Ben Franklin Circles and Understanding Common Ground

One of the more challenging realities when trying to find common ground is that often times the core understanding of words can be dramatically different than from someone “across the aisle”. As NCDD board member, Jacob Hess discusses in this relevant piece with NCDD member org, the Ben Franklin Circles, while we live in a period of rampant hyperpartisanship – how can we work together to find common ground when folks can have fundamentally different definitions? How do we take this phenomenon into account when building relationships and working towards bridging these divides? We encourage you to read the post below and carry this with you as you also check out the National Week of Conversation, happening until April 28th, that works to do just this through connecting conversations. You can find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Rediscovering Common Ground We (Mostly) Share

In our polarized American landscape, we often hear that if we “just came together” around values we share, we could find a lot of common ground.

I believe that, but only partially. The reason is I’ve spent years talking with people across the political spectrum about some of these core values.

And for anyone who does that – and there are many wonderful civic, community and dialogue leaders who have done similar things – something obvious emerges. While we might, in fact, hold common agreements on the importance of certain key principles, values and virtues, we sure don’t agree on what those mean, how to define (or redefine) them in the modern age and what, if any, application and relevance they hold for the many complex issues facing society today. For example, what does “justice” mean today or “compassion” or “religious freedom”? (hint: not the same thing across the political spectrum).

This isn’t bad news. It’s just the way things are. Even the very words we use come to mean fundamentally different things. I was involved in a project in 2016 mapping these different meanings in collaboration with dialogue professionals across some of the more salient socio-political differences. The goal was to create some kind of a term guide that might help translate and clarify between these understandings (and perhaps encourage more humanizing in real life). Included in that Red Blue Dictionary (now hosted as the All Sides Dictionary) are the contested meanings for basic words like “American,” “facts” and “politically correct” and “progressive,” and other terms with uniquely triggering meanings (for some), such as “white privilege” and “politically correct.” Still other emotional terms have been variously defined in very broad or limited ways, depending on the context, including “extremist,” “radical,” “irrational,” “hate,” “bigot,” “racist,” and “anti-gay.”

In each case, we document and explore fundamentally different ways of conceiving these principles, terms and definitions – and in some cases, these values. Depending on that meaning, the words can be experienced and function in profoundly different ways. For instance, when defined broadly, the word “extremist” or “radical” can be used to shut down those we disagree with, and can be experienced as very silencing. And words like “fact” and “truth” may be experienced so differently that people are hardly speaking about the same thing. Once again, this is not bad news at all – as long as we’re aware it is happening (in which case, we can respond in some kind of a productive way).

Unfortunately in most cases, for most Americans, this is simply not happening. They are almost entirely unaware that some of the basic words they use might actually mean something remarkably different to their left-leaning neighbor or to their right-leaning uncle.

In the absence of that recognition, a couple of things happen: first, we have a very difficult time communicating. Imagine two people coming together speaking two languages, but not even aware they are speaking two languages. This is kind of what’s happening now according to many observers in America. “Let’s all fight for social justice!” says one progressive college student – hardly aware that this very word, “social justice” can feel like an existential threat to many conservatives. “As long as can uphold what is Biblical we’ll be okay as a society” says another religious conservative – with little awareness at how much of an existential threat this word now represents to those who identify as LGBT+.

You can guess what happens next: we get frustrated. Instead of realizing that this person sees the same fundamental principles in a different way, we lash out them, treating them somehow as if they are somehow inferior or motivated by selfishness or evil, because they actively oppose things that, to our mind and our community, seem eminently and urgently needed, good and right (and righteous).

You see, as long as we are not understanding how fundamentally we are seeing things differently, we are left to scramble for another explanation. And that explanation is served up by the professional polarizers that have become de facto leaders for so many communities in our country – across the political spectrum.

There are real fears on both sides of the spectrum that the other side is destroying the true fabric of the country and betraying its core values. And in vocalizing these fears, Americans tend to draw on heavy rhetoric that draws promiscuous boundary lines that contribute to an especially frightening picture – aka, all conservatives lumped together with white nationalists and all liberals lumped together with revolutionary Marxists, etc. And so it goes and goes and goes – and expands and metastasizes until we are so much at each other’s throats that more than one political commentator has openly wondered about the possibility of growing political-inspired violence on the horizon.

Getting people to come together across the divide won’t be easy. There’s no app for that. But there are ways forward, albeit not simplistic ones. For instance, we can begin by sitting with someone who doesn’t see the world as we do and actually hearing them out with sincere questions and honest curiosity. Let’s be honest. That’s hard work. Especially now. Especially with our minds so cluttered by the residue of professional provocateurs so much so that their aggressive angst sit on the tip of our own tongue.

But here’s the good news: for those willing to actually go there, to actually try this, to actually sit with their discomfort and listen – really listen, not the fake kind, not the ‘let-me-watch-for-whatever-opening-I-need-to-expose-the-ridiculous-delusion-of-this-other-person’ kind – for those willing to do that, things can change. And things do change…dramatically.

Trust me. I’ve lived this for over a decade. As a conservative Mormon, some of my best friends and most cherished relationships include atheist professors, lesbian activists and even some crazy, adorable Marxists. My own fear and anger to my many political opposites has lightened, and given way to curiosity and affection. From experience, I know that fear can evaporate. The animosity can diminish. And affection can grow. And all of a sudden, you’re falling in love in small, but real ways, with your political opponents.

Earlier this year, I saw these principles in action in a group I joined called a Ben Franklin Circle. There were 6 across the political spectrum who came together to discuss one of Franklin’s 13 virtues to live by. For example, we spent one meeting talking about the virtue of sincerity, what it meant and how (and whether) it applied to society today. Then we looked at ways to apply it and maybe experiment with it more in our own lives. It was so sweet that I still remember how refreshing it felt.

Say what you want about the founding fathers. Disagree with many of the positions that they and most Americans at the time happened to hold. But one thing we might all agree upon is that they understood the value of virtues like, honesty, integrity, like moderation—virtues that seem in short supply today.

What if we made space – even just a little, even just once in awhile – for these virtues by coming together to direct our attention, on purpose, to one of these ideals? We would talk together about what they mean and whether they are applicable to us today—and if so, what they call on us to try in our lives – and what they could mean for our country.

Once again, we won’t agree on those answers, but that’s not the point. It’s really never been the point. Because as soon as we have a conversation. Things change, for all of us. And that might be just what America needs right now.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circle’s at https://benfranklincircles.org/ben-franklin-circle-hosts/rediscovering-common-ground-we-mostly-share.

NIFI During NWOC and A Public Voice 2018 on May 9th

This week, people are hosting and participating in conversations around the country as part of the National Week of Conversation (and going on until this Saturday, April 28th). NWOC is an opportunity for folks to come together through conversation and build relationships, in order to continue healing the divisive state of our society. The National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) and the Kettering Foundation – both NCDD member organizations – have created an issue guide to facilitate public deliberation around immigration; which is both a resource for NWOC and to be featured in their upcoming A Public Voice 2018 event (#APV2018) happening May 9th.

A Public Voice is an annual event, created to engage people around an important issue through deliberative forums, then bring together Washington DC policymakers and deliberative democracy practitioners to discuss results of the public’s feedback on that issue. You can learn about the several NIFI events happening this week during NWOC, both in person and online (search “Common Ground for Action”), using this issue guide or their previous guides. We encourage you to read the announcement in the post below and find more information on the APV2018’s site here.


A Public Voice – 2018

For more than 30 years, the Kettering Foundation, in collaboration with the National Issues Forums Institute, has organized A Public Voice, which brings together policymakers and practitioners of deliberative democracy from around the country to discuss insights from citizen deliberations.

A Public Voice 2018 focuses on an issue important to all Americans: immigration. After extensive research and testing with citizens around the country, the Kettering Foundation prepared an issue guide for the National Issues Forums (NIF): Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? Citizen deliberations using the issue guide are taking place throughout 2018 in public forums around the country. In these public forums, citizens consider the options for dealing with a problem, share their views, and weigh the costs and benefits of possible actions. Forums are held both online and face-to-face, typically last 90 minutes, and attract participants of all ages from all walks of life.

Scheduled for May 9, 2018, this year’s A Public Voice will present early insights from NIF immigration forums around the country, giving policymakers the chance to learn more about citizen deliberation and its role in our democracy. The session will also include an exchange among policymakers and deliberative democracy practitioners about issues the NIF network might tackle in the future. In early 2019, the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forums Institute will publish a final report on the 2018 NIF immigration forums, followed by briefings for individual elected officials, Capitol Hill staffers, and other policymakers.

You can find the original version of this on the site for A Public Voice 2018 at www.apublicvoice.org

National Week of Conversation Kicks Off Today!

Today officially kicks off the National Week of Conversation, an unprecedented week of connecting conversations that will run until next Saturday, April 28th!

The last few years have been hard on conversations. 75% of Americans now believe our inability to engage civilly with one another has reached a crisis level. We have not been this divided since the 1850s.  And the way we use technology tends to separate us even more.

The National Week of Conversation is about bringing Americans together to talk it out. Organizations can sign up to partner and host affiliated events (you can even add them to our calendar!). Individuals can sign up to participate both in person and online (individuals are welcome to host their own events too).

We strongly encourage you to check out the National Week of Conversation’s site here and see how this effort is happening all across the US. For those interested in starting your own event there are many supporting conversation guides, background information on a variety of subjects, and other resources. To facilitate these conversations even more, NWOC offers resources specifically designed for schools, libraries, and faith communities – which we have lifted up in the post below and you can find on NWOC’s site here.


Schools for NWOC: Resource Guide

Why? With the advent of social media algorithms and increasingly biased news pushing us into our own individualized filter bubbles, the country is reaching levels of division that in some ways is the worst we’ve seen since the 1850s. This is why it’s more important than ever to teach the next generation how to reach beyond their own bubbles and have civil conversations with people who disagree with them or have different backgrounds and perspectives.

Are you an educator interested in NWOC but can’t participate this year? Please still sign up your school to receive resources and updates about the next National Week of Conversation.

Free Services and Resources that can help

  • AllSides for Schools provides tools, lesson plans and resources from across the web for teachers and students to understand and discuss news and issues from different perspectives and across differences with civility and respect. Programs available for middle school, high school and college.
  • Bill of Rights Institute provides Bridge the Divide, a program that allows students to weigh in on hot-button political questions in a moderated online forum. Students can add their own opinions as well as up-vote the opinions of other students and see how peers view the important issues. Ideal for high school students.
  • Empatico is a tool for teachers to connect their lower-school students to classrooms around the world using seamless video conferencing technology. Activities are standards-based and designed to promote meaningful interactions and positive perceptions. Students are able to explore their similarities and differences with curiosity and kindness and develop practical communication and leadership skills. Designed for 7-11 year old students.
  • Mismatch connects teachers across the country so they can introduce their students to other students from different regions of the country with contrasting socioeconomic backgrounds and political perspectives. Students then engage in structured, respectful video conversations across differences, gaining mutual understanding and appreciation for one another. Ideal for high schools and colleges. Sign up your class for Mismatch now!

Click here to find Conversation Guides and Lesson Plans for Schools by Topic on:

  • Set the Tone – Getting your classroom started
  • Media Bias, Polarization, and Fake News
  • Free speech
  • Guns and Responsibility
  • Immigration
  • Race & Equity
  • Sexual Assault & Power Relationships
  • Other Topics

Libraries for NWOC: Resource Guide

Why should my library participate? The National Week of Conversation (NWOC) is an opportunity to help your library’s patrons connect with other people in their community and across the country. Libraries are a trusted gathering place in communities across the country, and can help in NWOC’s mission to revitalize our democracy. NWOC will allow your patrons to connect to other people in conversations they normally would not be able to have. Check out our PDF guide for participation.

How Can My Library Participate? There are a number of different ways your library can participate in NWOC!

Host an event, or make your library available for conversations:

  • Book Clubs: Provide space for your local book clubs to discuss a book that brings up important issues. Check out this list of suggestions from the Kansas City Public Library.
  • Living Room Conversations offers self-facilitated conversation guides. Simply provide meeting space and conversation guides to groups of patrons who can meet at your library for conversations.
  • Facilitated Conversations: Send an email to courtney[at]ncdd[dot]org to learn about bringing a facilitator to your library.

Provide computers for your patrons to connect with others across the country:
Mismatch is a service that utilizes free video conferencing systems to connect people across the country for conversations across divides. Simply provide space in your library for people to use computers and participate. Point your patrons to Mismatch.org where they can sign up for a conversation.

These are just a few ideas. We invite you to be creative and register your own event. Perhaps you want to use your own conversation guide or invite an expert speaker to your library? Please register your event and direct any questions to jaymee[at]allsides[dot]com.

Faith Communities for NWOC: Resource Guide

Why should my faith community participate? The National Week of Conversation (NWOC) is an opportunity to help your faith community’s members connect with other people in their community and across the country. Faith traditions share the common value of peace-making. Congregations of all faiths are trusted gathering places for the larger community as well as members of their own community. They also are organized to help people gather in communities across the country. This peace focus, trust and capacity for hospitality can help in NWOC’s mission to revitalize our democracy. NWOC will encourage your members to connect to other people in conversations they normally would not be able to have.

How Can My Congregation Participate? There are a number of different ways
your congregation can participate in NWOC!

Host an event, or make your congregation available for conversations:

  • Create a fellowship event: Invite members to gather for conversations that will help them grow in understanding and deepen relationships. Check out Planning a Community Living Room Conversation.
  • Provide a conversation opportunity for established groups: Most congregations have groups that meet regularly for fellowship, study, governance or service. Commit one meeting time to a conversation that will enrich your time together.
  • Build effective teams: Support congregational teams by offering conversations that give practice in understanding others’ perspectives, building trust and listening respectfully.
  • Living Room Conversations offers self-facilitated conversation guides. Simply provide meeting space and conversation guides to folks from your  larger community who can meet at your site for conversations.
  • Facilitated Conversations: Send an email to our Faith Communities Partner for assistance in hosting a virtual conversation (linda[at]livingroomconversations[dot]org) or locating a facilitator (courtney[at]ncdd[dot]org) who can be present with you.

Provide computers for your members to connect with others across the country:
Mismatch is a service that utilizes free video conferencing systems to connect people across the country for conversations across divides. Simply provide space in your congregation for people to use computers and participate. Point your patrons to Mismatch.org where they can sign up for a conversation.

These are just a few ideas. We invite you to be creative and register your own event. Perhaps you want to use your own conversation guide or invite an expert speaker to your faith community? Please register your event and direct any questions to linda[at]livingroomconversations[dot]org.

Prompting Deliberation about Nanotechnology: Information, Instruction, and Discussion Effects on Individual Engagement and Knowledge

The 33-page article, Prompting Deliberation about Nanotechnology: Information, Instruction, and Discussion Effects on Individual Engagement and Knowledge (2017), was written by Lisa M. PytlikZillig, Myiah J. Hutchens, Peter Muhlberger, and Alan J. Tomkins, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 2. From the abstract, “Deliberative (and educational) theories typically predict knowledge gains will be enhanced by information structure and discussion. In two studies, we experimentally manipulated key features of deliberative public engagement (information, instructions, and discussion) and measured impacts on cognitive-affective engagement and knowledge about nanotechnology”. Read an excerpt from the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the introduction…

There are many desirable potential outcomes of participating in public engagements. Learning outcomes are especially important because knowledge is a prerequisite to offering informed policy input, which may make the input more useful and influential (Guston, 2014; Muhlberger & Weber, 2006). Prior research suggests deliberative public engagements, in particular, may improve public understanding of science and technology by providing participants with opportunities to study relevant information as they form their preferences (e.g., Farrar et al., 2010). However, not all studies find positive effects of deliberation (Delli Carpini, Cook, & Jacobs, 2004; Ryfe, 2005), and even when effects are found, it is difficult for researchers to identify the mechanisms responsible (e.g., Sanders, 2012).

Experiments investigating the effects of specific features of public engagement are especially important for advancing theoretical understanding of what features of public engagements work for what purposes and why, and to guide the design of effective engagements (PytlikZillig & Tomkins, 2011). In addition, because of concerns relating to issues of equality and engagement (Benhabib, 2002), it is important to examine potential moderators. Not all publics have equal information or influence relating to political or policy issues, and little research has examined whether certain deliberative mechanisms favor some groups over others (Fraile, 2014; Hickerson & Gastil, 2008; Karpowitz, Mendelberg, & Shaker, 2012).

Deliberative engagements include features such as provision of balanced information, encouragement of deep cognitive engagement, and group discussion (Fishkin & Luskin, 2005). Theory suggests these features may promote increased knowledge and potentially more well-justified attitudes and policy preferences (Chambers, 2003; Mendelberg, 2002). However, there are numerous empirical gaps in these theorized connections. For example, despite the centrality of deep cognitive engagement to deliberative theory, few studies of deliberative practice explicitly measure cognitive engagement, or the variety of other ways people may engage. Even fewer attempt to causally connect different forms of individual engagement to specific deliberative design features and outcomes, such as increased knowledge or understanding.

To begin to fill this gap, in the present studies, we experimentally varied features of deliberation (information, instructions, and discussion), and measured the individual and combined impacts of these features on individual-level engagement and knowledge. Further, we examined potential moderation by two other variables: gender—which is a longstanding basis of political inequality (Benhabib, 2002)—and individual differences in need for cognition (the tendency to enjoy and use effortful and deep thinking processes (Cacioppo, Petty, Feinstein, & Jarvis, 1996)—a variable especially relevant to deliberation.

We conducted our studies in the context of engaging college science students in deliberations about potential ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) associated with nanotechnology. While the college classroom context is not representative of the majority of public engagement contexts, it is one such context, and one that facilitates controlled experimentation. In addition, findings from studies of the design of deliberative discussions in this context can specifically improve the use of deliberative practices when helping students consider ELSI implications of new science and technology developments—a practice which is increasingly encouraged (Barsoum, Sellers, Campbell, Heyer, & Paradise, 2013). Finally, findings in this context may suggest possibilities that should be investigated in other public engagement contexts.

Download the full article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public DeliberationJournal of Public Deliberation
Spearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen-friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol13/iss2/art2/

Lessons from our Confab Call with Community Rights US

Last week we held our April Confab call about the Community Rights movement here in the US and its implications for our democracy. We were joined by two dozen participants to learn more about how this movement has helped people to be more participatory, exercise truer democratic practices, and work to protect the well-being of communities. It was an informative call and we encourage you to check out the recording!

On the call, NCDD member Linda Ellinor interviewed Paul Cienfuegos who works in the Community Rights movement. Paul set the stage for how things are the way they currently are, by sharing the history of corporate influence in the US, how it has taken sovereignty away from the American people, and some of its effect on the way our democracy operates. He emphasized how, “we the people need to rediscover who we are and this history of corporate influence, in order for us to have the legal authority to create the society we want”.

We learned that the Community Rights movement has passed ordinances in 200 communities, over 9 states; and that by doing so makes it possible for a municipality to push back on laws that protect corporations and violate the welfare of the community. The Community Rights movement offers an important reflection on how to have civic engagement that doesn’t just pay lip-service to reinforce the current structures and corporate rule but instead empowers people to take back our democratic republic. Paul provided a resource doc for those interested in learning more about the Community Rights movement, which you can find here.

We recorded the whole presentation in case you weren’t able to join us, which you can access on the archives page by clicking here. We had several insightful contributions to the chat, which you can find the transcript of here. Access to the archives is a benefit of being an NCDD member, so make sure your membership is up-to-date (or click here to join).

Confab bubble image

We want to thank Paul, Linda, and all the Confab participants for contributing to this important conversation! To learn more about NCDD’s Confab Calls and hear recordings of others, visit www.ncdd.org/events/confabs.

Finally, we love holding these events and we want to continue to elevate the work of our field with Confab Calls and Tech Tuesdays. It is through your generous contributions to NCDD that we can keep doing this work! That’s why we want to encourage you to support NCDD by making a donation or becoming an NCDD member today (you can also renew your membership by clicking here). Thank you!

Insights on Participatory Democracy via the Jefferson Center

NCDD member org, The Jefferson Center, recently shared their recap of the Innovations in Participatory Democracy conference that happened last month. In their reflections, they discuss the future opportunities for our democracy by better bringing together participatory principles and deliberative approaches. You can read the post below and find the original on Jefferson Center’s site here.


Making Participation More Deliberative, and Deliberation More Participatory

A few weeks ago, we attended the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The conference, which we were excited to support as both participants and presenters, brought together community leaders, government officials and staff, practitioners, researchers, funders, youth leaders, and technologists to explore innovations in government participation.

We led a workshop on Citizens Juries, Assemblies, & Sortition, and participated in a panel on the similarities and differences across participatory budgeting, Citizen Juries, and citizen assemblies. While we were there, we saw democracy in action at Central High School, where students are part of a current Participatory Budgeting Project initiative.

At the conference, it was clear the opportunities for participatory democracy are expanding. Participatory democracy is made up of two key parts: participatory principles, which often invite the public to share their thoughts and opinions, and deliberative approaches, which typically convene a smaller group of individuals to learn about an issue and create plans for action or policy recommendations. While these two unique approaches are sometimes thought of as opposing forces, we saw how people around the world are using both to make democracy more impactful and inclusive. There’s no longer one clear set of principles for the “right” way to participate in democracy, and it’s incredible to be part of this movement.

We wanted to share a few exciting outlooks for democracy that we took away from the conference:

1. Collaboration with governments will grow and change

In the United States, Citizens Juries and mini-publics are typically run by nonprofits (like us!), rather than officially sponsored by the national government. This is changing as governments are exploring new ways to engage with their citizens. But, that doesn’t mean the only outcomes of deliberation and participation need to be policy changes: we’ve learned throughout our work that participatory democracy can be used successfully for long-term, community-wide impacts.

At the conference, we shared the example of our Rural Climate Dialogue program in Winona County, where residents created recommendations for their community to adapt to climate change and extreme weather. Since the dialogue, the City of Winona has adopted an energy plan with goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. They’ve also invested in community education initiatives on energy efficiency and water savings. Urging policy changes while supporting long-term behavior changes, like we’re doing in Winona County, will help governments, their partners, and citizens sustain the results of engagement efforts.

2. It’s time to focus on the opportunities to combine participatory and deliberative approaches

By merging both participatory principles and deliberative approaches, we can make democracy more accessible and impactful. You might be familiar with the thoughts of Micah Sifry, of Civic Hall, on these two distinct tactics: “Thick engagement doesn’t scale, and thin engagement doesn’t stick”. Deliberation (thick engagement) can be productive, but needs lots of time and resources. Participatory approaches (thin engagement), like asking for input on social media, may be easier and quicker, but require little ongoing involvement or further opportunities for deeper engagement, as Matt Leighninger of Public Agenda explores. But, there’s a solution, and we saw countless examples of this at the conference: we can invite people to submit ideas and proposals online for consideration by participants who are meeting in person. Conversely, we can build on the recommendations and ideas generated at deliberative events to form the base of digital participation efforts.

We’ve been testing out this combined approach in a few different projects. Through Your Vote Ohio and Informed Citizen Akron, we used deliberative events to ask citizens in Ohio what they needed from their local news organizations. Their input set the stage for Your Voice Ohio, a project that explores community engagement approaches to help newsrooms across the state listen and respond to their audiences. With the deliberation recommendations as a guiding force, we host open community events, invite people to share their stories online and through social media, and are rolling out Hearken as a platform where local residents can ask reporters questions about the addiction crisis. By combining these forces we’re making democracy more accessible to everyone.

3. The entry to engagement is different in every community

One of the incredible projects we heard about was the Participatory Budgeting Project’s work with the Phoenix Union High School District, where they invited student input to decide how to spend district-wide funds. This was the first school participatory budgeting process in the U.S. to focus on district-wide funds, which started with five public high schools and has expanded since. While this may seem like a small step, this has begun to shift the relationship between students and administrators.

Administrators are now considering how they can adapt these participatory practices to the everyday culture of these schools, like inviting students to share their thoughts on changes such as scheduling and course offerings. Because the initial opportunity to participate was simple and manageable for both the students and the administration, they’ve laid the foundation for future collaboration and growth. Plus, young people got to use real voting machines in the process, which was a great opportunity to experience how voting and live democracy actually work. We’re excited to see how this can expand to other schools and communities.

4. Success means equipping others

In democracy work, we often focus on “bringing projects to scale”. This is important, but we also don’t want to leave communities behind without equipping them with the tools they need for sustained success. For too long, the dominant theory of change for deliberative democracy looked something like this:

  1. Select a topic
  2. Host a Citizens Jury (or other deliberative event)
  3. Generate a report
  4. Hope someone reads it and utilizes the recommendations.

But, we can do so much more. We can combine thick and thin engagement techniques to give people the resources to continue projects after engagement organizations and professionals leave the community. At the Jefferson Center, we are implementing this approach with our dialogue-to-action model. First, we co-define: we build relationships with stakeholders and community members to gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand. Next, we co-design: working with project partners, we develop and implement an engagement process to unleash creative ideas which also provides participants with the expertise, tools, and time they need to develop solutions. Finally, we co-create: our partners use the public input to advance local actions, reform practices and processes, and guide policy development and decision-making.

5. We can frame impact differently to support broader results

Deliberation and participation can be misunderstood as having one narrow goal: to influence a policy decision. But instead, we can evaluate the success of Citizen Juries, mini-publics, and other engagement efforts not just by their policy influence, but by the opportunities to impact individuals, communities, networks, organizations, and governments. Unless they are expressly commissioned by a government sponsor, the projects that go beyond one policy objective will likely have the most impact. By taking a more holistic approach to change, we can build sustainable partnerships between individuals, leaders, local institutions, the media, and others, who can carry on the important work in the community.

For instance, Participatory Budgeting Projects don’t just enable people to direct public money to community priorities. Throughout the process, community organizations and networks are strengthened, as groups work together to focus on their shared needs. After the discussion ends, these groups may form new organizations and partnerships and continue positive and constructive engagement. All of the PB award winners at the conference, Cyndi Tercero-Sandoval (Phoenix Union High School District), Sonya Reynolds (Participatory Budgeting NYC), and Cecilia Salinas (Participatory Budgeting Chicago in the 49th Ward) represent this investment in long-term impact.

Looking forward

Participation and deliberation should not be positioned as opposing forces. Instead, it’s time to identify meaningful opportunities to make participatory practices more deliberative, and make deliberative processes more participatory. For those of us committed to democratic reform and innovation, combining these elements effectively, regardless of the issue, method, or context, will support our ambitions to create a stronger, more vibrant democracy for all of us.

You can find the original version of this post on Jefferson Center’s blog at www.jefferson-center.org/making-participation-more-deliberative-and-deliberation-more-participatory/.