asking, is that it seems that there is a lot of research recently in the social sciences and the human sciences, about such things as confirmation bias — what are the conditions under which people are willing to even consider information that differs from their current belief systems. And so I’m curious as to whether you would consider such research as “science”…

There’s also been a tremendous amount of scientific research in the last 10 years especially, on the subject of empathy, including its role in cognition… so I am not understanding the contrast between “empathy” and “science” as two non-overlapping entities.


But back to some points of agreement… yes, I see the exploration of “reality” (as in, what are our current conditions) as important as the exploration of “fantasy” (what do we want to create). Holding both is key to creative tension, a concept originally formulated by Robert Fritz and later popularized by Peter Senge.

Some eminent scientist have maintained that creativity is also involved in science, though that’s not how we are usually taught to think of as science… and, maybe more to the point here, creativity is key for generating possibilities and new understandings, especially in public policy situations where as much as we might long for it, there is no clear “one right answer” that satisfies everyone’s initial positions.


To come around full circle: the human process of creating new meanings and new understandings was Gendlin’s philosophical interest, which led him to psychology and to Carl Roger’s work at the University of Chicago. Many people are aware of Carl Rogers as the “founder of humanistic psychology”; few are aware that Rogers had a deep and abiding respect for science, and was the first to break the taboo against “intruding on the sacrosanct process of therapy” in order to place tape recorders in the therapy room (with consent from all involved.)

Thus Rogers was able to conduct research by analyzing a huge number of transcripts of therapy sessions; meanwhile Eugen Gendlin had become Carl Roger’s research director. For anyone interested in the kind of listening that supports the creation of new meaning (whether or not you are a therapist), I am including two somewhat technical resources below, along with some more popular resources. –

Carolyn Caywood: I share Chris’ position that facts established though the application of the scientific method to evidence ought not to be evaluated by popularity polls. However, I think there is a role for empathy-building in laying the groundwork for, on the science side learning why a person is resistant to an inconvenient truth, and on the denial side creating trust that the opposing side isn’t manufacturing false facts for an ulterior motive. An uninformed opinion is not equally valuable as an informed judgment, but the people within whose brains those opinions and judgments reside are of equal worth. So helping them communicate makes sense.

I have participated as a book in a Human Library. It was interesting and rather fun. It confirmed for me Harvey Milk’s urging everyone to be out so that people would understand that yes, they did know someone who would be affected by a proposed law. The tricky part is to keep it from becoming a judgment on a different person’s worth as a human being. I’m not sure the ad got that right. I was more impressed that they were building something together. That is not always possible, and it can create new conflicts, but it is also an excellent way to get past bias.

This has been an interesting discussion. I had not seen any of the advertisements before. –

Chris Santos-Lang: Rosa asked what I meant by “science” as a tool of conflict resolution distinct from empathy. Carolyn phrased it well.

When I wrote “disputes which can be resolved through scientific test ought to be resolved through scientific test” I did not mean that we ought to use psychology to figure-out how to make our opponents’ minds more pliable. I meant that experiments can tell us whether cigarettes cause cancer, or whether human activity is causing the climate to change, or whether the only value women bring to a society is to birth children, or whether gender identify necessarily aligns with development of sexual organs.

A conflict resolution expert who doesn’t know how to design and manage such experiments would be missing something very important from his/her toolbox. Disagreements on these issues are resolved if the science-deniers are busy trying to do better science.

Carolyn suggested that the science-supporter can use empathy to discover why the science-denier instead continues to resist, but then what? The bottleneck is not our inability to see the real pain that science-deniers are suffering–the bottleneck is that we cannot allow that pain to sway our beliefs about the science. The real pain will never go away–there will always be pain–so we ultimately have to say, “Too bad for you, but that doesn’t give you any right to deny the science.”

I am not saying that pain should be ignored, but it shouldn’t be attached to science like earmarks to a bill. There are limits to whom gets to be part of any conversation, and unwillingness to preserve the integrity of social epistemic practices puts one on the outside of a natural limit. –

Linda Ellinor: I was amazed that it was unscripted!! That was quite something to hear the back story. Thanks, Tom. –

Miles Fidelman: Isn’t that how it usually works? When forced to work together, and get to know each other, barriers tend to drop – particularly at the end of the day when it’s time for a beer.

Personally, I thought the ad was brilliant. –

Carolyn Caywood: What I’ve learned from moderating National Issues Forum deliberations is to probe for what each person values that underlie their positions because until those are out in the open the conversation cannot move forward. Each individual who denies climate change has his or her own particular concerns.

Some I’ve heard are that it will be used to justify more government intrusion into the individual’s freedom; that it will mean giving up the comforts of modern civilization and returning to a spartan 19th century way of life; that it threatens the person’s job. That allows us to talk about how we might respond to climate change in ways that minimize nanny government or maintain the important aspects of modern life or create new jobs and help workers transition. And the NIF emphasis on acknowledging tradeoffs and recognizing who does not benefit allows us to plan ways to address the pain of change.

I’m not saying that everyone can be brought into a productive conversation this way. But I know from bitter experience that saying “it is a scientific fact” does not get work. I wish it did. –

Bruce Waltuck: Thank you, Ken, for your wonderful comments. It seems all too easy and common these days to vilify and disregard those who hold significantly different values than we do. As we use the instant one-to-many communication of Facebook or Twitter, we amplify difference as much as we do similarity. Beliefs and intentions built on falsehood and fear are reinforced as much as those informed by fact and science.

Since the Brexit vote, we have seen the consequences of our infatuation with the internet, social media, and those posing as legitimate sources of knowledge. We have significant numbers of citizens who seem unwilling or unable to be in respectful dialogue. Unwilling or unable to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

And so. . . what happens when we break the rules of civil discourse? When conversation is no longer able to influence people’s learning, understanding, beliefs, and action?

And if. . . we no longer have a way through communicated language to create common meaning sufficient to coordinate action together, what can catalyze new sense-making, new shared meaning, and coordinated action towards a shared purpose?

Research into the dynamics of complex human systems suggests an answer. We have tumbled from the presumed stability of the status quo, into a time and space of chaos. We know that simply saying “you’re wrong” or “why can’t you see what I see the way I see it?” Isn’t going to work. We’ve seen the power of a dominant new narrative to dramatically change minds and behavior.

And. . . Our narratives come from our experience. Even as we retreat from the space of civil discourse, it is experience that formed our knowledge, understanding, values, and intentions. It is experience that may catalyze new shared meaning, and make possible new dialogue and coordinated action.

My concern is that we will not collectively choose to walk into the room and build an Ikea bar together with those holding views very different from our own. My concern is that we may only change our thinking and behavior in the wake of a catastrophic event we all experience. One, perhaps, in which many may suffer. I hope we will choose to walk into the room with An Other.

I hope we will choose to experience collaboration, catalyze new meaning, and engage in dialogue for new possibility. Yet hope is not probability. –

Terry Steichen: Here’s another perspective (and it seems to make good sense, at least to me). –

Leilani Raashida Henry: Thanks for posting Terry. This makes sense to me as well. Powerful response. –

Millicent Allenby: Yes, Thank you! I agree. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what made the video feel so creepy, even as I liked it! –

Carolyn Caywood: Today’s Pearls before Swine comic strip seems to be a comment on the ad. –

Karen Lest: I appreciate the reality check on the feeling of “See! It is possible to talk across the divide!” I am not quite ready to trash to whole idea though.

Yes, Heineken picked the easiest hot-button issues and people to represent each side in a sensational kind of way. The fact of the matter is that people do exist who have either ill-informed ideas or just plain mean-spirited attitudes toward those who differ from them. We have to find some way to co-exist them too, not just ones who have ideas or attitudes we like. If this simplistic approach gets someone to consider that a trans woman (for example) might be a human being worth getting to know then that is something. The alternative as I see it is to pretend that people with bad (from my point of view) ideas or attitudes don’t exist, which is silly. Or to try to legislate or shame them out of existence, which is scary. I vote for reaching out as many times as it takes. –

Stuart Miles-Mclean: Excellent. Thanks for sharing. –

Chris Santos-Lang: I really appreciate Karen’s perspective here. Even though I think it will never work, I second the motion to reach out as many times as it takes. I am not suggesting that science should never overrule people the way parents overrule a three-year-old. I just think the story shouldn’t end there. Our commitment to each other should go beyond the settling of any particular dispute, and that commitment needs to include a commitment to achieve mutual respect (eventually) no matter how impossible.

Suppose you could ask any test of my commitment to achieve respect for you–not just drinking a Heineken with you–what would it be? –

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