Strengthening the Bridge of Civic Engagement

As the field continues to grow and address the deep divides in our country, we wanted to share this thoughtful piece written by NCDD member, Ashley Trim, Executive Director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. In the piece, she talks about how building and bridging civic engagement in this country is very similar to building actual bridges. She writes that for a long term solution to be able to support the community, both sides of the bridge need to meet in the middle in order to function. We encourage you to read the piece in the post below or find the original on the New America blog here.


Building Bridges from Both Sides

This blog is part of the civic engagement blog series released in tandem with the “Building Civic Capacity in a Time of Democratic Crisis” white paper. To read the rest of the series, click here.

Today, we face an interesting political challenge, not just in our legislation, but in how we address the strength and capacity of our civic processes. It has become clear that our country must consider more than just physical infrastructure to truly address the nation’s durability, endurance, and stability.

However, infrastructure and architecture can offer useful sources of inspiration.

The arch-style bridge is one of the most ancient, used in the aqueducts of Rome and in designs from the present day. Building these bridges has become more efficient with modern technology, but the original design is still so commonly relied on because of its natural strength. However, it must be built from both sides. It bears tremendous weight across chasms, but only when both sides meet in alignment. What a beautiful picture of what renewed civic engagement must look like here in the United States!

In June, we welcomed an extraordinary group of men and women to Pepperdine’s beautiful Malibu campus for a deep dive into public engagement. The cohort were majority city government professionals. And one thing was clear: They were eager to build their civic muscles.

“This is how you build a civic engagement bridge from both sides,” I thought as I listened to their struggles, insights and enthusiasm throughout the three-day course.

Too often on both the right and the left, community organizing models have taken a combative approach to engagement between the people and the government – drafting demands, recruiting or band-wagoning behind outsider candidates, developing “tactics” and “strategies.”

Instead of building an arch, we seem to dig the chasms that divide us deeper and wider.

This blog highlights a number of ways that civic entrepreneurs such as Participatory Budgeting’s Maria Hadden, New York City’s Regina Schwartz, and the City of Baltimore’s Rev. Kimberley Lagree are offering new models of engagement. In my near-decade of working with local governments to improve public engagement practices, I can attest that a growing number of local government staff and elected officials at home and abroad are also looking to bridge the divide. For them, however, using this ancient approach can be done with some new, innovative strategies:

Rethinking Relationships

Following the great scientific advances of the 19th and 20th centuries, educators began to apply scientific methods to other fields: professional schools of public administration were established to turn out experts who would analyze the problems facing communities and implement solutions accordingly.

Then the 21st century arrived with a revolution in communications technology, an economic recession and recovery, and increased diversity of every kind in communities across the country. With its questions of culture and community, this new context proved too complex for the expert analysis model of simply solving issues from a scientific approach. Many local government practitioners are now seeking a new model that sees government less as a problem identifier and solver, and more as a convener and facilitator of difficult and rewarding conversations about the appropriate responsibilities of the whole community in creating and delivering a vision for the future.

Experimenting with New Processes

If you’ve ever seen an episode of NBC’s Parks and Rec you may recognize the traditional engagement process. An elected body on a dais, staff flanking them with notebooks or computers, a nearly empty council chamber or auditorium. Everyone gets 3 or 5 minutes at the microphone. The decks are easily stacked. The local government has done its legal duty and everyone goes home. Rarely is a heart or mind (or even a policy) substantively changed.

Over the past decade, more and more city governments have started looking at new ways of engaging residents – from participatory budgeting to pop up engagement stations to online platforms. Many are realizing that true engagement comes not when residents feel heard, but when they are heard; when government poses the right questions and is open to creative answers. True engagement also involves residents talking to each other. Only when this happens are community members invited into the hard work of governance, made aware of competing priorities and stories that may not parallel our own.

Prioritizing Inclusivity

City staff calls them the “usual suspects” — the same dozen residents that show up at every council meeting. They are predictably old and white, far from an accurate reflection of the population of most cities.

Across the country, cities are exploring ways to make engagement reflect the community. They know that inclusivity means more than not turning someone away at the door. It requires proactive efforts, often overcoming deeply-rooted mistrust. Some of the processes mentioned above are ways of breaking down barriers, as are offering materials in relevant language translations, orally or visually; holding meetings in different locations and at different times of day, partnering with cultural leaders, providing food and childcare. When they are honest, even cities on the cutting edge of public engagement know they have a long way to go, but they’re working on it.

Which leads to a final thought:

Building Strong Bridges is a Rickety Business

Building bridges is hard work. With arch bridges, the structure is only stable when the two sides finally come together. We could say the same for building engagement. As we build toward each other, we rely on support from a variety of sources: community leaders, thought leaders, individual citizens, champions within the government. Sometimes it may seem like all our efforts are going to holding up what little structure is currently in place. Our best efforts may feel rickety at best. But we must persevere through the unstable stage, until the spans meet in the middle. If we do so, we’ll create valuable infrastructure that can bear the weight of community long into the future.

You can read the original version of Ashley Trim’s piece on the New America blog at www.newamerica.org/political-reform/blog/building-bridges-both-sides/.

EvDem Host Intergenerational Webinar This Thurs. Nov 9

Our friends at Everyday Democracy – an NCDD member org – are hosting an intergenerational webinar this coming Thursday, November 9th from 12pm – 1pm Eastern/9am – 10am Pacific. The webinar will feature Families United for Education, who will share their experience on building an intergenerational network to address racial and educational inequities in Albuquerque.  We encourage you to register ASAP for this webinar! You can read the announcement below or find the original on Everyday Democracy’s blog here.


EvDem Logo

Intergenerational Equity Webinar: Spotlight on Families United for Education

Intergenerational equity is the practice of treating everyone justly regardless of age and considering the structural factors that privilege some age groups over others. We do this by building strong relationships and partnerships, sharing power across generations, creating mentorship and cross-generational learning opportunities, and making space for youth voice.

This webinar will explore best practices for building intergenerational equity in your work. Families United for Education will talk about their work building an intergenerational network to address racial inequities in Albuquerque schools. They will discuss their successes and challenges.

Join us for our intergenerational equity webinar on November 9th at 12pm ET.

What: Best practices for building intergenerational equity in your work, through the experiences of Families United for Education.

When: Thursday, November 9 at 12pm ET

Presenters:

Malana Rogers-Bursen, Program Associate for Everyday Democracy
Omkulthoom Musa Qassem, Leader for Families United for Education
Corrina Roche-Cross, Leader for Families United for Education
Tony Watkins, Leader for Families United for Education

Registration Link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1057858115539498753

Families United for Education:

Families United for Education (FUE) is a decentralized, self-organized network of approximately 500 families in Albuquerque, NM that formed in response to gross gaps in educational outcomes between white students and students of color. FUE successfully researched, wrote and advocated for a family engagement policy for Albuquerque Public Schools that passed the APS Board of Education in 2012. The research that went into the policy included dozens of one-on-one meetings, community forums, and small group meetings that uncovered the lived experiences of students and families in our schools. Thus, the policy that emerged reflects those lived experiences.

The policy calls for “utilizing the histories and cultures of our families as a foundation for education”, “safe and welcoming environments”, “building relationships and capacity”, “expanding communication”, and “equitable and effective systems.” FUE strives to model the elements of the policy with each other in our organizing efforts. Since the passage of the policy, FUE has continued its campaign for racial justice by organizing candidate forums for APS school board elections, and convening anti-racism trainings for school board and community members. Most recently, FUE successfully advocated for ethnic studies to be included in APS’s academic master plan, and organized anti-racism trainings for ethnic studies teachers, new board members, and APS administrators. We are currently advocating for authentic implementation of ethnic studies district-wide, K-12, and urging the District to develop rapid response protocols to address incidents of racism in our schools.

Omkulthoom Qassem is a Palestinian-Chicana graduate student at the University of New Mexico pursuing a degree in Educational Thought and Sociocultural Studies. She has been working in community based organizing and educational endeavors for the last few years and is particularly passionate about undoing-racism efforts, media literacy, identity development and multicultural education. She previously received her bachelor’s degrees in International Studies and Foreign Languages with a minor in Peace and Global Justice studies. Omkulthoom has been working with Families United for Education for about one year on facilitation, communication, and anti-racism projects. She is dedicated to FUE’s dedication to bridging the gap between policy development and community. She believes that community at all age levels should have a voice in the policy that guides and outlines the governmental education system of the community.

Tony Watkins is a 53 year old white man who moved to a border town of the Navajo Nation when he was eleven years old. He started out on anti-racism work resisting the use of a U.S. History textbook in his daughter’s high school. Since then, Tony has joined over 500 families in Albuquerque to research, write, and advocate for a family engagement policy for Albuquerque Public Schools. The policy passed the school board in August, 2012 after a lengthy organizing effort and is a reflection of the lived experiences of families in our schools. In addition to organizing with FUE, Tony sits on the Leadership Council of Within Our Lifetime, a national network dedicated to ending racism within our lifetimes.

Corrina Roche began organizing since middle school through Bikes Not Bombs, an organization that focuses on youth and transportation justice. Since, she has continued to work with community in various forms. Corrina is currently a senior at the University of New Mexico working toward a degree in dance with a concentration in Flamenco. She plans on also receiving her elementary education teaching license and has been engaging with and studying public education for the past few years. Corrina is has been a member of FUE for the past two years because she is passionate about providing quality education to students and engaging with schools that reflect and uplift the families, communities, and backgrounds of students. Through working with students, she has seen the damage racism has done to our public education system and is committed to advocating for students and their right to receive anti-racist, empowering, and creative education.

You can find the original version of this post on Everyday Democracy’s blog at www.everyday-democracy.org/news/intergenerational-equity-webinar-spotlight-families-united-education.

2017 Civvy Award Winners Announced

We are excited to share NCDD member org, the Bridge Alliance, recently announced the winners for the 2017 Civvy Awards! Congratulations to all the awardees and special shout-out to the fellow NCDD member orgs, New Hampshire Listens and National Institute for Civil Discourse! The American Civic Collaboration Awards (aka the Civvys), co-sponsored with Big Tent Nation, are the first ever national awards that honor individuals and organizations doing work around collective action to improve communities, beyond partisanship and divisive ideology. We invite you to join us in celebrating the winners of the Civvys and learn more about their important work in the post below or find the original on the Bridge Alliance’s blog here.


Announcing The 2017 Civvys Winners!

This last Friday at the National Conference on Citizenship the winners of The 2017 American Civic Collaboration Awards were announced!

New Hampshire Listens is a winner in the regional category for their work facilitating civil conversation in the state of New Hampshire on controversial public challenges. They also train others to facilitate such productive dialogues. Bruce Mallory and Michele Holt-Shannon have developed programs to elevate the state’s problem-solving capabilities, modeling a respectful and inclusive approach that many hope will be replicated nationwide. As the person who nominated them put it, “People feel relieved and respected when Bruce and Michele enter the room.”

Nationally, a partnership between the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, the National Institute for Civil Discourse and the National Foundation for Women Legislators has resulted in a new leadership program designed to deliver insight, inspiration and techniques to legislative leaders working to improve public policy discussion in their states. With NICD’s expertise in training community leaders and legislatures, SLLF’s success in providing state legislators with nonpartisan information and a forum for discussion, and NFWL’s work in empowering leaders, this partnership aims to replace gridlock with progress and criticism with compassion. In the words of their nominator, “since many of our federal leaders begIn their political service in state legislatures, success in this program will eventually improve our federal government.”

In the youth category, the Student Public Interest Research Groups from several college campuses were nominated for their work supporting voter education, voter registration and creating safe spaces for dialogue between students with diverse perspectives. Student PIRGs promote learning and understanding about a host of current issues, while providing a forum for students to become politically active and effective. As one elected official put it, “the work PIRGs do is vitally important in a democracy and serves as such a great role model as a set of engaged citizens so necessary to building effective public policy.”

Thank you to all those who submitted nominations and helped take part in recognizing organizations doing great collaborative work. A special thanks to our judges Peter Levine, Betsy Wright Hawkins and David Sawyer as well as our co-sponsor Big Tent Nation.

Here is to another year of innovation and collaboration!

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

NICD Explores Civility on Listen to America Tour

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

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


Seeking Civility: The ‘Listen To America’ Tour

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Tour Schedule 

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

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

Submit Your Proposals for the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference

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

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


Get involved with the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference

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

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

Join us! Purchase your tickets now at discounted rates.

Call for Proposals

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

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

Submissions close November 1, 2017.

We’re especially interested in proposals that:

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

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

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

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

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

Using Thick and Thin Engagement to Improve Politics

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


Fixing Politics by Strengthening Networks for Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The structural elements that support these activities can include:

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

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

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

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

Submit Your Nominations for the 2017 Civvys Awards

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

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


The 2017 Civvys American Civic Collaboration Awards

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

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

NOMINATION

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE CIVVYS

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

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

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

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

Distinguished review committee members include:

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

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

Join Call on Bridging Divides Using Civil Discourse

As part of our #BridgingOurDivides and desire to lift up this important work, we wanted to share this upcoming call with the Orton Family Foundation, which will feature practical tips on bridging divides using civil discourse. This free event on Sept 28th will feature long-time NCDD member Carolyn Lukensmeyer of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and Thom Harnett the mayor of Gardiner, Maine. We encourage you to read the post from Orton Family Foundation and register for the call below or read the original here.


Heart & Soul Talks: Bridge Divides with Discourse that’s Civil

Orton LogoTaking on controversial issues is a challenge that every community faces. How those issues are approached can make the difference between a community that thrives and one where divides erode a community’s vitality.

Join us for insight and practical ideas and tools for advancing civil discourse from nationally-recognized expert in the field, Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, and Thom Harnett, mayor of Gardiner, Maine, who has led the way in welcoming new residents, embracing the value they bring to the town, sometimes in the face of protest.

Speakers:

Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director, National Institute for Civil Discourse

As a leader in the field of deliberative democracy, Dr. Lukensmeyer works to restore our democracy to reflect the intended vision of our founding fathers. She previously served as Founder and President of AmericaSpeaks, an award-winning nonprofit organization that promoted nonpartisan initiatives to engage citizens and leaders through the development of innovative public policy tools and strategies.

Thom Harnett, mayor, Gardiner, Maine.

Thom, now serving his third term as mayor of Gardiner, Maine, recently retired from the state Office of the Attorney General where he had served as an assistant attorney general, and established Civil Rights Teams in more than 220 schools statewide. Thom was active in Gardiner’s Community Heart & Soul® project.

Fran Stoddard, moderator

A national award-winning producer of video programs, Fran produced and hosted Vermont Public Television’s weekly “Profile” interview program for more than a decade. She frequently serves as moderator for community events and has served on numerous non-profit boards.

This FREE event is 2-3 p.m. Eastern, Thursday, September 28. Can’t join us live? Register and we’ll send the call recording.

Heart & Soul Talks features stories and insight from Community Heart & Soul®, a community development model that builds stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant small cities and towns. Learn more at orton.org.

You can find the original version of this announcement at www.eventbrite.ca/e/heart-soul-talks-bridge-divides-with-discourse-thats-civil-registration-37129446173?aff=es2.

Opportunity to Facilitate Ben Franklin Circles

We are excited to announce that NCDD is working with New York’s 92nd Street Y to support, The Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), a project in collaboration with Citizen University and the Hoover Institution. BFC – an NCDD member org, could use some facilitation support and that’s where NCDD comes in –  we have an exciting opportunity for you!

The Circles are inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s junto or “mutual improvement club,” – a sort of civic engagement support group the founding father started and ran for over 40 years.  In this 21st Century reboot, small groups of people get together once a month to reflect on big themes that Franklin identified as key to living a good life and creating a good society – topics like Industry/Work; Justice; Moderation; Thrift/Frugality and more.  There are 13 total.  Participants are encouraged to think about how these principles impact their own lives and how they shape our society, using the conversations as a way to create empathy and strengthen community bonds. Read more about the Circles in our Resource Center.

Here is the opportunity: 92Y has created a platform and toolkit and is offering limited stipends for facilitators to help lead these conversations in their communities. Circles meet once a month for 13 months for about 90 minutes each session. Meetings can be scheduled based on the facilitator’s schedule. 

This is a great opportunity for you to utilize this model, connect with groups in your community, and get paid for your time as well! NCDD would love to see a whole bunch of you get involved with Circles across the country. It’s another great way we can work to strengthen community connections and help people bridge divides, at this particularly divisive time in our nation. And many of you have the networks with interest in these kinds of conversations!

If you are interested in this opportunity and would like to connect with organizers to learn more, please fill out this quick form here and they will contact you to discuss this opportunity further! 

For more information, please visit: benfranklincircles.org. You can follow BFC on Facebook, Instagram, and on Twitter at @BFCircles as well as the hashtag #BenFranklinCircles.

NCDD Org on the Need for a National Conversation

In such challenging times, we wanted to lift up the blog piece from NCDD member org Essential Partners on the urgent need for holding a national conversation to address our most pressing issues as a country, and what that conversation could look like on an individual level. The article calls for the deeper need to actually hold a national conversation and not just call for one; and then to show up for these conversations with the purpose of listening not just talking, being reflective not just reactionary. We encourage you to read the full piece below or you can find the original version on Essential Partners site here.


What Do You Mean When You Say ‘National Conversation?’

Did you read the recent article by Wesley Morris in the New York Times called “Why Calls for a National Conversation Are Futile?” I did, and though it resonated deeply, I found it troubling. Morris writes to shine a spotlight on the dangerous combination of our limited attention spans and historical amnesia when it comes to demanding a dialogue about a tough topic. Today, he argues, it seems that calling for a conversation is as good as having one. At the very least, it’s as good as absolving us of our accountability to actually engage across differences. After all, easier to call for a national conversation than to actually embark on the thorny, sometimes painful process of having one, committing to truly wrestle with the issues that matter, and about which we painfully disagree.

Morris is right in one sense. In the age of most public discourse happening over 140 characters, we are not in the age of listening he describes, in which the fabric of our civic life was regularly discussed, meaningfully, on mainstream media. He says “I miss everyday Americans opening up on daytime television.” So do we. But whether the voice comes from Oprah Winfrey or Bill Clinton in a reflection on race or a random Twitter user, it is still a single voice. And that’s where I think Morris’ definition of “conversation” falls short in what it imagines to be possible. No matter how empathetic Oprah and her program, his vision is of a platform better suited for public grandstanding rather than personal connection.

National conversations, be they about race or guns and public safety, are urgent. Media must be part of those conversations. But in today’s landscape, the burden of national conversation can’t land on the shoulders of the media. That’s not because the intentions aren’t good, or the leaders eager to make a difference. It’s because the missing ingredient he names – empathy – doesn’t just happen. Empathy happens when we truly listen to, and are heard by, people who are different from us. Culture shift around how we talk with each other about what matters requires more than tuning in; it requires the deep, careful work of showing up to a conversation ready not simply to share your story, but to listen to others whose words might hurt. More even than willingness, it requires a specific skillset in asking new questions that invite reflection and curiosity, in listening with resilience, in allowing a structure that grounds a conversation in experience. It’s easy to call that hard, human work futile, when it’s really challenging, intimate, and potentially exposing.

There are resources out there. Here at Public Conversations Project [now known as Essential Partners], we focus on equipping individuals and communities to have those essential conversations, and to build the capacity for addressing tough topics for the long haul. Morris is right – we need courageous conversations in our public life. But we also need to embrace a bold will to have those conversations at home, around our dinner tables and in our town halls.  We would welcome journalists to cover the stories when those conversations happen, not simply bemoan the widening divide when they don’t.

You can read the full article on Essential Partners site at www.whatisessential.org/blog/what-do-you-mean-when-you-say-national-conversation.