Imagine a Future of Distributed Cooperatives, or DisCOs

For too long, discussions about how blockchain software could change the world have been dominated by libertarian-minded techies and market-driven startups. No wonder they are dazzled by Bitcoin, the currency for capitalist speculation, and by turbo-charged networked markets. 

This approach has left a huge void in our thinking about alternative futures -- ones that could be progressive, cooperative, and collectively emancipatory, and not just the next, more stifling iteration of capitalism. We need to ask: What sorts of systems might be possible if we were to design new tech platforms and protocols to facilitate commoning? 

How refreshing that we now have some answers. The basic idea is to create variations on a new institutional form, the “Distributed Cooperative Organization,” or DisCO. Check out 80 riveting pages on this topic, an extended essay entitled, “If I Only Had a Heart: The DisCO Manifesto,” published by the Guerrilla Media Collective in collaboration with the Transnational Institute.

The authors of this essay are my friends and colleagues Stacco Troncoso (lead author) and Ann Marie Utratel (coauthor and lead editor). Both have long worked with the P2P Foundation, Commons Transition, Guerrilla Translation and Guerrilla Media Collective groups. (Full disclosure: I gave the authors some comments on early drafts.) 

In blockchain circles, there is much enthusiasm for DAOs, or decentralized autonomous organizations. These are free-standing, self-organized groups of people who use blockchain tools to structure their members’ interactions and behave as “ownerless” organizations or institutions. The idea behind DAOs is to “allow people to exchange economic value, to pool resources and form joint-ventures, without control from the center, in ways that were impossible before blockchains; and to agree on how risks and rewards should be distributed and to enjoy the benefits (or otherwise) of the shared activity in the future,” as Ruth Catlow of the Furtherfield Collective writes in a crisp foreword.

This is indeed an exciting prospect, but DAOs are generally envisioned as a new breed of “trustless” market organization. They function on the same epistemic plane as capitalism, with everyone treated as isolated individuals looking to maximize their personal (monetary) interests. 

DisCOs, by contrast, start from a different set of premises about humanity. They regard we humans as a cooperative species whose members need and want to engage with others, personally. Earned trust among people and open collaboration can then achieve some remarkable things. That’s the essential goal of DisCOs, which consist of a set of organizational tools and practices for people who want to work together in a cooperative, commons-oriented, and feminist economics form.

The question that this report seeks to answer is how these social impulses and practices can be structured and facilitated by tech platforms, and made stable and durable.Toward this end, the report identifies seven principles that characterize distributed cooperatives:

1. Geared toward positive outcomes in key areas (such as social and environmental priorities)

2. Multi-constituent

3. Active creators of commons

4. Transnational

5. Centered on care work

6. Re-imagining the origin and flow of value

7. Primed for federation

While DisCOs can obviously have profound effects for the people affiliated with them, they have larger implications. They are capable of “injecting democracy into our economic systems (and politics and society in turn),” writes Catlow. “Funded by direct member investment, rather than investment from third-party shareholders, co-operative members ‘decide on the values of the enterprise, which don’t necessarily need to be about the maximization of profits’."

The report also talks about “open-value cooperativism,” the idea that coops can move beyond market valuation as the central goal and “expand our economics and accounting to include care for living systems.” This is a theme that feminist economists has developed in much of their literature about “care work.”    

Another advantage of DisCOs is their distributed nature. Because they are not centrally controlled, but autonomous and distributed, DisCOs can “maximize radical and emancipatory cooperation across national borders (on- and off-chain) while operating within the laws locally (at least until we can change them).”

An unexpected pleasure of this report is its many dazzling, artful illustrations, photos, and embedded illustrations. They point to the wide range of influences on the authors, from philosopher Donna Haraway and network analysts like Paul Baran and Dmytri Kleiner, to Internet cats and pop music lyrics.

This is a report by, of, and for digital natives. It is aswim in contemporary culture but informed by serious thinkers and history. Especially in their account of the Guerrilla Media Collective as a DisCO, the authors lay claim to an aesthetic of “punk elegance.” To which I can only say, “Rave on!”

Check out this report – an hour’s read. It’s serious in its explanations and polemics, accessible and fun in its presentation, and a timely vision of how people might design tech platforms and social norms for a world of commoning.

new Civic Engagement section for the American Political Science Association

Elizabeth Bennion (Indiana University – South Bend), Richard Davis (Brigham Young University), and I have proposed a new APSA Organized Section on Civic Engagement. It will promote the teaching of and scholarship about civic engagement through sponsorship of civics education and civic research panels and/or short courses.

“The Civic Engagement Section would serve as an institutional home for a diverse, growing and important group of scholars. It would create new opportunities to showcase the best new research at APSA’s annual meeting, promote subfield collaboration, and serve as a focal point for coordinating the various projects being undertaken by civic engagement scholars. Indeed, we welcome scholars working with diverse methodological backgrounds and in diverse institutional settings including research intensive universities, teaching intensive colleges and universities, HBCUs and HSIs, community colleges, and in the nonprofit sector.”

If you are an APSA member, you can sign the petition here. We are on course to have enough signatures for formal review of the proposal, but we still welcome more support, which will strengthen the petition.

If you’re not an APSA member–or a political scientist, or an academic–you may still want to keep an eye out for opportunities to work with the new section.

an agenda for political reform in Massachusetts

Today at the Boston Foundation, MassINC & Tisch College released our report on reforming state government in Massachusetts.

The major theme is that a small number of people who lack the diversity of our state dominate the process of governance, which includes voting, running for office, assessing problems and possible solutions, consulting stakeholders, and building coalitions.

State government is very powerful because of a lack of county governments and weak home-rule for our cities. Within the legislature, especially in the House, power is strongly concentrated in the leadership.

Strong leadership is not necessarily problematic, and it is typical of large legislative bodies, such as our House. But centralized control is problematic if the leadership lacks diversity. In our case, of the 76 legislators who hold leadership positions, four are people of color.

And centralized control is problematic if people outside the center lack the capacity to play their own important roles in governance In our case, most state representatives employ just one staffer–not enough to play a meaningful role in legislating. The parties are shells, employing very few people. And state and local newspapers are near collapse.

As solutions, we propose:

1. Synchronize state and local elections. Holding local elections in odd years dramatically reduces turnout leading to an electorate that is unrepresentative and vulnerable to influence by special interests. To attract more voters, Massachusetts should follow other cities and states that have moved municipal contests to even years.

2. Provide public funds for candidates and parties. Public financing increases the racial, economic, and gender diversity of those running for office. Massachusetts should join a growing number of cities and states that provide public funding to both candidates and parties.

3. Increase the capacity of the whole legislature to legislate. All legislators should have the capacity to consult with citizens and experts, analyze legislative proposals, develop their own proposals, and build coalitions. Massachusetts should follow the practice of 46 states and create a research office to provide nonpartisan analysis of pending legislation. The Legislature should also provide rank-and-file legislators with more professional staff and ensure that they are adequately compensated.

4. Invest in the press. Concerted effort is needed to find new business models for state and local news. The legislature should act expediently on pending legislation that would establish a commission to examine policy options to ensure that residents in all of our communities have access to quality state and local news.

We also endorse civic education, lowering the voting age, Ranked-Choice Voting, Election Day Registration, and the Citizens Initiative Review.

Read the whole thing here. It can be cited as: Peter Levine, Benjamin Forman & Laurel Bliss, MassForward: Advancing Democratic Innovation and Electoral Reform in Massachusetts (Boston: MassINC, 2019)

D&D Webinar Double Header Today & Register for the NCDD-EvDem Confab Tomo

It’s a busy morning of D&D webinars if you are looking to strengthen your engagement skills! First up, NCDD sponsor org The Courageous Leadership Project will be holding their “Brave, Honest Conversations” webinar from 9 am Pacific, 12 pm Eastern. Then immediately after that, we encourage you to check out the webinar “Engaging your Community Outside of City Hall” with our friends at the National Civic League from 10 am Pacific, 1 pm Eastern. Don’t forget tomorrow is our next NCDD confab call featuring Everyday Democracy, who will share will us their resources for evaluating community engagement – register for this free call happening Thursday, November 14th from 11am-12pm Pacific, 2-3pm Eastern!

Here are the upcoming D&D online events happening over the next few weeks, including NCDD member orgs National Issues Forums Institute and Living Room Conversations, as well as, from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) and the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice.

NCDD’s online D&D event roundup is a weekly compilation of the upcoming events happening in the digital world related to dialogue, deliberation, civic tech, engagement work, and more! Do you have a webinar or other digital 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!

Upcoming Online D&D Events –

NCDD Confab Call Featuring Everyday Democracy

Confab bubble imageOn this call, we will be joined by Deloris Vaughn, Director of Evaluation and Learning for Everyday Democracy, as well as Sandy Heierbacher, Interim Communications Director (and, of course, NCDD’s Co-Founder!). They will share with us their resources for evaluating community engagement, specifically Ripple Effects Mapping, which allows visual documentation of your work’s impacts over time. Learn more at the link below and register ASAP for this free call!


From Our Sponsors & Partners

The Courageous Leadership Project webinar – Brave, Honest Conversations™

Wednesday, November 13th
9 am Pacific, 12 pm Eastern

Some conversations are hard to have. Fear and discomfort build in your body and you avoid and procrastinate or pretend everything is fine. Sometimes you rush in with urgency, wanting to smooth things over, fix them, and make them better. Sometimes you go to battle stations, positioning the conversation so you have a higher chance of being on the “winning” side. NONE OF THIS WORKS. Instead, it usually makes a hard conversation harder; more divided, polarized, and disconnected from others. The more people involved, the harder the conversation can be. I believe that brave, honest conversations are how we solve the problems we face in our world – together.

In this webinar, we will cover: What is a Brave, Honest Conversation™? Why have one? What can change because of a brave, honest conversation? How do you have one? What do you need to think about and do? How do you prepare yourself for a brave, honest conversation?


National Civic League AAC Promising Practices Webinar – Engaging your Community Outside of City Hall

Wednesday, November 13th
10 am Pacific, 1 pm Eastern

Join the National Civic League to learn how communities are engaging residents where they live, using unique and entertaining approaches. This webinar will highlight three community events that are giving residents entertaining opportunities for engaging with the city. Registrants will hear about events in Denver, CO, Decatur, GA and Mission, TX.


From Our Members

MetroQuest – click here

  • Indianapolis MPO’s Formula for Actionable Public Input on Bike, Ped & Transit – Wednesday, November 20th at 11 am Pacific, 2 pm Eastern

Living Room Conversations – click here

  • Status and Privilege – Thursday, November 14th at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern
  • Training: A Holiday Recipe for Talking Politics with Family – Monday, November 18th at 3:30 pm Pacific, 6:30 pm Eastern
  • Relationships Over Politics: Connecting with Friends and Family – Thursday, November 21st at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern

National Issues Forums Institute – click here

  • November CGA Forum Series: How Can We Stop Mass Shootings in Our Communities? – Thursday, November 21st at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern
  • November Common Ground for Action (CGA) Moderator Training – Friday, November 22nd at 1 pm Pacific, 4 pm Eastern

From the Network

International City/County Management Association – click here

  • Having Difficult Conversations In Your Organization and Beyond – Thursday, November 14th at 9:30 am Pacific, 12:30 Eastern

Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) – click here

  • Education for sustainable Peace, an initiative by Aegis Trust – Friday, November 15th at 9:30 am Pacific, 12:30 Eastern

Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice – click here

  • Harm, Healing & Human Dignity: Catholics in the Restorative Justice Movement – Wednesday, November 20th at 4 pm Pacific, 7 pm Eastern

The Wicca Men: Protest Music Against Enclosures

British songwriter and musician Adrian Renton decided it was time to confront the outrages of our time by resurrecting a classic form – folk protest music. Inspired by a 1960s album, “Moving On,” by Scottish musician Nigel Denver, Renton pulled together some friends from Essex, Berkshire and London to re-record some very old English songs. They also wrote some new songs in the same spirit of protest. 

The result is the Wicca Men's recent album Albion’s Darkness, a moving history lesson and contemporary political commentary wrapped in some haunting music. The album draws a straight line from the peasants’ revolt in Essex in 1381 to contemporary struggles against neoliberal capitalism and Boris Johnson. The dynamics of enclosure are brutally similar then and now, even if the means used today – international trade law, intellectual property law -- are sometimes different. 

One song, “Goblins,” is particularly timely even though it was inspired by a Piers Plowman song, “a complex and satirical allegory written by William Langland around 1370, which denounces the greed, falsehood and hypocrisy of the Church and State in England, and also gives the first recorded mention of Robin Hood.” In the new lyrics, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and several Cabinet members are ridiculed as “this troupe of clowns, dressed in friars and wise men gowns / Lying to people to profit to themselves and to keep…/ The Bumpkins down.”

Another song, “By Moonlight,” is a mournful reflection by songwriter Steve Lake about an actual conversation he had with a Syrian refugee whom he had met. The man had fled from military conflict in his town and found his way to safety and welcome in Bristol, England.

You can give a listen to "Goblin" and "By Moonlight" here, and the entire album here. Check out the liner notes and artwork for the album here.

I also liked “The Mansions of England,” which tells the story of press gangs that spirited men to serve on slave-trading ships. One stanza goes:

Pressed into service I was punished and whipped and was beaten.

But the fate was much worse for those wretches that we were transporting.

I loathed all the captains, the merchants, the fine men and ladies

Who lived off the work and the backs of the slaves and slave wages.

Out in the meadows, the valleys the moors and the fenland,

Where lay the fine gardens, the grounds and grand houses of England

Planted with trees and with flowers imported from far lands.

They stand in the landscape that once had been held for the commons.

In the liner notes for the album, Renton writes:

“One strand of British history has been constant over the last centuries. The theft through privatization and commodification of life, initially by landowners and the church, later by business. The enclosures drove self-sustaining farmers into towns to work in factories, some dissidents were ‘transported’ to Australia and people were enslaved. Today, theft moves in additional ways, through the enclosure of ideas and knowledge by corporate power, and the distorted narratives of a media owned by a handful of the super-rich.”

Renton provides an etymology of the word “Tory” that I had not known: “Tory derives from the Middle Irish word tóraidhe; modern Irish tóral; modern Scottish Gaelic Tòraidh: outlaw, robber or brigand.

The message of The Wicca Men is to “Take Back the Commons” and “bring an end to the unrelenting privatisation of public property; the NHS [National Health Service], education, council housing and the green swards of Albion that once belonged to ‘the commoners.’” Here's a link to the group's website, where you can order the album.

Reminder to Register for Thursday’s Confab Feat EvDem!

Remember to join us this Thursday for our exciting (and free) November Confab Call, featuring our good friends at Everyday Democracy. They will share with us their resources for evaluating community engagement, specifically Ripple Effects Mapping, which allows visual documentation of your work’s impacts over time.

Dialogue can lead to many positive changes in communities, but direct impacts can be tough to track over time.  Yet we all know how useful data about impact is to funders and partners, and for improving our work going forward. Ripple Effects Mapping (REM) allows you and those you work with to capture longer-term impacts your work has had on individuals, institutions, and systems. November’s Confab is a great opportunity to learn more about these free resources and the REM process!

This free call will take place on Thursday, November 14th from 2-3 pm Eastern, 11am-noon PacificRegister today so you don’t miss out on this event!


The Ripple Effects Mapping Tip Sheet outlines the process of creating the ripple effects map through a community engagement event. It’s a two-page document which gives you all the key information on how to use this tool to assess the impacts of your work in a collaborative way. It’s a fantastic resource! If you want to dig a little deeper into ripple effects mapping, you can also read the report Communities Creating Racial Equity – Ripple Effects of Dialogue to Change, which includes five case studies from Everyday Democracy’s work, and includes the Ripple Effects Mapping for each.

In addition to the the tip sheet and report, Everyday Democracy has also developed a practical guide to Evaluating Community Engagement as well as an accompanying Toolkit. These are invaluable resources for the dialogue, deliberation and public engagement field, where many of us seek to improve our evaluation process but are limited in our resources for doing so!

On this call, we will be joined by Deloris Vaughn, Director of Evaluation and Learning for Everyday Democracy, as well as Sandy Heierbacher, Interim Communications Director (and, of course, NCDD’s Co-Founder!). Deloris will share from her years of experience in evaluation how Ripple Effects Mapping can be used as a participatory evaluation activity. They will both help us learn more about the resources available from Everyday Democracy to strengthen our evaluation efforts.

This is a great event for anyone looking to learn more about evaluation, and certainly those who want to learn more about Everyday Democracy’s work. Make sure you register today to secure your spot!

About NCDD’s Confab Calls

Confab bubble imageNCDD’s Confab Calls are opportunities for members (and potential members) of NCDD to talk with and hear from innovators in our field about the work they’re doing and to connect with fellow members around shared interests. Membership in NCDD is encouraged but not required for participation. Confabs are free and open to all. Register today if you’d like to join us!

MANY New Job & Internship Opportunities in the D&D Field

There are LOTS of new jobs and internships related to dialogue, deliberation, civic tech, and public engagement work! Including two special opportunities to work with NCDD Co-Founder Sandy Heierbacher who is now working with Everyday Democracy, and they looking for a Director of Communications and Community Organizer – check it out!

We work to stay up on the most recent opportunities and send them out via the NCDD Making-A-Living listserv. While the Making-A-Living listserv is a benefit of being an NCDD member, we have been finding such a robust line-up of jobs and internships that we wanted to lift these up here on the blog. If you’d like to receive these regular updates and are an NCDD member, sign up for the Making-A-Living listserv here. If you are not a member of NCDD, then we strongly encourage you to join so you can receive the most up-to-date positions we find! Learn more about the additional benefits of being an NCDD member by clicking here.

Remember if your org is hiring, let us know by sending the postings to keiva[at]ncdd[dot]orgGood luck to all applicants!

New Job & Internship Opportunities in D&D Field – November 11, 2019

Everyday Democracy is hiring for two positions in their Hartford, CT. Read more:

  • Director of Communications
  • Community Organizer

The Conflict Transformation Fund is hiring a full-time Initiative Director. Read more:

Duke University is hiring for an Executive Director of the North Carolina Leadership Forum. Read more:

Living Room Conversations is seeking volunteers for several positions. Read more:

  • Volunteer Coordinator
  • Social Media Moderator
  • Lead and Local Organizers
  • Communications
  • Research

[POSITION NOW FILLED] Civic Dinners is looking for a Social Media Manager for their Atlanta office. Read more:

Citizen University is hiring for a Communications Intern. Read more:

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution is seeking a President & CEO. Read more:

Generation Citizen is hiring for several positions – read more:

  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Communications Manager
  • Senior Director of Program & Impact
  • Executive Director (California)

Center for Tech and Civic Life is hiring for an Executive Assistant in their Chicago office. Read more:

MOVE Texas is hiring for two positions. Read more:

  • Regional Organizing Manager
  • San Antonio Field Organizer

Cities of Service is currently seeking AmeriCorps VISTA members to serve in cities across the US. Read more:

  • Experience Matters Program  – St. Paul, MN and Tulsa, OK
  • Guiding Opportunities Program – Oakland, CA and St. Louis, MO
  • Love Your Block Program – Hartford, CT and South Bend, IN

Democracy Fund is hiring for several positions below (in DC) – read more:

  • Accounting Manager
  • IT Administrator
  • Just and Inclusive Society Fellow
  • Partnerships Associate
  • Program Associate, Public Square Program
  • Senior Advisor Government Accountability
  • Senior Associate, Strategy and Learning
  • Communications and Network Internship (Spring 2019)
  • Elections Program Internship (Spring 2019)
  • Governance Program Internship (Spring 2019)
  • Public Square Program Internship (Spring 2019)

Democracy Works has several positions and internships available (various locations). Read more:

  • Quality Assurance Engineer
  • Government Affairs Director
  • Voting Information Project Data Fellow

RepresentUS is hiring for several positions – read more:

  • Campaign Director (remote)
  • Senior Campaign Director (remote)
  • Digital Campaign Associate (Northampton, MA or San Francisco, CA)
  • Social Media Campaign Strategist (East Coast)
  • Digital Director (multiple locations)
  • Marketing Analyst (multiple locations)
  • National Media Strategist (multiple locations)
  • Social Media Strategist (multiple locations)
  • Regional Director of Development – West Coast
  • Communications Intern (Spring 2020)
  • Organizing Intern (Spring 2020)
  • Political Intern (Spring 2020)

IssueOne is looking for several positions. Read more:

  • Development Associate
  • Policy & Programs Intern (Spring 2020)
  • Development Intern (Spring 2020)

Young Invincibles has several positions open. Read more:

  • Development Coordinator
  • Content Strategy Manager
  • Digital Communications Coordinator

Knight Foundation looking to hire for several positions. Read more:

  • Junior Data Analyst – Miami

Fairvote is hiring for several positions. Read more:

  • Director of Communications
  • Director of Advocacy
  • Digital Organizer
  • Software Developer
  • Voter Education Specialist
  • Regional Field Organizer
  • Data Analyst

EnviroIssues is hiring for multiple positions. Read more:

  • Multi-Media Designer – Portland
  • Facilitation/Outreach Project Manager – Portland
  • Construction Outreach Associate – Seattle

Community Water Center hiring for two positions. Read more:

  • Communications Manager – Sacramento office
  • Community Organizer – Visalia office

Net Impact runs a jobs-internship board at

Democracy Fund’s electiononline has LOTS of positions in various cities across the country. Read more:

Careers in Government has several engagement & communication-related opportunities. Use the keyword search at

in defense of (some) implicit bias

I hope that if there were an implicit bias test for Nazism, I would demonstrate a strong negative bias. Shown rapid-fire images of swastikas and Nazi leaders, I would be unable to associate them with positive words without strenuous effort. The reason is that I learned a deep aversion to National Socialism, based originally on reasons and evidence. It is now no longer efficient for me to use conscious effort to assess Nazis, their pros and cons. I have rightly translated a very well-founded judgment into a habit, which works like a constructed instinct. That way, I can reserve my limited attention and cognitive capacity for other issues.

In 1970, Charles Fried proposed as a philosophical thought-experiment a situation in which two people are drowning, one of whom happens to be your spouse. It was “absurd,” said Fried, that you should be impartial about which one to save. Fried was developing an argument against pure impartiality. But Bernard Williams famously replied that you shouldn’t even have to think about which person to save. That would be “one thought too many.” If you must reason about whether to save your spouse as opposed to someone else, you do not love your spouse. The problem with having to think in this case is not mere inefficiency (it might slow you down and increase her chance of drowning). It’s more basic than that. You do not have a “deep attachment” to another person unless—here I extend Williams’ argument—you have turned your preference for that person into an acquired instinct. Your ability to act on that instinct instead of reasoning is proof of a process that we call love.

In a really interesting new paper, “Rationalization is Rational,” Fiery Cushman argues that human beings, since we have limited cognitive resources, have evolved several different modes of representing things in our environment: reason and planning, habit, instinct, and norms. These modes require varying amounts of cognitive attention. Cushman also proposes that we have evolved mechanisms for shifting representations from one mode to another for efficiency’s sake. For instance, we intentionally learn the way home and then form a habit of walking home so that we no longer have to think about it. But we can also make a habit conscious and practice until we change it.

Many people are currently worried about two specific “representational exchanges,” in Cushman’s terms. One is rationalization. We think that we are making a conscious and reasoned choice, but we have actually formed an instinctive reaction that we then merely rationalize with explicit words. This phenomenon is widely taken to be evidence of human unreason and inability to deliberate. But Cushman sees it as an efficient process. We can’t go through life assessing everything explicitly, so we develop habits of reacting to categories of things and then justify our reactions when reasons are needed. So long as the learned habit was based on good thinking in the first place, it is an efficiency measure rather than a limitation. In turn, rationalization (giving reasons for something we have already decided) serves a useful purpose: it puts a habit into verbal form so that it can be debated.

The other problem that worries many of us implicit bias, particularly in the form of racial stereotyping. Tests of implicit bias show that various forms are common in the population as a whole.

Implicit bias research sometimes seems to flatten crucial moral differences. A subject might have a 3% bias against African Americans and a 24% bias against Millennials. This does not mean that generational bias is eight times more important, even in this individual’s case. Racism is structural, historical, connected to laws and institutions, and literally deadly. Generational bias is just one of those things we should probably think about. To assess the empirical data about bias, we need judgments about what is just and unjust.

Applying Cushman’s insight, I would go further. An implicit bias is not necessarily bad at all. It is actually a virtue (in the Aristotelian sense) if it reflects a process of reasoning and learning that we have stored as a habit. Being biased against Nazis and in favor of your spouse are virtues. Being biased against people of color is a vice. The difference lies in the content of the judgment, not the form.

It’s true that any bias can mislead. For instance, your appropriate abhorrence of Nazism might distort your views of justice in the current Middle East. Your appropriate bias in favor of your dearly beloved family members might cause you to treat strangers in unjust ways. It is characteristic of virtues that each is insufficient; we need a whole suite of them. And one important task is to bring even our best biases into conversation with other ideas and principles. But it wouldn’t be progress to temper your bias against Nazis or in favor of your spouse. That would just weaken your virtues. Progress means combating bad biases, developing good biases, and combining your good biases with more abstract principles of judgment.

See also: the era of cognitive bias; marginalizing views in a time of polarization; Empathy and Justice; Jonathan Haidt’s six foundations of morality; and don’t confuse bias and judgment (which is incompatible with this post).

2019 Engaged Cities Awards Finalists Announced!

The 2019 Engaged Cities Awards winners and finalists have been selected! The award celebrates those cities from the Americas and Europe who most successfully engaged their communities to create and implement solutions to address local challenges. From the Cities of Service site, “Their incredible work demonstrates what cities can accomplish when they are open to the ideas and talents of citizens. Over the summer, Cities of Service will visit all 10 finalist cities to learn more about their solutions and share what we find so other cities can learn from and replicate the solutions in their own cities.” Read more in the post below and learn more about each of the finalists on the Cities of Services site here.

2019 Winner and Finalists

Cities of Service received more than one hundred applications for the 2019 Engaged Cities Award from cities across the Americas and Europe. With help from an esteemed group of experts, Cities of Service chose 10 finalists, whose solutions achieved impact by engaging citizens in a variety of ways, including: impact volunteering, participatory design, crowdsourcing, and citizen-sourced data. Finalists tackled challenges related to the environment and sustainability, health and safety, neighborhood revitalization, and more.

We visited each finalist city to learn more about their collaborations with communities.

All ten finalists combined bold mayoral leadership and the reach of city hall with the on-the-ground knowledge of citizens to address serious problems. Their incredible work demonstrates what cities can accomplish when they are open to the ideas and talents of citizens.

Over the summer, Cities of Service will visit all 10 finalist cities to learn more about their solutions and share what we find so other cities can learn from and replicate the solutions in their own cities.

Learn more about the 10 finalist solutions here.

About the Award

Each year, the Cities of Service Engaged Cities Award elevates city-led strategies that most successfully engage citizens to help create and implement solutions to pressing local problems.

Cities of Service knows that many cities are involving citizens in creative and effective ways, including civic tech, data analysis, impact volunteering, and more. These cities are combining the reach of City Hall with the on-the-ground knowledge of citizens to solve public problems.

The Engaged Cities Award is open to cities with populations of 30,000+ in the Americas and Europe. Cities of Service, along with an esteemed group of experts, will choose three winning cities. Each winner will receive a minimum of $50,000 and be announced as part of the Engaged Cities Award Summit in fall 2019.

Last year, Cities of Service selected winners of the inaugural Engaged Cities Award and officially announced them at a dinner hosted by Michael R. Bloomberg. We celebrated the work of the finalists at the first ever Cities of Service Engaged Cities Award Summit.

To stay informed about the Engaged Cities Award, including finalists, winners, and future opportunities to apply, please sign up for our mailing list.

You can read the above announcement on the Engaged Cities site at

on baseball as an analogy for civics

(DCA) Yesterday at the “Future of Civics” event presented by The Atlantic and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, I got to hear Paul Finkelman present the same argument he had made recently in The Atlantic under the heading, “Baseball is a Civics Education.” 

Baseball, Finkelman says, is “a wonderful example of a functioning legal system, one that teaches the millions of Americans who play or watch it fundamental principles of American law and constitutional theory.”

Finkelman analogizes baseball to law, meaning primarily the judicial process. It was only the headline writer who called baseball a “Civics Education.” That raised the stakes, because civics is about much more than law. Civics is also about partisan politics, social movements, social capital, identities, ideologies, and a range of other issues that look much less like baseball.

Still, I have made analogies between games and politics (why learn game theory?; work and play and civic life). As Finkelman argues, baseball is rule-guided. It channels individual and group competition into an event that serves a larger public; ambition is harnessed for the public good. The rules are explicit but have evolved (informally as well as formally) and are interpreted by human umpires who are trained to be neutral. In addition to explicit rules and penalties, baseball depends on norms.

These are some similarities between baseball and some desirable aspects of politics. On the other hand, politics is not only about who plays better. It’s primarily about ideas, decisions, or policies. To the extent that better play determines the outcome, a political or legal system (unlike a game) is flawed.

In democratic politics and in a jury room, the audience doesn’t just watch; they decide the outcome. And their decision is not about who did a better job, but what about is most true or just. That is a high ideal; in reality, we also decide what will serve our own interests. That is both inevitable and also justifiable, within limits. Politics is an instrument for obtaining the ends we want.

In baseball, the identities of the two teams are sharply defined and are fixed for the duration of the game. In politics, one of the important dynamics is the ability of players to choose and change identities. Baseball is a two-team sport, but even in the dysfunctional partisan duopoly of US partisan politics, there are many more than two teams on the field at a time. And players are constantly changing sides. There is (or should be) no sharp distinction between the audience and the players. Everyone plays. Even apathy has an effect.

Competing baseball teams may be unequal in the sense that one team has better players. But they have the same number of players, opportunities at bat, and other basic resources. In contrast, politics is always unequal, often brutally so. That often makes the game less enjoyable to watch, but nobody designed politics for the audience’s appreciation. It is a manifestation of power.

Most importantly, the stakes are different. Baseball is about who wins. Politics is about who pays or receives, prospers or suffers, lives or dies.

I can see the pedagogical value of analogizing politics and baseball. The sport teaches certain values that are worthy in civic life, such as rule-of-law, fair play, and the value of the opponent. But baseball and other games also differ from politics, and we risk mis-educating people if we drive the analogy too far.