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.

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/.

Undivided Nation Bridging Divides One State at a Time

Have you been keeping up with the travels of NCDD member Undivided Nation? David and Erin Leaverton and their family are traveling to every state in the US in order to listen to peoples’ stories and bring folks together over dinner to dialogue with “the other”; all to explore the myriad of experiences in our country and to find our connection points despite differences. They have shared with us a powerful learning opportunity they experienced in their journey about the way divisions manifest in peoples’ lives and emphasized the need to address the oppressive realities that exist only for certain groups of people.

On their journey, they would like to develop a film, Know Thy Other, to share their experiences of this important work of listening and bridging divides  The film will document their travels and powerful conversations; in hopes of better understanding what divides us and address the bigotry that comes from not recognizing the humanity of “the other”. Help amplify the impact of their work by donating to the film’s Kickstarter! You can read the post below and we encourage you to donate to their tax-deductible Kickstarter here.


It’s Hard to Reconcile with Someone Who Has a Boot on Your Neck

By David Leaverton

The 2016 Presidential election was a turning point in my life. Before my eyes, I saw many of my fellow countrymen treat each other not as political opponents, but as mortal enemies. Fear and division had gripped this land and I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer.

As a newcomer to the NCDD community, I had a desire to help bridge these divides and see our nation united, but I knew I first needed to gain a deeper understanding of the problem before I could offer up any real solutions to the discussion.

To find the answers we were looking for, my wife and I sold our house, quit our jobs and set out on a 50-state road trip with our three kids. As I write this, I am looking out from our RV over the spectacular Greenbrier River in West Virginia, state number 12 on our journey. To say we have been transformed by this experience so far would be an understatement.

As we enter each new state, we often go into a community knowing no one and cold calling or emailing leaders and organizations who represent different groups within in the community. I was recently on the phone with a leading African-American individual in Savannah, GA, sharing our journey and our mission for reconciliation and unity in America.

As I shared the purpose of our trip, which is often met with interest or curiosity, this gentleman sounded almost offended at my goal to seek reconciliation and common ground. While he was neither hateful nor rude, he still gave it to me straight when he said, “It’s hard to reconcile with someone who has a boot on your neck.”

That one line changed me.

One thing I have come to realize on our journey is that there are a number of Americans who wake up every day with a feeling of oppression in an America that I didn’t know existed. This was so disappointing to me as a proud patriot who believes in the America where all men are touted as being equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.

Thinking of this situation in literal terms, it is woefully insensitive for me to walk up to the individual on the ground with the boot on their neck to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation without first addressing the boot, and doing everything in my power to remove it.

I was never able to meet with this gentleman, but what I gained through his refusal to meet with me was probably more valuable.

I learned some important lessons about reconciliation from this brief but poignant conversation.

When we hope for reconciliation between two parties, we must first address and try to eliminate the cause of oppression or pain being experienced either party before the discussion can get too far. No one knows the boot better than the one whose neck it is on and they must be part of the process of understanding the situation. We may not have the ability to quickly remove the boot, but we can begin by acknowledging and addressing the situation as best we can.

I began this journey focused on our political divisions, but haven’t been able to get away from the racial divisions in our nation as I’ve begun to explore it. Many of the people we have spoken with, and this is by no means a scientific representative sample of the country, have been impacted more by our racial divides than the infighting in Congress.

Our history of oppression of Americans with deeper pigmentation in this country is extensive. Our journey across the country so far has taught us that slavery in America didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil War. Oppression has continued under different names such as convict leasing, sharecropping, peonage, lynching, segregation, Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, among others. Although the current situation in our nation regarding racial and ethnic disparities is extremely complex beyond skin pigmentation, learning these truths about our history has been vital in our quest for reconciliation and unity.

While I still have more questions than answers on the subject of division in our country, I do know that at the end of our year-long journey, I can’t go back to being a silent bystander.

David Leaverton and his wife, Erin, are the founders of Undivided Nation, an organization focused on serving as a catalyst for reconciliation and unity in America. They live with their three children on an RV somewhere in America. Follow their journey at http://undividednation.us.

Join the Nat’l Week of Conversation Coming up Next Week

Have you checked out the National Week of Conversation‘s site recently? There are currently over 70 events planned, either in person or online and more being added every day! Join the unprecedented National Week of Conversation starting next week on Friday, April 20th and going until Saturday, April 28th. This is a unique opportunity for Americans of different views to talk with each other and, more importantly, really listen to each other. We encourage you to go check out the site to sign up for an event or start your own conversation!

The National Week of Conversation is designed to:

  • Turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division
  • Begin mending the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides
  • Bring people together again–from ‘us vs. them’ to ‘me and you’
  • Build relationships by listening first to understand the other

NCDD is a proud organizing partner of NWOC, and our founding director Sandy Heierbacher is on NWOC’s core team, along with over 100 additional participating partners!

During the NWOC, Americans from all over the country will take a small step to help bridge the political divides in our country. They will do this by reaching out to people who have different political views and engaging them in civil and respectful conversation about the future of our nation. The goal of these conversations is to help people learn from each other, build relationships, and look for ways to reduce the growing polarization in our public life.

You can sign up at www.nationalweekofconversation.org to pledge your intention to participate in NWOC as an individual or organization (let them know that you are connected to NCDD as a partner organization!). Check out the event calendar to see if there are events near you that you’d like to participate in. We encourage folks to start planning an event during NWOC and add it here. If you’re not sure what model to use or topic to focus on, we recommend you check out the organizations listed here or look over the resources under NWOC’s six suggested topics here.

Here are a few events from our friends:

  • Many from the NCDD network are holding events during the week that we strongly recommend you check out on the event calendar – like Annette Strauss Institute, Ben Franklin Circles, Big Tent Nation, Bring it to the Table, Interactivity Foundation, Kettering, Listen First Project, Living Room Conversations, and the National Institute for Civil Discourse.
  • April 21: Listen First Project will be hosting Listen First in Charlottesville to support the progress of healing and reconciliation in Charlottesville with a number of local and national influencers. (Sandy Heierbacher will be there, so make sure you keep a lookout and say hi!)
  • April 24: Boston Public Library are holding several events – Conversation Cafés, Living Room Conversations, World Cafes, and an option to video chat with folks in Kansas.
  • April 24, 25, 26, 28: Kansas Public Libraries have several events happening at various branches on each of these days

Learn more at NationalWeekofConversation.org and share your experience using #ListenFirst & #NWOC. Let us know if you have an event planned and share it with us in the comments below!

The Better Arguments Project Nominations due TODAY

Now, this is a tight turnaround for this next announcement, but we wanted to give folks in our network a heads up in case you missed it. The Better Arguments Project is an effort for Americans to engage each other around core US values and they are seeking nominations for communities to host their Better Arguments forums. Applications are due TODAY – April 10th, so check it out and get yours in ASAP!  In the post below, learn more about the funding support and other opportunities for those selected, as well as, find more detailed information on the Better Arguments Project’s site here.


The Better Arguments Project – Nominate your Community!

The Better Arguments Project allows Americans to reach across political, cultural and economic divides to have arguments that bring us closer together instead of driving us further apart. We launched this project out of the recognition that arguments are essential for our democracy. Indeed, America is an argument — between equality and liberty, central and local government, unity and diversity. The more we can equip communities to have arguments rooted both in this history and in best practices of constructive communication, the healthier our country will be.

Visit www.BetterArguments.org for more background on this initiative.

This project is designed to be practiced around a specific issue. How will we do this? We need YOU!

Over the next year, we will pilot the Better Arguments Project through local forums in select communities around the country. Would you and your community like to host one of our pilot Better Arguments forums? You’re in the right place!

With each partner, the Better Arguments Project will:

  • Provide the funding, materials, and training needed to convene community members.
  • Offer resources to help successfully lead community members through the forum.
  • Facilitate at least one agreed-upon follow-up step.
  • Document the experience in a video to be shared.

Our team is seeking partners representing various political parties, big and small towns, rural and urban areas, and most importantly, people from all walks of life. Some key qualities include:

  • Individuals or organizations rooted in community
  • Open-mindedness
  • Ability to convene community members representing a wide range of perspectives

Dates and Deadlines

  • Application due April 10th, 2018
  • Selections made April 24th, 2018

Ready to start a Better Argument? For more information:

The Better Arguments Project is a partnership among Facing History and Ourselves, The Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program, and The Allstate Corporation.

You can find the original version of this announcement on The Better Arguments Project’s site at www.facinghistory.org/together/better-arguments.

The Kettering Foundation and China-US Relations (Connections 2016)

The six-page article, “The Kettering Foundation and China-US Relations” by Wang Jisi was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the eight article of the newsletter, Jisi shares his experience with Kettering’s consistent engagement with China for over three decades, by bringing together people from both the US and China to learn from each other and maintain relations. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

Since 1986, the Kettering Foundation has maintained a close and fruitful relationship with China, especially with China’s scholarly community. As a participant in this relationship from the beginning, I am both humbled at Kettering’s brave and strenuous efforts to strengthen US-China ties and proud of being a small part of them.

In 1986, when I was a junior lecturer in Peking University’s Department of International Politics, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) cosponsored with the Kettering Foundation a group visit to the United States. The Chinese delegation was headed by Li Shenzhi, vice president of CASS, and consisted of several senior Chinese individuals and four “young observers,” including Yuan Ming of Peking University and myself. We toured Racine, Wisconsin, where we joined the US delegation headed by Kettering president David Mathews and attended a conference together, which covered world politics in general and China-US relations in particular. We were also entertained by local officials and celebrities in Racine. In fact, what impressed me most was not anything related to China-US relations, but a special session conducted by David Mathews, in which he vividly introduced Kettering’s political philosophy and approach to conducting its projects.

It was the first time I had ever heard a representative of an American NGO explain to us how it worked. During the Racine conference, we had interesting conversations with our US counterparts, some of whom had no China connection at all. Racine was a perfect location that allowed Chinese and American public citizens to get to know each other personally.

I confess, although I had spent 18 months at the University of California at Berkeley in 1984-1985 and toured other American cities and towns during that period, my personal contacts in the United States had been confined almost exclusively to Americans who were interested in China, East Asia, or international politics. It was Kettering that widened my horizon by bringing me to Racine and, later, to Dayton, Ohio, where its headquarters is located. This helped me become familiar with grassroots America. In this sense, Kettering opened a window for me—and presumably for many other Chinese colleagues who have participated in the Kettering programs—to observe and understand American society and domestic politics by way of knowing some “real” Americans who live in “typical” US cities like Dayton.

As one of the so-called “US watchers” in China, I used to make the analogy that the relationship between China and the United States is like a state-society relationship. In the China-US relationship, China acts as a state, a hierarchical structure of organizations like CASS and Peking University with individuals in them as a subordinating part, whereas America acts as a society, in which horizontal networks like the Kettering Foundation coexist with governmental organizations but are not subordinated to them. With my experience at Kettering, I have developed a strong belief that we will not be able to catch the essence of US foreign policy and US-China relations unless we understand how civil society functions in America. It will take more time for me, or other Chinese, to fully grasp the meaning of such concepts as “framing public deliberation.” Still, Kettering’s numerous programs have greatly benefited dozens of Chinese citizens and enriched our knowledge about the United States beyond government-to-government connections.

Indeed, it is my own observation that the greatest contribution Kettering has made to the ChinaUS relationship is to bring together social elites from the two societies, making friends between us, letting us know that we share the same purposes of life—happiness, love, family, harmony, and unity. To be sure, political and cultural differences, as well as geographical spans, divide the two peoples, but these differences are secondary if compared to our shared purposes of life as human beings.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Jisi-Connections-2016.pdf

Exploring How We Engage Values with Ben Franklin Circles

As we mentioned a couple of weeks back, we are going to be sharing stories from the Circles convened by NCDD member org, the Ben Franklin Circles. NCDD teamed up with BFC on this collaborative effort to bring alive the circle process our founding father, Ben Franklin, maintained for over 40 years. In the article, NCDD member Katherine Roxlo reflects on the Circle she convened in Scottsdale, Arizona with students from the Community College Initiative; and how the experience impacted the youth, as well as, affected how the values play out in her life. You can read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Circle Spotlight: Katherine from Phoenix

Name: Katherine Roxlo
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona (Circle is in nearby Scottsdale)
Sponsor Organization: Scottsdale Community College
Date Launched: August 30, 2017

What attracted you to Ben Franklin Circles?
I have always been interested in respectful conversations and community. The Ben Franklin Circles give me an opportunity to reflect on important values in a constructive fashion and to develop a special community in my life. Concentrating on one value at a time has allowed me to work the values into my life. I feel that morality, ethics and respectful conversations that incorporate the good of our local and national community are at a low point right now in the U.S. The Circles are one small step in the right direction for me. And small steps are GOOD!

How did you recruit members for your Circle? Any lessons learned?
I sent out proposals to conduct Ben Franklin Circles to a number of organizations, including youth groups, senior citizen groups, schools and churches. Scottsdale Community College took me up on it! It is a perfect way to incorporate ethics into a class and to give the students a time to reflect on what they are doing.

I love the question that Ben Franklin started his day with: “What good can I do today?” We start each meeting with a meditation, prayer or moment of silence. It allows us all to calm down from our busy schedules and get centered. During this opening moment, we always ask, “What good can I do today? What good can we do for our community?”

How has hosting a Ben Franklin Circle impacted you?
So many ways! My Circle is made up of Community College Initiative (CCI) students. These are foreign students on a nine-month scholarship program in the U.S. with the goals of learning, gaining experience through internships in a field of interest and contributing to the community through 100-plus hours of volunteer service.

It is an honor to work with these bright students. I see them struggling, but also improving their talents, every time we meet. Some are speaking out more and improving their English. Some are taking on leadership roles. Some are learning to use their time more constructively.

Working with the group gives me extreme hope for the future. They are all thoughtful and smart. At first, the group was a little quiet. But, at the last two meetings, we started letting different students run different parts of the meeting. One conducts the opening. One reviews the past value, one the new value. One student keeps us on schedule. One student runs the last part of the meeting, which we call sharing, listening, caring. I was very impressed with how easily they stepped up to the plate. Giving them the opportunity has been enlightening for me! Now I just sit back, take notes and ask some questions. Often, I am working on my own issues with the virtue.

It is interesting to see the differences in values that they have. Their perspectives have been very good for me. They do not have the food addictions and issues with weight that many Americans have. They place a higher value on personal downtime and family time than those of us in the U.S. They say that Americans must be told everything specifically and literally, that we do not take hints that are obvious in their culture. They are more receptive to unspoken communication. This has been really valuable to me. I see how I can apply these perceptions to my own life in order to be a better person.

Which virtue means the most to you personally and why?
I am not sure. With temperance, I focused on tempering my use of playing solitaire on my cell phone. I had to keep my cell phone in another room at night. What an addiction! It gave me more time to be productive. It also gave me compassion for those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. If I have this much trouble with playing solitaire, I can only imagine someone’s struggle with drugs. Part of the problem is that there truly is a short-term pleasure and positive body response from addictive material. But I know it is short lived and leads to ruin.

With silence, I worked on not giving too many constructive suggestions to my husband (and to never repeating a request). By being silent I learned that he was doing more than I thought and actually had some good ideas of his own.

With order, I made a list of things I wanted to get done. All my plans and order went out the window when my husband had a heart attack. I gladly spent three days in the hospital with him, and realized how flexible and subject to change our priorities can be. It is easy to reorganize when something that is truly important comes up.

With resolution, I successfully gave up chips. That must sound like something small, but it isn’t for me. For more than a year, I have been focused on improving my health and fitness. I am cutting out as much sugar, flour and processed food as I can. The open bag of chips that my husband leaves above the refrigerator have been a huge temptation. I was never able to kick the habit of grabbing that bag of chips when I got home and was tired. But we are reporting our progress on our resolution back to the group and I didn’t want to tell them I failed! I am happy to say I can report eating no chips for three weeks. It is easier to give them up completely. Having to be accountable to my Circle is a huge driver for success.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circle’s at https://benfranklincircles.org/circle-spotlight/circle-spotlight-katherine-from-phoenix-az.

A Comparative Study of Coastal Communities in Cuba and the United States (Connections 2016)

The nine-page article, “A Comparative Study of Coastal Communities in Cuba and the United States” by Paloma Dallas, Penny Dendy, Terry Jack, Esther Velis, Virginia York, was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the seventh article of the newsletter, the authors talk about the collaboration between Kettering and the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation, on how each organization worked with communities in the US and Cuba, respectively, on addressing important issues that impact both areas. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

This article tells the story of two organizations—one in Cuba and the other in the United States—and the community-based networks they collaborate with to learn how to make a difference on issues that affect both nations.

Nearly two decades ago, the Kettering Foundation began a series of ongoing exchanges with the Havana-based Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity, a nongovernmental environmental organization founded by Antonio Núñez Jiménez, a renowned Cuban geographer, archeologist, and speleologist.

As part of these exchanges, the Núñez Foundation was interested in exploring ways citizens can play an active role in responding to the challenges their communities face. Kettering has long studied how people come together to make progress on difficult problems and do the work of creating resilient communities. Both foundations saw potential in comparing the experiences of communities facing related problems in different contexts.

An obvious opportunity for such an exchange seemed to be their shared geography: the Gulf of Mexico. Communities along the Gulf in both countries face some of the very same challenges, namely a vulnerability to hurricanes, as well as other human-made disasters. These dangers are not going away, so the challenge was, how could they respond? How might people living in those communities begin to work together to protect their communities and strengthen their capacity to bounce back from disasters?

Both foundations reached out to communities that they thought would be interested in taking up this challenge. Because the Kettering Foundation doesn’t work directly in communities, they contacted colleagues in Panama City, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama, who have long worked to encourage public deliberation on pressing issues. The Núñez Foundation initially identified the community of Cárdenas, also on the Gulf Coast, but since the foundation would be leading the work themselves, they decided to select a community in which they were already working. So, after further consideration, they chose Playa Larga in Ciénaga de Zapata, on Cuba’s southern Caribbean coast.

What follows draws from two essays authored by those who led the work: Esther Velis, director of international relations for the Núñez Foundation; Frances “Penny” Dendy, organizational consultant and community volunteer in Mobile, Alabama; Virginia York, retired professor, consultant, and community volunteer in Panama City, Florida; and Terry Jack, professor emeritus, Gulf Coast State College.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Dallas-Connections-2016.pdf

Co-Creating a Shared Future and Funding the Vision

Those in the NCDD network can attest that while there is a lot of enthusiasm and effort around engagement work; what many in our field continue to struggle with is having funding to do said work and operating in silos. That’s why we wanted to share this excellent article posted on the Bridge Alliance site from NCDD member, Debilyn Molineaux, that articulates this vital need for co-creating a shared future and getting this shared vision funded.

Like the article states and our community knows, it takes conversation in order to build a shared future, and there’s a longing for many in this country to be able to bridge divides and work better together. NCDD stemmed from this need to bridge the D&D field and we’ll continue to share the important work being done to engaged people – like the National Week of Conversation on April 20-28, a collaborative effort to build relationships and heal our divisions. You can read Debilyn’s post below and find the original version on BA’s site here.


We Need To Talk: It’s Time to Create and Fund Our Future

Collectively, there are thousands of organizations and funders already working to improve our country. So why does our country appear to be a mess?

The weakest part of our country is our willingness to live in a narrative/news stream that confirms our own bias and demonizes others. We could make our collective work exponentially more effective by fostering strong relationships among people of different viewpoints.

Our current frayed social fabric is the result of “winner take all” politics, party loyalty over patriotism and is exacerbated by attacks from foreign influencers who manipulate us through social media and propaganda. Only We the People can change our attitudes and behavior to stop it.

Foundations have spent or committed $4.1 billion since 2011 to strengthen our democratic republic. And yet, the results are not recognizable to the average American. What will it take to continue to progress the ideals of our country and the future we want to create in this environment of turmoil and chaos?

Some of the most well-known movements in the last decade have started in a seemingly spontaneous manner following years of build-up. Think of the Tea Party in 2009, Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and #MeToo in 2017.

Collectively, the citizens and organizations that comprise our current post or cross-partisan movement are very energetic, and we are not yet coalesced. Largely because our biology is focused on what we DON’T want instead of what we DO want.

Creating and funding our shared future requires a shared vision of what we want — beyond avoiding the crisis of the current moment. It is our dreams, goals, and visions combined with a solid strategy and certain resources that will sustain us, long-term.

To determine this, we need to talk with each other to determine a vision for our shared future. We often hear people express how tired they are of talking — especially when they’ve been talking with friends and strangers for decades about what doesn’t work.

And that’s exactly the point —  focusing on problems is exhausting. Some among us are inclined to move straight to action — just fix it. But how will we know it’s “fixed” without checking in? This is why we need to engage in conversations, debates, and deliberation — it’s the fastest way forward to consciously create a shared vision.

We are constantly creating our future. I suggest we upgrade our visioning and planning to develop new social systems. As with anything new, extra communication is needed to establish systems, experiment with different approaches, and say what is working or not. Extra communication enables us to move forward, together.

Once new systems are in place, we can talk less and “just do it.” But when the systems are broken, unknown, ineffective or corrupt, then increasing our communication processes is an important FIRST ACTION.

So here is a prescription for creating and funding our future:

  1. Talk, debate and deliberate to create a future vision we WANT to share. (Maybe sign up for the National Week of ConversationApril 20-28, 2018).
  2. Talk, debate and deliberate the tactics needed to support the shared vision.
  3. Fund the leaders, programs and organizations who have the skills and capacities to turn deliberation into shared action.

“We deliberate not about ends,” said Aristotle, “but about the means to attain ends.”

In the end, it all starts with conversation.

You can find the original version of this post on the Bridge Alliance’s site at www.bridgealliance.us/we_need_to_talk_it_s_time_to_create_and_fund_our_future.