Upcoming Webinar on DCP’s Academy Training Initiative

We are excited to share an upcoming academy training initiative, Strengthening Democratic Engagement to Address Local Civil Unrest and Community Division, hosted by the American Bar Association’s Section of Dispute Resolution and the Divided Community Project (DCP) at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law – an NCDD member. This is a free opportunity to attend the Academy and learn strategies around addressing divisions and civil unrest in your community. Sign up for the informational webinar on Tuesday, August 14th to learn more! You can read the announcement below and find the original on the DCP site here.


DCP Launches Academy Training Initiative – Strengthening Democratic Engagement to Address Local Civil Unrest and Community Division

Complete your community’s application today!

Academy Details
In Chicago, on March 3, 4, and 5, 2019, the Divided Community Project (DCP) at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, in partnership with the American Bar Association’s Section of Dispute Resolution (Collectively the Hosts) host a national Academy, We, the People: Strengthening Democratic Engagement to Address Civil Unrest for Community Leaders.  The program’s goals are three-fold:

  1. Strengthen conflict resolution-related planning, capacity building, and the specific skill-sets of each participant and participating communities to better identify and  implement constructive strategies to prepare for, address, and/or respond to local policies, practices, and/or actions of residents or local officials, that undermine community trust and may divide and polarize communities.
  2. Support and strengthen the development of a local ‘core’ leadership convener group that can serve as a reliable source of independent information, and cross-sector collaborative planning and engagement, for its community’s public sector leadership.
  3. Provide planning opportunities for each leadership team to build on  Academy programming through further initiatives within each respective, participating community.

DCP Steering Committee members will facilitate the Academy with support from the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution.  Collectively, Academy leaders bring significant experience in serving as mediators, interveners, and process designers, in conflicts of national significance and are recognized not only as nationally pre-eminent trainers of mediators and facilitators but also  as authors of leading books, articles, and pedagogical materials examining effective third-party intervention principles and strategies in divisive community conflicts.

The Academy program will include conversation with civic leaders versed in the challenges of addressing community division and facing potential or imminent civil unrest.  Using the Divided Community Project’s tools as a guide—including strategies used in other DCP communities—participants will develop constructive and collaborative strategies to prepare for, address, or respond to resident or official actions that polarize community members. Core leaders from each community attending the Academy will develop strategies so that the group can serve as a reliable source of independent planning and engagement to its community’s public political leadership.

Application Timeline*

August 14, 2018 at 12:30 Eastern: Participate on a forty-five minute informational webinar.  The webinar will be available as a recording if prospective applicants cannot attend.  Sign up for the webinar using this link.

DEADLINE: September 7, 2018: Submit this preliminary application.

September 15 to November 1, 2018: Work with the Hosts to further illustrate commitment to the project.

November 15, 2018: Academy participants announced.

* depending on the number of applications received, the Hosts may extend one or more of the above-referenced dates or deadlines.

Application Criteria
The Hosts intend to communities based on three criteria: diversity, commitment, and need.

Diversity
Diversity is fundamental to the program.  The hosts anticipate selecting participant communities that collectively reflect diversity of geography, size, and community demographics.  The hosts urge core leadership groups to consider how they reflect the diversity of their own community.

Commitment
Applicants should identify the four to seven core leaders who are committed to attending the national academy on March 3, 4, and 5.

Applicants should tentatively articulate how the core leadership group will begin convening broad-based community planning efforts to identify and address issues that polarize the community and whether and how the core leadership group has (or will) meet prior to the Academy.

Applicants should commit to working with the Divided Community Project—following the Academy—to implement initiatives aimed at addressing community polarization.

Need
Applicants should articulate their perception of issues polarizing their home community as well as their perception of the next issues that may be facing their home community.

Informational Webinar August 14, 2018 at 12:30 Eastern:

  • To join from a PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android device please click this URL: https://zoom.us/j/949768906
  • To join by phone:
    • Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location): US: +1 669 900 6833  or +1 929 436 2866
    • Webinar ID: 949 768 906

Commonly Asked Questions
What is the cost? Due to generous support from the AAA-ICDR Foundation, the Academy is free for core community leaders.  The Hosts will provide coach airfare, lodging, and meals for Academy participants.

You can read the original announcement on the DCP’s site at https://moritzlaw.osu.edu/dividedcommunityproject/2018/07/16/dcp-launches-community-training-initiative/.

Utilizing Dialogue to Navigate Agricultural Tensions

Modern agriculture has brought some incredible technological advances to the way that crops can be grown, the usage of which can bring some serious tensions within a community; and using dialogic processes can help navigate these tensions. In Conway County, Arkansas, the use of the herbicide, Dicamba, was causing intense and tragic conflict between neighbors; and NCDD sponsoring org, Essential Partners, shares how utilizing reflective structured dialogue created an opportunity for folks in the community to listen to each other and work toward addressing the conflicts. You can read the article below and find the original on EP’s site here.


Small Communities, Big Divisions: Fostering Dialogue in Rural Arkansas with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

Late last summer, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (WRI) in Conway County, Arkansas, hired Essential Partners to offer two days of facilitation training to their program officers. The following week, the Arkansas Agriculture Secretary reached out to WRI to facilitate meetings of a task force on the use of the herbicide Dicamba.

Dicamba is one of the most effective herbicides for taming the spread of pigweed, an invasive plant threatening crops throughout the region.

Unfortunately, Dicamba also kills soybean crops whose seeds are not pre-treated for resistance to the herbicide. When Dicamba is used on one field, the herbicide can drift over neighboring fields and destroy another farmer’s crop.

Conflicts over herbicide drift have pitted neighbor against neighbor in a region where farmers are already struggling to survive. In October 2016, a dispute over Dicamba use resulted in the shooting death of a soybean farmer near the Missouri border.

The Arkansas Agriculture Secretary wanted an effective path through the heated, and now tragically violent debate.

With coaching from Essential Partners Senior Associate Bob Stains, and the skills they developed during their EP training, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute staff initiated a series of dialogues about the use of Dicamba. Farmers, seed dealers, product manufacturers, and crop consultants came together to share emotionally wrenching stories, building trust and understanding.

“In the work around Dicamba,” said WRI’s Chief Programs and Marketing Officer, Janet Harris, “the dialogue had to come first and inform the decision-making process, because even in this very small and homogeneous population, folks had become deeply divided. Those differences were born from very strongly held moral values and beliefs on both sides.”

Harris explained that reflective structured dialogue allowed the participants to hear the “why” behind the “what.”

“Most importantly,” she said, “even though they weren’t unanimous in their final recommendation, they could look across the table at someone who disagreed and still empathize with that person’s story.”

WRI helped the group arrive at a policy recommendation, which was adopted by the state agency. And despite significant legal challenges as well as dissenting views, the members of the WRI dialogue group remain firm in their recommendation almost a year later.

“What I think we did with Dicamba,” Harris noted, “was less about the regulation of an herbicide than it was about the preservation of human relationships. They understood and appreciated one another and rediscovered their common ground.”

Since then, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute has integrated reflective structured dialogue into many more projects.

“The learning we received from Essential Partners has helped us open up space for people to have difficult conversations in a different way. The more we do this, the more we realize that dialogue has to be a part of all our work.”

Most recently, WRI has employed EP’s dialogue techniques in a community development program, Uncommon Communities. They hope to encourage leaders in Arkansas’ rural communities to become catalysts for positive change and economic growth.

Even in small rural communities, Harris observed, there are rivalries and real differences of belief. And that’s where EP’s dialogue practices help.

“It’s not just a matter of civility,” she said. “It’s about our ability to foster mutual understanding across deep differences.”

You can find the original version of this article on Essential Partner’s site at www.whatisessential.org/blog/small-communities-big-divisions-fostering-dialogue-rural-arkansas-winthrop-rockefeller.

NCL Webinar on How Libraries Serve Vulnerable People, 8/7

As part of their Promising Practices Webinars, a series dedicated to lifting up creative civic engagement projects around the country, NCDD member – the National Civic League is hosting their next one on August 7th! This free webinar will focus on how public libraries are being utilized in DC and Denver to better serve vulnerable people. NCDD knows the possibilities that libraries hold as drivers of civic engagement in their communities, which is why we are in partnership with the American Library Association (ALA), and wanted to lift up this webinar as another important example of how libraries are vital to our society. We encourage you to read more about the webinar in the post below and register on NCL’s Eventbrite site here.


AAC Promising Practices Webinar: Public Libraries Lending Social Work Resources to Vulnerable People

Join the National Civic League to learn about how libraries are serving vulnerable people.

Tuesday August 7th at 9:30 am PST / 10:30 am MST / 11:30 am CST /12:30 pm EST

Public libraries see some of the community’s most pressing problems up close. In this webinar, learn how libraries are assisting people with recovery needs and homelessness. In Denver, a community resource team helps people connect with resources to help them reach their goals. In Washington, D.C., the public library engages customers without homes and facilitates access to social services, medical care, and housing. Learn how these libraries have leveraged community partnerships, trained staff, developed programs and even engaged customers.

About the presenters:

Jean Badalamenti, a licensed social worker with more than 25 years of experience, became the D.C. Public Library’s first health and human services coordinator in 2014. A graduate of Howard University’s master’s in social work program in the late 1980s, she has been living and working in Washington, D.C. ever since, advocating for people without homes or jobs, as well as those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. At the Library, Jean spends roughly half her time focused on customers without homes – including how to manage their needs during the MLK library’s upcoming renovation. In addition, Jean has also coordinated efforts to open a library branch at the D.C. jail, which the City Council recently funded.

Elissa Hardy, LCSW is the Community Resource Manager at the Denver Public Library. This department consists of three other social workers and four peer navigators. Her role also includes providing training for library staff in the areas of trauma-informed services, homelessness, mental health, resiliency, and more. The Community Resource team connects with Denver’s citizens utilizing the library who are experiencing life challenges. The team works to support and build relationships with people and assist them in navigating community resources to achieve their goals and improve quality of life. Elissa also teaches courses on Policy, Mental Health, Substance Use, Trauma and Recovery, and Power, Privilege and Oppression at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver.

To Join by Computer:

Sign on to the National Civic League’s Webex Meeting Room: https://nationalcivicleague.my.webex.com/meet/ncl 
Access code: 622 739 287

To Join by Phone:

+1-510-338-9438 USA Toll
Access code: 622 739 287

Have questions about AAC Promising Practices Webinar: Public Libraries Lending Social Work Resources to Vulnerable People? Contact National Civic League

All-America City Promising Practices Series
National Civic League is hosting a series of “AAC Promising Practices” webinars to share innovative and impactful AAC projects nationwide. This series will also highlight successful projects around the country with speakers from cities implementing creative strategies for civic engagement. By equipping individuals, institutions, and local governmental bodies through this series with ideas, models and insights that can be adopted/adapted to individual communities NCL hopes to accelerate the pace of change in communities across the country.

All-America City Award

2019 All-America City Application

The All-America City Experience

The All-America City Promising Practices webinars are made possible with support from Southwest Airlines, the official airline of the All-America City Awards.

You can find the original version of this on National Civic League’s site at www.nationalcivicleague.org/resource-center/promising-practices/.

Local Civic Challenge #4: Telling Your Community’s Story

In the final installment of the Local Civic Challenge from by NCDD member, The Jefferson Center, they recommend folks get involved in telling the story of your local community. Last month, the Local Civic Challenge offered a mini-challenge every week to encourage folks to be more civically engaged in your community and local democratic efforts. This fourth edition advises to get to know your neighbors and listen to their stories, as well as, participate in your local newsgathering and share the story of your community. You can read the post below and find the original on the JC site here.


Local Civic Challenge #4: Telling the Story of Your Community

Supporting local storytelling strengthens our relationships and preserves the history of our communities. When we listen to the experiences of our neighbors, we can better understand one another, which makes it easier to work through projects and issues together.

Think about your role in your local news ecosystem–are you subscribed to the local paper? Do you know what the current headlines are? Can you identify a few stories that aren’t being covered, but should be? According to a 2015 Pew survey, Americans are great at sharing news, but we don’t often get involved in actual newsgathering ourselves.

For this week’s civic challenge, we’ve found a few ways you can start collecting stories and amplifying diverse voices in your neighborhood:

1. Meet with people

Find events like garage sales, movies in the park, and clothing swaps where you can sit (or stand) across from someone and get to know them. If these don’t exist already, create your own community gatherings! Share online, and post to community bulletin boards in places like the grocery store and community center.

2. Submit an op-ed or write a blog post

Take stock of the local papers and blogs in your community to see where you could submit a story. Here are a few tips on how to start writing for your community paper.

3. Use technology

Apps and social media pages that connect neighborhoods are becoming more common, such as:

Nextdoor is a “private social network” for your community. While some people use the app to report a break-in or a lost dog, you can also post about upcoming cookouts or garage sales.

Ioby helps kickstart community projects, through crowd-funding, social networks, volunteers, and advocacy. You can find out what projects are happening near you, and if it’s a cause you can get behind, help spread the word.

Patch is a customizable “hyperlocal” news feed with real-time alerts, local articles, and easy social sharing.

Neighborhood Facebook groups are another way to share photos, events, news, and concerns with people who live close to you.

Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat: by following the hashtag and location of your city on these apps, you can see what people are posting about locally.

4. Host a listening booth

Setting up a listening booth is easy: find a spot with some foot traffic, set up a table and two chairs, and make a sign that says “Let’s Chat!” Giving people your undivided attention, instead of focusing on when it’s your turn to talk, will likely open up an incredible conversation about their life experiences.

5. Launch a community history project

Using all the techniques above, you can record stories with tools like the StoryCorps app, which give people a chance to easily record meaningful conversations that are then archived at the Library of Congress. On their website, you’ll find guides to asking questions, resources you need to record, how to prepare for a storyteller interview, and more.

If you like taking photos, you could pair your story collecting with a photo series, like Humans of New York.

This marks the end of the Local Civic Challenge! Do you have other ideas that will help people get engaged with their communities? Let us know below.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/telling-story-your-community/.

Local Civic Challenge #3: Getting Ready for Election Season

In the third part of the Local Civic Challenge from by NCDD member, The Jefferson Center, they encourage folks to get ready for election season and offer some great resources to prepare. In June, JC had a mini-challenge every week for folks to be more engaged with their local democracy. This round connected folks about registering to vote and volunteering for elections. You can read the post below and find the original on the JC site here.


Local Civic Challenge #3: Getting Ready for Election Season

Maintaining the integrity of our elections is vital to democracy, so this week we’re challenging you to get more involved with the process. Below, find out where you vote, how to register yourself and help others, volunteer at the polls, and more.

1. Get Registered

First off, make sure you’re registered to vote. A great place to start is vote.gov, where you can find out how to register online, or download a hard copy of the National Mail Voter Registration Form to send in. For information about registering in person, registering in other languages, registration deadlines, voter requirements, and more, check out this voting guide.

2. Find out where you vote

You can find your local election office here. This website will direct you to your state’s voting guide, where you should be able to see your polling place (including maps and directions), districts for your precinct, and candidates and questions that will be on the ballot at the next election. Your state may also have a primary election coming up soon, which determines the candidates that will be on the ballot in the general November election.

3. Know the issues and positions

What issues do you care about? Do you know where candidates stand? Here are a few resources that will help you match your views with your vote:

iCitizen or Vote411: provide voter guides by location

Project Vote Smart: helps you explore not only issues and stances, but voting records and campaign contributions

BallotReady: research every name and issue on the upcoming ballot

iSideWith: working backwards, this matches you with the “perfect” candidate based on your stances on issues

After you find your favorite candidates, see if they could use any help on the campaign trail. Joining a volunteer team is usually as simple as making a quick phone call or sending an email.

4. Help others

Help another person register to vote. Download and share voter outreach materials like these online and at your office, college, or neighborhood centers, and see if your community has a local get-out-the-vote campaign. For teachers, programs like Your Vote Matters can help students learn more about the voting process.

5. Work at the polls

Election judges are temporary, paid employees of local election offices who handle all the aspects of voting day! Your duties would include setting up the polling place, ensuring elections are fair, impartial, and secure, and tabulating the votes for the precinct. Contact your local election office to find out the requirements, like if you have to be a registered voter in that state, of a certain age, or officially affiliated with a political party.

How are you preparing for the upcoming elections? Was it difficult to find information about voting in your community?

Next week, we’ll take a look at the power of supporting local journalism and community storytelling.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/getting-ready-for-election-season/.

Making Tech Accessible to Low-Literacy Communities

As our technology continues to flourish and many use it as a major tool for engaging communities, how do we make sure that engagement processes and practices are accessible to those who have limited literacy skills? NCDDer Bang the Table recently shared an article on best practices for engaging with communities online that have low-literacy that we encourage you to read. You can read the article below and find the original on Bang the Table’s site here.


4 key ways to engage with low-literacy communities online

Most online engagement involves text and interactive tools that require, or assume, an ability to write and express opinions. But where does that leave community members who have low levels of literacy?

People with limited literacy levels represent a significant percentage of the community. In Australia, while around 14 per cent of adults – just over 1 in 7 – have limited literacy skills, 1 in 5, or around44 percent of people, lack literary skills required for everyday life.  Alternately, 42 percent of Canadian adults have low literacy skills while, in the USA, some 36 million adults cannot read, write or perform basic maths, which has remained largely unchanged in over ten years. In the UK, 1 in 7 adults in England lack basic literacy skills, while nearly 30 per cent of the workforce in Ireland hold the equivalent of a junior certificate, with 10 per cent only primary level or no formal qualifications at all. Indeed, The Programme for International Assessment for Adult Compentencies (PIACC) Survey of Adult Skills reveals that a considerable number of adults in 40 OECD countries possess only limited literacy and numeracy skills.

Most adults with literacy difficulties can read something but find it hard to understand complex, detailed forms or deal with digital technology. As a result, some are hesitant, or less likely to use technology. For some, barriers may exist around using verbal and non-verbal communications. TheUK’s literacy trust write: “People with low literacy skills may not be able to read a book or newspaper, understand road signs or price labels, make sense of a bus or train timetable, fill out a form, read instructions on medicines or use the internet.”

Difficulties reading, writing, working with numbers and self-expression not only contributes to societal exclusion but is an all-pervasive issue when working in the space of community engagement. Core to the values of community engagement is the ability to ensure that everyone has a say on issues that impact their everyday lives. But, on the flipside, low literacy is often hidden or masked.

Low literacy levels are frequently well camouflaged, making it not only hard to identify, but also hard to reach. This can include: linguistically diverse groups (migrant communities, for instance, have complex literacy profiles); people not wanting to identify as “disabled”; and people with psychological and cognitive disabilities, such as dyslexia – itself referred to as an “invisible disability” (it is estimated to affect 10 to 15 per cent of the population).

These are added to by the “intergenerational cycle”, or family literacy where people who grow up in a family with low literacy, themselves often develop have limited literacy skills. According the UK’s Literacy Trust, this “makes social mobility and a fairer society more difficult”. These “invisible” measures not only make figures of low literacy potentially much higher, but, more importantly, limiting the capacity for civic participation, make engaging with low literacy communities essential.

Without systematic consideration of low literacy communities, it would seem that in efforts to engage people in decisions that affect their everyday lives – to provide equal access for all to ensure everyone has their say – a context for failure and exclusion will be created. Indeed, community members with lower general verbal ability and difficulty with phonetic processing would struggle with most traditional methods of engagement. How would they respond to a survey for instance, or qualitatively rate issues without means to express themselves? How, then, should accessibility in engagement with low-literacy communities work?

While face-to-face engagement can involve advocacy groups, engage people of trust to those with low literacy skills and provide opportunities for support (for example, using signing or braille), there appears little analysis of pragmatic and practical ways to engage low literacy communities online – particularly, in an increasingly digitally-focussed world. How can we translate this inclusive engagement online?

On the other hand, holding online engagement up to the same prism can overlook its unique potential. Online accessibility can suggest real optimism: it emphasises beneficial ways technology and design potentially transform the lives of people with diverse physical, cognitive and sensory abilities and needs. Perhaps the question is, then, what are the opportunities open to online engagement with low literacy communities?

Here are 4 key ways to engage low-literacy communities online:

1. PLAIN TEXT: USE WRITTEN INFORMATION ACCESSIBLY

  • Use everyday language and, where possible, images to assist with meaning.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Be mindful of the nuances of language.

This is particularly salient with “invisible” low literacy communities as not all people use the same terminology – some may not self-identify as experiencing low levels literacy. In addition, diverse groups have differing needs, for example, people with autism would commonly have difficult understanding figures of speech, “raining cats and dogs”.

  • Use inclusive language: avoid labels, generic terms and emotive language.

Inappropriate language can result in feeling excluded, for instance, describing that people “suffer” or are “afflicted with” low literacy. Equally, in the search for equality, it is important not to use language that can be perceived as condescending, for instance, describing low literacy communities as “inspirational” or “brave” etc.

  • Consider written materials in engagement methods and feedback.

Will there be newsletters? How will you publish survey results? How will provide feedback? True inclusivity means that everyone’s views help inform decision-making.

  • Create a checklist.

Is the information as clear, simple and concise as possible?

  • Use consistent style.

Use standard capital and lowercase sentences, especially in headings; use bold for emphasis rather than italics, which are harder to read, and underscore hyperlinks. Many PDF files are incompatible with screen reader software packages, so consider publishing word or HTML versions alongside PDFs.

  • Create easy read versions/translations of all text documents.

NB: In order to access information and engage on the same basis as other people, low level literacy communities may require differing formats. For example, Microsoft Word document’s can be read aloud using a screen reader.

2. VIDEO AND AUDIO

  • Use short engaging videos.

Video imaging can convey key messages on issues or create imaginative calls to action to get involved in an engagement process.

  • Use conversational audio and video

Consider audience literacy, perhaps through conducting conversations/audio, such as podcasts, at a slightly slower pace.

  • Use audible versions of all video and audio files.

3. INFOGRAPHICS AND IMAGES

  • Use images, diagrams and graphs to make information more accessible.
  • Use brief written descriptions to accompany images.
  • Use data visualisation instead of tables.

Tables are notoriously incompatible with screen reader software used by blind people or those with vision impairments. They are also difficult to reproduce in large print.

  • Don’t use text over graphics, patterns or blocks of colour or dark shading
  • Use colour to visually communicate qualitative aspects of issues – ie viewers can form colour analogies to indicate emotive expression (i.e. danger = red).

4. DIGITAL STORYTELLING

Anecdotally, low literacy people rely on their friends and family (with higher literacy levels) to share information with them, often via conversation and talking. Digital storytelling is a simple, creative way where people with little to no online experience can tell a personal story. It provides a means of self-expression and opens up a self-identified way to become involved in engagement issues, provides a respect for the diversity of participants and ensures their voices are heard.

  • Provide a capacity for low literacy people to narrate stories online.

This provides access to self-identifying and an agency for their engagement. While participant testimonials are often essential at feedback stage, they exclude participation by people with low literacy skills. Storytelling provides a great way of capturing the voice of your participants and facilitates a way to demonstrate their views inform decision-making.

  • Draw on different digital formats.

Through the use of photos, online drawings and digital media, a personal or strong emotional connection can be built into the engagement process and centres the experience on the participant. Ensuring a personal connection, this recognises low literacy participants as experts in their own lives and experiences.

You can find the original version of this article on Bang the Table’s site at www.bangthetable.com/4-key-ways-engage-low-literacy-communities-online/.

Local Civic Challenge #2: Explore Local Leadership Roles

Democracy is all about community members being engaged in their government, and learning more ways on how to deeper connect with your local politics. A great way to do this is to join the Local Civic Challenge started by NCDD member,The Jefferson Center, where during the month of June they offer a mini-challenge every week for folks to learn more about and engage with, their local government. This second installment of the Challenge offers ways to explore local leadership roles (you can read the first installment about getting familiar with your local government here.) We encourage you to learn more about how you can become a more engaged citizen in the post below and you can find the original on the JC site here,


Local Civic Challenge #2: Joining Local Offices, Committees, and Boards

This post is part of our Local Civic Challenge, a chance to complete a few easy tasks each week that will help you become a more engaged citizen! To get the series delivered directly to your inbox, sign up here.

Learning more about the day-to-day work of your local gov, and how community members are thinking about issues, can often segue into taking on a leadership position yourself. We’ve seen this happen a few times throughout our work at the Jefferson Center. Just last week, Erin Buss, a participant in the Minnesota Community Assemblyfiled to run for City Council in Red Wing, Minnesota.

She told the local paper:

“As a participant in the Red Wing Citizens Assembly, I learned a lot about residents’ concerns and the importance of doing the work to keep this city on the right track. People want their government to be responsive, accountable and accessible. I’m excited to bring a fresh viewpoint to City Council — it’s time for Red Wing to move forward.”

Here’s a few ways you can start exploring local leadership roles:

1. See what’s open

It’s an election year, and it’s likely you’ll have some seats in your community up for grabs. Find out which seats these are, and who else is running. While the deadline to file for congressional seats has passed in most states, there may be time to file for city, township, and school district offices.

2. Learn who holds local office

Even if you won’t run yourself, it’s key to know who is. These aren’t always the elections we pay close attention to, especially when the national and state elections take over our newsfeeds. Resources like Common Cause and Ballotpedia make it easy to find your local representatives.

3. Listen to your neighbors

If running for an official title isn’t your thing, check out when your local neighborhood council or community development association meets. This is a great way to find out what issues are important to your neighbors, and where the current gaps are. You could start by listening in at meetings, and eventually move up to a volunteer leadership position.

4. Tune in

Find out when your city council meets, and see if they are streamed online if you can’t attend the meeting in-person. If they aren’t, that might be something to suggest to your city to make the meetings more accessible for everyone.

5. Search

It seems simple, but just googling “get involved in [insert your city] government” will likely bring up a page full of volunteer opportunities! For instance, you might be needed to teach local community ed classes, clean up parks and trails, help out in community gardens, participate in invasive species education, or assist library staff. If your city doesn’t have a dedicated volunteer page, try contacting the department you’d want to work with directly.

Do you hold a leadership position in your community? How did you end up there? If not, what’s holding you back? Let us know in the comments.

Next week, we’ll explore how you can get ready for election season.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/local-civic-challenge-2-joining-local-offices-committees-and-boards/.

Local Civic Challenge #1: Learn More About Your Local Gov

As a fantastic way to help folks further strengthen civic muscles, our friends at The Jefferson Center – an NCDD member org recently began offering a Local Civic Challenge. Every week they have a mini challenge for becoming more engaged with your local government and we will be lifting them up here on the NCDD blog. The first challenge is to get familiar with your local gov! Let us know in the comments below if you have additional great tips for getting familiar with our own city governments. We encourage you to flex those civic skills by checking out the post below, which you can find the original on the JC site here, and sign up to get it delivered to your email!


Local Civic Challenge #1: Get Familiar With Your Local Gov

To kick off the first week of the Local Civic Challenge, we want you to learn more about the ins and outs of your city government! That includes how it operates, who’s involved, and ways you can give feedback. Once you’re done, you’ll be more familiar with how the system works, and you might even have some ideas on the ways things could be improved.

Do you want the Local Civic Challenges delivered directly to your inbox? Sign up here.

1. Locate your city’s charter

In the United States, city charters usually define the organization, power, functions, and procedures of local government. Not all states allow local governments to create their own charters, so double check this list before your search.

2. Find out if your mayor is strong or weak

This isn’t a comment on your mayor’s effectiveness (that’s a different conversation), but their level of authority on local issues. In a “strong mayor” system, mayors are directly elected, and can make appointments and veto legislation. Meanwhile, most “weak mayors” are elected from within the city council, and do not have veto powers or executive authority on most matters. Yours may not be entirely one or the other, either!

3. Give some feedback

What’s one thing you think your local government is doing well? What could they improve on, and do you have any suggestions for them? Make a list, then head to your city’s website to find who to contact. Most have phone numbers and email addresses for different departments, from parks & rec to public works, so you can reach out to the right people.

4. Save the dates

If you don’t want to miss upcoming upcoming public meetings, see if your city has an upcoming events calendar or schedule published online.

5. Follow and like

Does your city or county use Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? If you follow them, you can just catch important projects updates and events as you scroll! Plus, you can easily give feedback by messaging, liking, or commenting.

6. Get familiar with the voting system

Local elections in the US vary widely, but the most common are first-past-the-post voting and instant-runoff voting (often called ranked-choice voting). In first-past-the-post, the candidate with the most votes wins the election. In instant-runoff, voters rank the candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. Ballots are counted and each voter’s top choice is recorded, and losing candidates (those with the lowest votes) are eliminated, and their ballots are redistributed until one candidate remains as the top choice of the majority of voters.

Was it difficult to find information about your city? Could your local government be more accessible? Let us know in the comments below!

Next week, we’ll explore how to join local offices, committees, and boards.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/local-civic-challenge-1-get-familiar-with-your-local-gov/.

Ensuring Engagement is Inclusive and Fair

In order to have engagement that is fair and equitable to all members of society, it is vital to be intentional when designing and facilitating those processes by asking, “who shows up?”. NCDD member org the Participatory Budgeting Project recently shared this article on how to make PB inclusive and fair, and there are some great tips to keep in mind for all our work. We encourage you to read the post below and find the original on PBP’s site here.


Making PB Inclusive and Fair

Typically, when we want to know how inclusive and fair a Participatory Budgeting (PB) process is, we ask “Who shows up?” While this is a good starting point, it’s not enough. To meaningfully assess equity, we need to dig deeper.

Celina Su, Chair of Urban Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY) and Frankie Mercedes, former Communications Strategist with the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), joined forces to lead a stellar PBP Network Study Session, which addressed issues of equity and fairness in PB.

This blog post reviews the main points of their conversation, identifies common barriers to equal participation in PB, and suggests how to make PB more accessible to people with low incomes and to people of color.

“Who shows up?”

Public Agenda’s report on PB in North America found that during the PB vote, “In nearly all communities, black residents were overrepresented or represented proportionally to the local census among voter survey respondents.” In contrast, PBP’s internal evaluation data shows that white people, people with high or moderate incomes, and people with advanced degrees tend to be overrepresented in the steering committee and budget delegate role. The populations in the second group tend to have more time, flexibility, and financial security—factors that make them more likely to participate in more intensive aspects of PB.

To create truly inclusive PB processes, low-income residents and people of color must be well represented on the steering committee and as budget delegates. The steering committee sets the rules for a PB process, and these rules ensure an inclusive and fair process. When low-income people and people of color are not in the room, steering committees miss valuable ideas on how to create a fair process.

Here’s how you can make sure everyone shows up:

  • Publicize and do outreach for all phases of the PB process—not just for idea collection and the vote.
  • Provide 2-way transit fare for people who’ve identified need.
  • Offer free, on-site childcare and food at PB events to boost engagement of women, parents, and low-income residents.
  • Consider the location of PB events—Fancy venues or gentrified areas in a city may feel unwelcoming to some. Switch up the location of PB events to make sure that everyone feels welcome and feels ownership of their PB process.

“Who gets heard?”

Celina Su interviewed several PB participants about their experience in PBNYC, and she saw a pattern. People of color and people with low incomes felt that the PB process was frustrating and unfair. Highly organized groups, like parent-teacher associations from high-income neighborhoods, had a set agenda and dominated the budget delegate process.

The budget delegate stage is a very important part of PB. As volunteers, budget delegates select ideas from the idea collection phase and turn them into proposals that PB participants vote on. While residents can voice any priority during the idea collection phase, budget delegates work with staff to determine which ideas are eligible for PB funding.

In many cases, PB funding comes from an elected official’s capital budget. This means that a PB proposal has to be a capital project in order it to be eligible for funding. A capital project is a physical purchase (e.g. computer), construction, or renovation (e.g. a building).

When residents think about what their community needs, they may not think of physical infrastructure; they might think of training, programs, or other non-physical investments. Residents may struggle to think of physical changes that can address their community’s most pressing needs—like quality education and job access. And, because low-income residents and people of color are often underrepresented as budget delegates, they don’t have the same opportunities to pick ideas and tweak non-eligible ideas so that they fit into PB’s rules. This is why projects that benefit marginalized communities can fall off the table during the budget delegate phase.

During Celina’s interviews, residents also said it was intimidating to talk with elected officials and city staff. Many people don’t have experience talking with elected officials or speaking in the language of government and law. Without sufficient support mechanisms, this imbalance fosters an environment that privileges those with more education and knowledge of government and law.

Here’s how you can make sure that everyone’s voice is heard:

  • Pay budget delegates and steering committee members

People who have the time and extra cash to volunteer tend to be of mid to high socioeconomic status. Paying residents for their time will incentivize people of all income backgrounds to participate in the time and energy intensive aspects of the PB process.

  • Provide space for in-group deliberation

In-group deliberation gives residents from similar backgrounds (e.g. public housing, immigrant, age group, etc.) the opportunity to discuss, solidify and agree on priorities. For example, non-English single language meetings have been very successful.

  • Offer training for government representatives

Government representatives should make themselves open and available to their community. Simple changes in tone and body language can mean the difference between intimidating residents and engaging them.

  • Bring in facilitators

Facilitators can help participants shape and develop their ideas and to ensure that certain groups don’t dominate speaking time.

“How does PB interact with society and government institutions?”

In her research on inclusion and PB in New York City, Celina notes that surveillance cameras are among the most popular projects in PBNYC. According to her report, they have “won funding every year so far.”

Celina sought to find out why cameras were so popular among NYC residents. She found that residents who wanted security cameras envisioned the cameras as part of a much broader program of public safety. Some residents’ vision of community safety included “greater police accountability and economic support as well as surveillance, and they crucially included bottom-up accountability and access to… [the video footage] captured by cameras.” But some residents were not aware that the New York City Police Department does not routinely make surveillance footage available to the public. On top of that, the economic and jobs programs that residents wanted did not qualify as capital projects and were therefore ineligible for PB funding. By the time PB voting began, NYPD-controlled surveillance cameras were the only thing left of residents’ vision for community safety.

Here’s some tips to equalize benefits from PB:

  • Make equity and inclusion an explicit goal of the PB process

PB is about making communities stronger and more civically engaged. PB participants want to help make that goal a reality. When PB leaders encourage participants to center equity, they create an environment where participants actively consider the needs of other residents.

  • Find or create a district profile

A district profile should describe the most important aspects of a community (e.g. educational achievement, income, ethnic composition). This will help residents identify what is going well in the district and locate areas for improvement. PBP’s list of community resources called Data for the People is a great starting point for gathering information about your community, as is the new tool developed by PBP, myPB.community.

  • Let participants know how government agencies implement PB projects

Some residents told Celina that they would not have voted for surveillance cameras had they known that the community would not have had control over the footage. It’s critical that PB participants understand the ramifications of what they are voting for so that they can make an informed decision.

As a tool, PB is susceptible to the same challenges faced by any other civic process. However, because it’s flexible and includes community involvement at high levels, PB leaders and residents have the opportunity to design a PB process that’s both inclusive and fair.

Want more info on PB and Inclusion? You can find more resources below:

Report: Celina Su’s Research on Inclusion in PB

PB Study Session: Equity and Inclusion in PB (Video)

PB Community Tools: Data for the People

PB Tool: Outreach Toolkit

PB Study Session: Budget Delegates (Video)

Report: Celina Su’s Research on PB

Blog Post: Black Power through Participatory Budgeting

You can find the original version of this post on the Participatory Budgeting Project’s site at www.participatorybudgeting.org/making-pb-inclusive-and-fair/.

Evdem with Undivided Nation & Join NCDD Confab Tomo

Leading up to our NCDD Confab call tomorrow featuring NCDD member org Undivided Nation, we wanted to share this piece from fellow NCDD member org, Everyday Democracy. Written by Sandy Rodriguez, the piece shares the story of the Leavertons’ journey to every state across the US to listen to folks’ stories, better understand our Nation’s history, and ultimately help bring people together across divides.

We are thrilled to talk with the Leavertons’ on our Confab call tomorrow, Thursday, June 28th from 2-3pm Eastern/11am-Noon Pacific. Register to join us for this free call by clicking here! You can read the post below and find the original on EvDem’s site here.


The Road to an Undivided Nation—Discovering How Race Divides Us

EvDem LogoImagine quitting your job, selling your home and taking your three small children on the road for a year in an RV to visit all 50 states in our nation, with the goal of understanding our current divides and finding ways to bridge them toward an undivided nation.

This is the Leaverton’s American Dream and they are living it, state by state, from south, to north, east to west, community by community on a yearlong, enlightening and heartfelt listening tour. Since January 2018, the family of five has embarked on a cross-country tour, meeting with American people, from all walks of life in the nation’s cities and towns. The purpose of their meetings is three-fold: First, it is to listen to them to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges in each community. Second, it is to collectively explore the roots of the nation’s divides. And last, it is to search for ways that can connect us all, across the many divides. They were 18 states into their journey, when they visited, learned from and shared their story with the Everyday Democracy team in Hartford, Connecticut.

“We were led to take on this journey after the 2016 Presidential election,” said David Leaverton when the issues that were dividing our country became front and center. “We started in Tulsa, Oklahoma expecting to hear about and talk about the political divisions that exist between liberals and conservatives. It was then, that we began to discover a deeper division, more foundational than our political differences that run along racial lines. Injustice and inequality was the key issue that so many people wanted to talk about. Conversations with people across the country have taught us so many things that we weren’t taught in our history books. We got more than we bargained for in these conversations, and that continued as a theme as we moved into Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania before landing in Connecticut.

In almost every community we have visited, when we opened the conversation on what is dividing our nation, unilaterally, people often wanted to talk about racism. They wanted to share stories related to justice and inequality relating to skin color. They wanted to talk about race.”

“The challenge is,” said David Leaverton, “reaching the white moderates like us. White moderates who believe more in order than in justice, as so poignantly put by Martin Luther King in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

Here is an excerpt:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Martin Luther King, Letter From a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf

Erin and David provided many examples of how racism is alive and well in our country, gathered from their listening sessions so far. Erin talked about Mechelle, a pregnant black woman in her early 20s who was ignored and mistreated when she went to the local hospital to deliver her baby. Mechelle lost her baby and almost lost her own life. You can read more about Mechelle and her story here.

You can read many more stories on the Leaverton’s blog:
https://undividednation.us/road-trip/.

In the intimate community conversation in Hartford, Connecticut hosted by Everyday Democracy one person asked, “Why can’t we just all be one race, and get past this? Just take the race and ethnicity question off the census?” David Leaverton responded. “I believe that before we “get past” the racial labels that have divided our population, we first need to acknowledge what has happened historically and what is still going on today.” Only after recognition and a true effort for reconciliation has occurred, can we, as a people, move forward in a way that will transform our culture to one of inclusion and equity for all.

The Leavertons are hoping that through the simple act of listening and sharing stories, that diverse opinions, backgrounds and viewpoints that have kept Americans so deeply divided can give way to cross-cultural understanding, authentic forgiveness, and an unprecedented level of justice and unity in America. They are inspired by the people they are meeting and organizations, like Everyday Democracy, that are working tirelessly to bridge the divides, toward a truly united nation.