NCDD Member with Tips to Expand Your Information Bubble

The engagement field knows the value of folks being able to reach outside of their usual information bubble in order to understand other perspectives, build empathy, and expand your mind. Which is why we wanted to share this piece by Annie Pottorff of The Jefferson Center – an NCDD member organization, which shared some excellent tips for bursting your info bubble. We encourage you to share your additional ideas in the comments section below. You can read the article below and find the original on The Jefferson Center’s site here.


How to Burst Your Information Bubble

If you’re reading this, we’d bet that you care about the future of democracy, the forces that damage it, and the work that strengthens it. If you do, then chances are also good that you’ve heard the phrases “information bubble” and/or “filter bubble” as topics of concern. To provide a (very) brief overview: as humans in the digital age, we tend to seek out people and publications with similar opinions to ours, which is a pretty good way to avoid conflict. When we can get our news feed tailored exactly to our tastes, providing only information we’ll appreciate and relate to, why would we want anything else?

These bubbles can also be dangerous: when we remain inside, we don’t interact with those who disagree with us or with the information they consume. That may sound great on the surface, but this makes it easier for us to dismiss opposing opinions as being in the minority (even though that may not be the case), since we aren’t seeing them on a daily basis. Making things worse, actually escaping the bubble is pretty difficult. Our social media algorithms have been programmed specifically to show us stories we’ll generally like and agree with. Plus, we’ve all seen (or maybe even gotten involved with), political Facebook fights with distant relatives, or stumbled down the rabbit hole of our local newspaper comments section. Seeing these extreme views from people on the internet can make it difficult to even want to listen to anyone who may have different thoughts than us.

But at the Jefferson Center, we’ve found that when people have their beliefs challenged, it can be a good thing. We host Citizens Juries–deliberative events where a group of randomly-selected citizens are given the knowledge, resources, and time they need to create solutions to community issues. People often find themselves sitting across from complete strangers, and quickly realize that not everyone from “the other side” is as extreme as the pundits we see on TV and the trolls in the comment section. Instead, many people have a spectrum of beliefs, shaped by their own experiences, and aren’t easily labelled. Especially when it comes to local issues, participants find that partisan politics disappear when it comes to things like improving city government communication. As one citizen said “It’s really refreshing to sit down with a bunch of community members and realize you share the same core values and are united.”

If we choose to burst our information bubbles and listen to each other, we will let in not only new information, but new people, ideas, and experiences. Here are a few easy ways you can start:

1. Visit websites that present different takes

On allsides.com, you’ll find today’s biggest headlines and coverage from the left, center, and right. They also provide media bias ratings and a “balanced dictionary”, because certain news terms have come to mean different things to different people.

If you’re a reddit user, you can also submit and post in r/change my view. It’s pretty much what it sounds like–you submit an opinion, and ask people to present other viewpoints. The page is focused on having respectful, engaged discourse, rather than fighting.

2. Sign up for a well-rounded news digest

The Echo Chamber Club newsletter delivers a variety of viewpoints and contrary opinions on relevant news. Their goal is to offer an alternative to the personalized articles we see via social media algorithms, and instead showcase the nuances in today’s tough issues.

3. Curate a well-rounded list of reputable news sources

Here’s a great starter list of well-regarded news sites across the political spectrum, curated by Patrick Kulp at Mashable:

Conservative-leaning prestige media:

  • The National Review
  • The Weekly Standard
  • The American Conservative

Conservative-leaning new media:

  • Independent Journal Review
  • Heat Street
  • The Daily Caller

Liberal-leaning prestige media:

  • The New Yorker
  • The Nation
  • Mother Jones

Liberal-leaning new media:

  • Salon
  • AlterNet
  • Talking Points Memo

International Perspective:

  • Al Jazeera
  • The Economist
  • Der Spiegel

4. Analyze your social media and browsing settings

Did you know you can adjust your news feed preferences on Facebook? Just click on the drop down arrow in the upper right corner of your homepage, select “news feed preferences”, and choose a variety of news sources to appear at the top of your feed.

There are also browser extensions you can download that pop your information bubble for you! Escape Your Bubble, available on Chrome, automatically inserts articles and issues that may challenge your current political views into your feed, after taking time to learn your personal news consumption habits and preferences.

5. Read your local newspaper, including the editorials!

Checking out your local op-ed section will give you good insight into what your neighbors are thinking about local and national issues. Plus, if you disagree, you can shake things up and provide a few counterpoints in the next edition.

6. Be critical

Learn how to identify fake news sites and bots before you share, like, or comment. Sometimes these fake articles can travel around Facebook or Twitter for days, because people don’t investigate beyond the headline. Here are a few ways to root them out:

  • Fake articles usually use all caps, and are hyperbolic. Most legitimate news sites don’t write headlines like this.
  • Actually click the article–if the page doesn’t exist or is unavailable, it’s probably fake.
  • Double check the URL. Fake news sites thrive off of having almost legitimate names, like cnn-news.com.co
  • Skim the article. If it seems unprofessional, is riddled with errors, or presents information on a topic completely different from what the headline promised, you should move on.
  • It’s also important to be critical of your favorite news sources. Recognize when your go-to sites use clickbait tactics or present their partisan opinions as fact.

7. Attend community meetings

Because of TV shows like Parks & Rec, we’re inclined to picture community meetings as full of impassioned people yelling about pretty mundane issues.
But what if more and more people began to show up? We’d probably have a more diverse approach to many community issues and understand our neighbors a little better.

8. Have a few uncomfortable conversations

On Mismatch.org, you answer a few questions about yourself and your views, and they automatically match you with someone across the country with different views for a guided video conversation.

Living Room Conversations provides a local model for respectful discourse: you find someone to act as your co-host that has a different perspective than you on a given topic. Both of you find two other people to join. Then you meet for a guided conversation in a living room, church, school, or other community meeting place.

Did you notice anything missing from this list? Let us know so we can add it!

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center’s site at www.jefferson-center.org/how-to-burst-your-information-bubble/.

Citizen Engagement is Vital Even for Smart Cities

As technology continues to grow and cities shift towards being “smart”, there are some learning opportunities for the ways in which cities go about acquiring data, the ways in which it is used, and the need to still genuinely engage the community. Which is why we wanted to share this piece written by Mary Leong of NCDD member org, PlaceSpeak, about the need for cities to be mindful of the ways in which technology is used when gathering insight on citizens and utilizing the information during city decision-making. She emphasizes the need to use a”citizen-first engagement approach” (as outlined by Meeting of the Minds) and engage the community to get real citizen feedback before implementing these smart city practices. You can find the article below and read the original version on the PlaceSpeak blog here.


No, Your City Can’t be “Smart” Without Citizen Engagement

In a recent piece from our friends at Meeting of the Minds, 4 Strategies to Fix Citizen Engagement, they asked several important questions: “Can a City really be described as ‘Smart’ if it makes changes without consulting with a diverse sample of the citizens affected by these changes before, during, and after projects are implemented? Will citizens adopt Smart Initiatives if they aren’t part of the decision-making process?”

As cities struggle to establish themselves as “smart”, they have rushed to implement IoT (Internet of Things) sensor networks which help to gain insight into the movements and habits of citizens. Sensors are gathering vast amounts of information about how citizens are engaging with their transportation needs, energy use and more – often without their explicit consent. A recent article in the Atlantic asks facetiously, “Why trouble to ask the ‘citizens’ what they want from urban life, when you can accurately surveil the real actions of city’s ‘users’ and decode what they’re actually doing, as opposed to what they vaguely claim they might want to do?”

While it is well-documented that social desirability bias or recall bias can lead respondents to provide inaccurate or false information in surveys or polls, exclusively relying on passive data – as opposed to proactive data collected through robust citizen engagement processes – only tells half the story. The challenge is twofold:

Firstly, it is crucial that smart cities do not become surveillance cities. Out of 52 agencies in the United States which use facial recognition, “only one…expressly prohibits its officers from using face recognition to track individuals engaging in political, religious, or other protected free speech,” found a report from Georgetown Law. Recent revelations from the ACLU also revealed that companies such as Amazon are actively marketing facial recognition technology to governments as an “easy and accurate” way to investigate and monitor “people of interest” – including undocumented immigrants, Black Lives Matter activists, or citizens exercising their right to protest. This unprecedented ability to surveil without accountability should be concerning to anyone with an interest in civic participation.

Secondly, the implementation of smart city technologies should incorporate citizen feedback and concerns. People are justifiably concerned about privacy issues – particularly individuals from groups or communities which may be disproportionately targeted. Furthermore, people are often unable to opt out, which can be a cause for concern for some. Just like with any large-scale initiative or project, it’s a lot harder to deal with the fallout from citizens after the decisions have been made – especially when large amounts of money have already been spent on infrastructure or technologies. In order to truly realize the potential of a “smart city”, decision-makers must include citizens in the decision to implement smart city solutions. By including the public in co-creating (“build with, not for”) and deciding on solutions that are appropriate for each community, they can be tailored to local unique challenges and needs.

The solutions highlighted in Meeting of the Minds call for a “citizen-first engagement approach”, with four factors:

  • Utilize mobile
  • Remove the burden for citizens
  • Consider offering rewards
  • Go beyond survey responses

We agree that these factors are necessary for invigorating smart cities everywhere and inspiring people to participate – while challenging decision-makers to go above and beyond. Instead of one-off online surveys or public meetings, online civic networks notify and keep people engaged on an ongoing basis. In contrast to social networks, where people are empowered to connect with like-minded individuals all across the world, civic networks are tied to place-based communities, such as streets, neighborhoods, schools, stratas/homeowner associations and more. By creating a central “hub” for citizens to engage continually with decision-makers and fellow community members, PlaceSpeak makes online democratic participation easy, convenient and habit-forming.

You can find the original version of this article on PlaceSpeak blog at www.blog.placespeak.com/your-city-cant-be-smart-without-citizen-engagement/.

NCDD Member Creates Racial Dialogues White Ally Toolkit

We are thrilled to share this excellent write-up by the Richmond-Times Dispatch on long-time NCDD member David Campt and his most recent racial dialogue work. Campt travels across the U.S. holding racial dialogue trainings using his White Ally Toolkit Workbook, which offers strategies for engaging in these conversations (learn more about the toolkit and purchase here). He speaks on the importance of white people having these conversations with fellow white people and emphasizes the need to communicate in a way that doesn’t attack but instead genuinely seeks to engage with each other. We encourage you to read the full article below or find the original version on the Richmond-Times Dispatch site here.


Williams: Racial dialogue is his specialty. His book details how white people should talk to each other about racism.

This post was shared with the permission of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Written by Michael Paul Williams

Coming of age in a polarized Detroit as black and white communities disengaged, David Campt became engrossed in the nature of conversation.

His hometown’s 1970s power struggle fueled his interest in terms of engagement as the outspoken Coleman Young, Detroit’s first black mayor, presided over a riot-torn city experiencing massive white flight to the suburbs. But his curiosity was also nurtured by a white teacher named Nathan Fine, who taught his students that people are far more alike than different.

“What he was trying to do is to get us to not replicate the kind of conflicts that we were watching on the news as fourth-graders,” Campt recalled. “The city’s in a certain amount of turmoil. And he’s trying to have a different kind of message, trying to get us to see the common humanity.”

Helping people find common humanity through dialogue would become a vocation for Campt, 56, a civic engagement specialist affiliated with the Richmond-based nonprofit Hope in the Cities. He put his tools to work last week moderating a meeting of Mayor Levar Stoney’s Monument Avenue Commission.

Issues don’t get much more contentious than the question of what to do with our Confederate statues.

“I have always thought about the monuments the same way I think about reparations, which is, what’s really important is the conversation about it,” Campt said during an interview Friday. “Where that lands has some significance, but what’s really important is how do institutions put the public in the position to engage each other. That’s what’s really important in these kind of big, divisive things.

“People are very focused on, ‘What’s the outcome?’ But my focus is, ‘What is the process? … What’s the engagement that you’re trying to foster?”

The tranquil commission meeting last week bore no resemblance to the verbal Molotov cocktails hurled about during a town hall-style meeting of the panel last August at the Virginia Historical Society, now called the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

“He did a superb job helping focus the meeting while providing ample opportunities for those attending to engage in a variety of ways,” said Christy Coleman, the commission’s co-chair and CEO of the American Civil War Museum.

On Thursday, Campt — a faculty member with Hope in the Cities’ Community Trustbuilding Fellowship — will read from his new book, ”The White Ally Toolkit Workbook: Using Active Listening, Empathy, and Personal Storytelling to Promote Racial Equity,” at the Downtown YMCA.

Campt, a gregarious and towering presence at 6 feet 5 inches tall, promises that the event will be interactive and entertaining with a minimum of white guilt.

“A lot of people who do this kind of race work, they think that it is important that white people feel bad about themselves and bad about the history. I’m not sure that that’s the best strategy for having people learn.”

The toolkit seeks to dismantle the notion that “racial dialogue” in America involves a conversation between white people and people of color. It argues that some progress on race relations is best achieved when white people talk to one another.

This is imperative for several reasons. Campt cites 2017 public opinion polls in which 55 percent of white respondents said they face discrimination.

If we’re going to advance the conversation, “part of our arsenal has to be white folks talking to each other about race when there are no people of color in the room.”

There’s another reason whites must more effectively engage race matters: People of color have grown increasingly weary of the task.

Campt’s book states that it would be “neither fair nor feasible” for people of color to carry the burden of these conversations. Their ranks are too few and they “are increasingly fatigued by educating white people; they are already dealing with the additional burden of actually coping with racism.”

He said Friday that white allies of people of color have several built-in advantages in talking to fellow whites about race: racially biased whites might be more receptive and can’t legitimately accuse the “allies” of arguing their point out of self-interest.

But all of this will require a sharpening of their engagement tools.

“Part of what has happened is that allies have come to think that the way to talk to skeptics is to berate them, to call them names, to inundate them with facts — to basically use strategies that are not effective, that we know from science are not effective,” he said.

These inappropriate tactics have helped fuel a backlash. “We have given our allies bad advice about how to engage people.”

Campt said we must learn to talk across our divisions. As residents of the former capital of the Confederacy should know all too well, “different groups have had very different histories and senses of the history. And part of what the monuments represent is contention over what’s going to be our collective history.

“Well, our histories are very divergent,” Campt said. “Every group thinks its version of history is the right version. If we’re going to create a democracy that works, then what’s important is we try to come up with a collective history.”

The history that landed Campt in his role as a dialogue leader was circuitous.

He studied computer science on a scholarship at Princeton, but hated it. At age 20, with a degree at hand, he edited a magazine in New York and grappled with racism in all its contradictions.

“I’m afraid on the subway and people are afraid of me,” he recalled.

He moved to the West Coast to attend graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. During his second year, he began working as a dialogue facilitator.

“I think I was a natural at that because of my obsession with how people talk to each other,” he said.

After earning a Ph.D. in city planning, he was chosen for the staff of President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race.

“It was a fantastic opportunity and a horrible experience,” Campt recalled.

Whatever ambitions Clinton had about racially progressive public policy weren’t shared by some of his staff members, who were more intent on campaign-style messaging than on fostering engagement, Campt said.

Then the Monica Lewinsky scandal exploded in 1998, with the race initiative as collateral damage.

“The extent to which he had any moral authority was diminished,” Campt said.

It’s difficult to imagine, but 20 years later, we’re even more divided. On many fronts, we have lost the capacity to engage each other.

If his book’s tools can encourage productive dialogue on race, “the toughest issue in American engagement, maybe we can talk to each other across ideological lines on other issues,” Campt said.

Our current breach is not only corrosive to democracy, it’s also eroding families.

“People don’t want to go home for Thanksgiving because they don’t want to be with their relatives, or they don’t want to have those encounters. That’s ridiculous.”

Too often, when white individuals hear something racist from a family member or friend, they stare at their shoes. That’s an understandable response, Campt says.

“You don’t want to damage that relationship. So you’re stuck in a quandary. You don’t know what to do. You don’t want to attack the person so you don’t do anything.”

He’s seeking to empower people to respond with practical conversation strategies.

“This is about a third choice,” he said. “Don’t attack. Don’t avoid. Engage. This is about how you engage.”

– Michael Paul Williams, mwilliams@timesdispatch.com, published May 14, 2018

This post was shared with the permission of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. You can find the original version of this article on the Richmond Times-Dispatch site at www.richmond.com/news/plus/williams-racial-dialogue-is-his-specialty-his-book-details-how/article_7d086bdd-4b7f-5c7d-9947-8f66af2bf287.html.

Hidden Common Ground Initiative Findings on Health Care

The second report of the Hidden Common Ground Initiative has been recently released by NCDD member org, Public Agenda, in collaboration with fellow NCDDer the Kettering Foundation. This report focuses on how people in the US feel towards health care; and it shows that while people seemed to be divided over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there was much common ground to be found over health care, in general. Explore the public’s view on this issue by checking out the full report here. You can read the announcement from Public Agenda below and find more information on the Hidden Common Ground Initiative here.


Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Health Care

This report from the Hidden Common Ground Initiative focuses on hidden or otherwise underappreciated common ground in health care. How do people talk across party lines about the problems facing our health care system? What do people think should be done to make progress?

Finding Common Ground on Health Care

Health care has long been controversial and is certainly among the more partisan problems in American politics today—at least among political leaders. In 2017 alone, the American public witnessed endless debate among leaders over whether and how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and also witnessed Republicans’ inability to devise and pass new health care legislation—all part of leaders’ age-old ideological disagreements about how health care should work in this country.

Despite such a bleak picture, does the intense partisan division over health care among elected officials and pundits actually reflect partisan divisions among the public at large? Survey research does indicate continuing partisan divisions among the public on the favorability of the ACA. But despite these and other divisions along party lines on the direction we should go to improve health care in the United States, Public Agenda’s research and engagement experience over the past 40 years indicates that even seemingly divided groups may share or be able to find significant common ground.

When people from different walks of life sit down and talk about health care, how do they process the problem and think about solutions? Our approach to exploring the public’s views on the topic began with a review of existing survey data and proceeded to three focus groups in diverse locations with ordinary Americans, with roughly equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats and Independents in each group. This report concludes with implications and reflections on the solutions that are most and least likely to garner public support and with ideas for productively engaging the public on the topic of health care.

About the Hidden Common Ground Initiative

It’s taken decades for our national politics to become as ideologically polarized and gridlocked as they are today, but it’s only recently that pundits and pollsters have started to converge on a narrative that blames the general public, instead of a flawed political system and culture, for this state of affairs. Especially since the 2016 election, a storyline has taken hold that portrays our dysfunctional national politics as a reflection of our profound divisions as a people. In this account, we’re an alienated society with no ability to understand one another, let alone find common ground or work together toward common ends.

For example, a 2016 series published by the Associated Press, Divided America, argued:

It’s no longer just Republican vs. Democrat, or liberal vs. conservative. It’s the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent, rural vs. urban, white men against the world. Climate doubters clash with believers. Bathrooms have become battlefields, borders are battle lines. Sex and race, faith and ethnicity…the melting pot seems to be boiling over.

Such rhetoric about divisions among the public has proliferated, and surely it captures something important about the contemporary United States. We are fragmented in many ways, with consequential differences, divides and disagreements that are important to acknowledge and address. But our divisions are hardly the whole story, and this rhetoric can be dangerously self-reinforcing, exacerbating the divisions it chronicles, stunting our political imagination and playing into the hands of those who would manipulate and intensify our differences to their own advantage.

The Hidden Common Ground Initiative explores a different hypothesis and possibility— namely, that as far as the broader public is concerned, there is often enough common ground to at least begin forging progress on many of the problems we face. Moreover, with some nurturing quite a bit more common ground can emerge. The initiative is concerned with locating the common ground that exists on tough issues and giving it greater voice and currency in public conversations and policy debates. And it is concerned with generating insight into how more democratically meaningful common ground can be achieved.

We believe that dispelling the myth that we are inescapably divided on practically everything can not only help fuel progress on a host of issues, but also help us better navigate our real, enduring divisions, from differing philosophies of governance to racial tensions. Hidden Common Ground aspires to tell the story of what unites us by way of concrete, actionable solutions that can make a difference in people’s lives and the fate of their communities—and eventually, perhaps, in our national politics as well.

You can read more about the Hidden Common Ground Initiative on Public Agenda’s site at www.publicagenda.org/pages/hidden-common-ground-where-americans-see-eye-to-eye-on-health-care.

Join NCDD at Frontiers of Democracy Conference 2018

We are thrilled to announce the upcoming 2018 Frontiers of Democracy conference is happening at Tufts University from Thursday, June 21st until Saturday, June 23rd! The annual Frontiers of Democracy brings together leaders working on deliberative democracy, civic engagement and civic education, to explore how to further advance democracy. NCDD’s Managing Director Courtney Breese will be presenting a session on Friday, June 22rd during on the 2nd session block from 2:30pm-4pm on “Partnering to Strengthen Participatory Democracy: How Might We Connect and Collaborate?”. We encourage you to read the announcement below and find the original on the Tisch College website here.


Frontiers of Democracy Conference

Frontiers of Democracy is an annual conference hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University since 2009. The 2018 conference will take place from June 21 (5:00 p.m.) until June 23 (1:00 p.m.) at Tufts University’s downtown Boston campus in Chinatown.

Partners for the conference in 2018 include the Bridge Alliance, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, the National Conference on Citizenship, and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

You can now register and pay to hold a spot. Please note that speakers and session organizers must purchase tickets.

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

Frontiers 2018 Theme

According to Freedom House, democracy has been in retreat worldwide for 12 years. Many people are pushing back, including activists and organizers who are nonviolently struggling, using tactics like strikes, boycotts, and mass demonstrations against entrenched power. Other individuals and groups take different approaches, some seeking a greater degree of neutrality and emphasizing deliberative dialogue, particularly when they work within institutions such as schools, public agencies, and newspapers. This year, Frontiers will bring people from these communities of scholarship and practice together to ask how they can learn from and complement each another.

You can read the full agenda for the 2018 conference by clicking here.

Looking Back: Frontiers 2017

Thanks to everyone who joined us at an exciting, thought-provoking, and timely Frontiers of Democracy 2017. You can watch the video of this year’s introduction, “short take” speakers, and one of our afternoon plenaries, below. (You can click on each video’s title to watch on YouTube and, in the description, find 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.”

Check out the preconference symposium’s agenda and readings and the full Frontiers 2017 schedule.

You can find the original version of this announcement on Tisch College’s site at https://tischcollege.tufts.edu/research/civic-studies/frontiers-democracy-conference.

Essential Partners on Using Social Media to Talk about Guns

Social media platforms can be a challenging medium to hold conversations, especially around contentious issues like gun access, but like NCDD member Essential Partners recently wrote; it’s possible. EP collaborated with several orgs like Time, Spaceship Media and Advance Local to bring folks together to explore conversations on guns, and they shared their experience on utilizing a closed Facebook group to connect people. We encourage you to read the article below and you can find the original version on Essential Partners site here.


Guns: An American Conversation

The subject of guns in America lends itself to strong emotion and great strife, especially in the face of continued mass shootings. We all wish we could make it stop, but we can’t seem to agree on where to focus. The guns themselves? The troubled souls who carry out these acts of violence? The inconsistent regulation of existing laws? The poor infrastructure for recognizing this danger?

At the end of March, Essential Partners worked with Spaceship Media and Advance Local to bring people from across the country together to talk about guns. John Sarrouf and I traveled to Washington, DC, to facilitate the conversations. At the end of the two-day conversation, that core of 21 people then formed a closed Facebook group with more than 130 members, and continued the dialogue online for the following month.

John and I followed along. We offered behind-the-scenes support to the moderators, who worked 24/7 to help those 130 online conversants share their views in ways that could be understood. We witnessed the yearning for a deeper, richer conversation on this divisive topic, and we learned that while it is possible to have that dialogue in a Facebook group, it doesn’t happen without thoughtful facilitation.

Three things we saw:

  • Online engagement was much stronger if people had one-on-one conversations via phone or even Facebook messenger with someone they disagreed with. Being “known” in this way by even a few individuals in the larger group made a big difference in the ability of participants to hang in during tough interactions. Even moderators had an easier time intervening with people who exhibit challenging communication styles after they had a phone call with them.
  • The 21 participants who had invested a lot of personal time at the outset wanted their own smaller group to reconnect, take a breather, and process the many things happening in the larger group. This was not because they all had the same point of view. It was because they were known and knew each other as well-rounded people in the small group.
  • The online conversation could easily have gone on for months in order to reach the fullness of the issues surrounding guns in this country. The level of attention and strength of relationships needed to sustain a conversation on such a hot topic could span years. At the same time, even within a month, there were productive inroads and proposals surfaced for potential continued work on the issue.

We are continuing this work in the coming months. Stay tuned for updates as we take this conversation on the road.

You can read the full article on Essential Partners site at www.whatisessential.org/blog/guns-american-conversation.

Inaugural Hidden Common Ground Report Released

NCDD member org, Public Agenda, in collaboration with fellow NCDDer the Kettering Foundation have recently released the inaugural report of their Hidden Common Ground Initiative. This is an effort which seeks to dive deeper into issues that have been polarizing, in order to illuminate where there is common ground; with the hopes of better uniting the public around concrete, actionable solutions. This first round of research explores incarceration, and the following report that is slated to be released in May will revolve around healthcare. You can read the press release from Public Agenda below and find more information on the Hidden Common Ground Initiative here.


New Research Initiative Fights Narrative of Absolute Division of Americans on Critical Issues

Inaugural project of the Hidden Common Ground Initiative elevates areas of agreement on incarceration and criminal justice reform in America

The state of America’s national politics has led many to believe the country is irreparably polarized and gridlocked. Recently, a storyline has taken hold that portrays this dysfunction as a reflection of our profound divisions as a people. However, a new research initiative launched by Public Agenda, in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation, shows that Americans can find common ground on many of the problems our nation faces.

It has taken decades for our national politics to become as polarized as it is today, leading to stagnation on critical issues like gun control, immigration and health care. While it is important to acknowledge the differences and disagreements that do exist, our divisions are hardly the whole story. The Hidden Common Ground Initiative aspires to tell the story of where the public agrees on concrete, actionable solutions and make those areas of agreement more salient and potent in our public life.

“We believe that dispelling the myth that we are hopelessly divided can not only help fuel progress on a host of issues, but also help us better navigate our real, enduring divisions.” said Will Friedman, President of Public Agenda. “We are grateful to have the Kettering Foundation as a collaborator on this initiative that has the potential to fight the often-inflated narrative of an America that is so divided, progress is impossible.”

The Hidden Common Ground Initiative will explore a variety of issues facing our nation and will include the release of a series of reports on our research findings. The first report, “Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Incarceration,” focuses on hidden or otherwise underappreciated common ground in the realm of incarceration and criminal justice reform.

In cross-partisan focus groups held around the country, reinforced by a review of existing survey research, we learned that:

    • The focus group participants felt incarceration serves important functions, such as keeping dangerous people off the streets, but agreed that the criminal justice system can be unfair and make mistakes.
    • Participants were strongly focused on preventing people from becoming criminals in the first place.

For drug crimes, and possibly some other nonviolent offenses, alternatives to incarceration made good sense to most people in the focus groups. But they were unwilling to accept alternative sentencing for violent crimes.

  • Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences was a confusing, unresolved issue for participants.

Focus group findings are summarized in the new report, “Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Incarceration.” Three focus groups were conducted in September 2017 across the United States in urban Hamilton County, Ohio; rural Franklin County, Missouri; and suburban Suffolk County, New York.

The next report from the Hidden Common Ground Initiative, scheduled to be released in May, will explore how people talk across party lines about the problems facing our health care system and what people agree should be done to make progress.

You can read more about the Hidden Common Ground Initiative on Public Agenda’s site at www.publicagenda.org/pages/hidden-common-ground-where-americans-see-eye-to-eye-on-incarceration.

Creating a Welcoming Environment with Conservatives

As people convene this week for the National Week of Conversation, we wanted to share this piece from NCDD member org, The Village Square – Tallahassee on how to build authentic relationships and civic events with conservatives. In order to truly engage the public, it’s vital to have an actual diverse group. Often times, particularly in the D&D field, the same “usual suspects” of left-leaning folks are gathered and Conservative-identifying are left out. The Village Square talks about the important lessons they have learned on how to create a more welcoming environment and create a space where Conservatives are more inclined to come to the table. We encourage you to read the article below and find it in full on The Village Square – Tallahassee’s site here.


Welcoming Conservatives

As a critical mass of appropriate hand wringing continues as to how to address the deep and increasingly consequential partisan divisions roiling the western world, there is a surprisingly well-developed empirically supported body of knowledge that guides solutions that seem far simpler than the enormity of the problem would suggest.

To grow empathy toward those with different worldviews, moral psychologists tell us, we need to have positive interactions with “the other” (which is referred to as “contact hypothesis”) and emphasize shared “superordinate” goals. Our decade of pushing the civility rock up this steep hill supports their science – it’s almost a secret decoder ring because it shifts entrenched negative attitudes reliably and quickly. Strangely enough, softening hatred turns out to have been the easy part of this big job. The hard part is getting people who disagree on politics to occupy the same space so that the magic can work.

For those of us inspired to the work of building bridges, this first step of getting people with diverse views in a room together has proven a frequently experienced circular challenge – we don’t like each other because we don’t spend time together and we don’t spend time together because we don’t like each other.

This challenge appears to be particularly thorny when it comes to drawing conservatives into civic engagement as it’s most typically practiced. After a decade of experience with the Village Square – an organization dedicated to creating relationships across the partisan divide – we’ve developed some thinking around both causes of the problem and solutions that work. We host about 30 events a year that depend on drawing a voluntary diverse audience – because no one has to attend our events, we’ve been forced to do both sleuthing and soul searching.

As brilliant new ideas are popping up around the country to address the challenge of poisonous tribal partisanship, we think there is significant risk that too many of these good ideas will fail to achieve their goals simply because they fail to draw conservatives into their orbit. Even brilliantly conceived and potentially highly impactful initiatives may make things arguably worse, after all if conservatives don’t show up, aren’t we accidentally cementing structural divisions by hanging even more often with fellow liberals? And might we risk driving the contempt even deeper, when liberals who show up and want to fix “the relationship” are effectively “stood up?” Note: we’re addressing our remarks to liberals struggling to draw conservatives into dialogue. Further posts will address other aspects of this challenge!

Here’s what we learned

Start with a bipartisan relationship. Whatever you’re undertaking, your team has to include a minimum of two people with an authentic ongoing relationship who disagree on politics. If your first try at this fails, try again. If you don’t have a relationship like this, build one. There is no group of politically likeminded people, no matter how well meaning, who will ultimately succeed in an endeavor lacking some honest feedback from the other side. Conservatives will probably be less intrigued by your idea (for reasons we touch on, below) so you might have to be creative in how you meet this requirement as you begin. But do meet it. You might also have to live with the idea that they’re less “in love” with your idea or project than you are at first. That’s all worth moving past because a truth-telling conservative partner will tell you important things that you will never imagine otherwise.

Build an expanding bipartisan network incrementally. Depending on the durability you’re trying to achieve or the scale of your endeavor, consider growing an intermediate-sized ideologically and demographically diverse group that essentially creates the social “glue” that will ensure you draw from different tribes when you either go big or go long with the public. For us it was a bipartisan board of about 15 (the liberal partner in the original pair identified conservative friends and vice versa), then that group expanded to 75 “founders” before we did our first press release. To the extent you can, keep tapping pre-existing friendships to form the strongest base going forward. Early on, there was much vouching we had to do for each other with potential panelists, elected officials and members of the public. They were suspicious.

Keep a conservative bench. You’re more likely to lose conservatives along the way (again, for reasons that make perfect sense and have nothing to do with their moral compass, see below). Don’t get irritated – just get replacements. Do take the time to get feedback from conservatives you’ve lost – you might even learn something! Wash, rinse, repeat. Forever.

Consider partnering with an ideologically diverse church congregation or a politically diverse group of churches. Churches are institutions that have more street cred for conservatives than the average town hall does. Additionally, church partners naturally help you speak to hearts, not heads (below).

If you’re liberal, don’t use your mother tongue. Direct appeals to “unity” can have an unintended effect in this dysfunctional highly siloed political environment – where individual words even have tremendous partisan valence. Efforts to unite across division – often led by citizens who lean liberal (for reasons that have nothing to do with the worth of conservatives) – unintentionally and understandably frame their efforts using language that draws in like-minded liberal audience. In this way their framing unintentionally conveys to conservatives that the project is a liberal one, predisposing a failure to engage conservatives adequately.

Here’s a list of some hot potato words you might want to avoid in your official communications (or at the very least balance them with some words that speak to conservatives). It isn’t that conservatives don’t care about some of these things, it’s just that in this polarized environment they’ve become toxic markers of partisanship and should be used only with caution by bridge builders who truly want to build the gosh darn bridge: sustainability, race, unity, cooperation, community, social justice, awareness, women’s health, tolerance, climate change, privilege, resources, diversity, dialogue, inclusive, identity, kindness. (We’re sorry, we know this is hard news because we’ve been there too. When our civic space is detoxified, we can use them again.) We make a practice of checking the titles of our programs with both liberal and conservative friends.

Speak to hearts, not heads. Corollary: focus on relationships, not facts. A unique quality of Western liberalism is that we perceive ourselves as operating inside a framework of rationalism where we look at the facts, weigh them and choose the course of action that is objectively supported. But if we truly value facts, we’ll realize that rationalism isn’t – well – rational. For human beings making our way through copious and ambiguous information, science tells us that our intuitions comes first, and strategic reasoning follows. We essentially – as a species – believe what we want to believe (liberals too).

Forums with a heavy focus on debate and fact checking put the cart squarely before the horse in terms of what has to happen first to create change. The primary focus on bridge building efforts has to be on creating conditions that make people from feuding tribes want to like each other. Once those positive relationships exists, we want to hear others out, which changes everything. Interestingly, many conservatives follow their intuition first as their factory default setting, so in a highly divided political world, they immediately sense your liberalism when your coordinates aim squarely and repeatedly at objective fact. We know, waiting is hard to do. But the cart will come along if you get the moving parts in the right order. (We have a priest friend who likes to challenge our audiences to list the guiding principles of their lives using only facts. Can’t do it can you? Big ideas incorporate wisdom and wisdom is different than fact.)

Understand liberal and conservative “moral channels.” Liberals and conservatives are not receiving information about our current civic crisis on the same channels and it’s a fundamentally big problem. According to Jonathan Haidt and colleagues’ body of work advanced as Moral Foundations Theory(entertaining 18 minute primer here), liberals understand moral good to be constrained primarily to whether it is caring or harmful and whether it is fair. While conservatives also believe that care and fairness are moral goods, they believe those goods must be balanced with other moral goods (loyalty, authority, liberty and sanctity – referred to as the “binding” moral foundations).

In this polarized political environment, The Village Square has considerable direct experiential evidence that anything that sounds like attention to care and fairness actually drives conservatives away, as they intuitively understand “this is not my tribe.” Making matters worse, liberals perceive that in many cases conservative moral values are, in fact, amoral, responding to this perception with even more care and fairness (the concept of “virtue signaling” is useful in understanding this tendency). This caring on steroids often has the unintentional effect of creating a backlash with conservatives rather than building the bridge liberals truly do seek. To conservatives this kind of an over focusing on “care” and “fair” feels immature (lacking in broad situational awareness and some critical qualities a healthy society must have to function, like authority) as well as too often weaponized by “social justice warriors.” The more conservatives hear “care more,” the more they actually seem to do the opposite; the “meaner” liberals think conservatives are, the stronger liberals catapult the “care” into the next round of hostilities. This is the cycle of equal and opposite reactions where the worst in our politics now resides.

Believe in your soul that without deeply engaged conservatives, your effort will lack critical insights required to solve problems – insights liberals are likely blind to (even dangers liberals may be blind to). We often encounter liberal-leaning friends and colleagues doing civic work with incredibly sincere intention, but with a little digging it’s clear that their central animating belief is that if one can create respectful conversation and do good fact checking, ultimately those intransigent conservatives will come around to a more liberal view of reality. In our era of jaw-dropping distortion of factual reality, we understand the impulse to see the problem this way (truth told, this describes many of us). But as valid as this aspect of the challenge is, you’ll have much more success if you begin with another deep truth we’ve discovered along the way: conservatives can often see dangers, risks and challenges that liberals can’t. All humans have significant blind spots in our ability to perceive reality and likeminded groups of people are even more prone to blindness (a moral tribe actually is glued together aroundthose blind spots).

We like John Stuart Mill on this: “… the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking part of the truth for the whole. It might be plausibly maintained that in almost every one of the leading controversies… both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though in the wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct.”

The shift in your organizing premise will come through clearly to conservatives and it will draw them to you. For more, see the concept of “morality binds and blinds” in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. (Think of this blindness as akin to the dark side of the “asteroid” in our Asteroids Club metaphor.)

Empathize with conservatives through a key insight that’s commonly absent in liberal circles. In American Grace, Harvard’s Robert Putnam broadly observes that as tectonic plates moved in society beginning in the sixties – and since – liberals have won the culture war on most all fronts. We get it, if you’re liberal we’re still not there, but if you’re 50 years old pretty much everything has changed about our social order in the length of your life. From this vantage point, even just that level of change can be thoroughly disorienting, especially if you believe in conservative principles that follow the wisdom of the ages. That means that for over a half a century, conservatives have been living in a culture that violates their most essential guiding principles about how to maintain a functional society (don’t mistake that as being just about bias against women and minorities, it’s not).

Liberals are now less than one year into a presidency that violates their deepest held core beliefs about what constitutes a strong and healthy world. The natural (and healthy) reaction for liberals is they’re now circling their wagons and gathering in common cause to push against it. And in that short time, there’s already been reporting on the rise of “fake news” on the left. Bad facts on the right are inevitable after decades of feeling outside the prevailing culture, given that human beings “reason” in order to confirm what we want to believe, not what’s objectively true. Imagine the left in 50 years of a Trump-styled illiberal democracy and you’ll have more empathy.

Take a continuous meter reading on whether the environment you’ve created welcomes conservatives. A lost liberal who stumbles into a gun show wouldn’t need to see a single firearm to know they’re not with their people. Conservatives will know too. It’s a good exercise to think of everything you do through their eyes.

Scale up using a distributed leadership “cell” model(Alternative less-advisable name: “Use the al Qaeda model”) Whether you’re going for clicks, attendance, or some other kind of scale, look to a small key group of catalysts to become separate “hubs” to build a diverse audience. The very problem we face is that ideologically diverse groupings of people aren’t naturally occurring “in the wild” so you can’t just assume diverse people will naturally show up for you because you want them to. Creating diverse groups now requires a new intentionality.

A “cell” structure has long been powerfully deployed to create worldwide terror, or if you’d prefer something morally worth emulating, cells create the close connections that form the organizing ballast of megachurches. Point is, it works. Almost all of us can find 7 people who look and think different than we do and invite them to join us to do something. We’ve used this model to draw a racially diverse audience of 500+ to actually talk about race – we only needed 20 diverse catalysts to get it done. Once the engineered diversity starts shaping attendance, its momentum makes a diverse audience now grow naturally. Voila, you’ve essentially begun formation of a new tribe.

Recognize the hazard of lopsided groups. Truth is, we’ve had plenty of politically lopsided groups, it’s even possible that all of our now hundreds of events have had lopsided attendance (our original location is in a highly liberal city). You can do everything right and it’s still likely your engagement will lean left (spending an evening immersed in dialogue across diversity can seem to conservatives like a liberal thing to do). But it is critical that you stay highly aware of the imbalance – it will affect every decision you make toward keeping conservatives comfortable and lead to increasing success attracting conservatives into your project over time.

Respect that conservatives are going to be less thrilled with your forum or initiative for reasons that are truly legitimate (and have nothing to do with being mean, overly partisan or racist). It is simply a descriptor of the essential philosophical underpinnings of conservatism that they have moreconfidence in their families and faith communities to deal with problems than government or a shared civic space. What this means is that the very nature of most civility initiatives begins with a frame that many conservatives don’t fundamentally share with their more liberal neighbors. An incredible strength of so many conservatives we know is that they’ve got their guiding principles and they’re a little too busy following them to make it to an evening forum. We’ve learned that ultimately it’s our deep embrace of what they bring that’s unique that’s made all the difference.

Challenges notwithstanding, the rewards you’ll get for your efforts to welcome conservatives are both essential to your success and will be transformational for you. They have been for us – the liberals among us will never go back to a room full of people just like us. It’s boring and lacks insights we’ve grown accustomed to hearing.

Got more ideas, models that have worked for you or do you just basically disagree with something we’re advancing here? Building bridges is a big job so we’ll need all shoulders at the wheel. Let’s keep talking.

You can find the original version of this article on The Village Square – Tallahassee’s site at https://tlh.villagesquare.us/blog/welcoming-conservatives/.

NCDD Teams Up for Bridging the Divides Workshop in CO

Several weeks back, I was invited by Colorado Common Cause to give a workshop at their monthly membership meeting in Denver, Colorado, on Bridging the Divide: or How to Have a “Productive” Political Conversation. This was an exciting opportunity to connect with this fantastic organization and share some of the best practices from the NCDD network on how to navigate emotionally-heated conversations.

Huge thank you to all the participants who attended the event and made it an engaging experience! Another big thank you to Caroline Fry from Colorado Common Cause for inviting NCDD to come speak with their members and share some of the tools and wisdom from our network to help better bridge divides.

Caroline kicked off the meeting with a brief intro to Colorado Common Cause –  an org that has been working for over four decades to improve democratic processes by reducing barriers to voting, working to ensure that elections are run fairly, reducing the influence of money in politics, and that our government is being held accountable through more transparent practices.

During the workshop, I shared the transformative work being done in the NCDD network to enable people to connect more authentically with each other, build deeper relationships, and engage in challenging conversations- specifically around heated political issues. I spoke on the importance of humanizing each other and finding common ground by connecting to our shared values; and how this work is possible in even the most painful conflicts (though it is by no means easy). I lifted up examples from our NCDD members of tools that help facilitate having challenging conversations and shared some deliberative processes that hold space for these conversations while contributing toward policy-making.

Finally, I shared a couple of upcoming events with participants, that I encourage you to join in!

  • National Week of Conversation is going on right now until this Saturday, April 28th – join this national movement to improve listening, deepen our connections through conversation, and better heal the divisiveness in our society. Join an event already planned on the National Week of Conversation site here or create your own, maybe using the resources provided on NWOC or right here on the NCDD Resource Center.
  • Our upcoming National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation is being held this November 2-4 in Downtown Denver. Our conferences are an exciting mingling of enthusiasts and practitioners in dialogue, deliberation, and engagement work and we encourage you to learn more here.
    • “Super Early Bird” tickets are now available for a limited time, so make sure you act fast to utilize this great low rate by clicking here.
    • The theme for this year’s conference is “Connecting and Strengthening Civic Innovators”, and our intention is to focus on how we can further uplift dialogue, deliberation, and engagement work; learn more details on the theme here.
    • For folks interested in presenting a session at NCDD2018, the call for proposals is currently open for concurrent sessions – learn more here.

You can watch the full live stream of the workshop in the video below. I’ve also included a link to the resource doc I shared which has the exercises we did, as well as, the resources I referenced – which you can find here.

If you like what you see – NCDD staff would love to come hold a workshop with your group, organization, or event!  We are happy to tailor the workshop to your needs for navigating challenging conversations. I am located in Denver, Managing Director Courtney Breese is in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Co-Founder Sandy Heierbacher is in Boston; all of us can travel to our respective surrounding areas to hold workshops. For folks that are located outside of these places, contact us and let’s see if we can coordinate logistics with travel or technology to make a workshop happen for you! Please contact me at keiva[at]ncdd[dot]org for workshop inquiries. 

About Colorado Common Cause
Colorado Common Cause is a non-profit organization fighting for open, honest and accountable government. We work to strengthen public participation and to ensure that government and the political process serve the public interest, rather than the special interests.

We believe the serious issues that confront our society – problems like lack of affordable health care and quality education, poverty, discrimination, and global warming – will only be solved when government is responsive to the needs and the voices of its citizens, and not to the pressures of special interests. Partnering with groups representing diverse constituencies, we campaign to break down barriers to voting, ensure every vote is counted as cast, reduce the impact of special interest money in the political process, and promote open government and high ethical standards.

Follow on Twitter at @CommonCauseCO
Connect on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ColoradoCommonCause

Lessons from our Confab Call with Community Rights US

Last week we held our April Confab call about the Community Rights movement here in the US and its implications for our democracy. We were joined by two dozen participants to learn more about how this movement has helped people to be more participatory, exercise truer democratic practices, and work to protect the well-being of communities. It was an informative call and we encourage you to check out the recording!

On the call, NCDD member Linda Ellinor interviewed Paul Cienfuegos who works in the Community Rights movement. Paul set the stage for how things are the way they currently are, by sharing the history of corporate influence in the US, how it has taken sovereignty away from the American people, and some of its effect on the way our democracy operates. He emphasized how, “we the people need to rediscover who we are and this history of corporate influence, in order for us to have the legal authority to create the society we want”.

We learned that the Community Rights movement has passed ordinances in 200 communities, over 9 states; and that by doing so makes it possible for a municipality to push back on laws that protect corporations and violate the welfare of the community. The Community Rights movement offers an important reflection on how to have civic engagement that doesn’t just pay lip-service to reinforce the current structures and corporate rule but instead empowers people to take back our democratic republic. Paul provided a resource doc for those interested in learning more about the Community Rights movement, which you can find here.

We recorded the whole presentation in case you weren’t able to join us, which you can access on the archives page by clicking here. We had several insightful contributions to the chat, which you can find the transcript of here. Access to the archives is a benefit of being an NCDD member, so make sure your membership is up-to-date (or click here to join).

Confab bubble image

We want to thank Paul, Linda, and all the Confab participants for contributing to this important conversation! To learn more about NCDD’s Confab Calls and hear recordings of others, visit www.ncdd.org/events/confabs.

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