Reporting on All Narratives/ Hidden Common Ground in Unprecedented Times

The growing sense of division in our country has been felt  strongly this year in conjunction with the physical separation of pandemic life and elections right around the corner. This article published on USA Today, written by David Mathews, President of Kettering Foundation, explores a narrative that is rarely reported on. USA Today networks and America Amplified, a public media collaborative, equipped with research provided by organizations including Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation want to uncover the common ground. The main findings reported demonstrate more common ground exists than we realize, and sustains the possibility of collaboration as divergent narrative for Americans and journalists alike.

To read the op ed in detail read below and for the original posting on USA Today click here.

How Americans can learn once again to solve our nation’s problems together

To solve really difficult problems, people realize that they have to work with others who may be different.

The year 2020 will go down in history as extraordinary. Americans, by most accounts, are deeply divided. They can’t even talk to those they disagree with.

Many people appear traumatized by fear. Some insist that change is long overdue. Some see the country sliding into moral chaos and want to preserve what they value in the American way of life. But there is little agreement on what needs to change or what needs to be preserved.

That’s the dominant story. But it isn’t the only one.

In covering the 2020 election, some journalists are telling another story. The group includes the USA Today Network and America Amplified, a public media collaborative. They are drawing on nonpartisan research provided by organizations including Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation, where I work.

Kettering’s research draws on nearly 40 years of results from local deliberative forums held by a nationwide network known as the National Issues Forums. Here are the main findings from our research:

►There is more common ground on policy issues than is recognized. People favor such policies as increasing economic opportunities, providing for affordable childcare and keeping jobs in the U.S. But the thing Americans agree on most is that there is too much divisiveness — even if they contribute to it sometimes.

►Citizens and government officials often talk past one another, which makes the loss of public confidence in government grow even greater. For instance, on health policy, those in government are naturally concerned about the cost to their budgets. But NIF forums show that people are most concerned about a health care system so complex it is almost impossible to navigate.

►Despite the tendency to favor the likeminded, in some circumstances people will consider opinions they don’t like. There is a space between agreement and disagreement, an arena in which people decide, “I don’t particularly like what we are considering doing about this problem, but I can live it — for now.”

This is the arena of pragmatic problem-solving. Observers of National Issues Forums have seen people move into it even on explosive issues like immigration. Described as a pivot, it changes the tone of decision making. When it happens, problem solving can move forward, even without total agreement.

This pivot occurs when issues are described in terms of what people find deeply valuable — not “values” but age-old imperatives like safety and being treated fairly. When issues are described in this way and framed with several options for solutions, with both advantages and disadvantages clearly laid out, people will confront tensions between what they prefer and consequences they may not like.

Recognizing that everyone is motivated by the same basic imperatives removes barriers to listening to others who may not be like us or even like us. Even if people disagree, they become aware of greater complexity. They explore the tradeoffs inherent in difficult decisions. That opens the door to understanding the experiences and concerns of others.

EvDem Joins Virtual Conference on Jail Reform and Equity

This story is shared by Everyday Democracy an NCDD member organization, who participated in a nationwide virtual conference on the criminal justice system. The conference was hosted by The Safety and Justice Challenge and gave way for in-depth exploration at educational, networking, and dialogic solutions to the criminal system, and specifically jail reform. EvDem has been providing community engagement technical assistance to the Safety and Justice Challenge since 2018 and was honored to moderate an exchange session at the virtual convening.  In the session, EvDem shared the progress achieved in two jurisdictions where their dialogue to change approach is being implemented.

Read more about the overview of the convening and watch EvDem’s session in our post below, you can also find the original posting on the EvDem site here.

Equity in Criminal Justice and Strengthening Community Trust Through Dialogue to Action

The Safety and Justice Challenge supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has been working with leaders across the country to tackle one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America – the misuse and overuse of jails.  Since January 2018, Everyday Democracy has been providing community engagement technical assistance to the Safety and Justice Challenge network and has helped specific jurisdictions adopt and implement racial equity-driven community engagement practices.

Everyday Democracy has focused its efforts in five geographical areas: Cook County, IL; Charleston, SC; Palm Beach County FL; Pima County AZ; and Spokane WA.

A Nationwide “VIRTUAL” Networking Conference Brings Social Justice Advocates Together for Next Steps in Meaningful and Sustainable Change in Justice System Inequities.  From May 19 – May 21, social justice advocates from coast to coast gathered “virtually” for a three-day deep dive education and networking convening designed to bring people together to share challenges, talk about the roles in the system in the COVID-19 environment, build collective capacity and inspire and motivate those who are tirelessly doing what is needed for equitable changes in jail reform and the criminal justice system.

The days were filled with a wide range of plenary sessions, workshops, networking opportunities and the collection of a plethora of resources that can be accessed on an ongoing basis.  Everyday Democracy moderated an exchange session that provided an overview of the progress made in two communities, Cook County, IL and Charleston, SC using its dialogue to change approach and the resulting action forums that are driving change in those jurisdictions. Everyday Democracy Co-moderators Carolyne Abdullah, Senior Director, and Gwendolyn Whiting, Director of Training and Leadership Development facilitated the exchange where each site could share their dialogue to change and community engagement experiences and outcomes.

From the greater Chicago community in Cook County, community engagement coordinator, Kim Davis-Ambrose spoke of their challenges and successes. She explained how the dialogues allowed those voices of the community who have not been heard on this critical issue to be heard in an “up close and personal” way and how issues of trust between the community and system actors improved over the course of the 5-week dialogue project.  She shared that the dialogues were not a fix, but the transparency they offered resulted in authentic partnerships between those in government, the community and with system-impacted individuals with lived experience. Going forward, those who participated in the dialogues aim to continue to work on issues of systemic racism, white privilege and unjust bias, and they will work toward creating more opportunities for the community to stay involved and to address the mental health issues, concerns and challenges faced by those most impacted.

Kristy Pierce Danford who led the efforts in Charleston County, SC stressed the importance that their objective was to go beyond speaking engagements and that the Dialogue to Change process allowed for that.  They aimed to raise awareness of the inequities in their criminal justice systems by using a step-by-step implementation approach.  They held big events which led into facilitator training and roundtable dialogues – then community surveys to community actions forums.  The continuum of activities and feedback received from representatives throughout their community informed their 3-year strategic plan.

Many of the other sessions at the virtual networking conference were eye opening and informative.  Some of the many topics included: The Role of People with Lived Experience in Efforts to Reduce Jail Populations; System Responses to COVID-19; Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities; A Toolkit on the Use of Person First Language When Discussing Directly Impacted People; Access to Counsel at First Appearance; Reducing Court Continuances and Performance Data.

As the Convening sessions were nearing completion, Gwendolyn Whiting noted that inequities, particularly for black and brown people was the thread throughout.   Racial equity is at the core of the reform needed, and she challenges everyone to work toward eliminating the structural racism that stands in the way of a truly equitable and fair system for all, and especially those who are most impacted.

Keith Smalls participated in the Everyday Democracy workshop and is participating in the Charleston Dialogue to Change efforts.  Keith said that is all about building community trust.  After having served 19 years in the Dept. of Corrections, he stated that the punishment outweighed the rehabilitation.  But he is grateful for the opportunity to mend broken fences in this dialogue process. “Being part of the conversation, enabled me to apologize to the community and build a bridge back.  It also created the opportunity for me to come back as a concerned citizen.”

It is rewarding for all when there are opportunities for people, institutions, and government to work together for the common good.  Outcomes in both Cook County and Charleston, as well as in other jurisdictions active in the Safety & Justice Challenge are showing that when we authentically engage with each other through productive dialogues and work together, we can see changes in policy and system reforms are starting to make a difference.  The technical support for these jurisdictions were by Gwen Wright in Cook County and Gwen along with Alex Cartagena in Charleston, both who are network consultants for Everyday Democracy.

While there is much more to do, the needle is moving in the right direction. In the closing plenary session of this nationwide Convening, participants were encouraged to remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  All are encouraged to reimagine, reconstruct, recalibrate, and re-envision a criminal justice system the whole community can benefit from.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Everyday Democracy site at

Reflections on a Text, Talk, Act Dialogue on Mental Health

We want to share an update on Text, Talk, Act – the youth mental health conversation initiative launched in 2013 by NCDD-supported Creating Community Solutions – that we saw on NCDD organizational member the Public Conversations Project‘s blog. They featured a piece by Nancy Goodman reflecting on the what was discussed in the TTA conversation she facilitated with high school teens, and it gives a great glimpse into how TTA works and how powerful these dialogues are.

We encourage you to read Nancy’s piece below or find the original PCP post here. Learn more about Text, Talk, Act by clicking here.

Teens Talk Mental Health

I am a transition coordinator at Gloucester High School and a Public Conversations training alumni. In May, I facilitated a group of students coming together to discuss the stigmas around conversations about mental health as part of the nation-wide “Text, Talk, Act” campaign, of which Public Conversations Project was a partner. The conversation was deeply personal, but also indicative of the more broadly felt silence we as a society hold around this topic. Here are some of the questions and ideas we explored together.

Why is mental health a hard topic to talk about?

The students’ answers included, “You can’t see it – compared to physical illness,” “We’re under so much pressure to be perfect, to be acting as if we’re coping well,” and “There’s such a stigma associated with mental stuff.”

How closely has mental illness affected you?

Three of the six students described experiencing some depression or anxiety; one of them had tried to commit suicide last winter. I was taken aback by this revelation and grappled with how to respond. I asked whether others in the group had been aware of her struggle. Some reported having had a sense that something was wrong and others had not known. The students took her announcement in stride, and it did not become a focal point of our conversation. One described struggling with PTSD and OCD. Another has siblings with autism and Asperger’s. Two reported that they have not had close contact with mental illness.

What has been helpful and not so helpful?

Students reported that the school psychologists are sometimes helpful and sometimes not helpful, that drama club has been a “lifesaver,” and that medication has been helpful. One girl reported that, even though she resisted her at first, she now loves her therapist a lot. One of the girls who described herself as generally upbeat said that something that is not helpful is people coming up to her and asking if she’s ok just “because I’m not all smiley and happy that day.” Another student said, “I am only close to two friends. Sometimes I wish other people would reach out and invite me to hang out.”

What’s the definition of mental health?

  1. No one is 100% healthy.
  2. It’s liking who you are as a person.
  3. It’s about eating well and staying active.
  4. It’s being able to ask for what you need.

What do you want to/are you willing to do next?

Although students liked the idea of talking more, they felt strongly that they didn’t want to become “spokespeople” for mental health. They felt they would be too vulnerable to the ignorant reactions from certain students. The two drama club students expressed interest in going through a similar set of questions within the drama club.

Facilitator’s perspective:

As the group facilitator, there are two impressions from the conversation I’d like to share. First, with all the work that has been done to empower young women, several of these girls undermined their own comments by giggling after they made a point or shared something personal. Beyond nervous laughter, this behavior betrayed a real discomfort with their own stories, not just the difficult topic at hand.

My second impression is that, as a society, we’ve chosen to medicate our children rather than to relieve the conditions that are contributing to their mental illnesses.

Overall I was thrilled to be part of this authentic conversation about a topic of real concern to these students.

You can find the original version of this Public Conversations Project blog post at

Host a Text, Talk, Act Mental Health Conversation this April 14th & May 7th!

In case you missed our previous post, we want to remind you again that Text, Talk, Act  is back! This April and May, thousands of people, especially young people, will have a nationwide conversation on mental health and how to help a friend in need, and you should join!

Here’s how it works: Through text messaging, small groups will receive discussion questions to lead them through a conversation about mental health – how to take care of their own and how to help a friend in need. The conversation will last for about 45 minutes and all that’s needed is a smart phone and few people to participate.

The next two conversations for Text, Talk, Act will take place on Tuesday, April 14th (in collaboration with Active Minds’ Stress Less Week) and on Thursday, May 7th (in partnership with SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day). We strongly encourage our NCDD members to consider signing up to organize a Text, Talk, Act event in your communities. We know these events are helping make a difference in the lives of young people across the country, and we want to support this innovative way to engage young people in dialogue!

Also don’t forget about the great contest where TTA participants can win $1,000 for their schools or organizations!

If you want to participate but can’t make either date, you can still take part anytime between now and the end of May by following the same instructions. We encourage you to learn more about Text, Talk, Act by visiting

Looking for more opportunities to dialogue about mental health in you community? Everyday Democracy, one of our key NCDD organizational members, has a number of resources that can help you organize a community conversation around mental health as part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health. If you are interested, please visit

You can also learn more about the process for organizing a mental health community conversation, as well as access some free resources, here:

Text, Talk, Act Conversations Return this April & May

We are happy to announce that Text, Talk, Act – the youth mental health conversation initiative launched in 2013 by NCDD-supported Creating Community Solutions – is returning with two nationwide events this spring! As most of you know, TTA has been supported by NCDD since early on, and it has already shown a lot of encouraging results in past iterations.

This next round of conversations has two different dates and promises to be the best one yet! The first date is Tuesday, April 14th in partnership with Active Mind’s Stress Less Week. The second one, Thursday, May 7th, coincides with SAMSHA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.

We strongly encourage our NCDD members to consider signing up to organize a Text, Talk, Act event in your communities. We know these events are helping make a difference in the lives of young people across the country, and we want to support this innovative way to engage young people in dialogue!

We are also excited to announce that groups that participate in this spring’s TTA conversations are eligible to win the contest for one of five $1,000 prizes for their school or organization! For those groups that can’t participate on either of these days, Text, Talk, Act will be open during all of April and May! Anyone, at any time, from anywhere, can participate in Text, Talk, Act by texting START to 89800 (or 778-588-1995 for people in Canada or those who may have blocks in place for the shorter number).

You can get involved today by registering to host an event here, and don’t forget to check out the toolkit CCS created to support event organizers.

Want to know more about Text, Talk, Act? You can learn more in the video below or by visiting

Creating Community Solutions Alliance Wins IAP2 USA Project of the Year

We wanted to share the great news that last month, the Creating Community Solutions Alliance received the International Association of Public Participation’s USA Project of the Year Core Value Award.

ccs-logoNCDD is one of six organizations that make up the core CCS alliance — including the National Institute for Civil Discourse (the lead partner), Everyday Democracy, the National Issues Forums Institute, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and AmericaSpeaks.

Creating Community Solutions won for its work in bringing people to the table for the national dialogue on mental health dialogue. To date, Creating Community Solutions has helped organize almost 200 community dialogues on mental health, and through our innovative Text, Talk, Act program, we have engaged thousands of young people in a conversation on mental health. Go to learn more about the award.

Congratulations also to NCDD members Doug Sarno and John Godec, who were recognized for their role in the St. Vrain Valley School District project “Leadership St Vrain – Empowering Parents through P2,” which won Research Project of the Year.

Creating Community Solutions has been an integral component of the National Dialogue on Mental Health, launched by President Obama and supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as well as other agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.

CCS has organized or supported three main forms of participation around the question “How can we work together to strengthen mental health, particularly for young people?”:

  1. CCS-Map-11-17-14In the cities of Albuquerque, Birmingham, Columbus, Kansas City, Sacramento, and Washington DC, one of the CCS organizations helped form a local steering committee, led by the mayor, for a large-scale deliberative process leading to a metro-wide action plan for strengthening mental health, with up to $200,000 raised in each city for the implementation of the plan.
  2. In nearly 200 cities and towns thus far, CCS has helped local organizers host deliberative forums or town meetings.
  3. On December 5th, 2013, April 24th, 2014 and October 6, 2014, CCS held “Text, Talk, and Act,” a nationwide, text-enabled, face-to-face discussion on mental health.

In all three formats, participants used an array of materials produced by CCS to learn more about mental health, survey some of the options for strengthening mental health, and recommend measures to be included in local action plans. Metro-wide action plans are being implemented in six cities.

Participant satisfaction levels were high for both the large-scale deliberative events and the “Text, Talk, and Act” dialogues. Throughout all the participation formats, participants consistently named the same core themes for strengthening mental health.

Over 1,500 people have been engaged in the six lead cities, over 1,600 in the other communities, and an estimated 3,500 in “Text, Talk, and Act.”

If you haven’t been following this project, there is much to dig into on the website at You can also look back on NCDD’s blog posts in the CCS tag at NCDD is very proud to be part of this award-winning project!


Join a Live Video Chat on #TextTalkAct Tomorrow

Join organizers of the award-winning #TextTalkAct in a live video chat hosted by @DocForeman tomorrow (Tuesday, November 18th) at 6:30 pm Eastern / 3:30 pm Pacific. Hear what happened during our national Text Talk Act contest on October 6. We’ll connect you with:

  • Winning youth organizers;
  • Ideas texted in by participants across the country;
  • Resources for taking action.

To participate, simply click on this link on Tuesday, Nov 18 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time. You’ll be connected to the live streaming video on YouTube that begins at that time, and you’ll be able to comment via Twitter or YouTube using the #TextTalkAct hashtag.

Dr. April Foreman is a Licensed Psychologist and innovator in using social media platforms like Twitter to connect with thought leaders in healthcare across the world. Currently, she works for the Southeast Louisiana Healthcare System, serving Veterans as a Suicide Prevention Coordinator in Baton Rouge.

Text Talk Act is a series of innovative experiments in texting-enabled dialogue. As part of our role in the National Dialogue on Mental Health project Creating Community Solutions, NCDD and our partners have been experimenting with how the fun and convenience of text messaging can be leveraged to scale up face-to-face dialogue — especially among young people.

In April, we featured Matt Leighninger and Michael Smith from the Text Talk Act core team on an NCDD Confab Call.  Audio from the call and an archive of the collaborative doc we created during the call for Q&A and networking can be accessed at

“Text, Talk, Act” Mental Health Conversations Return Oct. 6

We are so pleased to announce that the Text, Talk, Act mental health conversation is returning, this time with a great contest element. TTA is part of the NCDD-supported Creating Community Solutions initiative, and we highly encourage our members, especially those of you who work with youth, to consider hosting your own conversations! Learn more below or visit

One in four adults suffer from this in any given year. If it were cancer, diabetes or heart disease, we’d label it an epidemic. The once silent killer has suddenly starting screaming at us everywhere we go. It’s rocking our communities, and it’s affecting our families.

“It” is the state of our mental health – and it’s time we all started talking about it. And given that 3/4 of all mental health problems begin between the ages of 14 and 24, young people desperately need to have this conversation. But how do you bring up the elephant in the room? And how do you talk about something that’s been left in the shadows for so long?

Right now, across the country, young people are finally having this conversation. Through text messaging, groups of emerging adults are receiving discussion questions to start the conversation, and are given resources to learn how to take care of themselves and how to help a friend in need. These brave young people are ending the silence and taking to social media to encourage others to talk about the elephant in the room.

On Monday, October 6th, this conversation will go nationwide. Anyone, anywhere, at any time can join this vital effort. It’s easy:

  1. Gather 3-4 people* and text START to 89800
  2. Talk with their group using the text-enable questions
  3. Be part of the change

To encourage the conversation, participants can win prizes for themselves or their schools/community organizations. One of 10 lucky winners (between the ages of 18-24) will receive $500, and three $1,000 prizes will go to a winning high school, college and community organization. In addition, three lucky participants will receive an iPad mini. Visit for more details and to register.
Groups that can’t join the nationwide discussion on Oct. 6th can host a Text, Talk, Act event any time from now through the end of October. Simply text START to 89800 to begin.**

This initiative was developed in concert with Creating Community Solutions, part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, The National Institute for Civil Discourse, Everyday Democracy, American Association of Suicidology, National Alliance on Mental Health, the National Campus Leadership Council, and Crisis Text Line.

*Don’t have 3-4 peeps with you on Oct 6? Join the discussion on Twitter using #TextTalkAct

**From Canada? Short codes blocked on your phone? Use 7785881995

Updates from the Deliberative Democracy Consortium

DDC logoWe recently received a newsletter from NCDD supporting member Matt Leighninger of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC), and we wanted to share it with you. The DDC has been working on some important and exciting projects, and they have 3 big announcements.

First, the DDC has released a significant new white paper:

Infogagement: Citizenship and Democracy in the Age of Connection is the latest white paper from PACE (Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement). Written by the DDC’s Matt Leighninger, the report – downloadable here - describes the innovative collision of journalism, technology, and public engagement. It is based on interviews with PACE members and many other leading thinkers, and presents the main arguments in the form of six sections, a series of charts, and a two-act play. Leighninger, Paula Ellis, and Chris Gates will discuss the report in a PACE webinar next Tuesday, September 16th – register at

Second, the DDC is part of hosting a new round of the wonderful Text, Talk, Act initiative, which is jointly supported by NCDD:

Monday, October 6th, will be the next big day for “Text, Talk, and Act” – a nationwide, text-enabled, face-to-face on mental health. Thousands of people have taken part in “Text, Talk, and Act,” which is a Creating Community Solutions event in the National Dialogue on Mental Health. Participating is easy: just get together with 4-5 other people on the 6th and text “START” to 89800. For more information, see

Lastly, Matt is releasing a great new textbook soon that is sure to be a key work for those teaching about our field’s work:

Coming soon: Matt Leighninger and Tina Nabatchi (Maxwell School, Syracuse University) are hard at work on a textbook on Public Participation in 21st Century Democracy, to be released in early 2015 by Wiley/Jossey-Bass.

We encourage you to learn more about the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and their work at

New EvDem Documentary on Youth Mental Health Dialogue

We hope you will take a moment to read about a great project that our organizational partners at Everyday Democracy are working on with a New Mexico youth organization called Generation Justice. Their new documentary is helping young people have the difficult but needed conversations about mental health in connection with the NCDD-supported Creating Community Solutions initiative. We hope you’ll take a moment to read about their work or find the original post from EvDem here.

EvDem LogoWhen the Mask Comes Off, produced by the youth media organization Generation Justice, is a video documentary featuring young people from New Mexico discussing their experiences of living with mental illness. We hear stories of struggle on their journey from misperception and alienation toward self-acceptance and healing. The documentary comes with adaptable discussion guides for use in communities and schools.

Generation Justice Executive Director Roberta Rael said, “We want to make sure that young people have a voice in the discussions about mental health and that young people contribute to the change that is needed.” View the video trailer here:

When the Mask Comes Off is a partnership between Generation Justice and Everyday Democracy, a national organization working with communities to create positive change by providing tools, advice and strategies that help make democracy real for everyone.

Everyday Democracy answered the call of President Barack Obama for a National Dialogue on Mental Health and helped establish Creating Community Solutions to help local communities enter the national conversation. In July 2013, Albuquerque became one of the first cities to launch a multi-year initiative to bring people into dialogue as part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health.

At the launch event on July 20, hundreds of residents across the community participated in dialogue and identified a priority to expand mental health resources for young people and to create opportunities for youth to talk about mental health. Subsequent neighborhood dialogues throughout the region have also identified that priority. The release of When the Mask Comes Off is a step in fulfilling that need.

Martha McCoy, executive director of Everyday Democracy, said, “Bringing young people’s voices into this critical conversation has surfaced as a priority in community dialogues across the United States. When the Mask Comes Off will open the door for that difficult conversation.”

See the full version of the film.

View and download the discussion guide for schools.

View and download the discussion guide for communities.

The original version of this post from Everyday Democracy can be found at