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

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

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

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

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

Watch this video to learn more about Gell

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

Getting More Involved with Deliberative Democracy

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


10 Ways to Get Involved in Deliberative Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CGA Forums and Trainings Coming up in November

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. Throughout the month of November, Kettering will be holding several CGA opportunities using the recently released Opioid Epidemic issue advisory. Also available are two training events for those interested in learning to moderate CGA forums; a general one for those new to CGA and another tailored for K-12 and college educators. Register to join these online forums and trainings by clicking on the links in the announcement below. This announcement was from the October Kettering newsletter – sign up here to start receiving their newsletter.


Common Ground for Action Activities in November

As usual, there are several opportunities to participate in a deliberative forum from the comfort of your desk. Please register at the links below if you’d like to join, or, if you can’t make any of the dates yourself, please help us spread the word and reach new audiences by sharing the links via email or social media. All of this month’s forums will use the What Should We Do about the Opioid Epidemic? issue advisory.

Tuesday, Nov. 7 | 11a.m. EST | REGISTER

Wednesday, Nov. 15 | 5:30 p.m. EST | REGISTER

Monday, Nov. 20 | 5 p.m. EST | REGISTER

Thursday, Nov. 30 | 12 p.m. EST | REGISTER

There are also two upcoming moderator training sessions for those who want to learn to hold their own online forums. These online sessions are held in two-part sessions of two hours each. (Please plan to attend both parts of the workshop.)

CGA New Moderator Training
Wednesday, Nov. 15 | 5:30 p.m. EST
Thursday, Nov. 16 | 6 p.m. EST
REGISTER

CGA for K-12 & College Educators Moderator Training
Thursday, Nov. 30 | 12 p.m. EST
Friday, Dec. 1 | 12 p.m. EST
REGISTER

If you’ve been trained as a CGA moderator, but it’s been a while and you’d like a refresher (or you just have some questions), Kara Dillard will hold online “office hours” on November 3, 10, 17, and 27 at 11 a.m. EST. Just hop on this link to talk with her.

Turning to Eachother During Unwelcome Conversations

As tragic events seem to constantly fill our lives and newsfeeds, we wanted to lift up a poignant piece from NCDD member org Essential Partners‘ blog in response to the Las Vegas tragedy. Parisa Parsa, Executive Director of EP, writes about the tendency to jump to assessing a situation and pinning down the blame, and that while this helps us cope with tragedy, often limits our ability to grieve and genuinely process. She reminds us to hold space for these painful storytelling opportunities and how these conversations can allow us the chance to come together in community, in order to find understanding and a collective way to move forward. We encourage you to read the piece below or you can find the original on Essential Partners’ blog here.


Unwelcome Conversations

“I can’t even get my mind around Las Vegas” the woman next to me exclaimed. We were both staring at the TV blasting the news while waiting to board our flight last week. As ever, the media was already flooded with analysis to explain what had happened, while we struggled again to understand why it happened. The world rushed to the usual rallying cries: gun control, mental health, male violence…the list goes on.

A typical media pundit or post usually includes some phrase critical of what others are talking about. “It’s not about [what the last commenter said], it’s about [my deepest conviction].” And with great assuredness, folks far from the situation quickly move to assert their go-to explanation. A mad dash to do this kind of assessment of a crisis offers a great coping mechanism. When we can put an unspeakably tragic event into some frame of meaning, our bearings return and panic is reduced. Because the truth is, we don’t want to be talking about terrible moments at all. We don’t want it to have happened, and we most definitely don’t want it to happen again. Having someone or something to blame, especially if it is singular, definite and not ourselves, help us detach ourselves from these horrible acts of violence and hate. Yet so far, collectively, retracting and finger pointing has not helped us prevent the unspeakable from happening again, and again, and again.

Venturing away from defining it as “all about” mental health or guns or testosterone opens up a whole new world. In the midst of our shock and horror, listening to our grief can provide answers. When we sit with the many explanations, hear the cries of those who feel misunderstood, hold one another in our pain, sorrow and anger, we begin to connect to another story. Many voices, conflicting views, and multiple understandings arise. Those stories forge a new way out of the mire, lets our pain and our hope speak to one another, and begins to carve a path to creative solutions.

Turning to one another in community to share our responses, our meaning-making and our experiences can create another possible future. Let’s talk and listen more deeply, and see what happens.

You can find the original version of this on Essential Partners’ blog at www.whatisessential.org/blog/unwelcome-conversations.

Common Ground for Action Opportunities in October

We wanted to share these upcoming opportunities with NCDD member org, Kettering Foundation to dive deeper into the Common Ground for Action online forums by either participating in a forum or learning how to host them. The CGA forums you can participate in are around issues of safety & justice, and immigration in America. There is also a new moderator workshop coming up as well. Register here to join these online forums ASAP!


October Common Ground for Action (CGA) events

CGA FORUM SERIES:
The CGA Forum Series is back this month talking about immigration reform and safety and justice.  Here’s the dates and times:

October 16th CGA Forum Series event: Immigration in America
Monday, October 16, 2017 at 5:00 PM EST

October 19th CGA Forum Series event: Safety & Justice
Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 11:00 AM EST

October 27th CGA Forum Series event: Safety & Justice
Friday, October 27, 2017 at 12:00PM EST

Want to moderate any of these forums? Email us and we’ll set you up!  If you can’t make these times, don’t worry. November’s CGA forum series will feature deliberation on the NIFI issue advisory “How Can We Stop Mass Shootings In Our Communities?”

MODERATOR TRAINING WORKSHOPS: 

Want to moderate a CGA forum in your community or for the Forum Series but need training? Register for the upcoming new moderator workshop:

October CGA New Moderator Workshop

Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 11:00 AM EDT AND Friday, October 20, 2017 at 11:00 AM EDT

Join this workshop on how to moderate a Common Ground for Action (CGA) deliberative forum. This is a TWO DAY, TWO PART workshop. Part 1 is Thurs October 19th @ 11am EST/8am PDT; Part 2 is Fri October 20th @ 11am EST/8am PDT. Please plan to attend both parts of this workshop.

CGA OFFICE HOURS:

Have questions about CGA moderating or convening? Want to practice but need a live person to deliberate with? Starting this month, we will have CGA Office Hours where you can drop by and chat with either Amy or Kara about all things CGA. We’ll be online at http://join.me/KetteringFdnevery Friday from 11:30 AM- 12:30 PM EST. Stop by and say hello!

This announcement was from the October Kettering newsletter – sign up here to start receiving their newsletter.

Benefits and Challenges of Digitizing Deliberative Democracy

We wanted to share this article from NCDD sponsor, The Jefferson Center about the potential of digital democracy. The article talks about the powerful impact digital democracy can have and lifts up some of the challenges faced. It explores several examples and asks “what other ways do you think civic participation organizations can use technology to increase democratic participation?” and we invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments below!  You can read more on post below or find the original version the Jefferson Center blog here.


Digitizing Deliberative Democracy

The smartphones in our pockets can seemingly accomplish anything—even things you didn’t know you needed (like downloading virtual bubble wrap). While various apps and our social media feeds may threaten our productivity and full night’s sleep, they also connect us to people, organizations, and information at our fingertips. However, there’s one key area that hasn’t quite reached its full digital potential: democracy.

While we live in an increasingly interconnected world, we also use the internet to join neighborhood associations, alumni pages, and other community groups. Digital spaces, which can be used on a city to national scale, may have the power to cultivate meaningful local impacts. It’s no secret that trust in the institutions and processes that govern our lives as citizens is in decline. Could digital democracy, that seeks to involve citizens anywhere, anytime, be the fix?

Increasing Accessibility

Jimmy Carter, writing in a recent op-ed for the New York Times, writes the United States needs to improve “systems for inclusive and effective political participation” in the digital era. Between outdated communications, layers of bureaucracy, and purposeful confusion tactics, it can be extremely difficult for citizens to know where to go, and who to talk to about community grievances or ideas.

If democracy is rule by the people, then it makes sense to engage citizens with the tools right at our fingertips. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, nearly 9 in 10 Americans are now online, and 77% of Americans own a smartphone. People with limited mobility, job commitments, vehicle troubles, childcare responsibilities, and any other hindrance to participating in person could have their voices heard more easily.

At the Jefferson Center, we’ve seen these trends in action. In our current project with the Minnesota Community Assembly Project, citizens in Red Wing, Minnesota wanted strengthened digital public engagement from their city. Better digital platforms would allow more citizens to reach out directly to elected officials to offer their input and recommendations, have conversations with other community members, or vote directly on public decisions.

Digital Democracy in Action

Digital democracy has been taking root around the world, and it’s easy to find success stories. In Seoul, South Korea, residents use an app called “mVoting” that allows residents to share their thoughts on the “city’s public parks, bus routes and designated smoking areas.” To date, there have been 181 cases that have been officially accepted as Seoul policy.

Meanwhile in Spain, “Decide Madrid” is a similar app which asks residents to submit suggestions or new laws, and other communities members can voice their support on suggestions. A South Australian program called “YourSAy” is trying to accomplish a similar task, by offering an online forum where citizens can take part in discussions, vote in polls, and decide where government funds are spent within broader engagement efforts that include face-to-face meetings. The UK Parliament has also begun a system of “evidence checks”, which invites citizens to examine current policies, and the evidence used to support these policies, to identify any gaps or problems.  A United States start-up firm called “Innovote” is also working to increase participation and accessibility by taking the vote to your phone, working with governments across the country.

Harnessing people power through technology would require apps, website, and other digital engagement tools. But in the long run, inviting people to participate remotely likely saves time and money, as well as delivering representative results.

Challenges to Inclusive Participation

In Taiwan, the website “vTaiwan” seeks to gather citizen views on issues. The results are collected and the program condenses the range of opinions into core citizen views. The website doubles as a facilitator, where stakeholders can participate in digital discussions, and policies are eventually formed on a national scale.

While the program has been scaled up over time, digital participation still remains in the thousands. Taiwanese activist Audrey Tang states that one driver of this lower participation may be because the process works well when primary stakeholders are online. When affected citizens don’t use the same technology, the process may be limited to niche issues. However, the website has been successful in both deciding and implementing policy, and popularizing media coverage around social enterprise company law, Uber ride service, and others. Minister Jaclyn Tsai commented that the process can be successful “if we can all take the time to understand the problem, read the data, while also listening to the views of the people—and enter a discussion, we are much more likely to reach a consensus.”

While accessibility to democratic conversations may increase for some, many citizens may not have stable internet access, or feel comfortable enough with technology to participate. In order to create representative solutions to issues, technology could be brought to different communities, combining new techniques and traditional advocacy to listen to more people.

Translating the Process

While these examples have largely focused on national and local government, there’s opportunities to broaden this scope. For instance, digital democracy could be used to ask what kind of local news citizens want to read, helping journalists to decide what issues to cover and how best to inform their communities. This could also be used to reduce diagnostic error, by engaging digitally with healthcare consumers to gather patient-focused perspectives.

At the Jefferson Center, we’re incorporating digital tools to recruit people to participate in our Citizens Juries, inform community members, and facilitate decision making. What other ways do you think civic participation organizations can use technology to increase democratic participation?

You can read the original version of this blog article from the Jefferson Center at www.jefferson-center.org/digitizing-deliberative-democracy/.

What We Heard from NCDD’s August Member Calls

NCDD’s staff was delighted to connect with members over the course of three conference calls in August, to talk about what they are working on, what’s going on in the network, and what we can be doing together. We wanted to share with you some of the things we learned and some of the common interests coming from these calls. Read more below and share your thoughts with us in the comments! And of course, to participate in future calls be sure to become an NCDD member.

Connections are Essential

Members expressed their appreciation for NCDD’s regular channels for building connections and staying in touch, including the NCDD listservs, biennial NCDD conferences, social media channels, Confabs, and Tech Tuesdays. These events offer members new connections, opportunities to learn from others, and perhaps most importantly, cross-pollination and the development of collaborative efforts! This is NCDD’s core offerings, along with the latest news on the NCDD Blog, and the extensive collection in the Resource Center. We love to connect with you all and we love to see you connect!

Free Speech, Bias, and How to Address Current Tensions

Members of course brought up recent events in the country, highlighting racial tensions, political tensions, and the national debate about free speech. There is always a strong desire among the NCDD network to discuss current events and think together about how to address them. Most recently that has centered on Charlottesville – see Sandy’s blog post for some more information on the conversation to date.

Another member raised examining the diversity of the D&D field, and purposely look for community partners to diversify our network and be able to tackle racial tensions. Further, a call for self-reflections and assessment of personal biases came up, and there was interest in helping members explore that, and dig deeper. Some folks expressed desire in creating a small group to work together in exploring these topics. If you’re interested – let us know in the comments and we’ll loop you into that conversation when it starts up!

Learning Communities

Similarly, there was a common thread among calls: members want to connect in short and longer-term learning communities, around the topics or practices that they are most interested in. Some of the topics raised included: systems change, social change, entrepreneurial work, technology for engagement, and regional efforts. Is there something you would like to connect with a group of NCDDers around? We encourage you to reach out! Folks are looking for these opportunities, and NCDD is happy to help spread the word. If you organize a call, share it on the NCDD Discussion Listserv, post it on the NCDD Facebook Group, and share it on the NCDD Blog. We’ll help you connect with others who would like to talk about your topic of interest!

Coming Up

NCDD’s staff is working on creating spaces to discuss timely topics in the coming months. We’ll be opening registrations for upcoming Confabs and Tech Tuesdays soon. The first Confab will feature staff of the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, talking about their work in their community relating to community-police relations. They have been at this work for 20 years and have really built a community infrastructure for working together to address problems and discuss tough issues among a diverse community. There is lots we can all learn from their work – more details on that call coming soon!

We’re also planning to convene a conversation about dialogue following the events in Charlottesville, to discuss how we can be helping our communities tackle free speech, as well as racial, ethnic, and religious tensions. More information on this call coming soon, as well.

And of course – 2018 will be a conference year! Staff is working with the Board right now to determine the date and location of the conference. We hope to be announcing that soon, and starting to engage with you all around what you’d like to see, talk about, and do!

But for right now: What would you like to talk about? How would you like to connect with others? Take a moment to share with us in the comments below. We look forward to continuing these conversations and exploring the latest topics with the network this fall and beyond!

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.