Humanizing technology

We wanted to share the article written by NCDD member Kaliya Young, about the opportunity the internet and technology provide for deepening connections and building strong communities. She mentions the need for investment in social and emotional technologies, and mentions NCDD as well as Member Tom Atlee and others as critical to this work. This is a good piece about the interaction of social, emotional, and technical “technologies” and what it will take for online technologies to be able to enhance our connections to one another and our communities. We welcome you to share your thoughts on this in the comments below. You can read Kaliya’s post below or find the original post from opendemocracy.net over here.


Humanizing technology

Can we use the internet to enhance deep human connection and support the emergence of thriving communities in which everyone’s needs are met and people’s lives are filled with joy and meaning?

That’s a very challenging question, and the answer isn’t just about technology, at least not in the conventional sense of that word. It’s not about any of the emerging trends that are already impacting our societies like bitcoin, dronesVirtual RealityAugmented Realityhyperloops or any of the things that the Singularity University thinks will converge.

It’s not just a matter of finding new technologies either, even if they are more user-centric or built on self-sovereign digital identities in place of corporate ownership and control—the field that forms my own techno-specialty. And the solutions can’t be driven by a government need to find a military advantage—which is the case for a vast range of everyday innovations today—as Manuel DeLanda outlines in his book, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines.

Our work on ‘technical’ technologies won’t generate broad human gains unless we invest an equal amount of time, energy and resources in the development of social and emotional technologies that drive how our whole society is organized and how we work together. I think we are actually on the cusp of having the tools, understanding and infrastructure to make that happen, without all our ideas and organizing being intermediated by giant corporations. But what does that mean in practice?

I think two things are absolutely vital.

First of all, how do we connect all the people and all the groups that want to align their goals in pursuit of social justice, deep democracy, and the development of new economies that share wealth and protect the environment? How are people supported to protect their own autonomy while also working with multiple other groups in processes of joint work and collective action?

One key element of the answer to that question is to generate a digital identity that is not under the control of a corporation, an organization or a government.

I have been co-leading the community surrounding the Internet Identity Workshop for the last 12 years. After many explorations of the techno-possibility landscape we have finally made some breakthroughs that will lay the foundations of a real internet-scale infrastructure to support what are called ‘user-centric’ or ‘self-sovereign’ identities.

This infrastructure consists of a network with two different types of nodes—people and organizations—with each individual being able to join lots of different groups. But regardless of how many groups they join, people will need a digital identity that is not owned by Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google or Facebook. That’s the only way they will be able to control their own autonomous interactions on the internet. If open standards are not created for this critical piece of infrastructure then we will end up in a future where giant corporations control all of our identities. In many ways we are in this future now.

This is where something called ‘Shared Ledger Technology’ or SLT comes in—more commonly known as ‘blockchain’ or ‘distributed ledger technology.’  SLT represents a huge innovation in terms of databases that can be read by anyone and which are highly resistant to tampering—meaning that data cannot be erased or changed once entered. At the moment there’s a lot of work going on to design the encryption key management that’s necessary to support the creation and operation of these unique private channels of connection and communication between individuals and organizations. The Sovrin Foundationhas built an SLT specifically for digital identity key management, and has donated the code required to the HyperLedger Foundation under ‘project Indy.’

While this critical infrastructure is being birthed we need to think about how to leverage it for the world that we want to create—a world of interconnected humanness in place of centralized social networks controlled by profit-driven and publically-traded companies whose mission is to manipulate us into buying more stuff. These networks are selling access to us and limiting our ability to connect and organize independently. They have deals with companies like Cambridge Analytica and Palantir to suck up the digital exhaust of our lives, spy on us, and collectively manipulate us for their own ends.

As the basis of this next generation of user-centric or self-sovereign identities, Shared Ledger Technology is crucial if corporate control of the internet and our lives is to be reversed, but this  won’t be enough to humanize  technology, and that’s my second key point: social and emotional ‘technologies’ are also vital.

Social technologies are the tools we use to interact with each other in groups of any size, from the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and other neighborhood organizations to national governments and international bodies. They are increasingly important in the shift that is taking place from an exclusive reliance on representative political processes and institutions to an expanded range of deeper and more deliberative forms of democracy. The social technology of voting for representatives was a breakthrough 300 years ago, but these systems are breaking down and are not serving us well enough today.

Emotional technologies are the tools we use to interact with ourselves internally and in our relationships with other people. They are more critical than ever because the mental health of everyone is now a key concern—since one lone individual can inflict enormous harm through high-tech weapons or by hacking into our core infrastructures. Such technologies are well known and include mediation and meditation practices of different kinds, yoga and mindfulnessNonviolent CommunicationCo-Counseling, and 12 Step processes like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Social technologies work a lot better if people have a range of these emotional tools and practices to draw on, because they are better able to manage themselves and interact with others. We want security and have been putting billions of dollars into the security-surveillance-industrial complex post 9/11, but what about the deeper issue of how we connect to each other and solve problems together? What are we doing to address everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing to reduce alienation and disconnection?

How do you get people on vastly different sides of controversial issues to collaborate to solve what seem to be intractable problems? How do you structure inclusive deliberations that involve whole communities and build up social capital and connection? Individuals like Miki KashtanTom Atlee and Sharif Abdulah and groups like the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation have been working on these questions for many years but deserve much more investment and support. Without further innovations in these social and emotional technologies, no ‘technical’ technologies will save us.

To take a concrete example, my ‘sweet spot’ is in designing and facilitating interactive meetings for professional, scientific and technical communities in what are called ‘unconferences.’ I’ve been co-leading one of these unconferences—the Internet Identity Workshop—twice a year for over a decade, during which we’ve developed many innovations built on nurturing the emotional capacities  of the people involved and the social processes we’ve been using at our meetings.

They are organized primarily through Open Space Technology where the agenda is co-created live on the day of the event with all the participants. We throw in an hour of demonstrations on the second day after lunch and we eat dinner together every night. The patterns described in the Group Works Deck have been particularly useful—things like ‘Embracing Dissonance and Difference’ (meaning that anyone is welcome in the conversation); and openingand closing every day in a circle while diverging into as many as 15 different sessions every hour during the rest of the time we spend together—what in Open Space terms is called the rhythm of ‘Convergence and Divergence.’ Taken together these processes have been very successful in building a strongerGroup Culture.

I got excited by the possibilities of user-centric identity technologies over 15 years ago while part of the Planetwork Community, which came together to look at global ecology and information technology and think through how planetary challenges could be addressed more effectively. But through the process of co-leading efforts to build that infrastructure it became clear that we must also invest in the social and emotional technologies that make it possible to collaborate and work together at all scales.

All three forms of technology are essential to the transformation of our relationships to each other and our bigger social/societal systems. Technical technologies provide the tools that can empower individuals to connect and work together for their own wellbeing and that of their communities. Social technologies enable these tools to be used effectively and inclusively in processes of collective action. And emotional technologies support everyone’s mental health as a precondition for engaging in these processes with more chance of success.

To put it simply, technical technologies are easier to turn in the direction of democracy and social justice if they are developed and applied with social and emotional intelligence. Combining all three together is the key to using technology for liberating ends.

You can find the original version of this article written by Kaliya Young on the Transformation blog at www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kaliya-identity-woman/humanizing-technology.

Common Ground for Action Opportunities in October

We wanted to share these upcoming opportunities with NCDD member org, Kettering Foundation to dive deeper into the Common Ground for Action online forums by either participating in a forum or learning how to host them. The CGA forums you can participate in are around issues of safety & justice, and immigration in America. There is also a new moderator workshop coming up as well. Register here to join these online forums ASAP!


October Common Ground for Action (CGA) events

CGA FORUM SERIES:
The CGA Forum Series is back this month talking about immigration reform and safety and justice.  Here’s the dates and times:

October 16th CGA Forum Series event: Immigration in America
Monday, October 16, 2017 at 5:00 PM EST

October 19th CGA Forum Series event: Safety & Justice
Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 11:00 AM EST

October 27th CGA Forum Series event: Safety & Justice
Friday, October 27, 2017 at 12:00PM EST

Want to moderate any of these forums? Email us and we’ll set you up!  If you can’t make these times, don’t worry. November’s CGA forum series will feature deliberation on the NIFI issue advisory “How Can We Stop Mass Shootings In Our Communities?”

MODERATOR TRAINING WORKSHOPS: 

Want to moderate a CGA forum in your community or for the Forum Series but need training? Register for the upcoming new moderator workshop:

October CGA New Moderator Workshop

Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 11:00 AM EDT AND Friday, October 20, 2017 at 11:00 AM EDT

Join this workshop on how to moderate a Common Ground for Action (CGA) deliberative forum. This is a TWO DAY, TWO PART workshop. Part 1 is Thurs October 19th @ 11am EST/8am PDT; Part 2 is Fri October 20th @ 11am EST/8am PDT. Please plan to attend both parts of this workshop.

CGA OFFICE HOURS:

Have questions about CGA moderating or convening? Want to practice but need a live person to deliberate with? Starting this month, we will have CGA Office Hours where you can drop by and chat with either Amy or Kara about all things CGA. We’ll be online at http://join.me/KetteringFdnevery Friday from 11:30 AM- 12:30 PM EST. Stop by and say hello!

This announcement was from the October Kettering newsletter – sign up here to start receiving their newsletter.

Benefits and Challenges of Digitizing Deliberative Democracy

We wanted to share this article from NCDD sponsor, The Jefferson Center about the potential of digital democracy. The article talks about the powerful impact digital democracy can have and lifts up some of the challenges faced. It explores several examples and asks “what other ways do you think civic participation organizations can use technology to increase democratic participation?” and we invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments below!  You can read more on post below or find the original version the Jefferson Center blog here.


Digitizing Deliberative Democracy

The smartphones in our pockets can seemingly accomplish anything—even things you didn’t know you needed (like downloading virtual bubble wrap). While various apps and our social media feeds may threaten our productivity and full night’s sleep, they also connect us to people, organizations, and information at our fingertips. However, there’s one key area that hasn’t quite reached its full digital potential: democracy.

While we live in an increasingly interconnected world, we also use the internet to join neighborhood associations, alumni pages, and other community groups. Digital spaces, which can be used on a city to national scale, may have the power to cultivate meaningful local impacts. It’s no secret that trust in the institutions and processes that govern our lives as citizens is in decline. Could digital democracy, that seeks to involve citizens anywhere, anytime, be the fix?

Increasing Accessibility

Jimmy Carter, writing in a recent op-ed for the New York Times, writes the United States needs to improve “systems for inclusive and effective political participation” in the digital era. Between outdated communications, layers of bureaucracy, and purposeful confusion tactics, it can be extremely difficult for citizens to know where to go, and who to talk to about community grievances or ideas.

If democracy is rule by the people, then it makes sense to engage citizens with the tools right at our fingertips. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, nearly 9 in 10 Americans are now online, and 77% of Americans own a smartphone. People with limited mobility, job commitments, vehicle troubles, childcare responsibilities, and any other hindrance to participating in person could have their voices heard more easily.

At the Jefferson Center, we’ve seen these trends in action. In our current project with the Minnesota Community Assembly Project, citizens in Red Wing, Minnesota wanted strengthened digital public engagement from their city. Better digital platforms would allow more citizens to reach out directly to elected officials to offer their input and recommendations, have conversations with other community members, or vote directly on public decisions.

Digital Democracy in Action

Digital democracy has been taking root around the world, and it’s easy to find success stories. In Seoul, South Korea, residents use an app called “mVoting” that allows residents to share their thoughts on the “city’s public parks, bus routes and designated smoking areas.” To date, there have been 181 cases that have been officially accepted as Seoul policy.

Meanwhile in Spain, “Decide Madrid” is a similar app which asks residents to submit suggestions or new laws, and other communities members can voice their support on suggestions. A South Australian program called “YourSAy” is trying to accomplish a similar task, by offering an online forum where citizens can take part in discussions, vote in polls, and decide where government funds are spent within broader engagement efforts that include face-to-face meetings. The UK Parliament has also begun a system of “evidence checks”, which invites citizens to examine current policies, and the evidence used to support these policies, to identify any gaps or problems.  A United States start-up firm called “Innovote” is also working to increase participation and accessibility by taking the vote to your phone, working with governments across the country.

Harnessing people power through technology would require apps, website, and other digital engagement tools. But in the long run, inviting people to participate remotely likely saves time and money, as well as delivering representative results.

Challenges to Inclusive Participation

In Taiwan, the website “vTaiwan” seeks to gather citizen views on issues. The results are collected and the program condenses the range of opinions into core citizen views. The website doubles as a facilitator, where stakeholders can participate in digital discussions, and policies are eventually formed on a national scale.

While the program has been scaled up over time, digital participation still remains in the thousands. Taiwanese activist Audrey Tang states that one driver of this lower participation may be because the process works well when primary stakeholders are online. When affected citizens don’t use the same technology, the process may be limited to niche issues. However, the website has been successful in both deciding and implementing policy, and popularizing media coverage around social enterprise company law, Uber ride service, and others. Minister Jaclyn Tsai commented that the process can be successful “if we can all take the time to understand the problem, read the data, while also listening to the views of the people—and enter a discussion, we are much more likely to reach a consensus.”

While accessibility to democratic conversations may increase for some, many citizens may not have stable internet access, or feel comfortable enough with technology to participate. In order to create representative solutions to issues, technology could be brought to different communities, combining new techniques and traditional advocacy to listen to more people.

Translating the Process

While these examples have largely focused on national and local government, there’s opportunities to broaden this scope. For instance, digital democracy could be used to ask what kind of local news citizens want to read, helping journalists to decide what issues to cover and how best to inform their communities. This could also be used to reduce diagnostic error, by engaging digitally with healthcare consumers to gather patient-focused perspectives.

At the Jefferson Center, we’re incorporating digital tools to recruit people to participate in our Citizens Juries, inform community members, and facilitate decision making. What other ways do you think civic participation organizations can use technology to increase democratic participation?

You can read the original version of this blog article from the Jefferson Center at www.jefferson-center.org/digitizing-deliberative-democracy/.

NICD Explores Civility on Listen to America Tour

In case you haven’t heard, the ‘Listen to America’ tour kicked off last month and has been traveling from city to city to hold conversations with folks on their hopes, fears, and what it means to be American. The listening tour, a project by Huffpost and NCDD member org the National Institute for Civil Discourse, is seeking the voices often unheard and to facilitate conversations around civility while building the capacity to listen with each other. Read the full schedule to find out where the tour has gone so far and below you can read where the upcoming stops are going to be.

Below is an excerpt from the article written by long time NCDD member Carolyn Lukensmeyer of NICD and you can find the full original version at Huffpost’s site here.


Seeking Civility: The ‘Listen To America’ Tour

This week, HuffPost journalists embark on something normally reserved for politicians and presidential candidates. Over the course of the 25-city “Listen to America” tour, journalists at HuffPost will seek out voices from individuals and families of all ages and backgrounds to share their hopes, dreams and fears.

Listening tours provide an opportunity for political candidates to reach out and connect with everyday Americans and clear an important leadership hurdle: the ability to show that they care about people.

It’s not every day journalists adopt a tactic used by political candidates. But in our tumultuous times, empathy appears to be a skill that is lacking across society. As Americans continue to grow further apart, they seem to have stopped listening and resorted to shouting down people who might disagree with them.

Americans may not agree on very much these days, but we can recognize the divisions in front of us. A Pew Research Center poll from January found that 86 percent of Americans believe we’re more divided today than in the past. It’s only through listening, understanding, and respecting one another can we start to bridge this divide.

You can read the full article on Huffpost’s site here

Upcoming Tour Schedule 

Oct. 3 – Detroit + Dearborn
Oct. 4 + 5 – Fort Wayne, Ind.
Oct. 6 – Milwaukee, Wis.
Oct. 9 – Des Moines
Oct. 10 – Kansas City
Oct. 11 – Lincoln, Neb.
Oct. 13 – Casper, Wyo.
Oct. 16 – Livingston, Mont.
Oct. 18 – Provo, Utah
Oct. 20 – Tucson, Ariz.
Oct. 23 – Albuquerque, N.M.
Oct. 25 – Odessa, Texas
Oct. 27 – Houston
Oct. 29 + 30 – New Orleans

You can find the full original version of this article by Carolyn Lukensmeyer of NICD on Huffpost’s site at www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/seeking-civility-the-listen-to-america-tour_us_59b7213ee4b0883782dec284?

Online Facilitation Unconference Coming Up Oct. 16-22

We encourage the NCDD network to attend the fourth edition of Online Facilitation Unconference (OFU) on Oct 16-22. This digital gathering is hosted by the Center for Applied Community Engagement LLC, and is a great opportunity for anyone interested in virtual facilitation – no previous experience needed!

As part of NCDD member benefits, NCDD members are eligible for a 20% discount when you use discount code “NCDD2017”. Make sure you register and get your tickets ASAP! Follow OFU on Twitter with the hashtag #OFU17 for more #FacWeek updates. You can read the announcement below for more info or find the original on the OFU Exchange site here.


Online Facilitation Unconference 2017

Your favorite online unconference on the art and practice of facilitating in virtual environments is back!

Join us October 16-22, 2017, alongside International Facilitation Week.

Share, learn, connect, and have fun with participants from (or currently based in): the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Finland, Iceland, Australia, Peru, Canada, and the United States.

ABOUT

What is Online Facilitation Unconference?
The Online Facilitation Unconference (OFU) is a community-driven event that brings together people from the public, private and non-profit sector whose work includes, or who have an interest in, facilitation in virtual environments.

OFU is about sharing, learning, making new connections and having fun.

When does the event take place?
OFU 2017 will once again take place alongside International Facilitation Week and run for exactly one week, from Monday, October 16 to Sunday October 22, 2017.

Who’s organizing the event?
The event is run by the Center for Applied Community Engagement, LLC, a private institute and social enterprise serving the growing professional field of community engagement and public participation practitioners from around the globe through market research, content publishing, industry events and other services.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND

Do I have to be a professional facilitator in order to attend?
No, anyone with an interest in online or virtual facilitation – whether for professional or personal reasons – is welcome! While a good number of our attendees do facilitation for a living, many others perform the functions of convener and facilitator as part of their regular job.

Do I have to have prior experience with facilitation in virtual environments?
No, OFU aims to bring together experts and newbies alike. Everyone can contribute!

Who are the attendees?
Here are some of the job titles people are bringing to the table this year (in alphabetical order):

  • CEO
  • Coach
  • Collaboration engineer
  • Community organizer
  • Community strategist
  • Consultant
  • Director
  • Facilitator
  • Founder
  • Head of school
  • Independent scholar
  • Organizer
  • Planner
  • Program analyst
  • Program coordinator
  • Senior product manager
  • Trainer

Where are attendees from?
So far, our registered attendees are from – or currently based in – the following 15 countries from around the world (in alphabetical order):

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Dominican Republic
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Netherlands
  • Peru
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

FORMAT & FOCUS

What is an unconference?
An unconference is a conference where the attendees create the agenda. We’ll have more to say about this over the coming weeks. Make sure to sign up for the mailing list.

What do you mean by “virtual environment”?
Anything that creates venues for people and groups to interact outside a strictly in-person context: phone conferences, online chat, video conferencing, virtual reality etc. as well as augmented in-person processes and events.

AGENDA & SCHEDULE

What is the agenda for the event?
A handful of introductory sessions will be scheduled ahead of time. These will likely take place on Monday and/or Tuesday of that week. We’ll try our best to fit them into one of three daily slots (see below).

The rest of the agenda will emerge dynamically once the unconference gets under way as people suggest potential topics, find collaborators, negotiate timing and add sessions to the schedule.

We recommend that unconference sessions get scheduled from Wednesday at the earliest, giving everyone enough time to find out about them and sign up.

Who can propose session topics?
Anyone is encouraged to make suggestions and lead sessions.

What are the three main daily time slots?
In order to maximize connection and collaboration across key time zones, we suggest that sessions be scheduled to fall into one of the following slots:

1. Americas + Europe: 8-11am Pacific Time (that’s evening 5-8pm in Europe)
2. Americas + Australasia: 4-7 pm Pacific Time (that’s 9am to 12pm in the morning in Sydney)
3. Europe + Australasia: 12-3am Pacific Time (that’s morning in Europe & afternoon/evening in Sydney)

This is simply a recommendation and has worked well in the past. However, attendees are free to pick whatever session times work best for them.

VENUES

Where will the conference be held?
Online Facilitation Unconference (OFU) is a virtual event.

In terms of online meeting venues, we will provide a central space where people can introduce themselves and plan the schedule together.

Regarding individual sessions, which online meeting venues will be used is up to the session leads. In the past, people have used a wide variety of tools depending on topic, group size, where they are based etc. We’ve also had people make tools available for others (e.g., WebEx, Adobe Connect).

TICKETS

Where can I get tickets?
Please head on over to Eventbrite for to purchase your ticket and register for the event.

Will there be stipends available for students or people of low income?
Our goal is to make this event as inclusive and as accessible as possible.

As of September 20, a first batch of 10 pay-what-you-like tickets has been made available for students, people of low income, attendees from developing countries etc. Just pick the amount that best fits your needs – no questions asked!

We’ll add more tickets over time as the number of regular registrations increases.

Please subscribe to our newsletter and be among the first to get updates. Thanks!

CONTACT

How can I get in touch?
Please shoot us an email to let us know any questions, ideas or concerns. Thanks!

You can find the original version of this announcement on the OFU Exchange site at www.ofuexchange.net/

Submit Your Proposals for the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference

We are thrilled to announce the upcoming Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference in Spring 2018 that will convene civic practitioners, of all ages, to explore innovations in how people participate in democracy. The conference is the creative effort of several fantastic organizations working to empower their community, including NCDD sponsoring org the Jefferson Center, and NCDD member org the Participatory Budgeting Project. Proposals are to be submitted by November 1st, so make sure you get yours in and reserve your space at this great event by purchasing your tickets ASAP.

We strongly encourage you to read the announcement from the Participatory Budgeting Project below or you can find their original post on their blog here.


Get involved with the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference

The Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference will bring together more than 250 youth, educators, advocates, elected officials, and researchers to explore innovations that empower community members to make real decisions and directly participate in government.

Our conference kicks off just as 10 public high schools wrap up two weeks of voting in the Phoenix Union High School District—where students are using participatory budgeting to decide how to spend $55,000.

Join us! Purchase your tickets now at discounted rates.

Call for Proposals

In order to plan a conference that’s as participatory as the innovations we’re exploring, we want to hear from you!

We’re excited to review creative, engaging, and interactive proposals (check out these example session types) that focus on innovations in participatory democracy such as participatory budgeting, citizen juries and assemblies, and key practices that connect civic engagement and deliberation with decision-making.

Submissions close November 1, 2017.

We’re especially interested in proposals that:

  • are creative, engaging, and interactive;
  • showcase a diversity of opinions, experiences, and backgrounds;
  • encourage interaction, discussion, and/or skill-sharing with session attendees;
  • are accessible to people of any background or experience level;
  • promote new collaborations among conference attendees.

Submit your proposal for the 2018 Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference.

On behalf of the powerful team planning the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference, we’re excited to shape this conference and the future of participatory democracy with you!

We look forward to reviewing your proposal and to working together to grow and deepen the impacts of innovations in participatory democracy.

You can find the original version of this blog post on the Participatory Budgeting Project’s site at www.participatorybudgeting.org/join-us-for-ipdconference/.

Don’t Miss the Sept. 20th Nevins Fellowship Confab Call

As we announced last month, NCDD is hosting a special Confab Call with the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and Healthy Democracy next Wednesday, September 20th from 1-2pm Eastern / 10-11am Pacific. The call is the best place to learn more about this incredible opportunity to have a D&D trained student come work with your organization at no-cost, so we strongly encourage the NCDD network to register today!

Confab bubble image

During the call, NCDD Member and McCourtney’s Managing Director Christopher Beem will provide an overview of the Nevins Democracy Leaders Program and its aims, discuss the training that the future fellows are going through, and share more about how your organization can take advantage of this great chance to help cultivate the next generation of D&D leaders while getting more support for your work – all for FREE! We’ll also be joined by NCDD Member Robin Teater of Healthy Democracy, who will share her experiences hosting a fellow this summer.

NCDD is proud to have partnered the last couple years with the McCourtney Institute to help identify organizations in the field that can host Nevins fellows, and we’re continuing the exciting partnership this year. You can get a better sense of what the program experience is like by checking out this blog post from a 2017 Nevins Fellow about their summer fellowship with NCDD Sponsoring Member The Jefferson Center.

This is a rare and competitive opportunity for leading organizations in our field, and this Confab Call will be one of the best ways to find out more about how your group can take advantage of this program, so make sure to register today to save your spot on the call! We look forward to talking with you more then!

Using Thick and Thin Engagement to Improve Politics

The NCDD network specializes in structures and processes for better civic engagement, which is why we wanted to share an insightful piece written by Matt Leighninger from Public Agenda, an NCDD member org. In the article, he gives concrete ways to improve politics from the ground up, by strengthening networks using both thin and thick ways of engagement. We encourage you to read Leighninger’s article below or find the original on Public Agenda’s blog here.


Fixing Politics by Strengthening Networks for Engagement

As David Brooks pointed out in his column on “How to Fix Politics,” our political system has reached a perilous state of dysfunction and distrust, and it is unlikely that any solutions to this crisis will come from the political parties or their presidential candidates.

Brooks is also right that the partisanship and incivility that plague our politics are not just due to poor manners or bad process skills. They are based in much deeper structural flaws in how leaders and communities engage each other around important issues and resulting strains in the relationship between citizens and government.

Brooks argues that strong community networks are essential for successful politics, and uses a 1981 quote from one of our founders, Daniel Yankelovich, to illustrate how long the weakening of those networks has been going on. “If we’re going to salvage our politics,” Brooks says, we’ll have to “nurture the thick local membership web that politics rests within.”

This kind of argument is often dismissed as a sentimental notion, or a lament over our lack of civic virtue, but it shouldn’t be. There are specific proposals and measures that can accomplish it.

Strengthening networks for engagement should be one of our top public priorities, and there are in fact a number of concrete ways to move forward on it. Much of our work at Public Agenda centers on these challenges, and we are part of a field of other organizations and leaders – from neighborhood organizers to innovative public officials – who have pioneered more productive formats and structures for democratic politics.

There are two kinds of communication that need to be happening for those networks to strengthen and grow. One kind, as Brooks references, is “thick” engagement that is intensive, informed and deliberative. In these kinds of settings, people are able to share their experiences, learn more about public problems, consider a range of solutions or policy options and decide how they want to act.

Other tactics produce “thin” engagement, which is faster, easier and potentially viral. It encompasses a range of activities that allow people to express their opinions, learn about other people’s views and affiliate themselves with a particular group or cause.

When thick and thin engagement activities are common and interwoven in community life, they can:

  • Facilitate faster, more far-reaching dissemination of information from governments, school systems and other public bodies.
  • Allow citizens to provide information back to the institutions, in ways that are convenient for people.
  • Foster discussion and connection, and the strengthening of personal relationships, among different groups of citizens, and among citizens, public officials and public employees.
  • Provide choices for people to make at the level of the family and neighborhood;
  • Create deliberative processes in which people can make informed public policy choices;
  • Encourage and support citizens to contribute their energy, ideas and volunteer time to improving their communities.

By understanding what thick and thin engagement look like, and what they can accomplish, communities can assess and improve their systems of engagement, or “civic infrastructure,” defined as “the laws, processes, institutions, and associations that support regular opportunities for people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions and celebrate community.”

Stronger civic infrastructure could include more productive and participatory public meetings, revitalized neighborhood and school associations, and vibrant local online forums. Overall, it should establish a better “ground floor of democracy” that fosters new leaders, creates social connections and helps people work together on common concerns like ensuring public safety and improving the quality of education for our young people.

The structural elements that support these activities can include:

  • new laws and ordinances on public engagement;
  • tools for engaging residents for neighborhoods and schools;
  • annual participatory budgeting processes;
  • public engagement commissions;
  • tools for measuring engagement and the strength of networks;
  • citizen advisory boards that engage rather than just trying to represent residents; and
  • protocols, job descriptions and professional development that help public employees understand how to support productive engagement.

While some of these elements are clearly the province of governments and school systems, many other components are ones that should be supported by neighborhood groups, nonprofits, businesses, faith communities, universities, foundations and other stakeholders.

David Brooks is right that strengthening the web of community networks can help fix politics, at every level of government. There are practical ways to do this – this is a matter for policy, law, cross-sector collaboration, and long-term planning. We should be proactive, and think constructively, about how we want our democracy to work.

You can find the original version of this article on Public Agenda’s blog at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/fixing-politics-by-strengthening-networks-for-engagement.

Upcoming Opportunities with Common Ground for Action

We wanted to let everyone know about several updates this month from NCDD member org, Kettering Foundation on their Common Ground for Action online forum. Coming up quick is the  CGA forum on climate choices being held tomorrow (September 8th – Register ASAP!) and another CGA forum on healthcare on September 21st. Later on in the month, Kara Dillard will be hosting a two-part training on how to use CGA forums in your communities or places of work. Register to join these online forums and trainings by clicking on the links in the announcement below. This announcement was from the September Kettering newsletter – sign up here to start receiving their newsletter.


Common Ground for Action: Updates, Upcoming Forums, and Moderator Training

The largest public university in the country, the Ohio State University, is using Common Ground for Action online forums as part of its first-year experience programming again this year, offering students the chance to participate in deliberative forums on climate choices and other issues. CGA is also being used by many other teachers in colleges around the country, including Lone Star College in Texas, Florida International University, and the University of Washington.

If you haven’t had a chance to participate in an online deliberative forum using KF and NIFI’s Common Ground for Action platform yet, or if you want to participate in a forum on Climate Choices or Health Care, there are two open forums in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, September 8, 1 p.m. EST/10 a.m. PST | Climate Choices | REGISTER

Thursday, September 21, 12 p.m. EST/9 a.m. PST | Health Care | REGISTER

If you’re unable to participate in either of those forums, click on the button below to sign up to receive e-mail invitations to other upcoming CGA forums.

Would you like to learn to use CGA in your work or community? Kara Dillard, an experienced moderator of CGA forums, is leading an online training session soon. The session consists of two parts, Thursday, September 21, at 12 p.m. ET and Friday, September 22, at 4 p.m. ET. The first session consists of participating in a CGA forum; the second session walks participants through moderating an online forum and using the support materials. REGISTER.

Submit Your Nominations for the 2017 Civvys Awards

It’s important to recognize the work people are already doing in civic engagement to make strides toward improving the world around them. Which is why we are excited to announce the first-ever American Civic Collaboration Awards which honor the individuals and organizations who work in collaboration to improve their community and their nation. The Civvys are presented by NCDD member org, The Bridge Alliance and Big Tent Nation, and will be determined by a panel of civic engagement experts. Submit your nominations by Sept 15, 2017 and the winner will be announced October 20, 2017 at the National Conference on Citizenship in Washington DC.

We encourage you to read the details on The Civvys below or read the original version here.


The 2017 Civvys American Civic Collaboration Awards

In a nation awash in divisiveness, there’s a profound need to recognize individuals and organizations who work together across differences for the best of their communities and this nation.

That’s why the Bridge Alliance and Big Tent Nation, organizations committed to the grapple against partisan rancor and division, have joined forces to announce the first annual American Civic Collaboration Awards, or the Civvys.

NOMINATION

Do you know people or organizations working together to address what divides us? Does their work:

  • Have a direct impact on America at a local, state or national level?
  • Use collaboration, community input and other collective action principles to make a difference?
  • Embody civility and mutual respect?

The Civvy Awards are thefirst national awards program designed to highlight organizations and individuals that leverage collaboration as a key strength in building initiatives that improve communities.

Whether it’s a grassroots neighborhood group working to bring people together, a nonprofit program to improve educational outcomes, a city government outreach initiative, or a corporation working with local leaders – we’re looking forward to celebrating projects of all sizes and types that utilize collective action best practices.

ABOUT THE CIVVYS

Driven by a panel of civic engagement experts, including former members of Congress, senior managers from top foundations and political thought leaders, the Civvys will highlight best practices in collective action that put community and nation before party, ideology, and narrow interests.

In an era of division and gridlock, it’s more important than ever to celebrate and support organizations that work together to improve America.

By recognizing projects and processes that emphasize collaboration, civility and on-the-ground impact, the Civvys are a powerful means to honor this work and inspire more of it.

The awardees will be celebrated in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on October 20, 2017 at the National Conference on Citizenship, a distinguished event that brings together the best minds in civic engagement

Distinguished review committee members include:

Mickey Edwards, Aspen Institute
Betsy Hawkings, Democracy Fund
Peter Levine, Tufts University
David Sawyer, Converge for Impact

You can find the original version of the Bridge Alliance and Big Tent Nation announcement at www.civvys.org/.