Kettering and NIFI Release Publications on Developing Deliberation Materials

Kettering and NIFI: Developing Materials for Deliberation

The Kettering Foundation researches and develops issue guides, and the National Issues Forums Institute (NIF) shares the materials across the country along with the deliberative practices on which they are based.

How Kettering and NIFI think about developing materials that support public deliberation is freely available in two publications: Naming and Framing Difficult Issues to Make Sound Decisions, which outlines the conceptual foundations of this approach, and Developing Materials for Deliberative Forums, which is aimed at people in communities who might want to do this work themselves, in their own contexts on their own issues. When KF and NIFI work on national materials, we use the same approach. There are many ways to do this, and the more one does it the more readily it comes. In this way, this work is a “practice,” learned and improved upon by doing, yet accessible to all. It does not take experts. (Another resource, a little more schematic, is this two-page overview.)

This is not necessarily the best way to develop such materials, but it is the one that we have developed and used over decades. Other innovations are most welcome, and we are always interested to hear about them.

What we mean by “public deliberation” is simple: people deciding together about how they should address a shared problem by weighing options for action against the things they hold valuable. It is particularly useful, and some might even say it is needed, on certain kinds of problems, including when the cause of the problem is in dispute, people from all walks of life will need to act, there is no objectively correct solution, and any potential path forward brings with it drawbacks that affect things that are held deeply valuable. Some call such problems “wicked.” The main idea is that they don’t have a correct solution, but the problems are pressing, so we must still decide how to move forward in the absence of complete agreement. NIF issue guides are designed to be a support to deliberation by people in communities on a range of these kinds of issues. People deliberate all the time in their personal and professional lives. It is not a new skill that needs to be learned. The NIF issue guides are simply designed to prompt the process. (Some people use them for educational purposes, but their main intended use is to support direction-setting that leads to public decision-making.)

The challenge for anyone trying to develop a document that supports people deliberating on such a problem is to 1) describe the problem in such a way that it is universally recognized as a problem that merits discussion and 2) present options for action that lay bare the tensions between the things that we might do. The first item is called naming, and the second framing.

All of this work starts with research. It is not work suited to just one or two researchers who go off and write—it is collective work aimed to be useful to collectivities of people. In terms of “desk” research, the chief areas of inquiry are: What arguments are being made about this issue? By whom? How do they differ? What solutions are being proposed? The public research is the most important aspect of developing these materials.

This public research starts with gathering concerns of people. This is usually done in small groups, as people share their concerns about a topic. The name of the issue is not yet known—it will develop and emerge iteratively throughout the process. We are trying to learn two things: What is the question that people feel we must grapple with? How does this issue relate to the fundamental things that everyone holds valuable, but in differing degree? By talking about their concerns, people lay bare these things. We typically try to have broad-based concern gathering sessions, eliciting input from many groups, across difference. The broader the better.

Once there is a good, broad set of concerns (usually hundreds), we begin to “cluster” them according to things that are held deeply valuable that appear to be driving them. They typically will readily narrow down to a handful of main driving concerns such as collective safety, equity and being treated fairly, having freedom to act, having control over one’s future, and so forth. It is useful to get down to three or four main groupings. These clusters will become the options of the resulting issue framework, and three or four options is about as many as one can get through in one discussion.

What emerges from this clustering work is a name for the issue and the beginnings of a framework of options (each a major direction for addressing the problem). To give a sense of specificity to the options, it is useful to have examples of specific actions that each option suggests. The result of all this work is the “grid” format that you can see at the back of most NIF issue guides: a description of the problem, three options for action, each with a set of actions. Each of these options will have a trade off—the downside will be unpalatable, or it will pull against one of the other options, or both.

At this point, we develop a draft of such a framework and test it by holding deliberative forums with groups of people. We are looking for how well it sparks deliberation.

We have learned that a useful framework will:

  • Name the problem in such a way that people immediately respond
  • Include a range of options that are in tension with one another
  • Give voice to marginal and sometimes unwelcome views
  • Clearly and fairly show the downsides of any suggested course of action
  • Shake up the dominant left/right polarized discourse
  • Often leave people stewing as they consider ideas they may not have encountered

In my own experience in doing this work, this testing almost always results in improvements and sometimes major revisions. Sometimes an option needs a complete rework. Sometimes the name is clearly wrong. For instance, once we thought we were framing an issue related to “campaign finance,” and people in concern gathering sessions literally laughed at how narrowly that was drawn and insisted that the problem was almost the entire political system.

One of the challenges of doing this work is that it works best if one approaches it with openness and a willingness to alter course based on what is learned. It makes it difficult to create hard-and-fast timelines and to provide early specificity.

Once the overall framework is working, we develop a full-length issue guide. These are all reviewed anonymously by people who are familiar with the topic at hand before publication. At this point, we are looking for balance between major viewpoints and major gaps or errors.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Kettering Foundation site at

NIFI Updates Issue Guide on Immigration

NCDD member org, the National Issues Forums Institute released their new updated issue guide, Immigration: What Should We Welcome? What Should We Do? In this short updated guide, you can find helpful information and three approaches to assist conversations on this topic that affects almost every single person in America. Read the new announcement below or find the original on NIFI’s here

New Issue Guide – Immigration: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do?

This issue is part of the Hidden Common Ground initiative, and sets of free materials are available for conveners and moderators. Scroll down for the Immigration issue guide and other related materials. Need help with your order? Contact customer service.

The immigration issue affects virtually every American, directly or indirectly, often in deeply personal ways. This guide is designed to help people deliberate together about how we should approach the issue. The three options presented here reflect different ways of understanding what is at stake and force us to think about what matters most to us when we face difficult problems that involve all of us and that do not have perfect solutions.

The US government essentially shut down immigration, at least temporarily, during the coronavirus pandemic. But as our country begins to reopen, difficult questions remain:

  • Should we strictly enforce the law and deport people who are
  • here without permission, or would deporting millions of people outweigh their crime?
  • Should we welcome more newcomers to build a more vibrant and diverse society, or does this pose too great a threat to national unity?
  • Should we accept more of the millions of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing gang violence and war, or should we avoid the risk of taking in people whose backgrounds may not have been fully checked?
  • Should our priority be to help immigrants assimilate into our distinctively American way of life and insist they learn English, or should we instead celebrate a growing mosaic of different peoples?

The concerns that underlie this issue are not confined to party affiliation, nor are they captured by labels such as “conservative” or “liberal.”

The research involved in developing the guide included interviews and conversations with Americans from all walks of life, as well as surveys of nonpartisan public-opinion research, subject-matter scans, and reviews of initial drafts by people with direct experience with the subject

You can find the original version of this announcement on the National Issues Forum site at

Interview with Joan Blades of Living Room Conversations

This story about Living Room Conversations, a longstanding NCDD friend and member organization, articulates the vision and relevance of gathering with others to practice communication in spite of differences. In 2010, Joan Blades in collaboration with friends from different political identities, created Living Room Conversations when they noticed the increasing difficulties in communicating with people across political divides. Living Room Conversations provides an important practice space where people can meet and discuss issues that matter greatly to communities across America.  These online gatherings allow, respect, and celebrate the diversity of viewpoints which are as varied as topics and participation.

The entire interview can be read below and you can find the original posting on the Gratefulness site here.

Grateful Changemakers: Living Room Conversations

Living Room Conversations envisions a world where people who have fundamental differences of opinion and backgrounds learn to work together with respect and even joy. The non-profit’s open-source conversation model — developed by dialogue experts — provides an accessible structure for engaging in meaningful, civil conversation — anywhere in the world, even virtually — with those who may have different viewpoints. Anyone is welcome to use Living Room Conversation’s free resources, which can be adapted to address the needs of any community working to bridge divides. Co-founder Joan Blades (who also co-founded shares more about how Living Room Conversations build relationships that support collaborative problem-solving and generate compassion.

What sparked the creation of Living Room Conversations?

In 2004, I wanted to understand why conservative people saw things so differently than I did. This required intentional effort to spend time with people that have very different views. I made friends and learned a lot, but by 2010 it was actually harder to have a good conversation about the climate with a conservative than it was in 2005. This inspired me to work with dialogue experts to design a simple and small conversation format that is massively reproducible, and so I co-founded Living Room Conversations with a conservative and independent friend.

How does Living Room Conversations fill a need for our society?

We have teased ourselves apart so that we primarily spend time with and talk to like-minded people. This is making it easier and easier to demonize good people who have different beliefs than we do. Living Room Conversations invite us to reach out and get to know people who have different views than we do. The conversations allow us to deepen our own understanding as well as deepen relationships with friends and family. They improve our listening and connection skills. We have over 100 conversation guides based upon the current interests and needs of our users. The upcoming presidential election has inspired conversations about how we want to contribute to the political conversation.

A few years ago I began to describe this work as domestic peacebuilding. Terrible things can happen when we demonize people. Everybody I know from across the political spectrum wants good things for their community, their family, and the world. This is an important starting place. To address the big challenges we face, we need everyone’s best ideas and the capacity to work together.

What do you think inspires people to participate in Living Room Conversations?

Sometimes the motivation is an invitation to join a friend. Sometimes it is curiosity about a particular topic. Or the opportunity to get to know new people. Faith communities, libraries, and other groups offer Living Room Conversations to their members to deepen ties and also invite in missing voices. We have over 100 conversation guides on different topics, and the reasons for participating are as numerous as our many guides! As polarization has escalated in the U.S., more and more people no longer want to talk to “those people,” while there are others who are recognizing the deep dysfunction of dismissing entire segments of our population. And now with the coronavirus, there are people looking for meaningful connections at a time when they are feeling cut off from their normal social connections.

How does Living Room Conversations bring gratitude to life?

I’m grateful for the wonderful people I meet and the friends that join me. I’m grateful for increased understanding and sometimes increased confusion because I better understand the complexity of a challenge. I think everyone gets something different out of the conversations, but my experience may be a good sense of how this practice enriches our lives.

How does Living Room Conversations help cultivate qualities like awareness, appreciation, and compassion?

Living Room Conversations are a listening practice. Listening fully to others is generous and fulfilling. Awareness, appreciation, and compassion flow naturally out of the human connection that is nurtured.  Conversations about forgiveness, hope, status and privilege, finding meaning, and many others offer space for self-reflection and more intentional living.

What are some of the common barriers, obstacles, and fears that arise for participants? How are they navigated?

Many people feel like they don’t have the time for a 90-minute or hour conversation. I think one of the reasons our model has been embraced in faith communities is that this practice speaks to our desire to be the best version of ourselves, which is what I think we seek in faith communities. Also some people are anxious about conversation with people who hold different views. It is easy to choose a conversation topic that is reflective, such as Forgiveness, rather than one that is focused on a controversial topic, such as Guns and Responsibility.

What has been the impact of the project thus far?

We have some sense of the impact but not nearly as much as we would like because our model is open-source, and we often don’t hear about outcomes. Fortunately there has been some research that has revealed evidence of immediate and longer-term impacts:

  1. Immediate – improved mindset, listening skills
  2. Immediate – learned something new every time
  3. Longer-term – application of tools to other parts of life
  4. Longer-term – interest in systemic change spurred by mutual understanding and “humanizing the other”

How does Living Room Conversations plan to grow/move forward?

We are working to support individuals and communities around the country in their use of Living Room Conversations. Also, we have wonderful partners. We know that the conversations have been used around the world, but our focus is the U.S. because this is where we have maximum cultural competence, which is key for this kind of work. These conversation guides are free to all that want to use them, and no fancy event or skilled facilitator is typically needed. We hope that massive numbers of people will choose to have Living Room Conversations and help create the kind of community we all want to live in.

In this particular time of transformation, Living Room Conversations have adjusted course to adapt to new needs — to help our in-person communities transition to video and enable people who are feeling isolated to connect in meaningful conversations. Our Minnesota leaders were having conversations about Covid-19, and now they are using our Race in the Time of Corona and Police and Community Relations conversations guides as well as writing new conversation guides to meet the needs in their community. These conversation guides are available for communities anywhere.

I dream of this work creating culture change — a world in which respect and dignity for all people is the norm. And even though we have not yet achieved this big vision, each conversation is beautiful and enlightening on its own. I am incredibly grateful to be able to work on this!

If you could share one message about gratefulness with the world, what would it be?

This world is amazingly beautiful. And the people I meet want good things for their communities and future generations. This gives me hope that we can do what we need to do if we can discover each other. I am grateful for this. If you too dream of a world in which respect and dignity for all people is the norm, please help us share this practice in whatever way you see it may serve this purpose.

You can find the original version of this interview on the Gratefulness site at

EvDem Joins Virtual Conference on Jail Reform and Equity

This story is shared by Everyday Democracy an NCDD member organization, who participated in a nationwide virtual conference on the criminal justice system. The conference was hosted by The Safety and Justice Challenge and gave way for in-depth exploration at educational, networking, and dialogic solutions to the criminal system, and specifically jail reform. EvDem has been providing community engagement technical assistance to the Safety and Justice Challenge since 2018 and was honored to moderate an exchange session at the virtual convening.  In the session, EvDem shared the progress achieved in two jurisdictions where their dialogue to change approach is being implemented.

Read more about the overview of the convening and watch EvDem’s session in our post below, you can also find the original posting on the EvDem site here.

Equity in Criminal Justice and Strengthening Community Trust Through Dialogue to Action

The Safety and Justice Challenge supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has been working with leaders across the country to tackle one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America – the misuse and overuse of jails.  Since January 2018, Everyday Democracy has been providing community engagement technical assistance to the Safety and Justice Challenge network and has helped specific jurisdictions adopt and implement racial equity-driven community engagement practices.

Everyday Democracy has focused its efforts in five geographical areas: Cook County, IL; Charleston, SC; Palm Beach County FL; Pima County AZ; and Spokane WA.

A Nationwide “VIRTUAL” Networking Conference Brings Social Justice Advocates Together for Next Steps in Meaningful and Sustainable Change in Justice System Inequities.  From May 19 – May 21, social justice advocates from coast to coast gathered “virtually” for a three-day deep dive education and networking convening designed to bring people together to share challenges, talk about the roles in the system in the COVID-19 environment, build collective capacity and inspire and motivate those who are tirelessly doing what is needed for equitable changes in jail reform and the criminal justice system.

The days were filled with a wide range of plenary sessions, workshops, networking opportunities and the collection of a plethora of resources that can be accessed on an ongoing basis.  Everyday Democracy moderated an exchange session that provided an overview of the progress made in two communities, Cook County, IL and Charleston, SC using its dialogue to change approach and the resulting action forums that are driving change in those jurisdictions. Everyday Democracy Co-moderators Carolyne Abdullah, Senior Director, and Gwendolyn Whiting, Director of Training and Leadership Development facilitated the exchange where each site could share their dialogue to change and community engagement experiences and outcomes.

From the greater Chicago community in Cook County, community engagement coordinator, Kim Davis-Ambrose spoke of their challenges and successes. She explained how the dialogues allowed those voices of the community who have not been heard on this critical issue to be heard in an “up close and personal” way and how issues of trust between the community and system actors improved over the course of the 5-week dialogue project.  She shared that the dialogues were not a fix, but the transparency they offered resulted in authentic partnerships between those in government, the community and with system-impacted individuals with lived experience. Going forward, those who participated in the dialogues aim to continue to work on issues of systemic racism, white privilege and unjust bias, and they will work toward creating more opportunities for the community to stay involved and to address the mental health issues, concerns and challenges faced by those most impacted.

Kristy Pierce Danford who led the efforts in Charleston County, SC stressed the importance that their objective was to go beyond speaking engagements and that the Dialogue to Change process allowed for that.  They aimed to raise awareness of the inequities in their criminal justice systems by using a step-by-step implementation approach.  They held big events which led into facilitator training and roundtable dialogues – then community surveys to community actions forums.  The continuum of activities and feedback received from representatives throughout their community informed their 3-year strategic plan.

Many of the other sessions at the virtual networking conference were eye opening and informative.  Some of the many topics included: The Role of People with Lived Experience in Efforts to Reduce Jail Populations; System Responses to COVID-19; Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities; A Toolkit on the Use of Person First Language When Discussing Directly Impacted People; Access to Counsel at First Appearance; Reducing Court Continuances and Performance Data.

As the Convening sessions were nearing completion, Gwendolyn Whiting noted that inequities, particularly for black and brown people was the thread throughout.   Racial equity is at the core of the reform needed, and she challenges everyone to work toward eliminating the structural racism that stands in the way of a truly equitable and fair system for all, and especially those who are most impacted.

Keith Smalls participated in the Everyday Democracy workshop and is participating in the Charleston Dialogue to Change efforts.  Keith said that is all about building community trust.  After having served 19 years in the Dept. of Corrections, he stated that the punishment outweighed the rehabilitation.  But he is grateful for the opportunity to mend broken fences in this dialogue process. “Being part of the conversation, enabled me to apologize to the community and build a bridge back.  It also created the opportunity for me to come back as a concerned citizen.”

It is rewarding for all when there are opportunities for people, institutions, and government to work together for the common good.  Outcomes in both Cook County and Charleston, as well as in other jurisdictions active in the Safety & Justice Challenge are showing that when we authentically engage with each other through productive dialogues and work together, we can see changes in policy and system reforms are starting to make a difference.  The technical support for these jurisdictions were by Gwen Wright in Cook County and Gwen along with Alex Cartagena in Charleston, both who are network consultants for Everyday Democracy.

While there is much more to do, the needle is moving in the right direction. In the closing plenary session of this nationwide Convening, participants were encouraged to remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  All are encouraged to reimagine, reconstruct, recalibrate, and re-envision a criminal justice system the whole community can benefit from.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Everyday Democracy site at

EP Student Facilitator Joins Anti-Racism Education Project

The following story is shared by our friends at Essential Partners, an NCDD sponsor member, who recently announced one of their student alumni has joined the international initiative, the Anti-Racism Education (A.R.E.) Project. 17-year-old Clay Thornton from North Carolina, who previously participated in Essential Partner’s program and is taking his facilitation skills into the important work of race dialogues. We are so excited to hear the youth are involved and powerful in this conversation. We encourage you to read more in the post below and find the original on the EP’s site here.

Impact Snapshot: Essential Partners-Trained Student Joins The Anti-Racism Education Project

The Los Angeles Times today reports on a new international initiative, the Anti-Racism Education (A.R.E.) Project. A.R.E. is a platform to connect interested young people with “existing educational resources, a supportive community, and opportunities to engage with Black scholars, activists, and artists who are willing to teach about the Black experience,” according to their website.

Since its launch at the end of May, the project has gained more than 400 members and 100 organizers in 17 countries and counting.

One of those organizers is Clay Thornton, 17 years old from North Carolina. Thorton participated in Essential Partners’ collaboration with his school, Cary Academy, one of many secondary schools where EP has trained students, faculty, and parents to engage constructively in tough conversations, both in and outside the classroom.

Thornton is now bringing his EP facilitation skills to the Anti-Racism Education Project, leading online dialogues among members from across the globe, ages 14 to 21.

He says that young people have the power to spearhead tough conversations about race.

“Young people are willing to reach out to their families and their friends who are older and have conversations with them about these topics,” Thornton told the LA Times. “People are going to go to the family dinner table and talk about what they’ve learned” through the A.R.E. Project.

He notes that these dialogues “are not about debating or proving one viewpoint is correct.” Rather, the purpose of these discussions will be “to understand the materials they’ve consumed for the month.”

Read the rest of the story online. If you’re interested in gaining the skills to design and lead dialogues about race in your own context, contact us today for a free consultation.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Essential Partners’ site at

Your Voice Ohio is Hiring – Apply by July 9th!

Our partners at the Jefferson Center, an NCDD sponsor organization, have an exciting position available for a part-time Communications and Program Coordinator at their media collaborative, Your Voice Ohio. Applications are due by Thursday, July 9th. Learn more about this position in the blog post below and find the original version on the Jefferson Center site here.

Did you know that NCDD has a Making-A-Living jobs listserv? In the upcoming days, you can find this and many more job announcements on this listserv – sign up for it here! This feature used to be available to NCDD members only and we have recently expanded this feature to all, to reach as many readers as possible. We would love for you to share this resource with all of those seeking employment and best of luck to all applicants!

Seeking a Communications & Program Coordinator

We are currently hiring for a Communications and Program Coordinator to support our Your Voice Ohio media collaborative.

Your Voice Ohio is the largest, sustained statewide media collaborative in the United States – with over 50 participating media partners across Ohio. Their team is currently seeking a part-time, temporary team member who will provide communications, program coordination, and logistical support to news organizations whose shared mission is to build trust with Ohioans through audience engagement and collaborative reporting.

Your Voice Ohio partners are currently engaging with Ohioans to produce 2020 presidential election coverage that reflects the information needs and priorities of residents across the state. Your Voice Ohio will also be working with media partners to focus on the Race & Representation in Reporting initiative through ongoing engagement and collaborative activities.

Summary of Responsibilities

This remote position involves:

  • Maintaining regular contact with media partners and supporting their collaborative reporting efforts
  • Maintaining and updating the YVO website and blog
  • Developing graphics and coordinating content for social media platforms used by YVO
  • Recruiting and communicating with community members who are selected to participate in engagement activities (currently online)
  • Managing logistics and administrative tasks for project events and meetings
  • Performing supplemental research for reporting packages; and assisting in the production of YVO digital assets and publications
  • Base salary range of $22.50-$27.50/hour depending on qualifications and experience plus benefits package (taxable health insurance allowance and optional SIMPLE IRA matching). 

To learn more about this position, check out the full position description here!

Your Voice Ohio is managed and operated by the Jefferson Center, a St. Paul, MN-based nonprofit organization who is a global leader in deliberative democracy and innovative civic engagement.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Jefferson Center’s site at