Civvy Award Nominations are Now Open Until July 11th

Today opens the nomination period for the second annual American Civic Collaboration Awards, aka The Civvys! Presented by NCDD member org, The Bridge Alliance and Big Tent Nation, these awards celebrate those doing civic collaboration work that rises above political ideology. Submit your nominations by July 11th and the winner will be announced at the National Conference on Citizenship this October. You can read the details on The Civvys below and read the original version here.


The 2018 Civvys: The American Civic Collaboration Awards

Celebrating Partnerships that Strengthen America

Nominations are open June 11 – July 11, 2018.

In its second year, the American Civic Collaboration Awards will continue to highlight outstanding efforts of civic collaboration making impacts in local, national and youth communities. Awardees and finalists will be celebrated at the National Conference on Citizenship in October 2018.

Nominate individuals or organizations by July 11, 2018 using this form.

Award Categories and Criteria

The Civvys celebrate best practices in civic collaboration that put community and nation before party, ideology and narrow interests.

In its inaugural year, the Civvys highlighted outstanding efforts of civic collaboration making impacts in National, Local and Youth communities. Since this is an election year, the 2018 Civvys will include a new category, “Political,” focusing on campaigns and leaders that make collaboration and civility a core part of their message and operations.

Award Categories

National: These projects are nationwide in scope and audience.
Local: These projects are designed to serve a local, state or regional community.
Youth: These projects have a focus on children, teenagers or young adults.
Political: These are campaigns, cases of collaborative leadership or election races.

Criteria

We are looking for a range of projects, programs and people that use civic collaboration best practices to achieve real results in facilitating dialogue, enabling cross-partisan action, or putting civility and community above ideology. Here are some of the criteria the awards committee will consider:

Collaborative practices. To what extent does this work use civic collaboration best practices to achieve results?

Impact. Who has this work had an impact on, and in what ways?

Scalability. Is this work something that can easily be expanded to have a greater impact? Is it something that can appeal across geographic regions, or be used to effect change in other civics topics or challenges?

In addition, the Civvys celebrates programs and people that:

  • Engages a representative and diverse set of stakeholders
  • Cultivates civility and mutual respect
  • Creates meaningful shared goals for those involved, using the process of co-creation
  • Provides effective facilitation and support throughout the process
  • Develops or utilizes metrics to measure outcomes

Meet the winners and finalists of the inaugural year of the Civvys.

Thank you to all those who submitted nominations and helped take part in recognizing organizations doing great collaborative work. We look forward to receiving the 2018 nominations!

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

Improving Employee Engagement and Morale with PB

One of the best ways to both empower people to be more engaged and improve the level of trust in democratic practices is participatory budgeting (PB), and it works in sectors across the board. Another successful example of PB is when it is implemented within business, as NCDD member org, the Participatory Budgeting Project, recently shared on their blog. We encourage you to read more on how PB was utilized in the company, Justworks, and the powerful results that followed. You can read the original version of this article below and on PBP’s site here.


Participatory Budgeting for Businesses: It Justworks

Last April, Isaac Oates was leaving his local library when a stranger asked him to vote. At first he politely declined, but when the volunteer said it was about the budget and would just take a minute, Isaac took a ballot, and learned about participatory budgeting (PB).

Six months later, Oates was leading a PB vote for his business’s budget. Standing in front of a company-wide all-hands meeting, he invited Justworks’ 300 employees to decide how to spend $250,000. The end result was a powerful team-building experience, which led to greater staff understanding and a better workplace.

Justworks is an HR platform that helps employers run their business by simplifying and supporting payroll, benefits, HR, and compliance. After rapid growth forced its employees to overflow into multiple offices, Justworks decided to move to a larger office on the far west side of Manhattan, 15 minutes from mass transit. To compensate for the worse commute, Oates, the company’s founder and CEO, committed an additional $250,000 to make Justworks a better place to work. And he asked employees to decide how to spend it.

Over a couple months last fall, Justworks held brainstorming sessions with facilitators, where dozens of employees identified initial ideas. Staff teams developed these ideas into proposals, and then sent a survey on the top proposals to all staff, to give feedback and prioritize which proposals should go to a vote.

Based on this feedback, Justworks narrowed down the list to six finalists. The staff teams prepared budgets and final proposals for each project, and then presented them to hundreds of staff at the all-hands meeting.

Each presenter delivered a tightly rehearsed pitch, with slides and a few jokes on the side. (Why vote for healthier snacks? “You’ve all had times where you go to grab a snack at 4pm and all that’s left are some bags of Hot Cheetos.”)

After a few vigorous rounds of questions, Oates thanked the project champions. “That was the most fun I’ve had in awhile!”

All staff then had a day to vote online, by casting up to three votes per person. 226 staff voted – 75% turnout!

The top four projects received enough votes to win funding: enhanced healthier snacks, a calm zen space for relaxing at the office, new office decor and art, and more comfortable office chairs. Justworks donated the remaining funds to a local soup kitchen.

Oates was impressed with the results of this new approach to employee engagement. “People learned about the budget. I always expect them to understand it, but they don’t really have the chance.”

During a challenging transition for Justworks, PB showed employees that the company was listening to their needs and investing in their priorities.

And at a difficult time for our democracy, Justworks also showed how PB can inspire a new wave of civic power. Over 100,000 people voted last year in PBNYC, learning first hand a better way to decide together. Oates was one of many who took this experience to heart, launching PB in his own community. Are you next?

You can find the original version of the article on the Participatory Budgeting Project’s site at www.participatorybudgeting.org/participatory-budgeting-for-businesses-it-justworks/.

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.

Missed our Tech Tuesday Feat Synaccord? Listen now!

We had another one of our fantastic NCDD Tech Tuesday calls last week featuring NCDD member David Fridley of Synaccord! We were joined by over 50 participants on the call, to learn more about the Synaccord online platform and the ways in which it compliments face-to-face (F2F) deliberation. David had a special offer for NCDDers which you can learn more about by listening to the recording! We recommend you check it out if you weren’t able to make it because it was a great call!

On the Tech Tuesday, David walked us through a demo of Synaccord using a previous project around developing a 2-year strategic plan; which gave participants an opportunity to see the capabilities of the platform. Participants use Synaccord to rank their values online before engaging in a F2F process and then afterward rank again online to see if/how perspectives shifted. The platform allows participants to give comments on their specific choices which is especially helpful because after decisions are submitted, the top priorities are shown with how much agreement/disagreement is in the group and comments can help guide how issues are worked with. Synaccord can easily accommodate larger groups by having smaller break out groups which then feed back into the larger group response; that way everyone’s input gets seen/heard and is accessible to the rest of participants.

If you were unable to join us on the call, never fear! We recorded the webinar which can be found on the archives page here. Access to the archives is a benefit of being an NCDD member, so make sure your membership is up-to-date (or click here to join).

Tech_Tuesday_Badge

Big thank you to David and everyone who joined us on this informative call! We encourage you to check out the TechTues recording and learn more about Synaccord and it’s online platform at www.synaccord.com/. To learn more about NCDD’s Tech Tuesday series and hear recordings of past calls, please visit www.ncdd.org/tech-tuesdays.

Finally, we love holding these events and we want to continue to elevate the work of our field with Tech Tuesdays and Confab Calls. It is through your generous contributions to NCDD that we can keep doing this work! That’s why we want to encourage you to support NCDD by making a donation or becoming an NCDD member today (you can also renew your membership by clicking here). Thank you!

The United States’ Democratic Promise (IF Discussion Guide)

The 36-page discussion guide, The United States’ Democratic Promise, was published by Interactivity Foundation in 2011 and edited by Dennis Boyer. For this discussion guide, IF brought together panelists to explore what democracy has come to mean in the US, why we value it, and to guide further discussion by offering contrasting public policy possibilities. Below is an excerpt from the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here, both in English and in Spanish.

From the introduction…

In this project, the two panels met in Madison, Wisconsin, from September 2010 to May 2011. This included a period of significant political turmoil in Wisconsin, including two months of protests by citizen groups and labor unions and an occupation of the state capitol. Several panelists played a role in these protests while several others opposed them. Needless to say, conditions on the ground provided a very interesting backdrop to the fundamental issues involving democratic governance and democratic government.

Panelists considered democratic governance to involve those elements of civil society that contribute to the conversation on the direction a democratic society should take, the cultivation of skills that contribute to democratic citizenship, and the formation of public opinion on choices that democratic citizens must make. Panelists saw these governance areas as important, or more important, than the formal systems of elections and processes that make up democratic government. It was the sentiment of the panels that a discussion of democracy in modern society must take both governance and government into account.

The panels started with a recognition that the United States’ experiment with democracy has been shaped by many forces and that our understanding of what democracy is has grown steadily. It was noted early on that the United States was founded as a republic with constitutional features that did not guarantee wide participation or majority rule. There was much struggle over who could participate as a citizen and the extent of the rights of that participation. Along the way, most U.S. citizens developed a sense of government of, for, and by the people, which many interpret as a promise of democracy.

Panelists felt that this promise of democracy has numerous aspects—some in contention with others. For some, the most important elements were freedom from arbitrary and heavy-handed government. For others, the central features had more to do with enlarging the community of citizenship and fostering participation. Many saw a complex web of rights and responsibilities that need to function as a democratic “ecosystem.” Almost all thought that attention must be paid to honest elections and fair democratic processes that inspire confidence and deal with democratic citizenship in the face of changing social conditions and expanding technological capabilities.

By the end of the project, panelists had arrived at the items that make up the possibilities in this report. Panelists recognized that some citizens might not want to enlarge democratic participation and that some public discussions of this report might focus on the reasons not to pursue these possibilities. The possibilities are contrasting approaches to the search for a democracy that goes beyond periodic elections and lip service to encourage participation. The possibilities value the consent and informed involvement of citizens. The possibilities also value the proximity of decision making and action to citizens…

Interactivity Foundation Fellows conduct discussion projects based on a process that relies on two panels (one of citizen-generalists and one of expert-specialists) to explore and develop areas of concern. These projects ask questions, develop answers, and complete other developmental tasks that assist in the drafting of contrasting policy possibilities that, hopefully, serve as discussion starting points for the public.

If you are interested in further information about the process used to develop IF reports or IF’s work in general, we invited you to consult our website at interactivityfoundation.org

The PDF version of this report is available for download here

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website at www.interactivityfoundation.org.

Follow on Twitter: @IFTalks

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/the-united-states-democratic-promise/

Apply for the 2018 Summer Institute of Civic Studies

We wanted to make sure folks in our network saw that the Summer Institute for Civic Studies is now accepting applications until March 16th, and we encourage you to read more about it in the post below. The Summer Institute will run from June 11 to June 21, 2018 at Tufts University in Medford, MA. Participants will then be expected to stay for the Frontiers of Democracy conference in Boston, immediately following the Institute from the evening of June 21st to June 23rd. You can read the announcement below or find the original version on Peter Levine’s blog here.


Apply for the 2018 Summer Institute of Civic Studies

The eleventh annual Summer Institute of Civic Studies will take place from June 11 to June 21, 2018 at Tufts University. It will be an intensive, two-week, interdisciplinary seminar that brings together faculty, advanced graduate students, and practitioners from many countries and diverse fields of study. Please consider applying or forward to others who may be interested.

The Summer Institute was founded and co-taught from 2009-17 by Peter Levine, Associate Dean of Research at Tisch College, and Karol Soltan, Associate Professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. In 2018, it will be taught by Peter Levine with Tufts colleagues. It features guest seminars by distinguished colleagues from various institutions and engages participants in challenging discussions such as:

  • How can people work together to improve the world?
  • How can people reason together about what is right to do?
  • What practices and institutional structures promote these kinds of citizenship?
  • How should empirical evidence, ethics, and strategy relate?

The daily sessions take place on the Tufts campus in Medford, MA. The seminar concludes with a public conference, Frontiers of Democracy, and participants in the Institute are expected to stay for the conference.

A draft syllabus for the 2018 summer institute (subject to change) is here. This is a 16-minute video introduction to Civic Studies. You can read more about the motivation for the Institute in the “Framing Statement” by Harry Boyte, University of Minnesota; Stephen Elkin, University of Maryland; Peter Levine, Tufts; Jane Mansbridge, Harvard; Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University; Karol Soltan, University of Maryland; and Rogers Smith, University of Pennsylvania.

To apply: please email your resume, an electronic copy of your graduate transcript (if applicable), and a cover email about your interests to Peter Levine at Peter.Levine@Tufts.edu.  For best consideration, apply no later than March 16, 2018.

You can also sign up here to receive occasional emails about the Summer Institute if you’re interested, but perhaps not for 2018.

European Institute: Applicants from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Poland, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan are invited to apply to the European Institute of Civic Studies to be held in Herrsching, near Munich, Germany, from July 15 to July 28, 2018. Their costs are covered thanks to a grant from DAAD.

Practicalities 

Tuition for the Institute is free, but participants are responsible for their own housing and transportation. One option is a Tufts University dormitory room, which can be rented from $69/night for a single or $85/night for a double. Credit is not automatically offered, but special arrangements for graduate credit may be possible.

The seminar will be followed (from June 21, evening, until June 23) by a public conference–”Frontiers of Democracy 2018″–in downtown Boston. Participants in the institute are expected to stay for the public conference. See information on the conference here.

You can find the original version of this resource on Peter Levine’s blog at http://peterlevine.ws/?p=19472.

Participatory Budgeting Coming to NYC High Schools

Very exciting news from NCDD member org – the Participatory Budgeting Project, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that participatory budgeting will soon be happening in all NYC public high schools. With over 400 high schools, this is bringing PB to schools in a way that sets a powerful precedent for youth engagement and participation in democracy. Friendly reminder about the Innovations in Participatory Democracy conference happening next week and we encourage folks in the NCDD network to attend!

For those that will be at IPD, NCDD will be co-presenting a session on the first day which you can learn about in our blog post here and we also plan on having an NCDD meet up on Friday night – which we would love for you to join! You can read the PBP announcement below or find the original here.


BIG News for PB in Schools – and a BIG invitation!

Did you hear? Just this week Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of Participatory Budgeting (PB) in all public high schools in New York City!

That’s over 400 schools in total!

In his State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio emphasized:

“We’ve got to prove to our young people that they’ve got the power to change the world around them. When people feel empowered they participate. When they can see the impact they’re making they come back for more. So starting next school year public school students will learn how to stay civically engaged and to fight for the future they believe in with our Civics for All initiative.”

At the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), we’re fighting for this future alongside young leaders like Jacinta Ojevwe and Vanessa Gonzalez – two of our youth scholarship recipients for the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference.

To continue growing this work, we’re hosting many conference sessionson how to engage, support, and empower youth leadership in reimagining democracy. I’m especially excited to open our conference at Phoenix’s Central High School during their PB vote – where we’ll hear from students and teachers and see nearly 3,000 students cast their ballots on how to spend part of the school district budget.

We’re eager to continue scaling and deepening the impacts of PB because, as Mayor de Blasio said:

“We know that when students feel that opportunity to make a difference it will be the beginning of a long lifetime of participation.”

Will you join us in empowering even more young leaders, and celebrating with them at our Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference?

For a preview of the PB vote in Phoenix, see (and share!) our PB in Schools Video.

Hope to see you there!

You can find the original version of this PBP blog post at www.participatorybudgeting.org/big-news-pb-schools-big-invitation/.

Promoting Mental Health in Community (IF Discussion Report)

The 18-page discussion report, Promoting Mental Health in Community, was published by Interactivity Foundation in October 2015 and edited by Nneka Edwards and Suzanne Goodney Lea. This is the initial draft of the discussion report; IF is planning to create a full discussion guide that communities can use when gun violence occurs in order to take mental health concerns into consideration when developing public policy. Below is an excerpt of the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here.

From IF…

This is a unique discussion project for IF, in that we have collaborated with the parents of a young man who was shot and killed in a mall rampage shooting in Columbia, MD, back in January 2014.  The young man who was killed (Tyler) was one of two young people killed before the gunman took his own life.  The shooter was only 18 and was most likely in the early stages of schizophrenia; he had actually tried to seek mental health care, but to no avail.  Tyler’s father did an interview on a local news station, and I was struck by his poise and compassion.  I’d never seen a parent in such a horrible situation exhibit such genuine empathy towards the shooter and his family.

It turns out that Tyler, who was just 25 when he was killed, had spent three years sober after overcoming addiction challenges.  He got sober once he made the connection for himself between his addiction issues and his own mental health state (he was manic depressive).  He had spent the three years before his death helping others to make the same connection between mental health and addiction so that they, too, could overcome their drug/alcohol dependencies.  The number of lives he touched surprised even his parents, who were moved by the many stories of the connections and healing Tyler had put out into the world around him.

Tyler’s parents have a strong desire to carry on Tyler’s work by helping citizens to become more aware of their own and others’ mental health—and of the importance of good mental health, more generally.  They are generally interested in creating a space to explore these issues in meaningful ways.  Violence is so rampant in American society, and, too often, efforts to discuss ways to curtail it become confounded by important debates over guns and gun restrictions.  Meantime, underlying mental health factors—which also must be discussed if we are to reduce the frequency and impact of these events–rarely get seriously explored.  We hope to begin to alter that narrative by providing the interesting array of possibilities in this discussion guide for exploration within communities of varying sizes and locations.  Very few American communities have been untouched by sudden eruptions of violence in a public space.

IF’s discussion guide on depression is by far the least discussed of any of our discussion guides.  This likely reflects the stigma associated with mental health conditions.  What’s interesting, however, is that when that discussion guide is discussed, the quality and meaningfulness of the discussion to its participants is marked.  We hope that your group’s exploration of the ideas and possibilities in this discussion guide will better inform your participants about things that they and/or their family members may be facing without even realizing it and about how to find and create the resources and support that will help to stave off the sorts of mental health disasters that too-often erupt within our communities.

If you are interested in further information about the process used to develop IF reports or IF’s work in general, we invited you to consult our website at interactivityfoundation.org

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website at www.interactivityfoundation.org.

Follow on Twitter: @IFTalks

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/promoting-mental-health-in-community/

Public Agenda on the Importance of Measuring Engagement

One of the many ways to express the importance of engagement is to have effective ways to measure engagement efforts. In a recent piece by Matt Leighninger of NCDD member organization Public Agenda, he wrote on some of the challenges to engagement and why the need exists to be more effective at how engagement is measured, both qualitatively and quantitatively. This article is part 6 in the series on ways that public engagement needs to improve and the links to the 5 previous installments are at the bottom of the page. You can read the article below or find the original on Public Agenda’s site here.


How Public Engagement Needs to Evolve, Part 6

How can public engagement evolve in order to meet the needs and goals of citizens today? My previous post explored how public institutions may collaborate in their efforts to support engagement so that it becomes more efficient, systemic and sustained. For this final installment in the series, I’ll address the need for better ways to measure the perceptions, processes and outcomes of engagement, so that people know how to continually improve it.

Measuring engagement, especially in quantifiable ways, has always been difficult. There are a number of challenges, including:

  • Difficulty in defining engagement. Many leaders understand engagement to mean the one-way dissemination of “correct” information to the community, in order to disprove “incorrect” information. Some see it as purely meaning face-to-face meetings, while others are focused mainly on online interactions.
  • Differing forms of intensity. Engagement varies in intensity, from “thick” forms that are deliberative, labor-intensive and action-oriented, to “thin” forms that are fast, easy and potentially viral. Both are valuable, but for different reasons. Counting website hits or social media impressions may overemphasize the thin forms, while counting participation in meetings may overemphasize the thick forms.
  • Just counting heads may give you the wrong impression. Counting participants in any setting may be deceptive because in places where conventional forms of engagement are the only ones being used, people tend to mostly engage when they are angry or fearful about decisions being made by government. In this sense, higher numbers of people “engaging” can be a sign that governments are failing to practice more proactive, productive forms of engagement.
  • Inexperienced engagement staff. Counting staff positions dedicated to engagement as an indicator of government’s commitment can be misleading – since engagement is often defined in limited ways, these “engagement” job positions are often devoted to traditional PR or stakeholder relations. These jobs are often given by public officials to people who were particularly active campaign volunteers, but who have only a narrow and limited background in what engagement can do for governance and problem solving, and the many forms it can take.
  • Inability to measure impact. One of the most critical measures of engagement, especially to citizens, is whether public input has some kind of meaningful influence on public policies and practices. This is a particularly difficult thing to assess; it defies quantitative measurement and is subject to many different variables.

Despite these challenges, it is possible – and, in fact, critically important – to assess public engagement, including quantitative measures of both processes and outcomes. (Leighninger and Nabatchi, “How Can We Quantify Democracy?” Dispute Resolution, Fall 2015). Engagement practitioners have been able to measure how many and what kinds of people are participating. They’ve also been able to examine if people value the engagement, how the experience affects them, and whether engagement inspires and supports volunteerism, voting and other civic measures.

However, in most places, these kinds of measurement practices are done only sporadically and on a project-by-project basis. Leaders and practitioners are more likely to be focusing on the basics – how many people are participating, and the demographics of those participants – and have not begun assessing community members’ perceptions of engagement opportunities, or evaluating the impacts of engagement on volunteerism or policymaking. When measurement does occur, the findings are often not shared with the community and community members are rarely asked to help gather, analyze or act on the data.

If we can do better measuring on a more regular basis, we may connect the findings about engagement with some of the high-level indicators that are being used to track community success. These include the Civic Index that the National Civic League has maintained for over 25 years, the Civic Health Index developed by the National Conference on Citizenship a decade ago, and the Soul of the Community research produced by the Knight Foundation. There are also specific community examples like the Wellbeing Index in Santa Monica, California. While these indexes are interesting and helpful for assessing where the community stands, it’s unclear whether and how a community’s engagement level impacts the overall scores.

We probably need a family of measurement tools in order to bridge the gap between narrow evaluations and broad indicators. I’ve written about potential tools and have also been involved in creating others. One example is the Participatory Democracy Index, which is being piloted in beta by the World Forum on Democracy in Europe. The more that we can connect people who are building new tools, the more we can learn from one another and ensure that we are on the same page about fundamental questions, like how we are defining engagement. Public Agenda convened an online dialogue among people who are grappling with the measurement challenge, so that we could compare notes and see if there are common themes in our work. Later in the year, the Knight Foundation will release a white paper based on what we found.

By doing a better job of measuring engagement, we can help clear up some of the confusion about what engagement means and why it is important. Many public officials and other leaders use the rhetoric of community building, citizenship and democracy, but the language often seems to be used mainly as a window dressing, making it difficult for citizens to monitor their progress or hold public officials accountable for their rhetoric. Finding new ways to measure these interactions can be a powerful way of making engagement more meaningful and productive.

You can find the original version of this article on Public Agenda’s blog at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/how-public-engagement-needs-to-evolve-part-6.

Recap on our Tech Tues Feat Iceland’s Citizens Foundation

NCDD hosted another one of our informative and exciting TechTues calls earlier this week! We were joined by around 100 participants from across the world to learn more about Citizens Foundation, their digital democracy solutions, and how they are working to strengthen civic engagement in Iceland and internationally.

We recommend you listen to the recording if you weren’t able to make it because it was a great call!

On the call, Robert Bjarnason of Citizens Foundation walked participants through a brief history of how democracy has evolved throughout the last millennium in Iceland and set the stage for the work they are doing today. Founded in the aftermath of Iceland’s economic collapse in 2008, Citizens Foundation sought to improve public participation in government and policy change, by creating open source tools and implementing more democratic processes. They specialize in participatory budgeting, policy crowdsourcing, and other open source projects spanning several countries in Europe and in Australia.

Some of our favorite quotes from Robert during the Tech Tuesday:

  • “A key factor is to make participation fun. Make it informational and educational, but it can’t be boring. People have too many other options, there’s competition for attention, so make it an enjoyable experience”
  • “Lower the barrier to reach more people and not just the usual suspects”
  • “It’s key to let people know about the effort, they can’t participate if they don’t know about it.”
  • “If you listen to the people, the people will listen to you.”
  • [In response to a question on how do you make participation fun?] “Complicated is how you kill fun, make it simple and use pictures!”

If you were unable to join us on the call, never fear! We recorded the webinar which can be found on the archives page here. Access to the archives is a benefit of being an NCDD member, so make sure your membership is up-to-date (or click here to join).  We had an active chat discussion which raised some really interesting questions and examples, and you can check out the transcript of this chat by clicking here. Robert also shared the slides from his presentation, which you can find by clicking here, in case you wanted to scroll through them.

Tech_Tuesday_BadgeBig thank you to Robert and everyone who participated on the call to make it engaging and informative! We encourage you to check out the TechTues recording and learn more about Citizens Foundation’s ongoing work at https://citizens.is/. To learn more about NCDD’s Tech Tuesday series and hear recordings of past calls, please visit www.ncdd.org/tech-tuesdays.

Finally, we love holding these events and we want to continue to elevate the work of our field with Tech Tuesdays and Confab Calls. It is through your generous contributions to NCDD that we can keep doing this work! That’s why we want to encourage you to support NCDD by making a donation or becoming an NCDD member today (you can also renew your membership by clicking here).