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.

NCDD Orgs Respond on How to Save American Democracy

As we grapple with a quickly changing political environment, many are struggling with the current state of American democracy and what are the best steps to repair our damaged system. Over the course of the year, several writers have expressed their beliefs that the way to improve our political system is to reduce public participation and increase political intermediaries/institutions.

In a direct response to these viewpoints, NCDD member org Healthy Democracy, recently published the article on their blog, Actually, More Public Participation Can Save American Democracy, which can be found here. The Deliberative Democracy Consortium, also a NCDD member org, wrote an immediate follow-up piece inviting the dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement community to respond to these claims and the writers themselves. For information on how to send your responses, read the DDC’s article on their blog here.

The article from Healthy Democracy can be found below or read the original on their blog here.


Actually, More Public Participation Can Save American Democracy

Lee Drutman of the New America Foundation, writing on Vox.com’s Polyarchy blog, makes a bold statement: more public participation isn’t the answer to our political woes because the reasonable, civically-minded voter is a myth. This is the latest in a trend of articles analyzing American politics and the role of citizens, beginning with Jonathan Rauch’s sprawling analysis for the Atlantic of our political system and its populist weaknesses.

Fortunately, Mr. Drutman’s analysis is narrowly focused and should not discourage those of us who have broader imaginations about democracy and the power of an active citizenry. Public participation is not limited to voting for or against representative policymakers, as Drutman asserts. Rather, civic life is a rich ecosystem of opportunities to participate in our grand experiment in self-governance. The individual voter is the building block of democracy. Civically-minded wise Americans exist across the land, and they are doing good, important work in their communities.

Drutman’s article relies on a series of assumptions that are, at the very least, not the whole picture. They are based largely on assumptions that Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes make in their recent Brookings paper advocating for an increased role of political intermediaries and a decrease in direct democracy. In their world, participation in politics is limited to the election of representatives; the sole result of a citizen exerting their political wisdom is to vote out politicians who prioritize interest groups over the people; and, finally, making politicians serve the people is the end goal of public participation. But in reality, citizenship and public participation encompass a wide array of powers and responsibilities. To be clear, I don’t take issue with the negative impacts of unbridled, reactive populism. Rather, I see clearly the vast and largely untapped potential of democratic wisdom at the citizen level.

The mythical citizen

Drutman articulates others’ assertion that there is a mythical wise citizen who will save our democracy by influencing politicians to serve the people. This citizen is “moderate, reasonable, and civic-minded” and if given more power would compel politicians to behave differently. It would indeed be naïve to assume that this magic citizen would influence American society so greatly that they could change the fundamental behavior of politicians. In that way, the author’s objection to this mythical citizen is easy to make.

And I agree that waiting for a perfectly reasonable, moderate, and civically minded voter to fix our Republic is a flawed strategy. Thankfully for all of us, public participation is much broader, deeper, and more creative than that. The various mechanisms of public participation build civic literacy, increase citizen power through knowledge and interaction with our political systems, and build bridging social capital among disparate groups. There are positive downstream impacts on our local, state, and national communities that come from citizens engaging in their communities in a meaningful way.

Drutman also addresses the role of political intermediaries. These intermediaries, which he defines as “politicians, parties, and interest groups” are the people who help people recognize what their interests are through cues. But this group is depressingly limited, and strikingly partisan. It ignores faith leaders, universities, media, community groups, advisory groups, citizens’ juries, and local government engagement folks. These groups, many of which are nonpartisan, provide moral leadership, knowledge, and granular information about voter interests that Drutman’s definition of intermediaries ignores.

The power of regular citizens

Drutman’s article forecloses the citizen’s ability to participate in democracy in ways that consider tradeoffs and the long-term view. There is a glimpse of possibility in his discussion of hybrid systems, citing Rauch and Wittes’s assertion that ““better decisions” come when specialist and professional judgment occurs “in combination with public judgment.” Unfortunately, Drutman rejects the concept by conjecturing that hybrid systems are not possible because they would not have a clear person who is “in charge” and holding the power. In fact, the entire field of democratic deliberation is devoted to creating hybrid systems that connect citizens with policy experts and allow them the time, space, and information to carefully consider policy choices.

Of course, power is held both formally and informally, and differently depending on the situation. In a classic representative system, elected policymakers have the ultimate power, and they can gather input in various forms. There are also stakeholder processes where groups can be given very strong recommending power, to the point where it would be politically infeasible to reject their advice. There is also direct empowerment of citizens, such as through ballot initiatives and referenda, where a majority vote of the people makes policy. Drutman’s claim that “voters are not policymakers” is simply not true in states, cities, and counties with direct democracy.

Creative solutions

In all of these cases, there are opportunities to merge technical expertise with citizen participation. The example with which I most familiar is the Citizens’ Initiative Review. This process, which was developed by Healthy Democracy, is a hybrid system in which a microcosm of representative citizens (reasonable, moderate, and civic-minded, by the way) examines a ballot measure. They draw upon the arguments of partisan intermediates (advocates for and against the measure) and the input of independent policy experts. Their goal is to provide to their fellow voters a clear statement that outlines the key facts about a ballot measure as well as the best arguments on each side.

The result of public participation in the Citizens’ Initiative Review is an artifact that can be used by voters to make civic-minded decisions when participating in direct democracy. The knowledge that a group of fellow citizens spent four days sorting through the issue on their behalf is an inspiring service, one that can compel not only the people in the room but those who read their statement and appreciate the service to be more civic-minded and engaged in their own lives.

Research by scholars in the political science, communication, and government fields affirms that the Citizens’ Initiative Review process is democratic, deliberative, and unbiased. Their analyses find that Citizens’ Statements are highly accurate and are a reliable source of information for voters. They also find that voters actually do use the statement when casting their ballots, and that voters who read the statement have more knowledge and are more confident in their knowledge.

This piece is not intended to be an advertisement for the Citizens’ Initiative Review, but the fact is that reforms like it are rare and most folks do not have the opportunity to witness these processes and their results. In our unique position as a deliverer of these reforms, we see the extraordinary transformation that regular people undergo when called to serve their fellow voters in this way. The vast majority of citizen participants leave with a better understanding of democracy, political values, and policy analysis—not to mention a deeper understanding of the policy topic under study.

It should be noted that one reason these reforms are rare is because they disrupt the work of partisan intermediaries who would prefer to deliver information to voters through a lens that suits their own ends, often at the expense of accuracy. In a refrain familiar to many political observers, partisan intermediaries’ assessment of the value of nonpartisan intermediaries corresponds closely with how well the information produced via nonpartisan means supports their partisan ends.

Democracy starts–but does not end–with politics

You see, citizen participation takes many forms. And participating in democracy does not fit neatly in the world of policy and politics. It is a common lament recently that hyperpartisanship has led to two Americas, and that our problem is that we refuse to talk to one another. Well, the first step to breaking down hyperpartisanship is to personally know people with politics that oppose your own. Any action that builds bridging social capital (social capital across heterogeneous groups) is an act of democracy. Then, when our democratic systems are stressed, we can draw upon that social capital for resilience. If we can see the other side as people, and don’t demonize, dehumanize, and disregard them based on partisan cues, we can stay engaged in democracy with one another.

In the close of his piece, Drutman calls on us to abandon the search for the mythical average citizen and seek an alternative. Since the author fails to articulate an alternative, I offer one here: let us expand our understanding of public participation to include the multitude of civic actions that add value to our democracy.

We can start in the realm of policymaking and politics with deliberative democracy. Well-designed deliberative processes (see the National Issues Forums, citizens juries, and the Citizens’ Initiative Review, among others) give voters a structured container to consult experts, consider tradeoffs, and deliberate the merits, consequences, and underlying values of policy choices. These processes take time, patience, and resources, but it is a worthwhile investment in the health of our democracy.

Let’s also work to build social capital through community work. A bank of social capital can give us the tools and relationships to better consider policy tradeoffs and impacts to our communities in the future. Additionally, an expanded conception of public participation gives voters opportunities to grow into more civically literate people. Not only can they better understand and act on their interests, they will be more likely to consider political problems creatively if they choose to enter representative politics. These kinds of programs are all around us. See Community Oregon, our experiment in building statewide urban-rural social capital in the state of Oregon, as well as other organizations that bring different types of people together to build connections across differences (e.g. Everyday Democracy, The Village Square, and many others).

The mythical citizen is all around us. She sings in a choir, volunteers her time, helps her neighbor with homework, and teaches her grandchild about the branches of government. She is doing democracy in her everyday life. She is serving her fellow citizens. She is our Plan B.

You can find the original version of this Healthy Democracy blog article at: https://healthydemocracy.org/blog/2017/06/13/actually-more-public-participation-can-save-american-democracy/

To respond to this article via the Deliberative Democracy Consortium blog, click here: http://deliberative-democracy.net/2017/06/15/we-invite-you-to-respond/

Save the Date for David Mathew Center’s 2017 Civic Institute

The NCDD member organization, David Mathews Center for Civic Life announced the date for their upcoming 2017 Civic Institute on August 18. The 2017 Civic Institute is a day-long opportunity to meet with fellow civic engagement enthusiasts and practitioners to explore the future of Alabama. Participants choose one of three event tracks to delve into deeper during Civic Institute, which are: building civic infrastructure, renewing civic education, and creating civic media. This event will also serve as the official launch of the three year forum series, What’s Next, Alabama? which will be an opportunity for Alabamians to envision the future of their communities. We encourage you to read more about the 2017 Civic Institute in the announcement from David Mathews Center below or find the original version here.


2017 Civic Institute – Save the Date: August 18, 2017

The 2017 Civic Institute is your chance to connect with civic-minded change-makers and thought leaders from across Alabama in a dialogue on our state’s past, present, and future. From the morning panel discussion on the “geography of economic prosperity” in rural and urban communities, to the keynote address by Dr. David Mathews, (President and CEO of the Kettering Foundation), the day will be packed with engaging speakers and interactive sessions centered around some of the most profound issues we encounter as Alabamians.

Participants are able to choose among three different learning tracks for the day, including: building civic infrastructure, renewing civic education, and creating civic media. Each track includes a deliberative forum in the morning, as well as an interactive workshop in the afternoon–all in addition to the panel discussion and keynote address, which will be delivered over lunch!

With our state’s bicentennial on the horizon, we believe that the Civic Institute is the perfect event to collectively ponder the power of our citizens and our communities to build the kind of Alabama they want to call home. To this extent, the Civic Institute will serve as the official, statewide launch of the DMC’s newest forum series, aptly titled, What’s Next, Alabama?

This series is a three-year endeavor, focused on what economic prosperity means in different communities across our state. The series will conclude in 2019, coinciding with Alabama’s bicentennial celebrations, and will frame the conversation about our future, even as we celebrate our past.

2017 Civic Institute Learning Tracks:

Building Civic Infrastructure:
This learning track is tailor-made for those wanting to engage their own communities in dialogue and deliberation around important local issues. The morning forum is an abridged “What’s Next, Alabama?” forum, entitled, “The State We’re In.” This will be a deliberative experience in which participants will ask, “where are we now” as a state? What is the story of Alabama at the start of the 21st century? How far have we come? How far do we have to go? Instead of focusing on the assets and challenges of a single locale, this forum will give participants the opportunity to embrace a statewide perspective in order to reimagine the productive potential of what binds us together collectively, and what sets us apart from each other idiosyncratically.

The afternoon workshop, “Building Civic Infrastructure,” will equip participants with the tools necessary to engage their own community in dialogue and deliberation. From naming and framing local issues, to convening and moderating forums, participants will receive a crash course in the building of a meaningful and durable civic infrastructure capable of supporting and sustaining a robust public life for its citizens. The aim of the workshop is to give participants everything they need to bring “What’s Next, Alabama?” forums to their own communities.

Renewing Civic Education:
This track is perfect for educators, government officials, and anyone else interested in transforming the idea of civic engagement into real action. This learning track begins with a deliberative forum on the state of civic education (and education more broadly) in Alabama. With renewed interest in civic education statewide, this forum will be an opportunity to discuss what civic education could and should look like beyond the classroom. How do we get young people to be active citizens in their own communities? How can we create synergy between the classroom and the community? Is there a curricular way to achieve this, or should we also broaden our own understanding of youth engagement to include students and young people playing an active role in local government? These are some of the questions that will frame the morning discussion.

The afternoon workshop, “Community as Classroom: Equipping Youth for Civic Leadership” will give attendees a chance to connect with–and learn from–local elected officials from all over the state that are breaking new ground when it comes to young people playing an active role in their communities. Participants will hear from local elected officials about how they are working side by side with youth to confront the epidemic of brain-drain, retain the young talent they have in their communities, and propel that next generation into civic leadership roles.

Creating Civic Media:
This track is ideal for those interested in the fields of media, journalism, art, technology, and public life. To begin, attendees will participate in a group discussion entitled, “Flipping the Script: A Dialogue on Media, Representation, and the Role of Alabama in the National Imagination.” This dialogue is meant to elucidate ideas about the role that our state plays–willingly or unwillingly–on the national stage. We will discuss the production of “Alabama” as an archetype in traditional media and popular culture, before being introduced to emergent forms of media that serve to disrupt the conventional representations of Alabama as a monolith. This dialogue will lead naturally into the afternoon workshop, where participants will get a hands-on primer into actually creating civic media that defies typification and demands nuance.

The afternoon workshop, “Creating Civic Media: Provoking Thought, Inviting Action” is a crash course in solutions-oriented journalism and restorative narratives, aimed at creating connections among citizens and journalists to bridge the gap between statewide or national media outlets and local stories that often go unnoticed. Participants will learn best practices for crafting an op-ed piece for their local newspaper, or for a larger outlet. This workshop will teach participants how to take a local story from abstract idea to published piece. This is your chance to connect with other journalists, writers, and active citizens to tell your community’s story, reframe the narrative, and flip the script.

You can find the original announcement from David Mathews Center at: www.eventbrite.com/e/2017-civic-institute-tickets-33344668802

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.

NCDD Members Win Big in Bridge Alliance Grant Competition

In case you missed it, we wanted to highlight the fact the a total of nine different NCDD member organizations were awarded grants as part of first round of the Bridge Alliance‘s Collective Impact competition. We think having so many NCDD members win grants in a competition aimed at helping transpartisan groups “to better collaborate on ways to fix political processes on the local, state, and national levels” is a huge testament to the powerful work that our network does. We invite you to join us in congratulating Bring it to the TableDavenport Institute, Essential Partners, Healthy Democracy, Institute for Local GovernmentLiving Room Conversations, National Institute for Civil DiscoursePublic Agenda, Village Square, and all of the other winners!
You can learn more in the Bridge Alliance’s announcement below (we’ve marked the NCDD member orgs with an asterisk) or find the original here.


The Bridge Alliance Collective Impact $500,000 Grant First-Round Projects, March 2017

Recognizing that organizations cannot effectively bridge the broad political divide alone, the Bridge Alliance is awarding up to $1 million in Collective Impact grants in 2017 to enable our member organizations to better collaborate on ways to fix political processes on the local, state and national levels. We are pleased to announce today the awarding of more than $525,000 in inaugural grants, to be shared by two dozen Bridge Alliance member organizations.

These joint projects will help members implement and test innovative approaches in our Alliance’s three core areas: expanding civic engagement and participation; improving governance; and reforming campaign and election processes. The programs are designed to generate tools, ideas and best practices for all Bridge Alliance members to use and to multiply the impact of each group’s work.

Additional grants will be awarded later this year, financed in partnership with Invest American Fund and others.

GOVERNANCE 

  • Improve the workings of state legislatures nationwide bybringingtogether legislators from across the country to study how to talk with others with opposing views and how to reach policy decisions without or with minimum acrimony.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: National Institute for Civil Discourse*; State Legislative Leaders Foundation; National Foundation of Women Legislators.  Grant amount: $50,000 in two phases.

  • Make local government meetings and decision making more effective by distributing a toolkit to make public meetings more productive and guide how people inside and outside of local government perceive and communicate with each other.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Public Agenda*; Cities of Service; Institute of Local Government*. Grant amount: $45,000

CIVIC PARTICIPATION & ENGAGEMENT

  • Help people and groups find opposing forces who are willing to talk and stimulate dialogue between those of differing viewpoints by creating an online “matchmaking site” to help divergent Bridge Association members and others find each other for open conversations on difficult issues.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: AllSides, Living Room Conversations*, Digital Citizen. Grant amount: $65,000

  • Find out if voters can make better-informed decisions on initiatives and referenda, by expanding and testing new Citizen Initiative Review Panels’ voter information guides in a California demonstration project.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Public Agenda*, Davenport Institute*, Healthy Democracy*. Grant amount: $60,000

  • Enable open conversation between leaders and groups with diverging views, with a test project in Utah to train civil discourse facilitators who will lead and teach others how to find common ground for discussion.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Essential Partners*, Living Room Conversations*, Village Square*. Grant amount: $45,000

  • Improve government decision making and civic participation by better informing people of government procedures, successes and roadblocks, by creating, testing and distributing a new series of radio, TV and webcasts.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: AllSides, Living Room Conversations*, Bring it to the Table*, Coffee Party. Grant amount: $38,000

  • >Harness the power of social media to showcase positive acts of governing instead of just the negative, through research, tests and the participation of social media experts and companies

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Civil Politics, Living Room Conversations*, Village Square*. Grant amount: $25,000

  • Create a new model for Americans of different backgrounds and beliefs to come together in face-to-face conversations, with social media tools and guidelines to allow all Bridge Member groups, other organizations, and individuals to organize powerful “circles” and moderated dinners for cross-party dialogue and civil debate.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: 92Y, Village Square*. Grant amount: $90,000 in two phases

CAMPAIGNS AND ELECTIONS

  • Educate voters where new election processes are in place or under consideration, such as open primaries and ranked choice voting.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Fair Vote, Open Primaries, Reconsider Media, Independent Voter Project. Grant amount: $35,000

  • Encourage and enable more people to run for public office, with social and other media outreach to potential candidates and the public at large, to foster a more representative, responsive, and functional government.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Centrist Project, Independent Voting.org, Represent.Us. Grant amount: $60,000

You can find the original version of this Bridge Alliance announcement at http://www.bridgealliance.us/collective_impact1.

NCDD Launches New Membership Structure to Strengthen D&D Field

We live in critical times. Dialogue, deliberation, and a commitment to effective public engagement methods are crucial to helping bridge the increasingly bitter partisan, racial, religious, and socioeconomic divides in our society.Small green NCDD logo

NCDD is committed to improving discourse and decision-making through better engagement by providing our members with the latest news, tools, and resources in D&D. But there is also a great need to do even more, and that means that NCDD must keep itself sustainable in order to help our community do this important work together.

In order to do that, NCDD is rolling out some adjustments to our membership structure.

What’s Changing?

The main and most necessary adjustment to our structure is that – effective immediately – we will no longer have a non-dues membership level, so in order to continue getting all the benefits of NCDD membership, our non-dues members will need to upgrade to a dues-paying membership level (individual, student, or organizational) by June 15th.

As always, NCDD will continue to offer some critical services and resources to anyone who is interested in D&D – for instance, our Resource Center and News Blog, our main Discussion List, and most of our online events will remain free and open to the public. But soon we will be making many of our services and other special opportunities – like updates about jobs in the field, access to the archived recordings of our Confab Call and Tech Tuesday events, the Emerging Leaders listserv, and more – direct benefits of membership.

This is a necessary step to ensure that NCDD is here to support our members for years to come. For a complete list of member benefits, please visit ncdd.org/join.

In order to streamline the process for everyone, we’re also making it easier to become a member by:

  • Offering a new monthly dues option in addition to our normal yearly dues plan,
  • Offering the option to auto-renew your dues via credit card,
  • And adding a sliding-scale for organizational members.

These are just some of the changes we’re making to our membership structure, and you can read up on the full list
of changes at ncdd.org/join.

We encourage our members and our broader community to review the options and make the commitment to continue advancing this work by joining, renewing, or upgrading your membership. Our current members will have until June 15th to ensure their dues are in good standing before any changes to their status will occur. For more information on these changes, see our Frequently Asked Questions.

Strengthening the Network for the Future

It will take strong commitments and collaborative efforts across our network to make the impact we wish to see in our communities and nation. NCDD continues to be committed to helping our network and our field strengthen its work and explore new areas for collaboration.

Together there is no end to what we can accomplish. And as we continue our efforts to address the deep divides in our communities and to improve civil discourse and decision-making, we hope you will consider recommitting to the work of NCDD or joining us for the first time by renewing your NCDD membership or becoming a member.

NCDD’s staff is honored to be able to support such an incredible network of people, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with you on this important work!

D&D Partnerships with Libraries Can Change Communities

As we hope you’ve heard, NCDD is partnering with the American Library Association to build the capacity of local library staff across the country to host and support dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement gatherings. We know these kinds of D&D-library collaborations can have huge impacts on issues facing any given community, and today we wanted to share a few great examples of what it can look like. NCDD member organization Common Knowledge published the piece below on three library-based dialogues they hosted, and we encourage you to read it below or find the original here.
Have you partnered with a local library? We’d love to hear how it went and what you learned – tell us about it in the comments section!


We Learned it at the Library

Common Knowledge was originally founded to put a more inclusive “public” in public participation. Over the years, we’ve grown to see it’s equally important to put more “unity” in community.

At Common Knowledge, we’ve designed hundreds of programs and trainings that bring people together to listen together and learn together. This cumulative experience leads us to one powerful conclusion: greater inclusion leads to greater innovation. And much of what we’ve learned has resulted from projects based in California public libraries. Libraries today are uniquely positioned to be the neutral “safe space” for inclusive community conversations that let people connect as humans and learn about what is possible when we listen and learn together.

Our cumulative experience leads us to one powerful conclusion: greater inclusion leads to greater innovation.

Here are three examples of library-based dialogues that sparked meaningful outcomes:

Engaging new voters

The “average” voter has higher education and higher income than the U.S. population as a whole. The Key to Community Project worked to close this education gap by inviting adult students to help design their own program for engaging with civic issues and voting. They started by inviting fellow students to help choose topics they were interested in and co-facilitated dialogues on topics such as jobs, criminal justice and education. These discussions led to significant shifts in perspectives, as one student told me: “My whole world opened up.” Thinking went from “it’s too overwhelming and I don’t have a say” to “hey, we could do something about this. At least I can start by voting.”

The discussions created increased demand for fun, hands-on voting workshops, also facilitated by the adult students. The Key to Community Project also led to the creation of the popular Easy Voter Guide, published for each statewide election in five languages, used over the years by 60 newspapers and thousands of organizations and libraries across the state. Ultimately, though, it was these real, personal and engaged dialogues on topics that the community identified that stimulated the most dramatic increases in voter engagement, including a doubling of turnout among audiences least likely to vote.

Bridging social divides

There’s been a lot of publicity and inflamed public commentary about the tech workforce displacing longer-term residents in the Bay Area. Two years ago, a focus group at the San Francisco Public Library invited tech workers and low-income residents to talk together about the challenges of living in San Francisco. Because the discussion was framed as a human-to-human conversation between equals rather than a polarized debate between “haves” and “have-nots,” participants empathized with each other and came to see that they were all struggling with some aspect of the changing city.

The opportunity to trade stories is powerful. Some of the low-income participants were surprised to discover that the young tech employees were having difficulty affording rent too. One tech worker shared that he camps out at least three nights a month so he can rent his apartment on Airbnb to make extra income. That was his solution to making ends meet. One of the participants who lives in a single room occupancy hotel responded: “Geez, at least I know where I’m going to sleep every night.”

The point of the focus group was not to reach a conclusion or solution about the city’s changing demographics. In the spirit of non-partisan community connections, the session led to a later partnership with library literacy students helping local leaders working in the field of civic tech. Together they tested a “co-discovery” process that puts direct contact with city residents at the heart of civic tech development projects.

Making it safe to talk about housing

Outside of the formal policy-making process, the Novato Public Library provided a “safe” space for community members to come together, share their experiences with housing issues, and learn about the current state of housing and transportation in their county. The attendees included a mix of ages and professions: a nurse, teacher, insurance broker, dog walker, health manager, administrative assistant and others. Their commonality is that they were not organized advocates who already had a strong point of view.

When they were invited to help pilot the “What’s Next Marin?” dialogue, a few expressed concerns based on past dialogues they had attended. “Will I need to wear a flak jacket?” one asked. By the end of the evening, however, the group confirmed that it was “informative” and “gave them hope.” They had a better understanding of how everyone was experiencing current conditions and identified some areas of common ground. They discovered more options for things they themselves could do to help the situation along with ways to get involved in the policy process. They thanked the facilitators for making this “a different kind of meeting.” That pilot launched additional forums at other branches, including a recent session specifically for young adults 21–29.

This fall Common Knowledge is pleased to be piloting Libraries Lead the Way, a comprehensive project-based Community Engagement and Facilitation Skills Training program, with public libraries across Northern California. We will keep you posted about the great examples of local leadership and what else we are learning at the library. And we invite you to support public libraries’ efforts to create and sustain community connections.

You can find the original version of this Common Knowledge blog post at www.ckgroup.org/we-learned-it-at-the-library.

Introducing NCDD’s New Board Members

As many in our network know, NCDD had a major transition on our Board at the beginning of this year. On January 1st, we were excited to have four new leaders from the field join our Board, and at the same time, we said goodbye four of our outgoing Board members.

The outgoing Board members – Barb Simonetti, Marla Crocket, Diane Miller, and John Backman – all worked tirelessly over the last six years to help steward NCDD through important transitions in our organization and guide our work to new heights. We can’t thank the four of them enough for all of the hard work they put in over the years, and if they weren’t all term limited, we would have kept them on forever! But thankfully, none of these incredible leaders will be going far, and you can expect them to remain regular parts of the NCDD network.

But as Barb, Marla, Diane, and John step off the Board, we couldn’t be more excited to be welcoming on four amazing new additions! These new Board members will be joining our remaining Board members – Martín Carcasson and Susan Stuart Clark – in helping provide vision and leadership for NCDD and our field more broadly, and we wanted to officially introduce them to our network! We encourage you to join us in thanking them for taking on these new roles and to learn a bit more about them below.

The New Members of the NCDD Board of Directors

Simone Talma Flowers

Simone Talma Flowers is the Executive Director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT), whose mission is to cultivate peace and respect through interfaith dialogue, service and celebration. Simone Talma Flowers brings over 26 years of extensive experience in non-profit management.

Simone promotes a culture of high performance, support and collaboration. She advances the mission of the organization by bringing people of diverse faiths, cultures and backgrounds together, to break down the barriers that divide us. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion and believes everyone should have access to opportunities, so they can live up to their fullest potential. Simone has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration from St. Edward’s University.

Jacob Hess

Jacob Hess is the author of 14 peer reviewed articles exploring contrasting health and socio-political narratives and has (co)authored three books: You’re Not  as Crazy as I Thought, But You’re Still WrongOnce Upon a Time… He Wasn’t Feeling It Anymoreand A Third Space: Proposing Another Way Forward in the LGBT/Religious Conservative Impasse (Disagreement Practice, Treasonous Friendship & Trustworthy Rivalry in the Face of Irreconcilable Difference). His work with Phil Neisser at State University of New York has been featured on This American Life and was also recognized by Public Conversations Project (Essential Partners). Jacob enjoys being a part of Living Room Conversations and the Village Square – and is grateful for a chance to serve NCDD, as an organization he has loved for many years.

Betty Knighton

Betty Knighton is the director of the West Virginia Center for Civic Life, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes public dialogue on issues that affect the quality of life in West Virginia. A primary focus of her work has been building a network for civic engagement in the state through collaborative partnerships with educational, civic, faith-based, and governmental organizations. Through the Center, she works with West Virginia communities to develop balanced frameworks for local issues, to convene and moderate community discussions, and to develop processes to move from dialogue to action.

Wendy Willis

Wendy Willis is the Executive Director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium , a global network of major organizations and leading scholars working in the field of deliberation and public engagement. Wendy is also the Founder and Director of Oregon’s Kitchen Table, a program of the National Policy Consensus Center at Portland State University. Wendy is also a widely published poet and essayist, writing often on issues of public life. She is also the former Executive Director of the City Club of Portland and has served as an Assistant Public Defender for the District of Oregon and law clerk to Chief Justice Wallace P. Carson, Jr. of the Oregon Supreme Court. Wendy graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown Law Center and holds an M.F.A. from Pacific Lutheran University and a B.A. from Willamette University. Her next book, A Long Late Pledge, is due out in September.

We are so pleased to be working with this amazing new class of Board members and hope that you will join us in honoring their commitments to playing such key leadership roles in our field! You can learn more about all of NCDD’s Board and staff by visiting www.ncdd.org/contact.

Deepening D&D’s Impact by Connecting Politicians to Theorists through Practitioners

We recently came across an article that frames a key issue in our field so well that we had to share it. The piece is by Lucy Parry, a researcher with NCDD member org Participedia, and Wendy Russell of the Canberra Center for Deliberative Democracy, both of whom are contributors for The Policy Space blog. In it, they describe the gaps and similarities between D&D theorists and practitioners, and the power of their synergy. They propose that in order for our field to influence policy outcomes and ultimately help our democratic systems become more deliberative, we have to connect politicians and elected officials meaningfully to our field’s theoretical grounding, and that D&D practitioners might be the right bridge for that connection.
What do you think? How should D&D theorists and practitioners work together? How should they not? We encourage you to read the excerpt below from the Lucy’s great piece and read the full version here.


Bridging the Gap: why deliberative democracy needs theorists and practitioners to work together

…[O]ne of the obstacles for successful use of deliberative approaches is the challenge of bringing the normative ideals of deliberative democratic theory – what it should look like and what functions it should serve – to the reality of political decision-making contexts. This raises a potential ‘gap’ between deliberative academics and practitioners, given the constraints of translating normative theory into workable political reality….

In general, practitioners work at the coalface, adapting to political constraints and timeframes, and doing what works in these contexts. Researchers tend to stand back, describe how best practice should look, and critique attempts to achieve it. In bringing a critical eye they play an important function, but collaboration between theory and practice is clearly important…

In some ways, practitioners of deliberative democracy are uniquely placed at the interface between theory and policy worlds and can act as mediators between the two. On the one hand, they work within the constraints of policymaking, familiar with the day-to-day rigmarole. On the other, they have the most experience of real-life deliberative democracy: they see it, they do it. Practitioners know what deliberative processes can achieve, in empowering citizens and improving the quality and legitimacy of political decisions. They also know how deliberative approaches can fail.

It is arguably the case that despite the different work that theorists and practitioners do, they park their cars in the same garage; sharing a commitment to enhancing inclusiveness and public reasoning in political decision-making. What’s more, practitioners are uniquely placed to bridge a much wider gulf: between theorists and policymakers….

We encourage you to read the full original version by Lucy Parry and Wendy Russell of The Policy Space at www.thepolicyspace.com.au/2016/17/125-bridging-the-gap-why-deliberative-democracy-needs-theorists-and-practitioners-to-work-together.

Participate in DC-Area Moderator Training for Higher Ed

We encourage our DC-area NCDD members in higher ed – students, faculty, and staff – to consider attending a training for deliberative dialogue moderators this April 29. The training is hosted by the American Democracy ProjectThe Democracy Commitment and the Kettering Foundation in preparation for the 2017 Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement meeting on June 9 in Baltimore, which we also encourage our NCDD higher ed folks to attend. You can read more in ADP’s announcement below or find the original version here.


Deliberative Dialogue Moderator Training Workshop in Washington, DC

AASCU’s American Democracy Project and The Democracy Commitment, in partnership with the Kettering Foundation, are proud to announce a special professional development opportunity for area students, faculty, and staff interested in a moderator training for deliberative dialogues.

We will be hosting a Deliberative Dialogue Moderator Training Workshop on Saturday, April 29, 2017, from 10am – 2pm at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), 1307 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005.

Hosts:

  • Jennifer Domagal-Goldman, American Democracy Project National Manager, AASCU
  • Verdis LeVar Robinson, National Director, The Democracy Commitment

Trainers:

  • John R. Dedrick, Vice President and Program Director, Kettering Foundation
  • Kara Lindaman, Professor of Political Science/Public Administration, Winona State University (Minn.)
  • William Muse, President Emeritus, National Issues Forum Institute
  • John J. Theis, Director of the Center For Civic Engagement, Lone Star College (TX)

Democratic dialogue and deliberation build civic capacities and consciences to tackle the highly salient and most complex wicked problems facing communities today. It rejects the expert model of technical expertise and specialization towards a truly democratic framework of accessibility and empowerment.

The practice of dialogue and deliberation cultivates student abilities necessary to explore enduring and multidisciplinary questions and solve persistent public problems. Thus, the capacities necessary for productive and meaningful dialogue and deliberation – critical thinking, empathic listening, creative problem solving, ethical leadership, collaboration, issue framing – are not only essential for sustaining a vibrant democracy, they are the best preparation for our students/citizens/graduates to be successful in the 21st century.

This training will guarantee your eligibility to be a moderator at our 2017 Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (CLDE) meeting’s Dialogue and Deliberation Plenary Session: ” Safety and Justice: How Should Communities Reduce Violence?” on Friday, June 9, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Please join us for this free training by registering HERE by Friday, March 31, 2017.  Lunch will be provided. Click here for the tentative agenda.

For questions and more information, please contact Verdis L. Robinson at robinsonv@aascu.org or (202) 476-4656.

You can find the original version of this announcement from The Democracy Committment at www.thedemocracycommitment.org/deliberative-dialogue-moderator-training-workshop-washington-dc.