The Tonic to Heal our Ailing Democracy

It’s incredible how relevant this article still is on how to strengthen our weakened democracy, despite that some time has passed since it was published. Penned by Will Friedman, Executive Director of Public Agenda – an NCDD member org, he states that the tonic to remedy our ailing democracy is “not just more democracy, but better quality democracy”. As many communities around the country are going through their primaries, it is a vital time to practice this; as we all have roles to play in nursing our democracy back to good health. You can read the article below and was re-shared on the Deliberative Democracy Consortium‘s site here.


Fixing What Ails Democracy

What does it mean, this chaotic, disturbing, unpredictable electoral season? We’ll know more after the dust has settled, but we can’t afford to wait to make our best guess. We need a working theory to orient ourselves as we seek to minimize damage and prescribe a path that will move our democracy in a healthier direction.

One thesis has been powerfully articulated in an insightful and beautifully written essay by Andrew Sullivan for New York magazine. I agree with practically everything Sullivan had to say in this fascinating read — with the exception of his central thesis and conclusion!

Sullivan does not bury his lede — it’s all there in the title: “Democracies end when they are too democratic, and right now America is a breeding ground for tyranny.” His argument leads, ultimately, to a call for elites to assert themselves and save the people from themselves.

Yet it is the very non-responsiveness of elites to the needs and problems of great swaths of the public that is profoundly frustrating people in the first place. Asking political and economic elites to control rather than engage the public would only exacerbate that frustration.

In an analysis from the Rand Corporation, the factor best predicting support for Donald Trump was agreement with the statement, “people like me don’t have any say.”

Certainly elites have a role to play in fixing what’s broken in our public life, but if they assert themselves by disempowering people, they risk worsening the problem rather than solving it.

In a recent piece for The New York Times, Michael Lind counters Sullivan’s thesis, arguing for more democracy, not less. He describes the ways in which decisions that affect people’s lives are being made in increasingly distant and unapproachable ways:

Majorities need to be constrained when it comes to essential rights. But removing too many decisions from local to remote governments and from legislators answerable to voters to unelected judges, executive officials and treaty negotiators, is likely to create a democratic deficit that provokes a backlash against the system.

If we want to avert the sense of powerlessness among voters that fuels demagogy, the answer is not less democracy in America, but more.

In defining “more democracy,” Lind focuses squarely on political institutions and legal structures that enable citizens to have more influence on the decisions that affect their lives. Expanding citizen influence is crucially important; it can attenuate the public powerlessness and marginalization that fuel the antagonistic temper of the times. This expansion can emerge not only through traditional political reforms like decentralizing certain decisions and resources to the local level, but also through innovative experiments in community democracy like participatory budgeting.

But Lind’s appraisal is also an incomplete prescription in one important respect. Citizens now operate in an environment that inflames rather than informs public opinion.

We have a political culture and fractured media environment saturated with increasingly sophisticated spin, the cult of celebrity, and the conflation of incivility and authenticity.

We have access to more information than ever before, but that information often serves to reinforce our prejudices and assumptions. It’s never been easier to avoid alternative views and disconfirming data.

We have more ways of expressing ourselves than ever before, but it’s too easy to sound off irresponsibly, even anonymously, and avoid challenge and intellectual accountability.

Rather than a political culture of listening to and engaging people with different views, we have too much of a culture of dismissal, disdain and groupthink. As a result, we end up with a politics full of magic bullets, scapegoats, and focus-group-tested slogans.

To counter these inflammatory forces, we need a democratic culture and set of practices that help people encounter and weigh competing ideas and the choices we need to make as we face the future. Such structures will enable people to transform gut-level opinions and assumptions into what Dan Yankelovich calls “public judgment” — views that people have won, not received, through the hard work of thinking for themselves and talking with others.

What we truly need, then, is not just more democracy, but better quality democracy, with better resources for public conversation and judgment.

If there’s an upside to the current turmoil it’s that, despite the demagogic excess, important questions are swirling to the surface.

Why is the economy working so well for a small number of Americans and so poorly for so many? Is the disappearance of middle class jobs, and along with them the American Dream, inevitable or can we do something about it? If so, what? How can we better address our entrenched issues around race and ethnicity, and best adapt to our rapidly changing demographics? How can we work to make gridlock the exception rather than the norm?

We need more robust democratic conversation on questions like these — not just to “save the people from themselves” but to renew America’s democratic promise and set the nation on a better path.

You can find the original version of this article on the Deliberative Democracy Consortium site at http://deliberative-democracy.net/2017/06/16/fixing-what-ails-democracy/

PBP Announces PBNYC Results and Launches Data Tool

There are some exciting updates from NCDD member org – The Participatory Budgeting Project, who recently completed another successful round of participatory budgeting in NYC (PBNYC) and announced the launch of their new data tool, myPB. Over the last 7 years, the PBNYC process has allowed residents to decide on how to spend $210 million on 706 community projects. As part of a pilot program in NYC, PBP announced their new data tool, myPB, which allows residents to research their districts, find out if PB is in their communities, the status of PB projects, and more. We encourage you to read the post below and find the original version on PBP’s site here.


Participatory Budgeting in NYC: $210 million for 706 community projects

For the 7th straight year, New Yorkers just decided part of the city budget. We’re excited to share the impressive results from 2018 – and a new tool that brings past results of Participatory Budgeting in New York City (PBNYC) to your fingertips!

2018 Vote Results

More than 99,250 residents age 11 and older participated in the largest local civic engagement program in the US, deciding how to spend $36,618,553 across NYC. They developed hundreds of spending proposals and funded 124 community improvement projects for schools, parks, libraries, public housing, streets, and other public spaces.

The impacts of PB are even greater over time. Since 2012, New Yorkers have decided how to spend $210 million on 706 projects. PBNYC has also sparked over $180 million in additional spending on city-wide improvements such as school air conditioning and bathroom repairs.

PB is building the governing power of hundreds of thousands of everyday New Yorkers. As Council Member Carlos Menchaca reflected,“PB isn’t just about choosing winning projects, it is also about creating opportunities for civic participation and building stronger communities. New Yorkers are eager to lead the decision processes on topics that directly affect them.”

For more information on PBNYC Cycle 7 see the full results here and this video of highlights from the results announcement and celebration:

myPB – A New PB Data Tool

We’re thrilled to share not only 2018 vote results, but also a tool – myPB – that we’ve created to keep you updated on the status of projects and the impacts of PB.

Deciding how to spend public dollars through PB can be refreshing and exciting. Implementing the winning projects, however, can be frustratingly slow. Although staff share occasional updates about funded projects on the district level, there is no comprehensive, city-wide view of the status of PB-funded projects.

Now we have an exciting new data tool for tracking PB projects and outcomes: myPB.community. So far it includes all project data through 2017. We’re piloting it in NYC, with plans to include many more cities in the future—maybe yours?

Powered by NYC Open Data, community members can now use their smartphone or computer to:

  • find their district,
  • see if their district has participated—or is participating in—PB,
  • contact their district office,
  • search, sort, and filter PB projects that made it to the ballot
  • share information on PB projects on social media,
  • and see how much money has been allocated to various city agencies and issues.

This award-winning data platform tells lots of stories, revealing city-wide and district-specific priorities.

In June 2018, myPB.community won awards in Mayor’s Civics and Open Data from NYC Open Data, for its use of open data to support civic work, like how policy groups and advocates across the city can use mypb.community to understand community needs.

Sorting projects by category indicates what people prioritize when it comes to improving their city.

Since 2012, the NYC School Construction Authority has implemented an overwhelming majority of PBNYC projects, followed by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Community groups can get more specific information about needs and priorities in their district, to better advocate for specific neighborhood needs.

For example, of the 982 projects for libraries and schools on NYC ballots since 2012,

  • 236 mention ‘tech’
  • 61 mention ‘library’
  • 56 mention ‘bathroom’
  • 50 mention ‘air conditioning’
  • 41 mention ‘electric’
  • 20 mention ‘security’
  • 13 mention ‘ADA’
  • 11 mention ‘music’
  • 10 mention ‘water’

This breakdown lifts up top priorities for improving schools and libraries across the city.

You can find the original version of this blog post on The Participatory Budgeting Project’s site at www.participatorybudgeting.org/participatory-budgeting-in-nyc/.

Citizen Engagement is Vital Even for Smart Cities

As technology continues to grow and cities shift towards being “smart”, there are some learning opportunities for the ways in which cities go about acquiring data, the ways in which it is used, and the need to still genuinely engage the community. Which is why we wanted to share this piece written by Mary Leong of NCDD member org, PlaceSpeak, about the need for cities to be mindful of the ways in which technology is used when gathering insight on citizens and utilizing the information during city decision-making. She emphasizes the need to use a”citizen-first engagement approach” (as outlined by Meeting of the Minds) and engage the community to get real citizen feedback before implementing these smart city practices. You can find the article below and read the original version on the PlaceSpeak blog here.


No, Your City Can’t be “Smart” Without Citizen Engagement

In a recent piece from our friends at Meeting of the Minds, 4 Strategies to Fix Citizen Engagement, they asked several important questions: “Can a City really be described as ‘Smart’ if it makes changes without consulting with a diverse sample of the citizens affected by these changes before, during, and after projects are implemented? Will citizens adopt Smart Initiatives if they aren’t part of the decision-making process?”

As cities struggle to establish themselves as “smart”, they have rushed to implement IoT (Internet of Things) sensor networks which help to gain insight into the movements and habits of citizens. Sensors are gathering vast amounts of information about how citizens are engaging with their transportation needs, energy use and more – often without their explicit consent. A recent article in the Atlantic asks facetiously, “Why trouble to ask the ‘citizens’ what they want from urban life, when you can accurately surveil the real actions of city’s ‘users’ and decode what they’re actually doing, as opposed to what they vaguely claim they might want to do?”

While it is well-documented that social desirability bias or recall bias can lead respondents to provide inaccurate or false information in surveys or polls, exclusively relying on passive data – as opposed to proactive data collected through robust citizen engagement processes – only tells half the story. The challenge is twofold:

Firstly, it is crucial that smart cities do not become surveillance cities. Out of 52 agencies in the United States which use facial recognition, “only one…expressly prohibits its officers from using face recognition to track individuals engaging in political, religious, or other protected free speech,” found a report from Georgetown Law. Recent revelations from the ACLU also revealed that companies such as Amazon are actively marketing facial recognition technology to governments as an “easy and accurate” way to investigate and monitor “people of interest” – including undocumented immigrants, Black Lives Matter activists, or citizens exercising their right to protest. This unprecedented ability to surveil without accountability should be concerning to anyone with an interest in civic participation.

Secondly, the implementation of smart city technologies should incorporate citizen feedback and concerns. People are justifiably concerned about privacy issues – particularly individuals from groups or communities which may be disproportionately targeted. Furthermore, people are often unable to opt out, which can be a cause for concern for some. Just like with any large-scale initiative or project, it’s a lot harder to deal with the fallout from citizens after the decisions have been made – especially when large amounts of money have already been spent on infrastructure or technologies. In order to truly realize the potential of a “smart city”, decision-makers must include citizens in the decision to implement smart city solutions. By including the public in co-creating (“build with, not for”) and deciding on solutions that are appropriate for each community, they can be tailored to local unique challenges and needs.

The solutions highlighted in Meeting of the Minds call for a “citizen-first engagement approach”, with four factors:

  • Utilize mobile
  • Remove the burden for citizens
  • Consider offering rewards
  • Go beyond survey responses

We agree that these factors are necessary for invigorating smart cities everywhere and inspiring people to participate – while challenging decision-makers to go above and beyond. Instead of one-off online surveys or public meetings, online civic networks notify and keep people engaged on an ongoing basis. In contrast to social networks, where people are empowered to connect with like-minded individuals all across the world, civic networks are tied to place-based communities, such as streets, neighborhoods, schools, stratas/homeowner associations and more. By creating a central “hub” for citizens to engage continually with decision-makers and fellow community members, PlaceSpeak makes online democratic participation easy, convenient and habit-forming.

You can find the original version of this article on PlaceSpeak blog at www.blog.placespeak.com/your-city-cant-be-smart-without-citizen-engagement/.

Join NCDD at Frontiers of Democracy Conference 2018

We are thrilled to announce the upcoming 2018 Frontiers of Democracy conference is happening at Tufts University from Thursday, June 21st until Saturday, June 23rd! The annual Frontiers of Democracy brings together leaders working on deliberative democracy, civic engagement and civic education, to explore how to further advance democracy. NCDD’s Managing Director Courtney Breese will be presenting a session on Friday, June 22rd during on the 2nd session block from 2:30pm-4pm on “Partnering to Strengthen Participatory Democracy: How Might We Connect and Collaborate?”. We encourage you to read the announcement below and find the original on the Tisch College website here.


Frontiers of Democracy Conference

Frontiers of Democracy is an annual conference hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University since 2009. The 2018 conference will take place from June 21 (5:00 p.m.) until June 23 (1:00 p.m.) at Tufts University’s downtown Boston campus in Chinatown.

Partners for the conference in 2018 include the Bridge Alliance, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, the National Conference on Citizenship, and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

You can now register and pay to hold a spot. Please note that speakers and session organizers must purchase tickets.

Frontiers of Democracy immediately follows the Summer Institute of Civic Studies, a selective 2-week seminar for scholars, practitioners, and advanced graduate students.

Frontiers 2018 Theme

According to Freedom House, democracy has been in retreat worldwide for 12 years. Many people are pushing back, including activists and organizers who are nonviolently struggling, using tactics like strikes, boycotts, and mass demonstrations against entrenched power. Other individuals and groups take different approaches, some seeking a greater degree of neutrality and emphasizing deliberative dialogue, particularly when they work within institutions such as schools, public agencies, and newspapers. This year, Frontiers will bring people from these communities of scholarship and practice together to ask how they can learn from and complement each another.

You can read the full agenda for the 2018 conference by clicking here.

Looking Back: Frontiers 2017

Thanks to everyone who joined us at an exciting, thought-provoking, and timely Frontiers of Democracy 2017. You can watch the video of this year’s introduction, “short take” speakers, and one of our afternoon plenaries, below. (You can click on each video’s title to watch on YouTube and, in the description, find timestamps that allow you to skip to a specific speaker’s presentation.)

Frontiers 2017 was focused on multiple frameworks for civic and democratic work developed respectively by Caesar McDowell of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and MIT, Archon Fung of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Tisch College’s Peter Levine. Our short take speakers included Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson, the senior minister of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri; Wendy Willis of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and the National Policy Consensus Center; and Hardy Merriman, President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

In addition, the Journal of Public Deliberation, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and The Democracy Imperative held a pre-conference symposium on “Deliberative Democracy in an Era of Rising Authoritarianism.”

Check out the preconference symposium’s agenda and readings and the full Frontiers 2017 schedule.

You can find the original version of this announcement on Tisch College’s site at https://tischcollege.tufts.edu/research/civic-studies/frontiers-democracy-conference.

Exciting Models of Democracy in Engaged Cities Awardees

This week, Cities of Service announced the three winners of the Engaged Cities Awards, given to the cities of Santiago de Cali, Bologna, and Tulsa. As NCDD member org Public Agenda noted in their recent piece, each of these cities offer inspiring examples of civic engagement and better models of local democracy. Sometimes democracy in the US can feel in a rut, but these cities give us innovative ways to bring better democratic practices to our own communities and more fully enrich our lives. You can read the article from PA below and find the original version here.


For Better Models of Democracy, Look to the Engaged Cities of Cali and Bologna

Both Santiago de Cali, in Colombia, and Bologna, Italy, demonstrate the power of putting citizens at the center of governance, giving them opportunities to engage that are meaningful, enjoyable, regular, and sustained.

The main problem with American democracy is that we don’t realize it can be improved. We assume that we’re stuck with the system we have, and we ignore the fact that there are other varieties of democracy already out there in the world.

Two of the three winners of the Engaged Cities Award, given by the nonprofit organization Cities of Service, illustrate some of the possibilities. Both Santiago de Cali, in Colombia, and Bologna, Italy, demonstrate the power of putting citizens at the center of governance, giving them opportunities to engage that are meaningful, enjoyable, regular, and sustained.

Not too long ago, Cali was a city plagued by violence spilling over from drug wars and civil wars. It had a homicide rate of 15 per 100,000 inhabitants. Almost a third of the population came from places other than Cali, and there were regular conflicts between people from different places and cultures. Over 60 percent of Cali residents said they didn’t trust their neighbors.

To remedy an interrelated set of problems, Cali created a comprehensive system for local engagement. As part of a strategic planning process, they created a department and council devoted to “civic culture.” They conducted a comprehensive research process, reaching 30,000 people, to take stock of the civic landscape and find out what kinds of changes people supported.

The backbone of the new system is a set of “local councils for civic culture and peace,” with one in each of Cali’s 22 neighborhoods. Unlike most neighborhood councils in the US, these councils are highly participatory and deliberative, and attract large numbers of people to their meetings and events. Each neighborhood develops a set of norms and “agreements of coexistence” to govern how they will work together. There is an explicit focus on engaging people of different “ethnic, cultural, artistic, religious and social groups.”

The councils make decisions on issues ranging from land use to waste management to environmental concerns. Neighborhoods also identify initiatives that they want to take on. The city supports these high-impact volunteering efforts with teams of professionals who help people plan, research and implement their ideas. Over 300 of those initiatives took place in the last year.

Each year, the work culminates with “Civic Culture Week,” a festival that attracts thousands of people.

The city developed a tool to measure progress called the “Diagnosis of Civic Culture.” Cali residents’ trust in their neighbors and perceptions of public safety have risen. Homicides and violent incidents are at their lowest levels in a decade.

In Bologna, a declining voter rate and increasing mistrust of government were signs of local civic decay. Rather than focusing solely on voter registration or electoral reforms, community leaders decided to be proactive about improving the relationship between residents and public institutions. The city adopted a “regulation on public collaboration between citizens and the City for the care and regeneration of urban commons” and created a new office for “civic imagination.”

To give this new vocabulary a real presence in the city, Bologna has a system of six District Labs which provide spaces for residents to develop plans, share information, make new connections and co-design collaborative projects for the improvement of the city’s physical infrastructure. The labs are considered the “antennae” of the neighborhoods, relaying ideas and concerns within the new engagement system.

In the last five years, 508 collaborative proposals have been developed and 357 have been implemented, with over 1,700 citizens participating in district meetings in the last year alone. The spinoff “Incredibol!” initiative, which called for the support of creative industries by allowing the re-use of public spaces to develop entrepreneurial projects, received 621 proposals, nominated 96 winners and assigned sixteen public spaces.

Alongside the district labs, Bologna has launched a citywide participatory budgeting process that also has engaged thousands of people. The city also uses a range of online tools, including direct emails, social media and a “Comunità” website to facilitate information-sharing and networking within and across districts.

A secret to the success of both Cali and Bologna is that, in those cities, engagement is fun. The Cali system capitalizes on the “recovery of streets and parks, murals, photographic exhibitions, soccer tournaments, gastronomic shows and festivals.” Bologna’s application for the Engaged Cities Award featured the roles played by artists, kindergarteners and cyclists.

Beyond the fun factor, local democracy in Cali and Bologna seems more vibrant because engagement in both cities is sustained and systemic, with a wide variety of opportunities for people to participate.

The third winner of the Engaged Cities Award, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, demonstrates another way to encourage and capitalize on citizen engagement. By creating a team of Urban Data Pioneers, they tapped the tech skills of people inside and outside City Hall. Through a range of new tools and apps, they are identifying and solving problems ranging from traffic incidents to blight.

A great virtue of the Engaged Cities Award, and the role played by Cities of Service in organizing it, is that it provides stories from near and far for spurring our civic imagination. If we are dissatisfied with the state of our democracy, there are inspiring examples to look to elsewhere, and many ways of improving public decision-making, problem-solving and community-building.

You can find the original version of this blog post from Public Agenda at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/for-better-models-of-democracy-look-to-the-engaged-cities-of-cali-and-bologna.

ILG TIERS Learning Lab Training in San Diego, June 5 & 6

For those in the NCDD network working in local government and looking to improve public engagement skills, check out this great training coming up from NCDD member org Institute for Local Government (ILG). ILG is offering their two-day TIERS Learning Lab training on Friday, June 5 and Saturday, June 6 in San Diego, CA. This is a great opportunity for staff and elected officials working in local government to better engage and sustain their public engagement efforts, and early bird registration ends May 15th. You can read the announcement from ILG below or find the original version here.


TIERS Public Engagement Learning Lab – June 5th & 6th, San Diego CA

Upcoming Learning Labs & Registration
San Diego, June 5-6, 2018 (Early Bird Registration ends May 15)
TIERS Public Engagement Learning Lab San Diego 2018

For registration please email publicengagement@ca-ilg.org or call (916) 658-8221.

Learning Lab Overview
The TIERS Learning Lab is a comprehensive training and coaching program from ILG that provides local government teams of 2-5 individuals with hands-on instruction and coaching on the TIERS Framework. By participating in the TIERS Learning Lab, staff and electeds will learn how to utilize, customize and implement the TIERS tools and processes. The TIERS Learning Lab will help you build and manage successful public engagement in order to support local government work, stakeholder input and project success.

TIERS Learning Lab Components
The TIERS Learning Lab consists of training and support over a six month period for an agency team of up to five people. This six-month hands-on coaching opportunity includes:

  • A pretraining consultation with ILG to discuss your goals, plans and challenges; and to select your Learning Lab public engagement case
  • Immersive two-day Learning Lab: hands-on, participatory in-person training with expert coaches and peer learning
  • Post-training customized implementation coaching (up to 6 hours)
  • Monthly ’Open Lab’ for problem solving during the three months post training
  • Training workshop materials and meals
  • Scheduling and coordination of consulting calls for pre and post training

Learning Lab Tuition Options
Option 1: Team Pricing

  • 3-5 Participants
  • Two-day immersive off-site workshop (w/meals)
  • Customized project/region consulting
  • Pre and post training planning and evaluation
  • TIERS materials, templates & online tools
  • 3 months of lab hours for monthly check-ins and coaching

Early Bird Discount Rate* $3,500 per team

Option 2: Individual Pricing

  • 1-2 Participants
  • Two-day immersive off-site workshop (w/meals)
  • Customized project/region consulting
  • Pre and post training planning and evaluation
  • TIERS materials, templates & online tools
  • 3 months of lab hours for monthly check-ins and coaching

Early Bird Discount Rate* $995 per person

*Price increases by 20% after May 15 for TIERS Learning Lab in San Diego on June 5-6.

“The TIERS training was incredibly motivating for our team and we were able to immediately put what we learned about the TIERS process to work on our current projects. We left with best practices and a clear process we can follow”
– Mayor Gurrola, City of Arvin

You can find the original information of this training on ILG’s site at: www.ca-ilg.org/TIERSLearningLab.

Insights on Participatory Democracy via the Jefferson Center

NCDD member org, The Jefferson Center, recently shared their recap of the Innovations in Participatory Democracy conference that happened last month. In their reflections, they discuss the future opportunities for our democracy by better bringing together participatory principles and deliberative approaches. You can read the post below and find the original on Jefferson Center’s site here.


Making Participation More Deliberative, and Deliberation More Participatory

A few weeks ago, we attended the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The conference, which we were excited to support as both participants and presenters, brought together community leaders, government officials and staff, practitioners, researchers, funders, youth leaders, and technologists to explore innovations in government participation.

We led a workshop on Citizens Juries, Assemblies, & Sortition, and participated in a panel on the similarities and differences across participatory budgeting, Citizen Juries, and citizen assemblies. While we were there, we saw democracy in action at Central High School, where students are part of a current Participatory Budgeting Project initiative.

At the conference, it was clear the opportunities for participatory democracy are expanding. Participatory democracy is made up of two key parts: participatory principles, which often invite the public to share their thoughts and opinions, and deliberative approaches, which typically convene a smaller group of individuals to learn about an issue and create plans for action or policy recommendations. While these two unique approaches are sometimes thought of as opposing forces, we saw how people around the world are using both to make democracy more impactful and inclusive. There’s no longer one clear set of principles for the “right” way to participate in democracy, and it’s incredible to be part of this movement.

We wanted to share a few exciting outlooks for democracy that we took away from the conference:

1. Collaboration with governments will grow and change

In the United States, Citizens Juries and mini-publics are typically run by nonprofits (like us!), rather than officially sponsored by the national government. This is changing as governments are exploring new ways to engage with their citizens. But, that doesn’t mean the only outcomes of deliberation and participation need to be policy changes: we’ve learned throughout our work that participatory democracy can be used successfully for long-term, community-wide impacts.

At the conference, we shared the example of our Rural Climate Dialogue program in Winona County, where residents created recommendations for their community to adapt to climate change and extreme weather. Since the dialogue, the City of Winona has adopted an energy plan with goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. They’ve also invested in community education initiatives on energy efficiency and water savings. Urging policy changes while supporting long-term behavior changes, like we’re doing in Winona County, will help governments, their partners, and citizens sustain the results of engagement efforts.

2. It’s time to focus on the opportunities to combine participatory and deliberative approaches

By merging both participatory principles and deliberative approaches, we can make democracy more accessible and impactful. You might be familiar with the thoughts of Micah Sifry, of Civic Hall, on these two distinct tactics: “Thick engagement doesn’t scale, and thin engagement doesn’t stick”. Deliberation (thick engagement) can be productive, but needs lots of time and resources. Participatory approaches (thin engagement), like asking for input on social media, may be easier and quicker, but require little ongoing involvement or further opportunities for deeper engagement, as Matt Leighninger of Public Agenda explores. But, there’s a solution, and we saw countless examples of this at the conference: we can invite people to submit ideas and proposals online for consideration by participants who are meeting in person. Conversely, we can build on the recommendations and ideas generated at deliberative events to form the base of digital participation efforts.

We’ve been testing out this combined approach in a few different projects. Through Your Vote Ohio and Informed Citizen Akron, we used deliberative events to ask citizens in Ohio what they needed from their local news organizations. Their input set the stage for Your Voice Ohio, a project that explores community engagement approaches to help newsrooms across the state listen and respond to their audiences. With the deliberation recommendations as a guiding force, we host open community events, invite people to share their stories online and through social media, and are rolling out Hearken as a platform where local residents can ask reporters questions about the addiction crisis. By combining these forces we’re making democracy more accessible to everyone.

3. The entry to engagement is different in every community

One of the incredible projects we heard about was the Participatory Budgeting Project’s work with the Phoenix Union High School District, where they invited student input to decide how to spend district-wide funds. This was the first school participatory budgeting process in the U.S. to focus on district-wide funds, which started with five public high schools and has expanded since. While this may seem like a small step, this has begun to shift the relationship between students and administrators.

Administrators are now considering how they can adapt these participatory practices to the everyday culture of these schools, like inviting students to share their thoughts on changes such as scheduling and course offerings. Because the initial opportunity to participate was simple and manageable for both the students and the administration, they’ve laid the foundation for future collaboration and growth. Plus, young people got to use real voting machines in the process, which was a great opportunity to experience how voting and live democracy actually work. We’re excited to see how this can expand to other schools and communities.

4. Success means equipping others

In democracy work, we often focus on “bringing projects to scale”. This is important, but we also don’t want to leave communities behind without equipping them with the tools they need for sustained success. For too long, the dominant theory of change for deliberative democracy looked something like this:

  1. Select a topic
  2. Host a Citizens Jury (or other deliberative event)
  3. Generate a report
  4. Hope someone reads it and utilizes the recommendations.

But, we can do so much more. We can combine thick and thin engagement techniques to give people the resources to continue projects after engagement organizations and professionals leave the community. At the Jefferson Center, we are implementing this approach with our dialogue-to-action model. First, we co-define: we build relationships with stakeholders and community members to gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand. Next, we co-design: working with project partners, we develop and implement an engagement process to unleash creative ideas which also provides participants with the expertise, tools, and time they need to develop solutions. Finally, we co-create: our partners use the public input to advance local actions, reform practices and processes, and guide policy development and decision-making.

5. We can frame impact differently to support broader results

Deliberation and participation can be misunderstood as having one narrow goal: to influence a policy decision. But instead, we can evaluate the success of Citizen Juries, mini-publics, and other engagement efforts not just by their policy influence, but by the opportunities to impact individuals, communities, networks, organizations, and governments. Unless they are expressly commissioned by a government sponsor, the projects that go beyond one policy objective will likely have the most impact. By taking a more holistic approach to change, we can build sustainable partnerships between individuals, leaders, local institutions, the media, and others, who can carry on the important work in the community.

For instance, Participatory Budgeting Projects don’t just enable people to direct public money to community priorities. Throughout the process, community organizations and networks are strengthened, as groups work together to focus on their shared needs. After the discussion ends, these groups may form new organizations and partnerships and continue positive and constructive engagement. All of the PB award winners at the conference, Cyndi Tercero-Sandoval (Phoenix Union High School District), Sonya Reynolds (Participatory Budgeting NYC), and Cecilia Salinas (Participatory Budgeting Chicago in the 49th Ward) represent this investment in long-term impact.

Looking forward

Participation and deliberation should not be positioned as opposing forces. Instead, it’s time to identify meaningful opportunities to make participatory practices more deliberative, and make deliberative processes more participatory. For those of us committed to democratic reform and innovation, combining these elements effectively, regardless of the issue, method, or context, will support our ambitions to create a stronger, more vibrant democracy for all of us.

You can find the original version of this post on Jefferson Center’s blog at www.jefferson-center.org/making-participation-more-deliberative-and-deliberation-more-participatory/.

Co-Creating a Shared Future and Funding the Vision

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end, it all starts with conversation.

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

The Importance of Civics Education in our Country

While NCDD member org, Everyday Democracy, shared this article on the importance of civics education a while back, we wanted to lift it up because it is still so relevant. The article talks about how education in this country has shifted from preparing students to be more civically engaged, to training students for the workforce. While the latter is important, our democracy suffers when the people are not trained on how to be civic agents. The article stresses that in order for our democracy to thrive and for our communities to be stronger, people needed to have civics a part of modern education. You can read the article below or find the original on Everyday Democracy’s site here.


The Decline of Civic Education and the Effect on our Democracy

EvDem LogoWhen I was five years old, my parents dropped me off at Radnor Elementary School for my first day of Kindergarten. This was the first day of many years of public education for me.

My high school, like so many in our country, steers students towards science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Personally, I was lucky enough to have great teachers who encouraged me to look beyond this narrow focus and find subjects that interested me, but my story is the exception rather than the rule.

In the past few decades, the focus of our public education system has turned sharply toward STEM as part of a broader reconceptualization of the role of public education. Whereas education was once seen as a public good designed to prepare students to participate in our democratic system, it is now seen as a primarily individual pursuit intended to help people develop employable skills and prepare to contribute to the workforce.

A little bit of history on the public education system

To better understand this monumental shift, it is important to understand where our public education system comes from. The history of public education in the U.S. is inseparable from the history of our nation, and I believe that their futures are intertwined as well.

Before the American Revolution, school was primarily for the lower and middle classes. Wealthy families hired tutors for their children, so only parents who could not afford tutors sent their children to school. A few colonies had experimented with state-supported education in the 17th century, but these early public education systems had mostly died out by the middle of the 18th century.

Under British rule, colonists had no reason to care whether or not their neighbors were sufficiently educated. There were plenty of ways for people with very little education to support their families and average colonists had very little political power.

The Revolution changed that: we fought a war for the idea of republican government, and now we needed citizens who could sustain it. In a letter discussing the soon-to-be-held Constitutional Convention, John Adams wrote that “the Whole People must take upon themselves the education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expenses of it.” This belief was widely shared amongst the founding fathers, who recognized that a people transitioning from subjects to citizens would need to be educated in order to serve the many functions required of them in the new republic.

After the Revolution, American citizens would need to decide who would represent them, know when their representatives had violated their trust, serve on juries, and possibly decide on Constitutional Amendments. Education had to reflect this reality by teaching history, rhetoric, and government in addition to literacy and arithmetic.

While some states headed the call of the founding fathers and created state-supported public education systems, most states needed more persuading. This persuading came in the form of widespread demographic changes.

From 1820 to 1860, the percentage of Americans living in cities nearly tripled. Caring for the poor residents of these cities was expensive, and the fact that many of them were Irish and German immigrants bred resentment. To cities looking to reduce poverty, assimilate immigrants into American culture, and keep people out of trouble, institutionalized education systems made a lot of sense. In 1918, Mississippi became the last state to embrace compulsory education; and no state has abolished its public school system since.

Civic education

The rise of public education was motivated by the need to prepare students to participate in American life as citizens, workers, and community members. While the early public education system took all three dimensions of their mandate very seriously, the rhetoric surrounding public education today has a very different focus.

You have probably heard some variation of the argument that American students are falling behind the rest of the world and we need to invest in science and math education so that our economy can stay competitive. You may have seen college majors ranked by post-graduation earning potential, or read about how educational attainment is a “signaling device” to employers, or heard some of the arguments for and against the “Common Core Standards.” These opinions are well-intentioned, but they all focus on a single educational outcome: career success.

To be clear, I believe that education ought to prepare students to participate in the workforce. I recognize that the increased economic opportunity that comes with educational attainment is a primary motivator for many students to attend school, and I am not suggesting that career success is not an important focus of our public education system. Instead, my argument is that our obsession with the economics of education comes at a substantial cost in terms of civic health, which in turn introduces new risks to our economic stability.

According to a 2015 study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, only 31% of Americans can name the three branches of government (and 32% cannot name a single branch). In 2011, when Newsweek administered the United States Citizenship Test to over 1000 American citizens, 38% of Americans failed. This widespread civic illiteracy is not just shameful, it is dangerous.

How can we expect people to hold their representatives accountable when 61% don’t know which party controls the House and 77% can’t name either of their state’s senators? How can we expect Americans to exercise their rights when over one third can’t name any of the five rights protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, the press, protest, and petition)?

Our democratic system depends on citizens to take an active interest in the affairs of our government, develop informed opinions about how our government should act, and chose representatives who share their beliefs about the direction our country should take. When legislators know that their constituents do not know or care what they are doing, it gives them an incentive to cater to the lobbyists and special interest groups who are scrutinizing the legislators’ actions. From 1964 to 2012, the percentage of Americans who believed that government is “pretty much run by a few big interests” increased from 29% to 79%, while the percentage of Americans who believed that it was run “for the benefit of the people” decreased from 64% to 19%.

Citizens of a Democracy do not have the luxury of refusing to care about their government. We the People are ultimately responsible for what our representatives do on our behalf using our collective power. Willful ignorance does not absolve us of this responsibility.

Civics education teaches students how to fulfill this essential responsibility, which is why the public pays for it. If education were all about training people for jobs, we would expect employers to pay for the basics and individual students to pay to train for more advanced jobs. Instead, we recognize that citizens need a certain amount of education to carry on our democratic traditions and that it is in the public’s interest to ensure the future stability of our country. Part of that stability is preparing people to get jobs and contribute back to society financially, but the main part is ensuring that people understand the role they play in our system and are able to play that role.

Strong civic health means stronger communities

There is also a growing body of research that suggests that communities with strong civic health have stronger economies, were more resilient during the financial crisis, and have higher rates of employment. When people come together with their neighbors to identify, discuss, and solve community problems, they build relationships and develop skills that ultimately help all of them economically as well as personally.

Nobody will make us be citizens. If we do not want to understand how government works or what it is doing, we can give our political power to someone else. There are plenty of countries who have vested that power in a monarch, party, oligarchy, aristocracy, technocracy, emperor, etc. Subjects in these countries have no need to trouble themselves with public affairs, and we could be like them; but, as Plato once wrote, “the heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”

In the United States, we the people have decided to take responsibility for governing, and we temporarily delegate some of that responsibility to our elected representatives and the unelected officers they select. We benefit tremendously from living in a democratic republic, but these benefits are not without cost.

For the last several decades, the focus of our education system as shifted from civics to job training, and we have all paid a steep cost. Special interest and lobbying groups have unprecedented power over our political system. A lack of knowledge about public affairs has made citizens more susceptible to political advertising, which has given the wealthy tremendous power to shape politics through campaign contributions and ad spending.  So few Americans trust the political system that nearly half of 2016 primary votes went to candidates promising anti-establishment revolutions.

If we really care about preserving our democracy for future generations, we will stop treating civics education as secondary to math and science instruction and put it back at the core of our school curricula.

You can find the original version of this article on Everyday Democracy’s site at www.everyday-democracy.org/news/decline-civic-education-and-effect-our-democracy.

Attend the UNCG Annual Conference in Portland this June

The University Network for Collaborative Governance is holding their annual conference in Portland, Oregon from June 3rd – 5th. Hosted by NCDD member org Kitchen Table Democracy, along with National Policy Consensus Center at Portland State University, this conference will be an excellent opportunity for academic professionals working on collaborative governance to learn from each other and deepen the impact of collaborative governance work on a systemic level. The conference will focus on the integration and innovation of collaborative governance research, practice, and teaching, through group discussions and “Lightning Talks” [5 min or less presentations]. Proposals for “Lightning Talks” are due by April 16th, so make sure you submit yours ASAP! We encourage you to read the announcement below or find the original on Kitchen Table Democracy’s site here.


University Network for Collaborative Governance 2018 Conference

June 3-5, 2018 – Portland, OR

Hosted by the National Policy Consensus Center, Portland State University (UNCG members Oregon Consensus, Oregon’s Kitchen Table, Oregon Solutions)

About the Conference

What does the tapestry for collaborative governance research, practice, and teaching look like for the next 10 years?

The UNCG annual conference is an opportunity for academic professionals – including faculty, staff, and students – from across the county who are engaged in the work of collaborative governance to come together to learn from each other.  This year’s conference will build off recent strategic planning activities and will challenge participants to ask how we as a network can strategically evolve to more systemically address societal challenges, engage the next generation of university-based collaborative governance professionals, and contribute to deepening the understanding of the impact and results of collaborative processes.

At this year’s conference, we are particularly interested in two topic areas:

  • Integration of Research, Practice, and Teaching: How are we – or how could we be – connecting the dots and integrating the three topic areas UNCG focuses on: research, practice, and teaching.  What are some instances where we have been weaving together all three through one approach, program, or project, where research, teaching, and practice all come together? What are the challenges to being able to incorporate all three together? And, how could we be doing that better? What are the opportunities for us – either as a Network or in our individual/center work – to bring research, practice, and teaching to inform one another and advance each forward?
  • Innovations in Research, Practice, or Teaching: Where have we been particularly innovative in research, practice and teaching, or in the development of supportive public policies, around collaborative governance? As we look forward to another 10 years of UNCG, how are our member centers, individuals, and partners venturing out on innovative paths? What ideas, perspectives, or approaches are emerging, or should emerge, in collaborative governance?

This year’s conference format will include a mix of “Lightning Talks” and group discussions focused on the above two topics.  Attendees will also spend time in focused breakouts/work sessions to advance priority actions identified in the 2018 UNCG Strategic Plan that will advance collaborative governance research, practice, and teaching.

Call for Proposals

We invite submissions from UNCG members, university-based faculty, staff, and students, and members from other networks working in the field of collaborative governance to present “Lightning Talks.”  Lightning Talks are short (5 minutes or less) presentations that respond to either one of the two topic areas, Integration or Innovation (see above).  Presentations may be accompanied by a slideshow, but much like Pecha Kucha or Ignite Talks, slides are limited to 15 and will be advanced for you! As part of UNCG efforts to explore different communication methods and approaches, we’re also challenging presenters to use slides with a limit of 5 words (per slide) and images, graphics, art, or video. The intention is that the slides will act as prompts to help you in your presentation and to “illustrate” what you’re talking about rather than act as text for you/the audience to read and focus on.

Click here for: Lightning Talks Template

Helpful tips are here and here.

You can practice with a timer! There’s an app for that.

Submit your proposal here by April 16.

You can find the original version of this on Kitchen Table Democracy’s site at www.kitchentable.org/annual-conference.