Upcoming Opportunities with Common Ground for Action

We wanted to let everyone know about several updates this month from NCDD member org, Kettering Foundation on their Common Ground for Action online forum. Coming up quick is the  CGA forum on climate choices being held tomorrow (September 8th – Register ASAP!) and another CGA forum on healthcare on September 21st. Later on in the month, Kara Dillard will be hosting a two-part training on how to use CGA forums in your communities or places of work. Register to join these online forums and trainings by clicking on the links in the announcement below. This announcement was from the September Kettering newsletter – sign up here to start receiving their newsletter.


Common Ground for Action: Updates, Upcoming Forums, and Moderator Training

The largest public university in the country, the Ohio State University, is using Common Ground for Action online forums as part of its first-year experience programming again this year, offering students the chance to participate in deliberative forums on climate choices and other issues. CGA is also being used by many other teachers in colleges around the country, including Lone Star College in Texas, Florida International University, and the University of Washington.

If you haven’t had a chance to participate in an online deliberative forum using KF and NIFI’s Common Ground for Action platform yet, or if you want to participate in a forum on Climate Choices or Health Care, there are two open forums in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, September 8, 1 p.m. EST/10 a.m. PST | Climate Choices | REGISTER

Thursday, September 21, 12 p.m. EST/9 a.m. PST | Health Care | REGISTER

If you’re unable to participate in either of those forums, click on the button below to sign up to receive e-mail invitations to other upcoming CGA forums.

Would you like to learn to use CGA in your work or community? Kara Dillard, an experienced moderator of CGA forums, is leading an online training session soon. The session consists of two parts, Thursday, September 21, at 12 p.m. ET and Friday, September 22, at 4 p.m. ET. The first session consists of participating in a CGA forum; the second session walks participants through moderating an online forum and using the support materials. REGISTER.

Opportunity to Facilitate Ben Franklin Circles

We are excited to announce that NCDD is working with New York’s 92nd Street Y to support, The Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), a project in collaboration with Citizen University and the Hoover Institution. BFC – an NCDD member org, could use some facilitation support and that’s where NCDD comes in –  we have an exciting opportunity for you!

The Circles are inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s junto or “mutual improvement club,” – a sort of civic engagement support group the founding father started and ran for over 40 years.  In this 21st Century reboot, small groups of people get together once a month to reflect on big themes that Franklin identified as key to living a good life and creating a good society – topics like Industry/Work; Justice; Moderation; Thrift/Frugality and more.  There are 13 total.  Participants are encouraged to think about how these principles impact their own lives and how they shape our society, using the conversations as a way to create empathy and strengthen community bonds. Read more about the Circles in our Resource Center.

Here is the opportunity: 92Y has created a platform and toolkit and is offering limited stipends for facilitators to help lead these conversations in their communities. Circles meet once a month for 13 months for about 90 minutes each session. Meetings can be scheduled based on the facilitator’s schedule. 

This is a great opportunity for you to utilize this model, connect with groups in your community, and get paid for your time as well! NCDD would love to see a whole bunch of you get involved with Circles across the country. It’s another great way we can work to strengthen community connections and help people bridge divides, at this particularly divisive time in our nation. And many of you have the networks with interest in these kinds of conversations!

If you are interested in this opportunity and would like to connect with organizers to learn more, please fill out this quick form here and they will contact you to discuss this opportunity further! 

For more information, please visit: benfranklincircles.org. You can follow BFC on Facebook, Instagram, and on Twitter at @BFCircles as well as the hashtag #BenFranklinCircles.

NCDD Org on the Need for a National Conversation

In such challenging times, we wanted to lift up the blog piece from NCDD member org Essential Partners on the urgent need for holding a national conversation to address our most pressing issues as a country, and what that conversation could look like on an individual level. The article calls for the deeper need to actually hold a national conversation and not just call for one; and then to show up for these conversations with the purpose of listening not just talking, being reflective not just reactionary. We encourage you to read the full piece below or you can find the original version on Essential Partners site here.


What Do You Mean When You Say ‘National Conversation?’

Did you read the recent article by Wesley Morris in the New York Times called “Why Calls for a National Conversation Are Futile?” I did, and though it resonated deeply, I found it troubling. Morris writes to shine a spotlight on the dangerous combination of our limited attention spans and historical amnesia when it comes to demanding a dialogue about a tough topic. Today, he argues, it seems that calling for a conversation is as good as having one. At the very least, it’s as good as absolving us of our accountability to actually engage across differences. After all, easier to call for a national conversation than to actually embark on the thorny, sometimes painful process of having one, committing to truly wrestle with the issues that matter, and about which we painfully disagree.

Morris is right in one sense. In the age of most public discourse happening over 140 characters, we are not in the age of listening he describes, in which the fabric of our civic life was regularly discussed, meaningfully, on mainstream media. He says “I miss everyday Americans opening up on daytime television.” So do we. But whether the voice comes from Oprah Winfrey or Bill Clinton in a reflection on race or a random Twitter user, it is still a single voice. And that’s where I think Morris’ definition of “conversation” falls short in what it imagines to be possible. No matter how empathetic Oprah and her program, his vision is of a platform better suited for public grandstanding rather than personal connection.

National conversations, be they about race or guns and public safety, are urgent. Media must be part of those conversations. But in today’s landscape, the burden of national conversation can’t land on the shoulders of the media. That’s not because the intentions aren’t good, or the leaders eager to make a difference. It’s because the missing ingredient he names – empathy – doesn’t just happen. Empathy happens when we truly listen to, and are heard by, people who are different from us. Culture shift around how we talk with each other about what matters requires more than tuning in; it requires the deep, careful work of showing up to a conversation ready not simply to share your story, but to listen to others whose words might hurt. More even than willingness, it requires a specific skillset in asking new questions that invite reflection and curiosity, in listening with resilience, in allowing a structure that grounds a conversation in experience. It’s easy to call that hard, human work futile, when it’s really challenging, intimate, and potentially exposing.

There are resources out there. Here at Public Conversations Project [now known as Essential Partners], we focus on equipping individuals and communities to have those essential conversations, and to build the capacity for addressing tough topics for the long haul. Morris is right – we need courageous conversations in our public life. But we also need to embrace a bold will to have those conversations at home, around our dinner tables and in our town halls.  We would welcome journalists to cover the stories when those conversations happen, not simply bemoan the widening divide when they don’t.

You can read the full article on Essential Partners site at www.whatisessential.org/blog/what-do-you-mean-when-you-say-national-conversation.

Transpartisan Review Issue #2 Now Available

I’m excited to announce the latest issue of a project produced by a handful of members and friends of NCDD – The Transpartisan Review #2. Originally introduced to the NCDD community last fall at our NCDD 2016 conferenceThe Transpartisan Review is a new digital journal dedicated to sharing thoughts and insights from the growing transpartisan community.

In our second issue, The Transpartisan Review takes an introspective look at the state of politics in the US and examines the potential transpartisan engagement has in finding solutions for this troubled time. Executive editors Lawrence Chickering and James Turner explore the effect the transpartisan impulse has on political engagement, taking a comprehensive look at the current political climate in the United States through the lens of their “Transpartisan Matrix”.

This issue of The Transpartisan Review also includes several articles on a variety of topics, including contributions from distinguished NCDD members Pete Peterson & Michael Briand (who also served as managing editor), and shares an account of a Living Room Conversation focused on transpartisan issues. Not only are they effective conversation starters, but these features represent the continuation of a dialogue the editors of the journal are encouraging with and between its readership.

You can read the entire issue online or download it for free at the journal’s website, www.transpartisanreview.com, and while you’re there, we invite you to read Chickering and Turner’s Transpartisan Notes, a series of short-form articles on current issues written with a transpartisan perspective.

You can look forward to more critical contributions to the work of bridging our nation’s divides in future issues of The Transpartisan Review and from this great team of NCDDers and transpartisan leaders in the coming months.

Recap from Frontiers of Democracy 2017

Outgoing NCDD Youth Engagement Coordinator Roshan Bliss attended this year’s Frontiers of Democracy Conference hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University in the Boston area. The conference was held from June 22-24 and focused on the theme, Deliberative Democracy in an Era of Rising Authoritarianism.

Around 150 of D&D scholars, practitioners, and leaders participated in workshops, discussions, and plenaries focused on the question of what the rising leaders who appear opposed to democracy around the world means for the field of dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement, and most importantly, how we should respond. The full schedule for Frontiers 2017 is still available to check out here with detailed information on plenaries, speakers, and break out sessions.

NCDDers were prominently featured in the gathering’s schedule, including NCDD Board member Wendy Willis of Deliberative Democracy Consortium, who gave opening remarks on the effect of loneliness on civic life. Roshan presented a workshop on Saturday afternoon with several individuals, including Shari Davis of the Participatory Budgeting Project – a NCDD member org, on the promise and potential of seeing student governments as key venues in which to grow and spread deliberative democracy. Organizational NCDD member Ashley Trim of the Davenport Institute challenged our field to be more genuinely open to conservatives and you can read her poignant talk on Healthy Democracy’s site here. The gathering ended with a challenge from Dr. Archon Fung for our field to rethink the role of power in the work of dialogue & deliberative democracy and to deeply consider that we may not change much without engaging in real ways with efforts to build and wield it.

We wanted to lift up the post-conference reflection piece from Peter Levine, where he explores the direct and indirect paths to deliberative democracy and the future of dialogue and deliberation work. He wrote:

“My main point is that we must consider the choice between direct and indirect paths to deliberative democracy, taking due account of the institutions, incentives, power structures, and social divisions that actually exist in our society.

For what it’s worth, my own view would be that it’s important to build and sustain a movement devoted to explicit work on dialogue and deliberation. Deliberative experiments yield knowledge of group processes, generate models that can be inspiring, and produce a cadre of professionals whose well-deserved reputations for skillful neutrality make them useful at opportune moments.”

For more information on the Frontiers conference, check out the info from Tisch below or on their website here. You can also look through the #demfront hashtag on twitter or this great Storify page that Joshua Miller created of the #demfront hashtag which you can see here.


Frontiers 2017 via Tisch

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

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

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

More about Frontiers of Democracy
Frontiers of Democracy is an annual conference hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. The event is organized in collaboration with several partners, which in 2017 included Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium.

Now more than ever, the frontiers of democracy are threatened around the world. Leaders and movements that have popular support—yet are charged with being undemocratic, xenophobic, and illiberal—are influential or dominant in many countries. Meanwhile, many peoples continue to face deep and sustained repression. Social movements and networks are confronting this global turn to authoritarianism. This conference brings together scholars and practitioners from  do to defend and expand the frontiers of democracy.

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

Lifting the Discourse Beyond the Political Circus

In these challenging times, it is imperative now more than ever to work towards #BridgingOurDivides instead of the current state of political toxicity and mud slinging. Which is why we wanted to share this piece written by David Nevins, President of the Bridge Alliance – an NCDD organizational member – who recently wrote the aptly-named blog piece about the terrible state of politics in the US. In the article, Nevins states how in order to fix our broken political system, we must hold ourselves and our leaders to a higher standard of civic engagement and accountability.

We encourage you to read the blog article below or find the original on the Bridge Alliance site here.


The Political Circus

In 2012 before the previous presidential election I wrote an article entitled, “The Political Circus”.

At that time I said:

“The suffocating partisanship that most Americans abhor will surely be on display for all to witness in the coming election season. The accusations and innuendos, the misinformation and vilifying of one party by the other will be the typical tactics and game plan employed by those on the left and those on the right.”

Unfortunately things have gotten much worse in five years. The vicious ‘winning-is-all’ climate, the ‘meant-to-mislead’ rhetoric, the extreme and polarizing factions along with the sheer lack of decency are tethering our nation to a new low.

As we watch the behaviors of so many of our leaders today posturing against each other with twisted facts and vitriolic disdain, solely to WIN the sacred trust of the electorate, we ought to be asking ourselves, “Is this particular behavior having the effect of raising or lowering the level of discourse and understanding between and among us as citizens?”

As the president of a cross-partisan organization called the Bridge Alliance, we support organizations working to build new solutions to fix a broken political system. These organizations are working to deliver on America’s promise of government by and for the people.

It is time for us to realize that we the people are as much to blame for this unacceptable behavior as the politicians. It is important to call out all behavior that is inappropriate whether from our President or from members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation.

This is something that all Americans should and must agree upon.

More and more we are separated in our own silos, communicating only with those who share our opinions, embracing information that supports our beliefs, to ignore or distort evidence contrary to our beliefs. Although understandable, this tendency can blind us from the facts and the truth.

As Americans it is time for us to see through the charade and step up to the plate and support leaders who want something better. The political circus will continue to be flagrantly displayed unless citizens of our country demand something better.

It will not be easy. We must demand that our leaders resist the natural inclination to focus on who’s right and who’s wrong or who wins and who loses. Instead, we must seek to better understand thoughts, beliefs and viewpoints that differ from our own, even fundamentally. This can give rise to new insights, greater awareness, and generate otherwise undetected solutions and remedies to stalemated problems and issues.

Our national challenges and problems are earnest, urgent, and serious. They are worthy of being debated in a manner consistent with our great history and heritage. Politicians, just like the rest of us, respond to incentives. It is imperative that incentives be developed and implemented that encourage productive dialogue and promote responsible decision-making.

It is up to us. The time is now.

We must raise our awareness, so we are all less susceptible to the common fallacy tactics operating both on the right and the left. If we choose to focus on what the issues are and how they can best be solved as we sift through the barrage of exaggeration, innuendo, and half-truths pressing into the political fray, we will find ourselves closer to the truth and to each other more than we can imagine.

The 80 organizations of the Bridge Alliance are organizing a real and rising movement to transform the political terrain beyond partisanship through the collective voice and actions of our members. We put country before personal or political interest and ask our friends, neighbors, colleagues, competitors, and elected officials to do the same. We develop and share best practices with others, regardless of the side of the aisle on which they sit. We provide essential infrastructure and investment for our member organizations to collaborate, connect on the projects that further our shared goals, and generate collective impact far greater than any one group could make on their own.

We must require a higher standard from our elected officials. A new paradigm of politics; one based on civil political discourse, critical thinking, and personal accountability can and should be demanded by the electorate of its leadership, and the time to do so is now.

You can find the original version of this Bridge Alliance blog article at www.bridgealliance.us/the_political_circus.

Two Weeks Left for IAF Facilitation Impact Nominations

Know an organization that has had a profound facilitation impact? Nominate them within the next two weeks for the Facilitation Impact Awards with the International Association of Facilitators (IAF)! Submit the names of organizations you feel have had a positive impact through their facilitation within the last 24 months. Those who have had a measurable impact, will have an opportunity for global recognition because of how they have used and benefitted from facilitation. Make sure you get your nominations in by 11pm on Sunday, July 9th (GMT) in order for these fantastic facilitation orgs to be eligible. Follow #FacilitationAwards on Twitter for more!

You can read the announcement from IAF below or find the original version with more info on their site here.


2017 Facilitation Impact Awards – Honouring excellence in facilitation

About the awards
As a professional association with members in more than 65 countries, the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) is well placed to recognise the power of facilitation worldwide. For more than 20 years we have been strong advocates for the power of facilitation in helping organisations to address challenges and achieve results.

The Facilitation Impact Awards (FIA) honours organisations that have used facilitation to achieve a measurable and positive impact as well as the facilitator(s) who worked with them.

The awards are open to organisations of any size from the business, government, and not-for-profit sectors. The awards are for organisations that use and benefit from facilitation rather than firms that provide facilitation services.

The facilitators who worked with the organisation are included in the organisation’s submission. The facilitator may be an employee of the organisation or an external facilitator who provided services to the organisation.

Who may make a submission

  • A representative of the organisation being nominated or a facilitator involved in the delivery of the facilitation services may make a submission.
  • An area within an organisation—for example, a division, branch or section—may make up to two submissions in a submission period.
  • A facilitator may be nominated in up to five submissions in a submission period.
  • Members of the FIA core project team are not eligible to receive an award and must not prepare or help others to prepare submissions.
  • Evaluators may prepare and make a submission if they are nominated in the submission. Evaluators are not permitted to evaluate a submission if they are nominated in the submission.
  • Members of the broader FIA project team may prepare and make a submission.

Eligibility requirements
To be eligible for an award:

  • the nominated organisation must be a recognised entity under the laws of the respective country.
  • at least one facilitated process associated with the submission must have taken place within 24 months of the closing date for submissions.
  • the results included under the organisation impact criteria must have been achieved within 24 months of the closing date for submissions.
  • a facilitated process associated with the submission may have been nominated in the past but must not have received an award.

How to nominate
Complete a Facilitation Impact Award submission form available from our website. Forms are available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish and nominations will be accepted in any of these languages. When completing your submission, make sure you address all the award criteria taking the scoring framework at Appendix 1 into account. Submit your completed form to FIA[at]iaf-world[dot]org by the closing date shown on the form. No nomination fees are payable.

You can find the original version of the IAF announcement at www.iaf-world.org/FIA.

NCDD Orgs Respond on How to Save American Democracy

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

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

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


Actually, More Public Participation Can Save American Democracy

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

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

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

The mythical citizen

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

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

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

The power of regular citizens

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

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

Creative solutions

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

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

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

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

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

Democracy starts–but does not end–with politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCDD Joins Coalition in Launching National Survey on the American Dream

In an era of political divide and confusion, we can learn a lot about what is happening if we slow down and ask people how their thoughts and feelings about the issues that seem to divide us most are changing.

That is why NCDD is proud to announce that we’ve joined a national, nonpartisan coalition that is launching the “What’s Your American Dream?” survey. This survey will ask people across the US to express their values and goals around the issues they see as most vital, and deliver the results to lawmakers. We think that an effort like this can help guide the nation’s leaders – as well as dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement practitioners –  to understand Americans’ goals for this time and then devise the tactics to achieve those goals.

The survey grew out of discussions with former members of Congress and everyday Americans, all frustrated with being out of touch with each other. The coalition rolling out the “What is Your American Dream?” survey – comprised of 25 universities, media outlets, organizations spanning the political spectrum, and spearheaded by the team at TheChisel – has the potential to reach 30 million Americans.

NCDD joined this growing coalition because we believe that the survey is a great tool to help D&D practitioners in our network gain clearer insights on what the people we’re engaging are really thinking and how they’re prioritizing for different issue areas, which will help our field do more impactful work that is responsive to the needs in our communities. That’s why we’re supporting the survey and encouraging our network to participate & share the survey to your own networks!

The seven-week survey is being hosted on TheChisel.com, a unique nonpartisan public discussion platform that encourages people across the US to step beyond political slogans and platforms to share what matters to them, their loved ones, and communities.

Their survey uses elements of public deliberation to help distill Americans’ shared dream in seven important areas: Economy; Social Justice; Liberty and Regulation; Health, Education, and Care; Services; Foreign Affairs; and Governance. One of these themes will be featured each of the seven weeks that the survey is open. Unlike traditional surveys, the American Dream survey allows participants to share their stories with fellow Americans, or even add issues important to them that they think should be part of the conversation. It also features whimsical graphics and game-like navigation, is easy to use and understand, and appeals to all ages – whether they are 18 or 99 year olds.

TheChisel and the coalition will share the survey’s findings with the media and hand-deliver the report to the President, Cabinet, Members of Congress, Supreme Court, and state governors once it’s completed.

The “What’s Your American Dream?” survey launched on May 16 and will be open to the public for free until July 4, 2017, so be sure to participate soon! You can find the survey at www.thechisel.com/americandream. We encourage NCDD members and our broader network to take the survey yourself, share it with your followers, or even consider signing on to the coalition, which already includes other NCDD member orgs!

More about the Coalition
University partners include University of Missouri School of Journalism, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, University of Mary Government and Political Philosophy Department, University of the Pacific Political Science Department.

Other partners include: ALL-IN Campus Democracy Challenge, AllSides, Associated Collegiate Press, Diplomat Books, Future 500, Heartfelt Leadership Institute, Hope Street Group, Independent Voter Network, Inyo County Clerk-Recorder, JGArchitects, Living Room Conversations, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, National Speech and Debate Association, ReConsider Media, The TAI Group, Take Back Our Republic, TheChisel, The Democracy Commitment, The Policy Circle, Wellville, and The Women’s Debate.

More about TheChisel
TheChisel is a nonpartisan website offering citizens a unique platform to engage in a dialogue with experts from both sides of the aisle. It enables citizen voices to be heard over the noise of special interest groups and media spin. On TheChisel’s proprietary discussion platform, every American can engage and help revise public policy proposals related to issues important to America’s future. These proposals are developed by nonpartisan organizations and bipartisan coalitions. With TheChisel’s help, Americans’ views will educate civic leaders and guide their policy-making.

Addressing the Problem of Separation through Dialogue

In these divided times, we wanted to share an encouraging piece that NCDD member organization Public Agenda recently posted on their blog. It summarizes insights gained from focus groups PA convened which demonstrated something our field knows – when people from different perspectives engage in dialogue, they realize they aren’t so different or separate after all. We encourage you to read PA’s piece below or find the original version here.


What Discussing Polarizing Topics Like Inequality Exposes

After a divisive election season we continue to see stark evidence of polarization and conflict in our society. But also – and this is less frequently reported on – we see a desire to bridge gaps and find common ground.

Polarization is about more than simply holding differing or even opposing views. These days, it is also about how people with a certain view are, by choice or circumstance, increasingly isolated from those who think differently. The interaction of diverse views is valuable, but the trend of increasing separation of and decreasing interaction between those who hold opposing views is troubling and potentially consequential. The less we interact with those who think differently, the more hardened our views tend to become, and the more apt we are to vilify one another and rely on stereotypes, which in turn further divide us.

Such political polarization is on the rise. While this is much more extreme among political leaders, there are also troubling signs that it is becoming more true among the public. According to a 2014 Pew survey of over 10,000 Americans, Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in the past two decades. And, among those who hold “consistently liberal” or “consistently conservative” views, the majority of each group report that most of their close friends hold their same views.

However, it is important to not gloss over the rest of the story. According to the same study:

These sentiments are not shared by all – or even most – Americans. The majority do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation. And more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.

And while those with more “consistently held” ideological views are more likely than others to say it is important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views, still only 28% of Americans overall say this is important to them. Growing numbers of Americans also say racial diversity in the United States is important to them: in another Pew survey from this month, 64% of Americans said an increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in the U.S. makes the country a better place to live, an increase from 56% who said so in August 2016.

When we convened groups of ideologically, racially, and socioeconomically diverse Americans in six large and small urban centers across the country to discuss the economy, inequality, and opportunity, people were clearly grateful for the exposure to different viewpoints and people.

Sitting in on each of these groups, I knew that the participants were a diverse yet accurate cross-section of their surrounding community. I knew there were Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; wealthy and unemployed people; and people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds sitting together at the table. Some of these differences were evident to our participants, others less so.

This meant that participants had many valuable moments of listening to, and learning from, people with very different backgrounds and experiences from their own. And it meant that when consensus emerged within the group, despite the diversity of views, it could be revelatory and important.

One example of learning from others’ experiences involved conversations about race and prejudice. In our Cincinnati group, there was an exchange about whether racial prejudice that limited people’s job prospects was more problematic than other forms of prejudice, such as gender or age discrimination. While there was no clear resolution to the discussion, white respondents were clearly deeply affected by the following story told by a black woman:

Female: My first name is [considered typically black], and I got out of my master’s program and I looked for a job for months, and months, and months…. I redid my résumé and instead of putting my full name, I just put my first initial, then my last name. Voilà.

Moderator: How do you feel about that?

Female: It’s sad. It’s sad. I personally named my daughter a white-sounding name so that in the future, when she gets old enough to get a job, she can get a job because her name sounds white.

Male: Wow.

Female: I considered that when I named her. It’s sad.

Cincinnati-area resident; in her 30s; black; upper-income; Democrat

In our follow-up interviews with respondents several days after the group, a number of people said this story stayed with them, including two white males. To me, it seemed that if they had not been brought together for this research focus group, they might not have ever had such exposure to an experience like the one this woman shared.

A good example of the importance of finding consensus also came from a participant in our Cincinnati group, who was surprised to find he had common ground with another participant who was different from him on numerous counts:

Now, you know, she’s a young African American female and I’m a more senior white male and she’s working and I’m retired, and we still came out thinking the same way. I think that’s kinda cool. That doesn’t mean her and I were right or wrong it just means we thought the same on that. I tend to be a conservative person and this made me think other ways, you know, whether I agreed or not but it made me come up with other ways to look at things. And I liked that.

Cincinnati-area resident; in his 70s; white; upper-income; Republican

Diversity of viewpoints and experience is not the problem we are faced with, but rather the separation we have between those who hold those different views and have had those different experiences, and the lack of ways to bring people of differing views together to gain perspective from one another. You can read more about these focus groups and the conversations between participants in the research report, The Fix We’re In.

You can find the original version of this Public Agenda blog piece at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/what-discussing-polarizing-topics-like-inequality-exposes.