For the past seven years, I have had the honor of serving on the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, the last four as the chair. My term is officially over at the end of the year. NCDD serves as an umbrella organization for academics, practitioners, artists, and volunteers committed to improving how we all talk to each other and address our shared problems. They are a network of networks, a bridging organization dedicated to helping individuals, organizations, and communities build capacity for quality democratic engagement.
I still vividly remember my first NCDD conference in San Francisco in 2006. I remember because it was the first time I ever got that wonderful, overwhelming feeling of finding my people. I was passionate about community, democracy, and improving the world, but the world of politics was incredibly frustrating to me, and seemed mostly counterproductive. I had strong views about how things needed to change, but politics did not seem to be a useful route. People seemed to just talk past each other, assume horrible motives for those that disagreed, and while they sometimes won elections and sometimes lost, not much seemed to really change about the issues I cared about. It was a game people loved playing that to me seemed at best a distraction and at worst something that undermined everything democracy requires to function well (trust, mutual respect, the ability to have tough conversations, etc.).
NCDD was a whole other world. People that shared my passions for community and democracy, but recognized that what we were doing wasn’t working. They realized we needed to work together, to bridge differences, and get past simple narratives, but also knew that was not going to be easy. We needed a lot of new ideas, tools, and organizations. They also recognized that we didn’t just need a simple “both sides” or an abstract balance, but deeper explorations of what it would mean to work together across perspectives.
I greatly looked forward to NCDD’s conferences every other year, to learn new tools, meet new people, and engage deeper with others that shared my concerns. I started doing everything I could to get more of my students to attend, and with a lot of help from a lot of people, managed to take groups of 10-25 to conferences in Seattle, Washington DC, and Boston. In 2014, I accepted the call to join the board of directors of NCDD, and in 2016, became the board chair.
I’ll be honest, it has been tougher than I thought. NCDD does incredible work on a very tight and tiny budget. The board is all volunteer, and we survive with essentially three part time employees (sometimes just 2). We spend too much time thinking about money and not enough time thinking about the actual work. It is difficult to fund organizations like NCDD that serve more as a connector and a resource to other individuals and organizations rather than as a direct service provider. We literally spend billions on election campaigns, but struggle to raise hundreds for an organization truly dedicated to make democracy work.
As I exit my role — but still plan to be heavily involved with NCDD moving forward, I very much plan to serve again once I retire from my day job so I can really focus on elevating the organization — I ask you all to consider a NCDD membership (either for yourself or as a gift to a friend you think may be interested in what I’ve described) or consider NCDD in your end of year giving. I know you have a lot of options, and with the pandemic, an incredible amount of immediate needs. NCDD is much more of a long term investment. I truly believe the most pressing issue we have in our communities is the inability to talk with each other and work together on our shared problems. I think it will be difficult to move forward on any issue unless we first make some progress on that. In many ways, the pandemic has shown us that even a global crisis caused more polarization and distrust, rather than sparking the collaborative efforts that we know we are capable of as humans. Even a $10 or $20 donation can make a big difference to NCDD having the resources to help communities across the country build capacity for the kind of engagement democracies need to thrive.
More information about membership is here (https://ncdd.org/community/join), gifting memberships here (https://act.myngp.com/Forms/1424112249932744704), and donations here (https://act.myngp.com/Forms/-8754304382901286912).
Lastly, as I leave the board, I want to thank all the exceptional people I have had the pleasure to work with these past seven years (too many to mention), and I am particularly excited about the incoming chair, Lori Britt, and the strength of the board moving forward. I’ve known Professor Britt since her Ph.D. days at CU-Boulder, when she assisted with CPD events, and have been incredibly impressed with what she has built up at James Madison University. NCDD is in wonderful hands with her, the board, and Courtney Breese’s exceptional leadership as our executive director (who very very much deserves a higher salary and full time job!). We aren’t quite sure when we will all be able to gather together again — and may end up with more of a virtual conference this year — but I do know I can’t wait to gather with my people once again.
Martín Carcasson, Ph.D., is a professor in the Communication Studies department of Colorado State University, and the founder and director of the CSU Center for Public Deliberation (CPD, www.cpd.colostate.edu). We thank him for his service to the NCDD network and all he does to help advance efforts for dialogue and deliberation in communities and higher education!