Creating Visuals that Inspire Real-Time Conversation

We are thrilled to share the following piece written by Lydia Hooper on the powerful way that graphic recordings can both capture a conversation in real time, and as folks saw first hand at NCDD2018, can be a motivator of conversation as well. We were fortunate to work with Lydia during the 8th National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation in Downtown Denver this last November (view her work here!) and she helped create and facilitate an interactive graphic recording project over the course of the three days. She describes it more in the post below…


By Lydia Hooper

How many conversations have you had this week about something you saw, on TV or happening in front if you? Vision is the primary way we sense and experience our world, and we are social beings who process information with others. We can easily leverage these tendencies if we want to inspire specific conversations in specific moments.

The conventional way of doing so is using presentation slides or videos to introduce or explain important topics. These visual forms, however, emphasize what is important from the perspective of the presenter. They do not necessarily offer opportunities to capture what a larger group of people thinks or feels.

Visuals that can break this norm are known as graphic recordings. Graphic recordings are visuals that capture conversation as it is happening in real time. By doing so they are able to help us literally see what is being said and thereby process this information in different ways.

There is a third way that can ensure both that many people are able to collectively create a meaningful visual and that the meaning is specifically tied to a clear objective. These visuals, which do not yet have a single term associated with them, are typically templates that evolve as the result of participation. Creating them requires little technology nor aesthetic skills, but it does require use of a thoughtful design process.

I recently had the pleasure of creating a visual of this type for the 2018 National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation conference. Here are the basic stages of design, their main elements, and how I experienced them for this project in particular.

  1. Empathize. There are two sides of this coin, both of which are important for planning appropriately. First, think about the audience or group the visual will engage: What kind of support do they need to think, feel, and/or act in ways that help them reach their individual goals? Now, consider the conveners’ or facilitators’ needs: What would help them reach collective goals, whether those be to build relations or to accomplish tasks? For this example, conference organizers were quickly able to articulate their desire to deepen conversation related to their partnership with the White Privilege Symposium. After some discussion they also identified that attendees may have a need to extend dialogue about related topics beyond individual sessions and contribute ideas perhaps anonymously.
  2. Create. A clear understanding of goals and needs is what informs what the visual will look like and how participants will engage with it. At this stage, collaborators work to develop main themes or questions as well as what specific words would be best to use. The purpose of this stage is to design a template that is incredibly clear and that invites active engagement. Conference organizers used a basic sketch of this template to solicit feedback from key stakeholders, in which is crucial for ensuring these purposes are fulfilled. Then I created the visual on a very large (four by eight foot) piece of paper that we planned to place in a highly visible location.
  3. Engage. During the previous stage decisions were made about how exactly ideas will be shared. These decisions will determine to what extent the visual will or will not require any degree of facilitation. In this case, we’d decided on a mix of both: attendees would be able to mark different options with stickers on their own and I would engage those who visited me during the showcase and capture those conversations on the template as well. I appreciated this approach because it allowed attendees to get a quick “big picture” idea of their fellow attendees perspectives and it also allowed them to learn from the individual insights that were captured. In my experience, this stage, like the previous one, is somewhat experimental, especially since some people will test the limits of any creative license you give them while others will be confused or even paralyzed by such an interruption in group norms.

The key thing to keep in mind for these visuals is that, unlike other visuals perhaps, the product or outcome matters less than the fact that group members are being offered an opportunity to participate in a shared experience and to collectively make meaning. Because they are nontraditional, these visuals also provide space for intentional conversations to occur in unexpected ways.

In the co-creation of this example visual, NCDD conference attendees made it abundantly clear how they feel power and privilege impacts them, their work, and the field. They reflected on familiar ideas, posed new questions, and, if nothing else, were heard.

Lydia Hooper is a creative who collaborates to communicate about complexity and create culture change. She is the creator of the 40 day listening challenge. To learn more and download her free ebook Using Visuals to Support Collaborative Work, please visit www.lydiahooper.com.

Reminder to Join This Week’s Confab with Nat’l Civic League

Last week, we announced that NCDD has teamed up with the National Civic League to offer the next exciting Confab call, happening later this week! Join us, Wednesday, February 13th at 3-4pm Eastern/12-1pm Pacific, as we discuss the upcoming All-America City Award and share tips for winning this prestigious award. This free call will offer space to learn more about the award, hear from past awardees, and ask questions. The award deadline is March 6th, so make sure you take advantage of this opportunity and register today to secure your spot on the call!

Since 1949, the National Civic League has recognized and celebrated the best in American civic innovation with the All-America City Award. The Award, bestowed yearly on 10 communities (more than 500 in all) recognizes the work of communities in using inclusive civic engagement to address critical issues and create stronger connections among residents, businesses and nonprofit and government leaders. The 2019 All-America City theme is “Creating Healthy Communities Through Inclusive Civic Engagement”. The 2019 All-America City Award is focused on celebrating examples of civic engagement practices that advance health equity in local communities.

Representatives from the award-winning cities, Las Vegas, NV and Decatur, GA will join us on the call to speak about their experiences winning the All-America City Award in 2018. Las Vegas was recognized as an All-America City because they provide residents, stakeholders, staff and elected officials with a collective vision for a future of income equality and economic mobility, building programs and services that remove barriers and address challenges faced by their most vulnerable youth. Decatur, GA was recognized as a 2018 All-America City for its commitment to civic engagement. Through their projects, Decatur showed that it is actively seeking to build an equitable and inclusive experience for its residents and visitors, focusing on racially-just community policing and building diverse and affordable housing.

Don’t miss out – register for our call today!

About NCDD’s Confab Calls

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

Opportunity to Test Mismatch Spring 2019 Pilot, Grades 6-12

In case you missed it, NCDD member org Living Room Conversations and AllSides recently announced an opportunity to test out the Spring 2019 Pilot of Mismatch for grades 6-12! Mismatch is a platform that digitally connects classrooms with each other and facilitates structured conversation between students via video conferencing using Living Room Conversation topic guides. Last year, we featured Mismatch during one of our Tech Tuesday events and you can listen to the recording here! Read the details in the post below and find the original information on the LRC newsletter here.


Calling All Parents, Educators, and Students

We are excited to announce the Spring 2019 Pilot of Mismatch! And your (child’s) grade 6-12 classroom is invited to join!

AllSides for Schools is our joint project with the news site AllSides.comMismatch is a platform that pairs students from different schools around the U.S. and facilitates structured online video conversations between these students using Living Room Conversation topic Guides. You can learn more about Mismatch in the video you’ll find here.

Our goal is to make the Mismatch platform available for anyone interested in civil discussions with someone who thinks differently. We are looking forward to this and bet you are too!

How to join the Mismatch pilot? The AllSides for Schools team is currently looking for grade 6-12 educators in government, social studies, history, and related fields who would like to sign up their classrooms for our Spring 2019 Mismatch pilot. Joining the pilot entails these activities:

  • Completing a short pre-survey about your classroom
  • Providing feedback on our matching criteria, conversation guides, and web platform
  • Matching with another classroom and orchestrating realtime, F2F video conversations between students in your two classrooms (with our help)

92% of students surveyed after using Mismatch reported a positive shift in attitude after just one conversation, citing “great appreciation for the other perspective or other person.” 99% of students found the experience somewhat or extremely valuable.

Once the AllSides for Schools team receives your inquiry, you’ll be contacted for a 1:1 exploratory call to answer questions and describe the pilot program in more detail.  (Note: While every request to participate may not be able to be accommodated, due to matching constraints, the AllSides for Schools team will do its very best!)

Sign Up for FREE Here!

P.S. Do you know someone that would enjoy hearing from us? Please forward this email to friends and colleagues and encourage them to join our community.”

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Living Room Conversations newsletter at https://mailchi.mp/d44c68e7edd2/calling-all-parents-educators-and-students.

Announcing Co-Hosted Confab Call with Nat’l Civic League!

We are thrilled to announce that NCDD has teamed up with the National Civic League to offer the next exciting Confab call happening in February! Join us, February 13th at 3-4pm Eastern/12-1pm Pacific, as we discuss the upcoming All-America City Award and share tips for winning this prestigious award. This free call will offer space to learn more about the award, hear from past awardees, and ask questions. The award deadline is March 6th, so make sure you take advantage of this opportunity and register today to secure your spot on the call!

Since 1949, the National Civic League has recognized and celebrated the best in American civic innovation with the All-America City Award. The Award, bestowed yearly on 10 communities (more than 500 in all) recognizes the work of communities in using inclusive civic engagement to address critical issues and create stronger connections among residents, businesses and nonprofit and government leaders. The 2019 All-America City theme is “Creating Healthy Communities Through Inclusive Civic Engagement”. The 2019 All-America City Award is focused on celebrating examples of civic engagement practices that advance health equity in local communities.

Representatives from the award-winning cities, Las Vegas, NV and Decatur, GA will join us on the call to speak about their experiences winning the All-America City Award in 2018. Las Vegas was recognized as an All-America City because they provide residents, stakeholders, staff and elected officials with a collective vision for a future of income equality and economic mobility, building programs and services that remove barriers and address challenges faced by their most vulnerable youth. Decatur, GA was recognized as a 2018 All-America City for its commitment to civic engagement. Through their projects, Decatur showed that it is actively seeking to build an equitable and inclusive experience for its residents and visitors, focusing on racially-just community policing and building diverse and affordable housing.

Don’t miss out – register for our call today!

About NCDD’s Confab Calls

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

NCL Offers Free National Civic Review to NCDD Members!

As part of our new partnership with NCDD member org, The National Civic League, we are thrilled to announce that NCDD members will now have free access to the digital version of NCL’s National Civic Review! NCL is one of the longest running organizations in the dialogue, deliberation, and engagement world – celebrating their 125th year! This esteemed quarterly journal offers insights and examples on civic engagement and deliberative governance from around the country. We strongly encourage our members to check out this great resource and there is an open invite for NCDD members to contribute to the NCR! You can read about NCR in the post below and find it on NCL’s site here.


National Civic Review: Winter 2019 – 125th Anniversary Edition — Access Code: NCDD19

The focus of this edition is the capacity of communities to address difficult challenges by tapping the potential of an engaged public. Whether it is a “wicked problem” such as gentrification or an effort to improve local health outcomes, towns, cities and regions with ample “civic capital” find ways of bringing together diverse groups of associations and individuals in collaborative, community improvement initiatives.

To access this edition, go to the table of contents where you will be prompted to enter your unique access code: NCDD19

One of the Nation’s Oldest and Most Respected Journals of Civic Affairs
Its cases studies, reports, interviews and essays help communities learn about the latest developments in collaborative problem-solving, civic engagement, local government innovation and democratic governance. Some of the country’s leading doers and thinkers have contributed articles to this invaluable resource for elected officials, public managers, nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, and public administration scholars seeking to make America’s communities more inclusive, participatory, innovative and successful.

Don’t Miss the Confab Recording with Senator Unger!

Last week, we had a fantastic Confab call featuring Senator Unger who discussed how he engaged with his community during his recent campaign and how that ultimately lead to his re-election. If you weren’t able to join the call, never fear, we recorded the whole event and you can listen to it here!

On the call, Senator Unger shared how he focused on the community during his recent re-election campaign against a well-funded opponent who utilized negative attack tactics. Unger, instead of retaliating these attacks, stayed engaged with the community by asking them what they needed and explored with the community their solution recommendations. The senator emphasized the need to engage with community in a relational way, seeing peoples’ humanity and valuing their unique contributions, as opposed to a transactional, de-personalized way. Unger is part of the National Issues Forums Institute board and utilized the NIF discussion guides to explore community needs, perspectives, and values. He held various deliberative dialogue forums with the community, and even the debates were designed in a more deliberative manner.

It was incredibly inspiring to hear an elected official engage the community the way he did and bring in these D&D practices.  Here are some of our favorite quotes during the Confab:

  • During debates when my opponent would attack me on positions and issues…. and then the solutions the community had come up with, he wasn’t only attacking me, he was attacking the community because they had come up with these solutions deliberatively.
  • I used the NIF guides to guide the discussions, but mostly what I did was sit down and ask the basic questions – “what’s bothering you?”, “how does this problem affect you and your family?”, “what should we do about it?”.
  • Many assume that when you’re an elected official you have to have a five-point plan or plan of action (and many elected officials feel compelled to have one), but instead I asked [the community] “what do you think we should do about it?” and look at both the negative and the positives of a proposal.
  • I wanted to make it a campaign focused in on community empowerment. Where so often elected officials and political systems treat people like objects, they do things TO people. Or treat people like RECIPIENTS, like it’s transactional, “I get your vote, I do something for you”.
  • But what I wanted to do is to change the dynamic, to not treat people like objects or recipients, but instead treat people like resources, empower them, “What can we do together? What can I do WITH you?” This attitude shift was a game-changer.
  • If you look at why Americans are so angry, Americans feel like they don’t have control of their life anymore, they don’t have control over how to help their families or their communities, they feel the situation is out of their control… By working with people and doing things with people versus TO or FOR, you give people agency and you address that anger by giving people control over their life.
  • The moral of the story [of the Wizard of Oz] is the group had everything they needed, but they needed to come together to get it it was collectively when they came together and took this journey to demand these things that they discovered they already had these things in themselves.
  • As an elected official, if we look at people we serve as part of that journey, we all have different talents and roles, but collectively we come together, we discover those and we enhance and help each other – that’s the ultimate aspect of community capacity building and empowerment, and that’s where deliberative dialogue is an essential component, that will allow that to happen.

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. 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 Senator Unger and all the Confab participants for contributing to this informative 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!

Sharing Best Practices of D&D – Inspiration for 2019

Great way to start off the new year reading this excellent write-up by NCDDer, Kevin Amirehsani, on the recent 8th National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation. He shares some of the best practices in our field and highlights several gems from the conference. We are proud to work amongst such talented, dedicated, and inspirational individuals, and can’t wait to see the new heights this field will go! We encourage you to read Kevin’s piece below and find the original version on the UNC School of Government Blog here.


Sharing Dialogue and Deliberation Best Practices: NCDD 2018

Within the community engagement community, best practices are sometimes hard to identify.

The context of, say, a small-scale event dealing with restorative justice differs greatly from a packed city council meeting covering zoning permits. The message, audience, program design, and feedback mechanisms can be completely different, which makes standardizing a set of guidelines an oft-impossible task.

Still, there are a few gatherings that bring together enough diverse, experienced, and motivated engagement practitioners that something approaching best practices can be found across many of community engagements’ subfields, from productively navigating race relations to developing responsive digital platforms.

The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) is probably the best example. Lucky for me, Denver (my home), hosted their most recent annual conference in November of last year.

With more than 70 workshops and sessions available to choose from across four days, the hardest part was figuring out where to spend my conference time.

Here are some highlights from three sessions I attended.

Day 1 – D&D for Everyone: How do we get everyone to participate?

I decided to dive right into one of community engagement’s most difficult questions – how on earth do we maximize participation?

This session was relatively unstructured, which allowed small groups to come up with numerous ideas that were then shared with the room. One key takeaway many of us arrived at was on an issue that is often glossed over: language.

Language and Ideology – Who “Welcomes Dialogue”?

Let’s face it: community engagement and D&D initiatives are usually carried out by progressive/liberal practitioners. While this may have something to do with the innate differences between many conservatives and progressives, what it means is that much of the language we use to publicize our events, conduct them, and gather feedback from them may be imbued with a liberal bias.

Terms like “diversity”, “safe space”, or even “dialogue” itself are often viewed in a partisan light, which may skew the demographics of who shows up and who participates more frequently.

Luckily, there are some resources that can help us be more aware of our language, like the online Red Blue Dictionary or a growing number of political dialogue courses offered at universities.

Can we Dialogue with our Passion and Frustrations?

Another issue I found useful to discuss was the degree to which participants are encouraged or expected to check their frustrations and convictions at the door.

On paper, engagement projects often encourage a diversity of viewpoints, but some may be implicitly accepted more than others through, say, the responses that the facilitators choose to emphasize, or even the way a participant who expresses an unpopular opinion is glared at by others.

Many of us have probably witnessed well-intentioned D&D practitioners define numerous topics as “problems,” which implies that somebody’s at fault. This can be at odds with encouraging feedback from participants who may be afraid of being blamed if they speak up.

Day 2 – Don’t Avoid, Don’t Confront: Dialogue Skills for Anti-Racism Allies

I have never been to an anti-racism workshop, so I thought a workshop led by David Campt, the founder of the White Ally Toolkit, would be a great place to start.

As a veteran of the Clinton White House’s Initiative on Race and America Speaks, David knows how to distill a lot of information on how to have effective conversations on race into a short time period while keeping everybody in the room entertained. And he certainly did not disappoint.

While his anti-racism trainings are typically given to white participants, this was a mixed-race crowd that engaged him as he spoke on concepts ranging from the empirical – e.g. racial anxiety – to more practical tools, like the types of icebreakers that can be useful in reducing some of the tension that envelopes meetings on difficult topics (such as race).

One key takeaway that I walked away with was David’s quippy but powerful advice to find the “chocolate in the trail mix” of what a person is saying.

When we’re dealing with community members who have views that may be antithetical to ours, there are almost always remarks they make that we can relate to. For those of us who keep abreast of the literature, the power of small talk should not be a surprise. But David went a step further and emphasized the importance that positive acknowledgement has in ultimately changing people’s views.

Simply pointing out things you agree with by others who share an individual’s race, ethnicity, or politics, for example, markedly increases that person’s willingness to continue talking to you and, ultimately, their openness to gradually changing their views on thorny subjects.

Day 3 – Elevating Voices and Building Bridges: Community Trust and Police Relations

Finally, I capped off an inspiring time at NCDD 2018 with a discussion on police-community relations, in part since I sit on Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen’s Community Advisory Board.

The session saw a pair of practitioners – one from the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the other from Illinois’ Attorney General’s Office – speak in depth about 14 “community roundtables” they organized across Chicago as part of the city police department’s ongoing federal consent decree. They were followed by Chief Pazen and Denver Office of the Independent Monitor (OIM) Community Relations Ombudsman Gianina Irlando, who described a novel program breaking down some of the barriers between police officers and youth.

Design – Sharing Ground, Empathy and Feedback Mechanisms

My impression after hearing these success stories was that both sides in some of the most intractable disputes can substantively cede some ground and gain some empathy for the other side if community meetings and the feedback mechanisms which follow them are effectively designed.

In the Chicago example, the meeting organizers spent a considerable amount of time recruiting participants from affected communities, hiring translators for each table, training facilitators, and designing the layout of their World Café-type engagement model so that everybody knew what ideas each table was bringing up, without fears of “problematic” points of view being forgotten.

Closer to home, the Denver collaborative model between law enforcement and their civilian oversight body emphasized how empathy-building can be quantitatively shown to increase if officers are given enough classroom training, local community leaders (and, in this case, a hip hop artist) help conduct the sessions, and youth are encouraged to participate through strategically placing them with officers in a safe environment whom they have had no personal contact with.

You can find the original version of this article on the UNC School of Government Blog at https://cele.sog.unc.edu/sharing-dialogue-and-deliberation-best-practices-ncdd-2018/.

AllSides Updates: New Students Website & Is Civility Bogus?

In an era when the mainstream media is hyperpolarized, it is vital to our societal and democratic well-being to have access to news sources with more balanced viewpoints. AllSides provides news sources from across the center-left-right spectrum and works to improve civil discourse, and they just announced exciting news and posted a great article exploring civility!

The new website, AllSides for Schools, offers resources for students to improve their media literacy, build empathy, and have tools for engaging in civil discourse – read more about it in the post below! Listen to the archive of our TechTuesday here featuring AllSides’ student-focused programming, Mismatch. 

They also shared the article, Is Civility a Bogus Concept After All?, which explores the challenging arguments around civility on if it’s possible and how it can be best utilized. You can read the article below and find the original on AllSides site here.


Brand New AllSides for Schools Website!

America, we need to talk. Our democracy is increasingly media-driven and polarized. How can we prepare young people?

We’re so excited to announce the launch of our brand-new AllSides for Schools website, featuring updated tools and resources to help students gain the media literacy and critical thinking skills they need to improve our democracy long-term.

We worked hard to launch our new Schools site, and we can’t wait for you to see it.

Featuring a clean new design, AllSides for Schools features nearly a dozen resources to make media literacy fun and engaging. Students can take AllSides’ bias quiz to find out where they fall on the Left-Center-Right political spectrum, then browse our Balanced Dictionary to see how people across the political spectrum define, think and feel differently about the same term or issue.

Plus, our Mismatch program and Civil Conversation Guides ensure students get the guidance they need to build relationships with people who are different from them. And it works — a whopping 92% of students who tried our Mismatch program said they better understood another person or perspective after just one conversation.

Through a revealing look at today’s news media and memorable experiences of respectful dialogue, AllSides for Schools equips students to navigate the complexities of modern media, social networks (on and offline), and personal relationships.

Join the 12,000 teachers and students in 47 states who are already using our tools every week. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we enjoyed making them.

You can check out the new Allsides for Schools website at www.allsidesforschools.org

Is Civility a Bogus Concept After All?

By Julie Mastrine

We built AllSides in part because we believe in the power of civility and civil discourse. AllSides helps people build relationships with those who are different from them, which we believe will ultimately improve our democracy.

But, could we be wrong? What if civility is actually a sham?

A TED Talk by political theorist Teresa Bejan raises this very question. Bejan studied and wrote a book about civility — particularly, religious tolerance in early modern England and America — because at the time, she thought that civility was, as she puts it, “bullsh*t.”

Yet how wrong she was.

After concluding her studies, Bejan learned “the virtue that makes un-murderous coexistence possible [in society] is the virtue of civility,” as she states in her TED Talk. “Civility makes our disagreements tolerable so that we can share a life together, even if we don’t share a faith — religious, political or otherwise.”

Still, she says, when most people talk about civility today, they are talking about something different than this. While civility is the virtue that “makes it possible to tolerate disagreement,” she says, “talking about civility [today] seems to be a strategy of disengagement — its like threatening to take your ball and go home when the game isn’t going your way.”

Often, she says, today’s “civility talk” is used as a way to “silence, suppress and exclude” those people we disagree with. (It’s a concept AllSides refers to as “tyranny of civility.”)

“Civility talk” or “tyranny of civility” gives people the feeling of the moral high ground while also allowing them to paint those they disagree with as offensive, or uncivil.

“Some people use “civility” when they want to communicate that certain views or people are beyond the pale, but they want to save themselves the trouble of actually making an argument,” Bejan says.

This is why some people (like Bejan in the past) roll their eyes at the call for civility.

“It seems like “civility talk” saves us the trouble of actually speaking to each other, allows us to talk past each other, signal our superior virtue, and let the audience know which side we’re on,” she says. In this way, “civility talk” can actually deepen divisions.

Instead of civility talk, Bejan argues we need what she calls “mere civility.” This type of civility is not the same thing as being respectful, because “we need civility precisely when we’re dealing with people we find it the most impossible to respect.” And it’s not the same as being nice, either — “because being nice means not telling people what you really think about them or their views.”

Mere civility means “speaking your mind, but to your opponent’s’ face, not behind her back…Being merely civil means pulling out punches but not landing them all at once.”

The point of civility, she says, is to allow us to “have fundamental disagreements without denying or destroying the possibility of a common life tomorrow with the people we think are standing in our way today.”

In this way, civility is closely related to courage.

“Mere civility is having the courage to make yourself disagreeable and to stay that way, but to do that while staying in the room and present to your opponents,” Bejan says. “If you’re talking about civility as a way to avoid an argument, as a way to isolate yourself in the more agreeable company of the like-minded who already agree with you, if you find yourself never actually speaking to anyone who fundamentally disagrees with you, you’re doing civility wrong.”

You can listen to Bejan’s TED Talk in full below.

You can read the original version of article on the Allsides Perspectives blog at www.allsides.com/blog/civility-bogus-concept-after-all.

Join Free Webinar on NY Public Library Community Conversations Program, 12/5

Last year, we announced a two-year partnership with the American Library Association on a new initiative, Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change, which sought to train librarians in dialogue and deliberation processes with the goal of turning libraries into spaces of civic engagement and community discussions. We invite you to join a free one hour webinar on December 5th on how the New York Public Library created their Community Conversations series pilot to support the community in addressing important issues. In this webinar, you’ll learn how they developed the 11-month training program for librarians in 16 branches, tailored the conversation series to what the community needed, and implemented the series to deepen the libraries’ role as civic centers. You can read the announcement below and sign up to join the webinar here.


Community Conversations Across Neighborhoods: Dialogue-Driven Programming

Libraries have the potential to inspire local dialogue on timely issues across communities, positioning library staff as trusted facilitators. Join us for this free one-hour webinar to hear how New York Public Library created a conversation series on important issues in the diverse communities they serve.

In February 2017, the New York Public Library (NYPL) launched a Community Conversations pilot with the goal of further establishing branch libraries as key civic convening centers, providing space, information and quality discussion for communities to better understand and problem-solve around local issues.

Aligning with the ALA Public Programs Office’s Libraries Transforming Communities initiative, NYPL’s Adult Programming and Outreach Services (ORS) Office developed an original 11-month training program with staff from 16 branch libraries that resulted in a series of unique, community-led programs.

Program boundaries were kept flexible enough for branch staff to be able to design programs with their own diverse neighborhood communities in mind. Branches experimented with a variety of tactics to ensure community focus, including community issue voting boards, a public planning committee, community-mapping and final program sessions that invited attendees to discuss next steps.

Participants of this session will learn:

  • Best practices and lessons learned from NYPL’s Community Conversations programming
  • How to launch successful location-based Community Conversations initiatives that build partnerships and engage staff in new ways
  • Specific dialogue-driven program models that can be used as templates for programs in libraries across geographic locations

Presenters
Alexandra Kelly Berman is the manager of adult programming and outreach services at the New York Public Library, where she works with library staff across 88 neighborhood branches to introduce programs for local adult communities, including the recent Community Conversations pilot. Alexandra began at NYPL by developing and leading the successful multi-branch Community Oral History Project. Before working at NYPL, she was a facilitator at StoryCorps and received an M.A. from the School of Media Studies at The New School, where she also acted as director of student services + engagement. She has also launched several youth media projects around New York City, including an oral history project in Crown Heights, The Engage Media Lab program at The New School, and a documentary filmmaking project at Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

Andrew Fairweather is a librarian at the New York Public Library’s Seward Park branch in the Lower East Side. He is fervent in his belief that the library can serve as a unique platform for discussion about tricky issues and current events. He enjoys painting and drawing when not occupied with library work. Andrew’s interest in any one subject is incredibly unfaithful — he will read (most) anything as a result.

Nancy Aravecz is a senior adult librarian at the Jefferson Market branch of The New York Public Library. In this role, she focuses on providing top-notch discussion-based programming to the Greenwich Village community, centered around information literacy, technology, current events and classic works of literature. She is a recent graduate of Kent State University’s MLIS program, where she studied digital libraries. She also holds a previous MA degree in English Language and Letters from New York University, where her studies centered around literary theory and criticism, postcolonial studies and the digital humanities.

Related Learning Opportunities:

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Programming Librarian website (part of the American Library Association Public Programs Office) at www.programminglibrarian.org/learn/community-conversations-across-neighborhoods-dialogue-driven-programming.

Moving Past Couch-Potato Democracy to Engagement

In the sixth installment of their series, democracy around the world, NCDD sponsoring member, the Jefferson Center, wrote this piece on how Americans can be more civically engaged and address our challenging issues. Many of the states in the U.S. are designed to give the people even more power to shape legislation through initiatives and referendums. The article challenges for people to push more into civic life and participate in government, especially when their elected officials are not. You can read the article below and find the original version of it on the Jefferson Center site https://jefferson-center.org/2018/09/initiate-democracy-across-the-united-states/here.


It’s Time to Initiate Democracy Across the United States

This is the sixth post in our blog series exploring democracy around the world, submitted by a diverse group of people interested in using deliberation, participation, and civic tech to solve challenges we face today. The following does not necessarily represent the views of the Jefferson Center or Jefferson Center staff.

John Hakes is a freelance writer and Certified Public Accountant who has worked with the U.S. Census Bureau and Questar Assessment Inc. He earned his Master’s Degree in Advocacy and Political Leadership from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. – First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

In the opening blog of this series, guest blogger Ross Busch suggested a national assembly model recently employed by the country of Ireland– on an agenda of climate change leadership, aging population and abortion– might be used to address the seemingly intractable issue of gun control in the United States.

If Ireland, a nation with a centuries-long entrenched position on the sensitive abortion issue can use informed reasoning to assess the will of the people through assembly— the Busch reasoning goes– there is hope people could do likewise on other emotionally-charged issues.

We will now ‘wait ‘n see’ whether Busch’s clarion call takes root around the world. But meanwhile, in November, the twin ‘people power’ petition mechanism afforded to American citizens by the First Amendment will be exercised on the issue of gun control. That’s when Washington citizens will decide whether they wish to add parameters to the use of firearms through a vote of the people via Initiative I-1639.

The Initiative Tool

Should you call states like Hawaii, New Mexico, Iowa, North Carolina, Maryland, or around 20 others home, you may not be not familiar with the initiative process.

Unlike a referendum, where a question must come from a given jurisdiction’s legislative body, a citizen initiative is typically created when a certain number of ‘registered voter’ signatures are gathered on a question proposed to become law.  Initiatives can either be direct (where potential new law is decided on by voters) or indirect (where the affirmed petition question is handed to a Legislature for it to decide on).

The state of Washington’s citizen initiative process was enacted in 1897. The I-1639 effort began when the gun measure petition received the requisite number of signatures from across the state.  Naturally, the road from ‘obtaining a verifiable set of signatures’ to ‘Secretary of State approval’ to ‘finalized question on the November ballot’ has been met by significant counter challenges. But on August 24, 2018, a ruling of the Washington Supreme Court officially permitted the existence of the ‘gun measures’ question to be included on the November 6th ballot .

Initiative and Referendum in the U.S.

Less than half of the U.S. states allow their citizens to raise & legally install the answer to a question through the initiative process. More western than eastern states have this process in place.

At least partly due to the continually shifting voting preferences over time in a given electorate, states currently deemed ‘red’ and ‘blue’ both offer legislation-by-initiative. Washington & California are examples of so-called blue states while North Dakota and Arizona are counted among ‘red’ states that utilize initiatives.

Unsurprisingly, voter turnout in these states has historically been 5 to 7 percent higher than in states without initiative and referendum (states with one typically offer the other). The reason for this is simple: voters feel that their vote for or against a grassroots-raised issue on the ballot does make a difference.

Despite being a state that frequently leads the nation in voter turnout,  Minnesota–also well-known for possessing a strong political and civic culture–features neither an Initiative or Referendum component in its democratic procedural toolkit.

Like every other state, Minnesota does allow questions pertaining to  legislatively-referred, state constitutional amendments to be decided on by voters.  There have been three periods in which the right to decide by Initiative has been seriously considered in Minnesota, with the last push led by MN House Representative Erik Paulsen during the Jesse Ventura administration of the early 2000s.

Looking ahead

Although it’s true that social media has the power to amplify voices and mobilize people to achieve ‘a’ form of grassroots push on a given issue, such sentiments too often blow away with the wind of the next incoming news cycle.  Rather than focusing only on the  couch-potato democracy by electronic device, Americans in half of the U.S. states should exercise the legal levers they already have to permanently alter the law when their elected representatives don’t seem up to the task.

To quote the Busch piece again: “Conversations between ordinary citizens on complex topics are perhaps the greatest defense against the degradation of modern politics.”

What better way to begin stepping across the street for face-to-face conversation than to create outcomes on even an incredibly divisive issue through an Initiative provision, like approximately half of our country’s people have the legal luxury of doing?

And though founders like James Madison would likely be one to equate the Initiative process with ill-advisedly caving to the passions of the people, perhaps even our celebrated ‘Father of the Constitution’ might see the diligence and organization required of Initiative efforts as preferable to the Rule by Retweet method that regularly influences the course of events today.

Thanks to efforts like those who’ve advanced the I-1639 in Washington, political pockets of our country are arguably “deliberating, even when it’s difficult,” on important issues, as writer Ross Busch recommends.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/2018/09/initiate-democracy-across-the-united-states/.