Opportunity to Win 100K with the Engaged Cities Award

Has your city worked through a local issue by engaging its community? Then check out the incredible opportunity to win $100,000 with the Engaged Cities Award from Cities of Service! There is a webinar on Nov. 29th to learn more about the award and its application process. Make sure you register by clicking here in order to join the webinar. You can read more about the award below or find the original on the Engaged Cities Award site here.


Introducing the Engaged Cities Award

Cities, more than ever, are facing an array of public challenges. Many cities are tapping into the expertise and talent of citizens to tackle these challenges head on.

That’s why Cities of Service is launching the Engaged Cities Award. We aim to find and elevate the growing number of diverse and creative ways city leaders are harnessing the power of people to solve problems.

Is your city solving problems together with citizens? Perhaps you are tapping the power of citizen science initiatives to map neighborhood issues. Or using new methods to measure satisfaction with public services. Or crowdsourcing resident ideas to find new fixes for old problems.

The Engaged Cities Award will celebrate the best and most creative strategies we find – ultimately enabling peer cities from around the world to learn from, adopt, and improve upon these strategies back home.

Join us for a webinar on November 29 to learn more about the award and the application process.

You can read the original announcement on Engaged Cities Award site at www.engagedcitiesaward.citiesofservice.org/.

NCDD Discount on Upcoming Future Search Workshops

We are thrilled to share with you that the Future Search Network is offering NCDDers a discount on their upcoming workshops led by fellow NCDD member Sandra Janoff and Marvin Weisbord. This announcement was shared with us via the Main NCDD Discussion listserv [learn how to join this list if you aren’t already by clicking here] and make sure you register for the workshops ASAP to enjoy this great offer! You can read the announcement below or find the original on FSN site here.


Sign Up for Future Search Workshops in Philadelphia

Future Search Network is offering 2 workshops in Philadelphia, December 11-13 and 14-15. Participants are coming from Australia, UK and across the US to learn how to use Future Search for planning and innovating in their Community, Business or Congregation.

Sign up with a Special Tuition Discount for Members of NCDD – 5% off the early registration fee. Save as much as $800! Let us know if you need more help with tuition. Contact Sally at fsn@futuresearch.net.

Future Search is among the best-established and most effective methods for enabling people to make and implement ambitious plans. At the Managing a Future Search workshop, you willlearn how to get the “whole system in the room,” help people find common ground, and create long-lasting follow-up. At Lead More, Control Less workshop, you will learn how to focus on structure, not behavior, to allow people to grow, share ideas, take responsibility and manage themselves.

Register Today!

PHILADELPHIA, PA, USA
DECEMBER 11- 13, and 14-15, 2017

with Sandra Janoff – co-founder, with Marvin Weisbord, of Future Search Network, and recipient of the Organization Development Network 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award!

“There is a high return on this investment in human capital. It takes a lot of energy to plan but it’s worth it because of the new relationships you build, the energy unleashed, the new perspectives people get on key issues.” – Brian Roberts, United Methodist Church, NJ

Managing a Future Search – A Leadership Workshop
December 11-13, 2017 – Philadelphia, PA, USA

MFS Workshop Details        mail and e-mail registration form

This workshop is for leaders and facilitators who want to learn how applying Future Search principles and methodology enables an organization to transform its capability for action. Four key principles underlie the Future Search design:

  • Getting the “whole system” in the room.
  • Exploring the same global context (“whole elephant”) as a backdrop for local action.
  • Focusing on the future and common ground rather than conflicts and problems.
  • Inviting self-management and personal responsibility for action during and after the conference.

This highly successful strategic planning method is used around the world and in every sector to:

  • Create a shared vision and practical action plans among diverse parties.
  • Devise a plan and gain commitment to implement a vision or strategy that already exists.
  • Initiate rapid action on complex issues where no coordinating structure or shared vision exist.

Lead More, Control Less – A Master Class in Leadership
December 14-15, 2017 – Philadelphia, PA, USA

Lead More Workshop Details        mail and e-mail registration form

“Self control is the best control.” Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff

In this workshop, based on the new book by Sandra Janoff and Marvin Weisbord, “Lead More, Control Less: 8 Advanced Leadership skills that Overturn Convention”, you will learn a philosophy, principles and actions that produce superior results while reducing your need to control. These skills will support the way you work with diverse groups and complex problems.

Speed and complexity are impacting leaders everywhere! There are insights and skills that you can learn that overturn conventional responses and let you experience more self-control in leading in today’s world.

In her work around the world, Sandra discovered that she could get better results by creating an unconventional approach to leadership – focusing on structure rather than behavior and letting people take responsibility and manage themselves. This leads to higher motivation, greater creativity and productivity. These lessons are brought together with real world experiences to create a unique and memorable seminar.

You can read more about the workshops on Future Search Network’s site at www.futuresearch.net/method/workshops/.

Strengthening the Bridge of Civic Engagement

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


Building Bridges from Both Sides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rethinking Relationships

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

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

Experimenting with New Processes

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

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

Prioritizing Inclusivity

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

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

Which leads to a final thought:

Building Strong Bridges is a Rickety Business

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

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

Don’t Miss Tech Tuesday with Gell, Tomorrow Nov. 14

In case you missed our original announcement, we wanted to remind everyone that we are hosting our next FREE Tech Tuesday, tomorrow November 14th from 1:00-2:00 PM Eastern/10:00-11:00am Pacific. We’re very excited to welcome Loren Bendele, Founder and CEO of Gell, a new mobile/web platform for civil discourse on important issues.

Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to learn about Gell – register today!

Gell is a free mobile/web platform that brings elected officials, parents, students, educators, administrators and concerned citizens together for civil discourse on issues that matter. Gell encourages, facilitates and moderates healthy discussions and debates. They then make it easy for users to find the top rated opinions for and against important issues and candidates, so the community can form its own opinions from a balanced and diverse set of facts and opinions. Columns of opposing views are displayed side-by-side, so users can quickly get a balanced viewpoint and formulate their own opinions. The community can flag inappropriate content (personal attacks, spam, off topic, etc.) for removal from the site. That way, the discussion stays focused on what matters most, while not being distracted by “noise” or irrelevant conversations.

Loren will walk participants through Gell and answer your questions about this new and exciting platform. Loren is a serial entrepreneur, and prior to Gell was the co-founder and CEO of Savings.com which he led from launch in 2007 through acquisition in 2012 by Cox Media Group and continued to run within Cox until 2015. Loren was also the founder of Favado, a grocery app that aggregates all the most popular sales and coupons for every major grocery store across the country.

Watch this video to learn more about Gell

Tech Tuesdays are a series of learning events from NCDD focused on technology for engagement. These 1-hour events are designed to help dialogue and deliberation practitioners get a better sense of the online engagement landscape and how they can take advantage of the myriad opportunities available to them. You do not have to be a member of NCDD to participate in our Tech Tuesday learning events.

Participatory Budgeting Host Training in NYC, Nov. 30th

Interested to learn more about participatory budgeting and how to bring it to YOUR community? Well, there’s an exciting opportunity for those who happen to be in the NYC area! We encourage you to check out this upcoming training with NCDD member org, the Participatory Budgeting Project and their PB 101 training in NYC at the end of November. You can read the announcement from PBP below or find the original on their site here.


PB 101 Training in NYC, November 30 2017

You know that participatory budgeting (PB) is a better way to empower communities. You know that PB engages them in finding solutions. You know that PB builds new connections that make communities more resilient.

PB makes increases trust in government and reduces corruption by making budgets transparent. PB is making healthy, actively engaged communities.

We know it’s a tough time to be working on engagement and democracy. People are tired of politics as usual, tired of their voices not being heard. Our democracy is not working. At PBP, we have a solution: Share real power over real money, launch PB in your community!

Are you ready to get started?

Thousands of people across North America and around the world are already taking budgets into their own hands and building civic power with PB. Your next step is to join us to learn the skills necessary to launch PB in your community.

NOVEMBER 30, 2017 | 42 Broadway, Manhattan, NY 10004 | 10a-5p
REGISTER NOW

Leaders like you, in more than 3,000 cities, municipalities, schools, and organizations have started PB, for three main reasons:

  • It’s Effective. The process motivates broad participation and engages communities in finding solutions that respond to community needs.
  • It’s Fair. PB engages a true cross-section of the community. More people get inspired and involved, including those who often can’t or don’t participate like youth and immigrants.
  • It’s Visionary. By supporting their communities to become more resilient and connected, leaders who do PB build a legacy as bold and innovative.

Now’s the time to dig deeper and learn more about how to get started!

Join us — and other PB organizers from across the East Coast — for a PB training in NYC this fall!

REGISTER NOW

At this full day PB training you will:

  • Become a PB expert.
    • You will gain an understanding of PB and why it’s a best practice for public participation through experiential learning.
    • You will practice skills including PB facilitation and implementation planning.
  • Plan to bring PB to your community.
    • You will learn how to build an advocacy plan to gain the support of key community leaders.
    • You will practice presenting PB and overcoming common obstacles.
    • You will create a detailed plan for next steps to support your organizing work to launch PB.
  • Connect to a network of civic leaders like you.
    • You will forge connections peers who are working to change the way democracy works in their communities through PB.

DATE: Thursday, November 30
TIME: 10am-5pm Eastern
LOCATION: 42 Broadway, Manhattan, NY 10004
COST: $225 early bird (before November 1) / $285 (after November 1)
REGISTER NOW: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3091652

The training team will be lead by Melissa Appleton. Melissa manages the implementation of participatory budgeting projects and innovations on the East Coast for the Participatory Budgeting Project. With over eight years of experience supporting group and inter-personal dialogue as a facilitator, mediator, and trainer at the largest community mediation organization in the US (New York Peace Institute), she brings a passion for collective decision-making to participatory budgeting. Melissa is happy to be supporting group deliberation and participation with diverse communities more locally after doing conflict resolution work internationally in Timor-Leste, Kosovo, and Israel. She received a graduate degree in Peace Education from Columbia University and, though a proud Vancouver B.C. native, has called New York City home for 12 years.

You can read the original version of this announcement on the Participatory Budgeting Project’s blog at www.participatorybudgeting.org/pb101-nyc2017/.

 

Getting More Involved with Deliberative Democracy

Today’s election day and in addition to voting, NCDD Sponsor – the Jefferson Center – recently shared this piece written by Annie Pottorff to encourage people to further stretch their civic muscles and get involved with deliberative democracy. We recommend you check out this list they’ve compiled [complete with entertaining GIFs!] and find the ways that work for you to tap deeper into deliberative democracy. You can read the post below or find the original version on the Jefferson Center’s blog here.


10 Ways to Get Involved in Deliberative Democracy

Creating local change can be difficult, between finding the time, motivation, and opportunities to participate. For this week’s blog, we’ve put together a few simple ways you can become a civic leader in your own backyard (even from your own couch).

1. Listen to Community Members
Head over to your city’s website to see when the next community meeting is. For instance, here’s the calendar the City of Minneapolis publishes. You’ll likely hear grievances and suggestions from your fellow citizens, but these local gatherings may only attract a few vocal participants. While these meetings may be poorly attended, you’ll have the chance to directly introduce yourself to leaders and make your voice heard.

You can also actively listen for issues in your town while talking with your neighbors, teachers, and other community members on a daily basis. Some cities even have digital engagement interfaces where citizens can submit work requests, complaints, or suggestions to laws and ordinances. You can check out a few examples here.

2. Attend training sessions, webinars, and local events
If you want to learn more about engagement techniques, try searching for webinars and online training sessions. On October 4th, groups like the Participatory Budget Project and Healthy Democracy will share their success stories and tools you can use in your local community in a free webinar. Because it’s easy to get lost in the rabbit-hole of Google search results, using Twitter and Facebook to connect with engagement groups will likely fill up your feed with similar resources.

Shameless plug: the Jefferson Center is on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. You can follow us, and the cool people we retweet and follow, for engagement opportunities.

3. Volunteer
It can be overwhelming to know where to start when you want to volunteer. Databases like VolunteerMatch and Create the Good can help connect you with the right groups for causes you care about. If you use Facebook, you can filter local event searches by selecting the “Causes” category. Or, you can work backwards, by searching for nonprofits in your area and reaching out to them directly to see if they could use any help.

4. Bring friends
For all of the above, you don’t have to go it alone. Invite your friends to come along, and you’ll likely be more motivated to show up. Plus, you can hold each other to it.

5. Write
This option can work from the safety of your own home or your favorite coffee shop. Write about issues affecting citizens in your community, and send your drafts out into the universe. Many organizations working on civic engagement and participation want to hear from the public, to guide their own efforts, see new perspectives, or work with you to publish what you’ve written. At the Jefferson Center, we’d love to hear your ideas for new stories.

6. Listen, read, or watch
While this one may seem like a cop-out, getting informed on issues is half the battle. Instead of tuning out, find your favorite way to keep updated. If you’re not a reader, check out podcasts like Democracy Now!, or find out which organizations have their own YouTube or Vimeo accounts. You can easily share this content with others to spread the message and increase familiarity with deliberative democracy.

7. Download FREE resources
If you’re thinking about creating an engagement project, or just want to learn more about different processes involved, look online for resources. For instance, Participatory Budgeting Project has training videos, materials, and guides that are free to download. After each of our projects, we publish our full reports and findings on our website.

8. Teach Others
You can also use free resources and reports to help teach others about how deliberative democracy works. Whether you talk with your friends, family, or host a formal community meeting, involving other people will help spur new ideas and pave the way for future projects.

9. Remember all your resources
If you’re trying to contact your local government representatives, local newspaper, or other organizations, don’t give up after one phone call. Using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, sending emails, sending letters, and showing up to an office can help get your voice heard.

10. Partner with the Jefferson Center!
Sure, this last one may edge on self-promotion. But the Jefferson Center strives to shorten the gap between citizens and the institutions, policies, and issues that affect their daily lives by empowering citizens to solve shared challenges. Our process is made up of three key components: we listen to stakeholders in your community to gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand. Then, we develop a specialized engagement process to unleash creative citizen ideas. Finally, our project partners use the public designed solutions to: advance actions in their local community, reform institutional practices and processes, and guide policy development and decision-making. For more information on our process, head over to our about us page.

Bonus: You can also make an individual donation! Every contribution makes a difference, helping everyday Americans develop and promote thoughtful solutions to challenging problems.

You can read the original version of the Jefferson Center’s piece on their blog at www.jefferson-center.org/10-ways-to-get-involved-in-deliberative-democracy/.

2017 Civvy Award Winners Announced

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


Announcing The 2017 Civvys Winners!

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

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

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

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

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

Here is to another year of innovation and collaboration!

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

Submit Your Proposals for the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference

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

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


Get involved with the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference

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

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

Join us! Purchase your tickets now at discounted rates.

Call for Proposals

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

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

Submissions close November 1, 2017.

We’re especially interested in proposals that:

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

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

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

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

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

Using Thick and Thin Engagement to Improve Politics

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


Fixing Politics by Strengthening Networks for Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The structural elements that support these activities can include:

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

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

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

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

Rich Discussion on NCDD Listserv about Charlottesville

We’ve been having a rich, active conversation on the main NCDD Discussion list since the tragedy in Charlottesville took place a few weeks ago.  One of our members, Lucas Cioffi, a resident of Charlottesville, queried listserve subscribers about what next steps might be possible for the city, and the conversation expanded and deepened from there.

Archives of the NCDD Discussion list (going all the way back to 2006!) are available online, and we encourage you to check them out and subscribe to the list to be part of future such discussions.

One message I wanted to lift up in particular was sent in by Joseph McIntyre, Principle Facilitator of Ag Innovations and Founding Member of the Academy for Systemic Change. In it, he uses a disaster metaphor to outline four steps communities can take to heal from traumatic events, and how dialogue and deliberation fit into those steps.

Dear Lucas and my Fellow NCDD’rs—

One of the things I love about NCDD is how we as a community can rally to offer friendship and experience at key moments like this. Already some wonderful suggestions have come forward.

It might be helpful to use a disaster metaphor when thinking about how a community responds and heals from a traumatic event such as what happened in Charlottesville. In that metaphor—

1) Step one: triage. This is about providing support and succor to those most impacted by the events. The families of those who lost their lives, people close to the front line of the violence, anyone who feels emotionally scarred from the experience. The goal of triage is individual healing. Since we work in communal space, the focus of our offerings are about honoring the experiences of those who are impacted. We construct venues where we can listen to each other deeply, experience the pain of the moment, and begin to put ourselves back together. This is definitely not about finding solutions and it is not a moment to do conflict resolution, mediation, or bringing opposing views together.

2) Step two: understanding. This is about developing a much more sophisticated understanding of the events—what drives extremists, what drives counter-protests. What the context is. This is what Scharmer et al describe as descending the U. There are a number of methods to do this and I think each of us uses those methods we are most comfortable with. What matters more is our intention. Here the intention is clearly on understanding what happened from a systems, historical, social, political, racial (and on…) perspective. Here we construct venues where the community can think together…

3) Step three: bridging. This is about exploring where there may be opportunities to build bridges between those willing to see from the whole. One of the most painful lessons I have learned as a facilitator is that one can find middle ground only between those willing to move from their entrenched positions. The challenge of our time is that we are being encouraged to dig in and not move. This renders many of our best tools impotent because they are premised on an inherent drive to wholeness. Some of the best work in the world around building these bridges, particularly when the parties have a history of violence and animosity is from Adam Kahane—his latest book Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust is very helpful. Still we can do bridging and here we construct venues where the community can aspire together.

4) Step four: building. This is about making decisions together about how we want to act and be together. It is the last step (although we all too often want to skip ahead and make it the first). It comes after we have healed, have created shared understanding, attempted to build bridges, and is entirely about tapping community wisdom and values. The venues we construct here are about the future we are trying to create. This is Future Search, vision quests, wisdom circles, and deep dialogue.

I am of the belief that we have a historic opportunity to put hate back in its proper box. Democracy can not run on hate. Dialogue can not run on hate. But again as Adam Kahane writes in Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, we have to create venues where we as a community can learn to balance the impulse to love and to power. Neither alone is sufficient.