NCDD Orgs Team up for Public Engagement Training

We wanted to let the NCDD network know about these training opportunities coming up with our friends at the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) and Public Agenda (PA). These two NCDD member orgs have teamed up to dive deep into public engagement skills at an in-person workshop in NYC, which also is part of PBP’s final module for their Summer Implementation Institute. Coming up this Weds July 26, is PBP’s final FREE webinar on breaking barriers for outreach during the Idea Collection phase – the third module in the Summer Implementation Institute. Next week, Public Agenda will doing a two-day workshop to strengthen public engagement strategy on July 31-August 1, with PBP presenting their session on the second day.

Coming up…

  • THIS Weds July 26: final FREE webinar with PBP, from 3pm – 5pm Eastern, 12pm – 3pm Pacific
  • July 31st: Public Agenda workshop in NYC
  • August 1st: Joint workshop with PBP and Public Agenda in NYC

To RSVP for the PBP webinar, click here. To register for the PA and/or PBP in-person NYC workshop[s], click here. For more on PBP’s Summer Implementation Institute, follow the hashtag #PBPInstitute on Twitter for more participant quotes, questions, and experiences! You can read the announcements from PBP and PA below or find the original on PA’s site here.


From the Participatory Budgeting Project

At the Participatory Budgeting Project, we’re wrapping up the first-ever PB Network Summer Implementation Institute with a final free webinar on Wednesday and an in-person session in NYC on August 1st.

On our final free webinar, we’re talking about outreach strategies used to generate ideas from non-English speakers, young people and court-involved people during Idea Collection!

Kenneth Tang from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and our West Coast Project Manager, Francesco Tena, will present on their local experience in two flagship PB processes: Oakland (the first process to do PB with federal funds in the U.S.) and Boston (the first youth PB process in the U.S.)

Join other PB-implementing staff and officials from across North America to:

  • Discuss record-breaking outreach strategies.
  • Dive into the challenges and benefits of using innovative outreach tactics in PB idea collection.
  • Collaboratively brainstorm ways to improve and expand outreach in communities where there are barriers to civic participation.
  • Receive tools and resources to use in your PB processes and in your work more broadly.

Likewise, if you’re interested in taking community leadership in government to the next level, join our in-person Steering Committees 101 workshop hosted in New York City next month, in partnership with Public Agenda. This session is focused on building and sustaining effective community leadership in democratic processes.

When: Tuesday August 1
Where: New York City
Cost: $200 REGULAR admission and $75 STUDENT admission. Or, check out the registration page for the full two-day workshop on public engagement with Public Agenda!
Register: Here

Hope to see you Wednesday and in August!

From Public Agenda

Looking for assistance with organizing and sustaining productive public engagement? Struggling to decide how to use online engagement tools? Frustrated with the standard “2 minutes at the microphone” public meeting? Need expert advice on bringing together a diverse critical mass of people?

Our Public Engagement team is leading a 1.5 day workshop on how you can hone an effective engagement strategy along with a special session led by our friends at the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP).

On July 31, Public Agenda’s Matt Leighninger and Nicole Cabral will:

  • Provide an overview of the strengths and limitations of public engagement today;
  • Help you assess the strengths and weaknesses of public engagement in your community;
  • Explore potential benefits of more sustained forms of participation;
  • Demonstrate a mix of small group and large group discussions, interactive exercises, case studies and practical application exercises

On Aug 1, during Session 1, we’ll focus more squarely on options and next steps that participants can take in their communities. These sessions will help participants to:

  • Develop skills for planning stronger engagement systems;
  • List existing community assets that can be instrumental for sustained engagement;
  • Anticipate common challenges to planning for stronger systems;
  • Develop an initial set of next steps to pursue.

During the afternoon session of August 1, PBP will present “Steering Committees 101: Centering community experience & expertise.”

This PBP session is part of PBP’s first-ever Summer Implementation Institute hosted by the North American Participatory Budgeting Network, consisting of 4 modules. The in-person session in New York City is preceded by three online webinars. Each module focuses on a particular phase of participatory budgeting (PB) starting with the PB vote and working backwards through proposal development, idea collection, and building a PB process with community leaders. Along with registering for this in-person session, you can RSVP for the three webinars from PBP here.

The in-person session in New York City is focused on building and sustaining effective community leadership in democratic processes. Here, leaders in community engagement will come together to share experiences, discuss pain points, and solve challenges. This session stems from an asset-based approach to community leadership within PB and beyond. Although focused on PB, this session is applicable to all public engagement practices centered in community experience and expertise.

You can find the original announcement on Public Agenda’s website at www.publicagenda.org/pages/workshop-public-engagement-strategy-in-new-york-city.

NACRJ 2017: Moving RJ from Margins to Center

Last month, the NCDD team had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the 6th Annual National Conference on Community and Restorative Justice in downtown Oakland, CA. The conference was hosted by the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice (NACRJ) and Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY). A whopping 1,300 attendees gathered for the event – which was almost double the attendance from their 2015 conference!

The theme, “Moving Restorative Justice from Margins to Center: We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For” set a powerful energy that carried through the three days we attended. There were three pre-conference training sessions held the day before on June 15th to deepen experience around implementing RJ in schools, utilizing an equity lens for RJ practice, and holistic health for RJ practitioners. The conference included beautiful cultural performances, powerful keynote speakers and plenary sessions, almost 300 presentations, an awards ceremony, and even a concert with Dead Prez.

NCDD staff Courtney, Roshan, and I presented a session on Healing Racial Divides and Addressing Community-Police Relations through Dialogue & Deliberation. In the session, we shared about the NCDD network and the important work being done around bridging racial and community-police divides. Since we were at a conference with RJ practitioners and enthusiasts, we also wanted to tap the knowledge that was in the room. We asked session participants what advice they had to offer people wanting to do police-community and cross-race dialogues. We heard valuable feedback regarding participation, ways to engage, and best practices to consider. Below are some of the large group report-outs:

  • Meet people where they are at, and be authentic. When people are in conflict or upset with you (as law enforcement), listen to what they have to say without your particular lens, and respect them for that without your personal opinion or bias, or institutional opinion or bias.
  • How do we get police to work with us? Form better relationships – engage with schools, young people, community orgs, etc.
  • There is a difference between human-to-human interaction, and police-to-community dialogue where officers can hold humility in the room.
  • There needs to be coordinated community responses – how to engage police, build policies, police being approachable and part of the community, make connections, etc.

There’s more detailed information that participants shared us and we’ve uploaded these notes gathered during the NCDD session, which can be found at https://tinyurl.com/ncddnacrj.

For more information on the overall conference, keep your eye on the NACRJ’s site here for recordings, interviews, and photos. You can also check out the hashtag #NACRJ2017 on Twitter for more photos, quotes, and participant experiences!

Planning for the 7th Annual NACRJ Conference is already underway! Save the date for the next conference in Denver, CO – June 2019!

Lifting the Discourse Beyond the Political Circus

In these challenging times, it is imperative now more than ever to work towards #BridgingOurDivides instead of the current state of political toxicity and mud slinging. Which is why we wanted to share this piece written by David Nevins, President of the Bridge Alliance – an NCDD organizational member – who recently wrote the aptly-named blog piece about the terrible state of politics in the US. In the article, Nevins states how in order to fix our broken political system, we must hold ourselves and our leaders to a higher standard of civic engagement and accountability.

We encourage you to read the blog article below or find the original on the Bridge Alliance site here.


The Political Circus

In 2012 before the previous presidential election I wrote an article entitled, “The Political Circus”.

At that time I said:

“The suffocating partisanship that most Americans abhor will surely be on display for all to witness in the coming election season. The accusations and innuendos, the misinformation and vilifying of one party by the other will be the typical tactics and game plan employed by those on the left and those on the right.”

Unfortunately things have gotten much worse in five years. The vicious ‘winning-is-all’ climate, the ‘meant-to-mislead’ rhetoric, the extreme and polarizing factions along with the sheer lack of decency are tethering our nation to a new low.

As we watch the behaviors of so many of our leaders today posturing against each other with twisted facts and vitriolic disdain, solely to WIN the sacred trust of the electorate, we ought to be asking ourselves, “Is this particular behavior having the effect of raising or lowering the level of discourse and understanding between and among us as citizens?”

As the president of a cross-partisan organization called the Bridge Alliance, we support organizations working to build new solutions to fix a broken political system. These organizations are working to deliver on America’s promise of government by and for the people.

It is time for us to realize that we the people are as much to blame for this unacceptable behavior as the politicians. It is important to call out all behavior that is inappropriate whether from our President or from members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation.

This is something that all Americans should and must agree upon.

More and more we are separated in our own silos, communicating only with those who share our opinions, embracing information that supports our beliefs, to ignore or distort evidence contrary to our beliefs. Although understandable, this tendency can blind us from the facts and the truth.

As Americans it is time for us to see through the charade and step up to the plate and support leaders who want something better. The political circus will continue to be flagrantly displayed unless citizens of our country demand something better.

It will not be easy. We must demand that our leaders resist the natural inclination to focus on who’s right and who’s wrong or who wins and who loses. Instead, we must seek to better understand thoughts, beliefs and viewpoints that differ from our own, even fundamentally. This can give rise to new insights, greater awareness, and generate otherwise undetected solutions and remedies to stalemated problems and issues.

Our national challenges and problems are earnest, urgent, and serious. They are worthy of being debated in a manner consistent with our great history and heritage. Politicians, just like the rest of us, respond to incentives. It is imperative that incentives be developed and implemented that encourage productive dialogue and promote responsible decision-making.

It is up to us. The time is now.

We must raise our awareness, so we are all less susceptible to the common fallacy tactics operating both on the right and the left. If we choose to focus on what the issues are and how they can best be solved as we sift through the barrage of exaggeration, innuendo, and half-truths pressing into the political fray, we will find ourselves closer to the truth and to each other more than we can imagine.

The 80 organizations of the Bridge Alliance are organizing a real and rising movement to transform the political terrain beyond partisanship through the collective voice and actions of our members. We put country before personal or political interest and ask our friends, neighbors, colleagues, competitors, and elected officials to do the same. We develop and share best practices with others, regardless of the side of the aisle on which they sit. We provide essential infrastructure and investment for our member organizations to collaborate, connect on the projects that further our shared goals, and generate collective impact far greater than any one group could make on their own.

We must require a higher standard from our elected officials. A new paradigm of politics; one based on civil political discourse, critical thinking, and personal accountability can and should be demanded by the electorate of its leadership, and the time to do so is now.

You can find the original version of this Bridge Alliance blog article at www.bridgealliance.us/the_political_circus.

DDPE Graduate Certificate Offers NCDD Member Discount

We are pleased to share that the Dialogue, Deliberation, and Public Engagement (DDPE) Graduate Certificate program at Kansas State University will offer NCDD members a 10% discount! [Fun fact: the price of your annual NCDD membership pays for itself with JUST this discount and there are so many more benefits!] The DDPE program is an opportunity to strengthen skills and understanding around theory and practice of leading groups in collaborative decision-making. The deadline for registration is August 21st, so make sure you register ASAP before it’s too late. Please feel free to contact Timothy J. Shaffer, PhD at tjshaffer[at]ksu[dot]edu with any questions.

You can learn more about the K-State DDPE program below or find the original on KSU’s site here.


Dialogue, Deliberation, and Public Engagement Graduate Certificate

Designed to be a transformative experience for graduate students and professionals, this program covers the practice and theory of leading groups through collaborative decision-making. Through a series of four courses, students will learn:

  • approaches to participatory planning and collaborative decision-making that are supported by sound scholarship
  • communication and leadership skills for designing and leading productive meetings
  • dialogic practices for developing and maintaining constructive working relationships and managing conflict
  • proven frameworks selecting or designing engagement processes for organizations, stakeholders, or whole communities
  • a wide range of tools and techniques for engaging small and large groups to address conflicts, explore alternatives and inform policy
  • principles and practices that move groups toward sustainable action that changes lives

Courses are presented in a hybrid format, with some offered completely online and others having face to face interaction. Students will interact regularly with each other and leaders in the field, who serve as collaborating guest faculty. A capstone engagement project concludes the certificate. Recognized as one of the most valued parts of the program, it provides opportunities for coached practice with faculty and seasoned practitioners.

Students in the program may pursue a 12-hour graduate certificate by enrolling in the courses for credit. The DDPE program is also designed for individuals who desire noncredit professional development instead of academic credit.

Noncredit Registration Information
The information below is intended for those who do not wish to receive academic credit for DDPE courses. Program fees do not cover potential travel costs associated with the face-to-face components of the Process Models and Capstone Experience courses. A 10 percent discount is available for National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation members. Registrants who do not have a Kansas State University eID will be required to obtain one after registering for the program. Instructions for requesting an eID will be provided in the registration confirmation email.

Full program fee: $3,800.00

Individual course fees (courses must be taken in sequence):

  • Theoretical Foundations (online): $1,000
  • Process Models (online and face to face): $1,000
  • Core Skills and Strategies (online): $1,000
  • Capstone Experience (online and face to face): $1,000

REGISTER NOW

For questions about registering for noncredit, please contact the Conferences and Noncredit Programs registration office at 785-532-5569 or 800-432-8222. Business hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CDT Monday through Friday.

Careers in Dialogue, Deliberation, and Public Engagement
The DDPE prepares graduate students and professionals to better serve communities through effective facilitation, communication, and leadership. Those in the following careers will be well-served by the program:

– city managers
– mediators
– Extension professionals
– community and organizational development specialists
– conflict resolution professionals
– county and city planners
– public servants
– elected officials

Accreditation
Kansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

The graduate certificate in Dialogue, Deliberation, and Public Engagement is offered through the Department of Communication Studies in the K-State College of Arts and Sciences.

Informed by the growing field of academic research dedicated to improving public deliberation, this practice-oriented certificate answers a demand from practitioners for an in-depth, graduate-level treatment of public engagement. The longstanding noncredit version of the program was created collaboratively with the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, the Kettering Foundation, the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy, University of Western Sydney, and the Public Dialogue Consortium. Designed and championed by the late Barnett Pearce, the program has an international alumni base representing the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Denmark, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia and Haiti.

The original version of the DDPE program information at http://global.k-state.edu/artsci/ddpe/.

Everyday Democracy Announces New Local Anchor Partner

We are inspired to see long-standing dialogue efforts continue to grow and wanted to lift up this blog piece that NCDD member org, Everyday Democracy, shared recently announcing their new anchor partner with Community Partners. The local Florida organization has been using EvDem’s Dialogue-to-Change program for the last 16 years to address issues in Palm Beach County. Anchor partners work closely with EvDem to co-create and support efforts to build capacity for a Dialogue-to-Change program in their communities. To learn more about Evdem’s anchor program and how to become a partner, click here.

We encourage you to read more on EvDem’s blog below or find the original here.


One Community’s Journey From a Small Local Dialogue to Becoming a National Partner

EvDem LogoFor the last 16 years, residents in Palm Beach County, Fla., have been using Everyday Democracy’s Dialogue-to-Change process to work on issues of race, early childhood education, and building strong neighborhoods.

Not only have they done great work in West Palm Beach and surrounding communities— Housing Partnership, Inc (dba Community Partners) is now one of Everyday Democracy’s anchor partners. Anchor partners help Everyday Democracy carry out our work on a larger scale then we could alone, sharing a strong commitment to dialogue, engagement and racial equity, and committing to share knowledge and work together.

Community Partners first used Dialogue-to-Change to address an issue in their community in 2002. In Belle Glade, Fla., a young black man was found hanging from a tree. Residents were split along racial lines – white residents believed it was a suicide and black residents believed he was hanged. The court ultimately deemed it a suicide, but that didn’t resolve the tension in the community surrounding this tragic event.

In addition to becoming an anchor partner, Community Partners has since grown to more than 10 ongoing projects across the county. Everyday Democracy and Community Partners were among several presenters to train organizers from around the country in authentic community dialogue and engagement, and inform them about our anchor partner program, at NeighborWorks America’s Community Building and Engagement annual meeting in May.

Back in 2002, Barbara Cheives had already organized and trained facilitators for other dialogues in the area as the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Toward a More Perfect Union, and was called in to do some racial reconciliation work. She used our Dialogue-to-Change process to engage small groups in a structured dialogue process that let participants share stories and build trust.

She recalled one night after the dialogues seeing an older white gentleman from a sugar cane family and a black woman talking to each other long after the dialogues had ended. They were exploring each other’s point of views and what they saw in the streets of the towns they grew up in. That was just one of many bridges that were built from the dialogue-to-change program.

“I’ve seen real change, real discussion, and real action,” said Cheives.

Another participant in the race dialogues was a white male president of a national bank. After talking with other residents and seeing different perspectives, he noticed his own staff wasn’t very diverse. He immediately started taking action to hire candidates from many backgrounds, and that spread throughout the bank.

“The beauty of dialogue group is there’s no winning. It’s not a debate – we just have to listen to each other and come out with an action that works for the whole,” said Cheives.

In 2010, Palm Beach County residents joined across the county to discuss early childhood development, organized by a local organization called BRIDGES.

“We went into communities that have long been disenfranchised and they’re worried about food, safety, etc. – not necessarily getting their kids ready for kindergarten,” recalls Jaime-Lee Brown, Vice President of Community Services with Community Partners, one of the early organizers for the dialogues. “But everybody cares about their children. If we start with that conversation, then we can keep them engaged.”

Some of the actions that came out of that dialogue-to-change effort were kindergarten readiness toolkits and “kindergarten roundup” day where parents sat through a day of kindergarten so they could prepare their kids for the upcoming school year.

This led to dialogues and actions around building strong neighborhoods, which they are still working on today.

“What has really worked is to make sure that residents are gaining a voice, working toward a power balance, and engaging as a peer instead of speaking for the group,” says Brown.

Public engagement isn’t always easy, but it’s a necessary part of making communities work for everyone.

Some challenges organizers often face when engaging community members include: burnout, people are too busy, follow-up, and no new people attend meetings or events.

So how do we truly engage a community in decision-making?

Palm Beach County residents have put into practice the values Everyday Democracy looks for in anchor partners: commitment to relationships, incorporating an equity lens into the work, building local capacity for the community dialogue process, and creating sustainable change.

Everyday Democracy is looking for more local organizations interested in becoming anchor partners. Everyday Democracy helps to build the capacity of anchor partners to embed the work in their local communities and amplify the impact of our coaching and Dialogue-to-Change process, making sure everyone can have a voice and role in their community.

Learn more about Everyday Democracy’s anchor network, including how to become an anchor, or contact Valeriano Ramos at vramos[at]everyday-democracy[dot]org.

You can find the original version of this Everyday Democracy blog piece at www.everyday-democracy.org/news/one-community%E2%80%99s-journey-small-local-dialogue-becoming-national-partner.

Stories and Reflections from Elevate Engagement

Last month, I had the great pleasure of attending Elevate Engagement, a conference hosted by the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon and organized in partnership with NCDD member organization Journalism That Matters.

Over 130 participants took part in this conference, including many journalists, some engagement practitioners (NCDD member orgs the Jefferson Center and Healthy Democracy among them), activists, and others. Organizers used Open Space, World Cafe, Pro-Action Cafe, and other engagement techniques to discuss the question, “How do we elevate engagement for communities to thrive?”

Over the course of the four days, I heard a whole host of stories of journalists making efforts and succeeding in creating more quality engagement with the communities they serve. A couple examples I recommend checking out include:

  • The Evergrey organized a trip and conversation between King County, WA voters (who voted 74% for Clinton in 2016) and Sherman County, OR voters (who voted 74% for Trump).
  • Spaceship Media and the Alabama Media Group brought together women who voted for Trump in Alabama with women who voted for Clinton in California for an online dialogue on a variety of political issues.
  • KPCC, Southern California Public Radio, launched “Unheard LA – the stories of where you live,” a community-driven storytelling series that featured community members sharing their experiences in various formats (music, poetry, etc.). They also went a step further and shared what they learned when they stopped talking and started listening.

These are just a couple stories, out of many inspiring ones I heard in my time attending the conference. I found it noteworthy that some of these efforts incorporated good dialogue and facilitation practices, whether or not the journalists were knowledgable of these practices (some were, some were not). I also noted that for others, there was a strong desire to do more, but a sense of struggle or an uphill battle to achieve this kind of level of engagement.

Some of the challenges I heard were that this kind of quality engagement can take time, which does not always fit the realities of the newsroom. Others noted the need for additional resources, in terms of staff, time, and money to carry out more quality engagement. And for others, it really boiled down to finding good models and good partners to be able to engage communities which have traditionally been hurt and/or unheard by journalists and media outlets. The desire to be able to reconcile with communities who have been shut out, misrepresented, or harmed by media was a strong theme throughout the conference.

My own biggest takeaway was that journalists have a strong desire and sense of mission to build better engagement, but that many also think they need to take it on alone. I was joined by other NCDDers in sharing the message that our network has a wealth of skills, models, and experience for engagement, and that many (if not all!) of us are willing partners for journalists in these efforts. NCDD intends to continue our conversation with Journalism That Matters about this and to find further opportunities to connect journalists and engagement practitioners. Working together can help both of our fields achieve our goals and, more importantly, raise the voices of the people across our country.

For more information, check out the Elevate Engagement website where you can learn more about the conference and check out session notes. You may also want to take a look through #PDXengage17 on Twitter to catch videos, quotes, and other participant thoughts.

Addressing the Problem of Separation through Dialogue

In these divided times, we wanted to share an encouraging piece that NCDD member organization Public Agenda recently posted on their blog. It summarizes insights gained from focus groups PA convened which demonstrated something our field knows – when people from different perspectives engage in dialogue, they realize they aren’t so different or separate after all. We encourage you to read PA’s piece below or find the original version here.


What Discussing Polarizing Topics Like Inequality Exposes

After a divisive election season we continue to see stark evidence of polarization and conflict in our society. But also – and this is less frequently reported on – we see a desire to bridge gaps and find common ground.

Polarization is about more than simply holding differing or even opposing views. These days, it is also about how people with a certain view are, by choice or circumstance, increasingly isolated from those who think differently. The interaction of diverse views is valuable, but the trend of increasing separation of and decreasing interaction between those who hold opposing views is troubling and potentially consequential. The less we interact with those who think differently, the more hardened our views tend to become, and the more apt we are to vilify one another and rely on stereotypes, which in turn further divide us.

Such political polarization is on the rise. While this is much more extreme among political leaders, there are also troubling signs that it is becoming more true among the public. According to a 2014 Pew survey of over 10,000 Americans, Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in the past two decades. And, among those who hold “consistently liberal” or “consistently conservative” views, the majority of each group report that most of their close friends hold their same views.

However, it is important to not gloss over the rest of the story. According to the same study:

These sentiments are not shared by all – or even most – Americans. The majority do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation. And more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.

And while those with more “consistently held” ideological views are more likely than others to say it is important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views, still only 28% of Americans overall say this is important to them. Growing numbers of Americans also say racial diversity in the United States is important to them: in another Pew survey from this month, 64% of Americans said an increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in the U.S. makes the country a better place to live, an increase from 56% who said so in August 2016.

When we convened groups of ideologically, racially, and socioeconomically diverse Americans in six large and small urban centers across the country to discuss the economy, inequality, and opportunity, people were clearly grateful for the exposure to different viewpoints and people.

Sitting in on each of these groups, I knew that the participants were a diverse yet accurate cross-section of their surrounding community. I knew there were Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; wealthy and unemployed people; and people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds sitting together at the table. Some of these differences were evident to our participants, others less so.

This meant that participants had many valuable moments of listening to, and learning from, people with very different backgrounds and experiences from their own. And it meant that when consensus emerged within the group, despite the diversity of views, it could be revelatory and important.

One example of learning from others’ experiences involved conversations about race and prejudice. In our Cincinnati group, there was an exchange about whether racial prejudice that limited people’s job prospects was more problematic than other forms of prejudice, such as gender or age discrimination. While there was no clear resolution to the discussion, white respondents were clearly deeply affected by the following story told by a black woman:

Female: My first name is [considered typically black], and I got out of my master’s program and I looked for a job for months, and months, and months…. I redid my résumé and instead of putting my full name, I just put my first initial, then my last name. Voilà.

Moderator: How do you feel about that?

Female: It’s sad. It’s sad. I personally named my daughter a white-sounding name so that in the future, when she gets old enough to get a job, she can get a job because her name sounds white.

Male: Wow.

Female: I considered that when I named her. It’s sad.

Cincinnati-area resident; in her 30s; black; upper-income; Democrat

In our follow-up interviews with respondents several days after the group, a number of people said this story stayed with them, including two white males. To me, it seemed that if they had not been brought together for this research focus group, they might not have ever had such exposure to an experience like the one this woman shared.

A good example of the importance of finding consensus also came from a participant in our Cincinnati group, who was surprised to find he had common ground with another participant who was different from him on numerous counts:

Now, you know, she’s a young African American female and I’m a more senior white male and she’s working and I’m retired, and we still came out thinking the same way. I think that’s kinda cool. That doesn’t mean her and I were right or wrong it just means we thought the same on that. I tend to be a conservative person and this made me think other ways, you know, whether I agreed or not but it made me come up with other ways to look at things. And I liked that.

Cincinnati-area resident; in his 70s; white; upper-income; Republican

Diversity of viewpoints and experience is not the problem we are faced with, but rather the separation we have between those who hold those different views and have had those different experiences, and the lack of ways to bring people of differing views together to gain perspective from one another. You can read more about these focus groups and the conversations between participants in the research report, The Fix We’re In.

You can find the original version of this Public Agenda blog piece at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/what-discussing-polarizing-topics-like-inequality-exposes.

Key Lessons on Community-Police Relations from APV2017

Last week, NCDD member orgs the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute hosted the 2017 “A Public Voice” forum that convened D&D practitioners with congressionl staff to talk about how to improve community-police relations. For those of you who couldn’t tune in to the livestream of the event, we wanted to share this insightful write up of the event’s highlights from our friends at Everyday Democracy below. We encourage you to read their piece below or find the original here. And if you’d like to watch the whole 90-minute recording of APV 2017, you can find links to it here.


A Public Voice 2017: Safety & Justice

EvDem LogoHighly-publicized police shootings, especially of unarmed black boys and men, have highlighted a national crisis of public safety and justice. These devastations lead us to ask how we can reduce crime as well as police violence, and how we can balance security and liberty. The National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) recently published a Safety & Justice guide and is moderating forums throughout the country to help people grapple with these issues and work towards solutions.

“A Public Voice,” the Kettering Foundation and NIFI’s “annual exploration of public thinking on key issues,” held on May 9 in Washington, D.C., provided the opportunity for Kettering to share with policymakers their insights from the 150 Safety & Justice forums held so far. Senior Associate Leslie King represented Everyday Democracy.

In his opening address, David Mathews, President of the Kettering Foundation, declared “There is no one in this city, no matter how important they are, that can answer questions of judgement – we have to do that.” He characterized the event as part of the work to bridge divides between the people and the government of America.

At tabletop discussions, NIFI moderators, deliberative practitioners, Congressional staffers and federal officials discussed how people are thinking and talking about issues of safety and justice. Those watching the livestream of the event had the chance to listen in to one of those discussions. Read on for insights from the conversation.

A policing perspective

“We in policing have to demystify policing,” one participant remarked, and went on to describe a 70 year-old woman who only just learned about the concept of community policing after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown. Part of demystifying the profession, according to him, requires acknowledging when someone has done wrong – otherwise, he said, the public assumes what police are thinking.

Talking about Safety & Justice leads to conversations about, and capacity to address, other issues

Leslie King pointed out that in dialogues about community-police relations, participants invariably end up talking about related issues such as employment, housing, and education. Having dialogues and organizing around community-police relations, she added, ends up building community capacity to deal with other issues. Community members realize they have agency and that government officials can’t simply dictate solutions.

People want to address root causes

In an online Safety & Justice forum, a representative from Kettering shared that the most-agreed-upon point was the need to invest more in education in communities with high rates of crime. He saw this as evidence of people’s desire to address root causes of violence and crime.

Gail Kitch, who serves on the NIFI’s board, reported on common themes from the initial Safety & Justice forums. These included:

  • People feel we urgently need to increase understanding and mutual respect between police and people of color. Popular suggestions for achieving this included police making connections with youth, and police going through cultural and racial bias trainings.
  • Participants took responsibility for the issue. Many identified community building and improving relationships within the community as tools to reduce crime.
  • Many expressed the belief that it is unsustainable for police to deal with mental illness and drug-related issues.
  • People expressed a desire to address root problems such as unemployment, poverty, and inequality.

In closing, Mathews described Kettering’s work as “awakening the capacities of people to deliberate with one another.” He left participants and viewers with a challenge he called daunting, but not hopeless: “to build on what grows” – a quote he credited to J. Herman Blake. Every person has the capacity for good judgement, he said — the job of people in the deliberative field, then, must be to nurture that ability.

You can find the original version of this Everyday Democracy blog post at www.everyday-democracy.org/news/public-voice-2017-safety-justice.

Navigating a Polarized Landscape with Our Nonpartisan Credentials Intact

In the post-2016 election landscape where talk of “threats to democracy” abounds, many organizations focused on deliberative democracy and public engagement, including NCDD, have had to relearn not only how to balance participating in public conversation about issues that didn’t used to seem partisan before, but how to do so while maintaining our nonpartisan stances and not violating our organizational or personal values. It’s not easy, which is why we appreciated NCDD member org Healthy Democracy‘s recent piece that offers solid advice for how to evaluate and maintain our nonpartisan nature in this fraught new environment. We highly recommend you read their piece below or find the original here.


Nonpartisan Hygiene: 6 Tips to Stay Squeaky Clean

We find ourselves in a political moment where significant sectors of the country warn of existential threats to our democracy. This began before the 2016 election, but it has since reached a fever pitch. Signals such as the Economist Intelligence Unit’s recent “downgrade” of the US from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” have added fuel to the fire. At Healthy Democracy, we do not take a position about whether these threats are real or not, though we spend a great deal of time trying to improve our democracy.

Nonpartisan “Positions”

As a nonpartisan organization, we cannot take a position that would turn off members of any political or demographic group. This is because we rely on our reputation as unbiased process experts when working with citizens from across the political spectrum. Additionally, we don’t take positions on issues that might come before a Citizens Initiative Review panel, including the proposals of our peers in the elections reform space.

In some ways, this makes it easy for us to choose the issues on which we take a public position (pretty much nothing), but when “threats to our democracy” come up, and considering our name is Healthy Democracy, what do we do? Do we retweet a statement praising a free press? Or is publicly expressing support for a free press now viewed as a partisan act?

We can make these decisions ad hoc, but we risk inconsistency, or worse: letting our personal perspectives and biases sway our decisions. We realized that Healthy Democracy needed to do some thinking. Some nonpartisan hygiene, if you will, to get our internal activities and the external communication of our work squarely in our nonpartisan ethos.

As a result of our analysis, we humbly share some “nonpartisan hygiene” tips that may come in handy to other organizations in this space, including bipartisan political organizations, nonpartisan think tanks, newsrooms, and professional organizations. Government scientists and policy thinkers may find this helpful, as well. This is written with nonpartisan nonprofits in mind, but please take from it anything that is helpful to your organization’s needs.

What we lose when we’re not scrupulously nonpartisan

There is an idea that floats around nonpartisan and social good organizations that we have “nonpartisan capital” that builds up when an organization is nonpartisan for a long time. The theory goes that we can spend this capital in little bits when it’s worth it, for example when a politician does something particularly egregious, or when a policy is implemented that violates our ethics. I speculate that this thinking is dangerous and flawed. Being nonpartisan is an all-or-nothing proposition when it comes to public perception. This is part of why nonpartisan spaces are precious and scarce.

Additionally, that perceived “nonpartisan capital” should not be mistaken for influence or power. Even if we accept the idea of nonpartisan capital, we cannot reliably mete it out, spending only enough to “make a difference” without trashing our reputation. In fact, we risk throwing away our most precious resource if we view it, incorrectly, as something can be given away in metered chunks.

6 Tips to Stay Squeaky Clean and Effective

1. Reassess your internal and external values. Most nonprofits have a set of values articulated in their strategic plan. These are typically things like transparency, service, and inclusion. Often, these are internal values about how the organization runs itself, or they are a mix of internal and external values. Take transparency, for instance. This is a laudable internal value, and many nonpartisan nonprofits list it among their core values. But if a politician or public figure does something that violates that value, should the organization publicly condemn it? Probably only if transparency is a core external value, such as the fictional nonpartisan group, Americans for Transparent Government.

Do the same exercise with service and inclusion and you can see how this can get tricky if you don’t have a clear sense of your organization’s internal versus external values. Spend some time clarifying internal and external values in a board meeting, retreat, staff meeting, or chat. If you are starting from scratch naming external values, start with your mission and think about what you need to do to keep credibility in your space. Your communications team should be well-apprised of these values, since they are on the front lines of selecting the media with which the organization affiliates and interacts.

2. Shore up your nonpartisan bonafides among your staff, board, and partners. The simplest way to get nonpartisan credibility is to have actual political diversity on your staff, even if you don’t publicly identify your political affiliations. Not only will this increase your organization’s credibility, it will make you better at your work.

If you have trouble attracting staff from one side of political spectrum, examine that! If you can’t easily hire to bring more political diversity onto your staff, consider affiliating with a thoughtful person who brings a different political orientation and is willing to consult now and again. If you have a question about whether a particular activity or position would be viewed as overtly partisan, get their take on it. This can reveal blind spots and save your bacon. And there is really no reason not to have a board that reflects political – and other – diversity.

3. Play out scenarios, both commonplace and extreme. In your retreat, staff meeting, or chat, start with your external values and play out some scenarios that would challenge them. Consider everything from the commonplace (“Should we retweet this?”) to the extreme (“What if we were asked to do our program on a policy that offends our values?”). In our version of this conversation, we asked ourselves whether we would agree to deliver a Citizens’ Initiative Review on a fictional ballot measure. The fictional measure would require members of a particular religious faith to register with the state government. This kind of policy deeply offends our personal values, and would be an “extreme” scenario.

We talked through the pitfalls: would our participation lend legitimacy to an unconscionable policy? Would we run the risk of becoming tainted by affiliating ourselves with the public conversation about the measure? We decided, somewhat to our surprise, that we would do it; we would deliver a citizen review of the measure. But only if we were sure it could be done in a fair and unbiased way, as with every measure we review. The legitimacy question is moot; the measure is already on the fictional ballot. Our participation would simply allow the voters of that state to shine a light on the measure, and that’s a good thing. You really have to believe in your programs in a case like this. Thankfully, we do.

4. Invite external evaluations of partisanship and effectiveness. Be transparent about the results, and make changes in response to critical feedback. Take advantage of university researchers who will fund themselves to research your work! Think of this like ripping off a band-aid. If you get spotless evaluations the first time, great, but you probably won’t. Be transparent about your efforts to improve non-partisanship and you’ll reap greater effectiveness and rewards.

We’re proud that every Citizens’ Initiative Review has been evaluated by independent university researchers, and we owe a great deal our credibility as a deliverer of fair and unbiased processes to those evaluation results. This is worth its weight in gold. If you can’t find a university researcher, at least partner occasionally with an external auditor of your programs to shore up your internal evaluation methods and get a reality check on how well you’re doing.

5. Be uncompromising in your affiliations. Hold partners to a high standard of nonpartisanship and rigor. If your work calls for you to affiliate with partisan groups, seek a balance. Don’t work with anyone who doesn’t evaluate their work, or who misrepresents themselves as nonpartisan when they’re not scrupulously so.

6. Hold the nonpartisan space. Nonpartisan spaces are scarce and valuable. There are many actors in the advocacy space. Let them do their jobs, and let us do ours.

You can find the original version of this Healthy Democracy blog piece at www.healthydemocracy.org/blog/nonpartisan.

Envisioning What We Can Do Together in NCDD

The NCDD network has been finding new ways to address the deep divisions in our world. Most recently, following the 2016 Presidential election, we’ve found our work to be more critical than ever. Our network has been thinking a lot about #BridgingOurDivides, and we think now is the time to get excited about what we can do together!

XS Purple NCDD logoThe Opportunities We See

Recently, NCDD has been working with the American Library Association on their newest project, Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change. This project brings training on numerous D&D methods to librarians eager to learn how they can apply them in their communities. And boy, are librarians eager! We’ve had at least 500 librarians participate in the project to date. This provides an exciting opportunity to introduce librarians to NCDD members, and NCDD’s hope is to expand this effort to include more direct connections between libraries and our members. These libraries will need some guidance and support as they get started with these community engagement efforts – and what better support system than NCDD members!

Our Confab Calls have been focused on new opportunities to connect and collaborate to bridge divides. Recent calls have featured Not In Our Town, which works with communities to address issues of hate and intolerance, and Journalism That Matters, bringing together journalists and public engagement practitioners to explore areas for collaboration. These are just the start of conversations about ways we can align our work to help our communities engage in dialogue on the issues important to them.

NCDD has also been talking with new folks and organizations about opportunities to connect to and tap into our membership. Information on new opportunities are coming soon from the 92nd Street Y’s Ben Franklin Circles, The Chisel, and others for our network to work with, connect to, and collaborate!

Finding new avenues for collaboration, whether with libraries, journalists, or other organizations and sectors is essential to expanding and sustaining the work of bringing people together across traditional lines to make decisions on the issues that affect them. We’re excited for what’s to come, new opportunities, and ways we can continue to help bridge the divides in our communities and nation.

Stay in the Loop!

Make sure you don’t miss out on these opportunities – be sure to join,  renew, or upgrade your membership in NCDD to stay in the loop! NCDD members hear about new events and work opportunities first and get access to special opportunities! Plus, being a member of NCDD gets you a seat at our table – our membership is at the heart of NCDD, and we consult and work with our membership to create programming, explore collaborations, and more!

If you’re currently a non-dues-paying member, the last day to upgrade your membership before the new changes to membership benefits take full effect is June 15th. Don’t keep waiting! We want you to continue to be a part of the future of NCDD and the dialogue & deliberation field, so join usrenew, or upgrade your membership today!