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.

The Tonic to Heal our Ailing Democracy

It’s incredible how relevant this article still is on how to strengthen our weakened democracy, despite that some time has passed since it was published. Penned by Will Friedman, Executive Director of Public Agenda – an NCDD member org, he states that the tonic to remedy our ailing democracy is “not just more democracy, but better quality democracy”. As many communities around the country are going through their primaries, it is a vital time to practice this; as we all have roles to play in nursing our democracy back to good health. You can read the article below and was re-shared on the Deliberative Democracy Consortium‘s site here.


Fixing What Ails Democracy

What does it mean, this chaotic, disturbing, unpredictable electoral season? We’ll know more after the dust has settled, but we can’t afford to wait to make our best guess. We need a working theory to orient ourselves as we seek to minimize damage and prescribe a path that will move our democracy in a healthier direction.

One thesis has been powerfully articulated in an insightful and beautifully written essay by Andrew Sullivan for New York magazine. I agree with practically everything Sullivan had to say in this fascinating read — with the exception of his central thesis and conclusion!

Sullivan does not bury his lede — it’s all there in the title: “Democracies end when they are too democratic, and right now America is a breeding ground for tyranny.” His argument leads, ultimately, to a call for elites to assert themselves and save the people from themselves.

Yet it is the very non-responsiveness of elites to the needs and problems of great swaths of the public that is profoundly frustrating people in the first place. Asking political and economic elites to control rather than engage the public would only exacerbate that frustration.

In an analysis from the Rand Corporation, the factor best predicting support for Donald Trump was agreement with the statement, “people like me don’t have any say.”

Certainly elites have a role to play in fixing what’s broken in our public life, but if they assert themselves by disempowering people, they risk worsening the problem rather than solving it.

In a recent piece for The New York Times, Michael Lind counters Sullivan’s thesis, arguing for more democracy, not less. He describes the ways in which decisions that affect people’s lives are being made in increasingly distant and unapproachable ways:

Majorities need to be constrained when it comes to essential rights. But removing too many decisions from local to remote governments and from legislators answerable to voters to unelected judges, executive officials and treaty negotiators, is likely to create a democratic deficit that provokes a backlash against the system.

If we want to avert the sense of powerlessness among voters that fuels demagogy, the answer is not less democracy in America, but more.

In defining “more democracy,” Lind focuses squarely on political institutions and legal structures that enable citizens to have more influence on the decisions that affect their lives. Expanding citizen influence is crucially important; it can attenuate the public powerlessness and marginalization that fuel the antagonistic temper of the times. This expansion can emerge not only through traditional political reforms like decentralizing certain decisions and resources to the local level, but also through innovative experiments in community democracy like participatory budgeting.

But Lind’s appraisal is also an incomplete prescription in one important respect. Citizens now operate in an environment that inflames rather than informs public opinion.

We have a political culture and fractured media environment saturated with increasingly sophisticated spin, the cult of celebrity, and the conflation of incivility and authenticity.

We have access to more information than ever before, but that information often serves to reinforce our prejudices and assumptions. It’s never been easier to avoid alternative views and disconfirming data.

We have more ways of expressing ourselves than ever before, but it’s too easy to sound off irresponsibly, even anonymously, and avoid challenge and intellectual accountability.

Rather than a political culture of listening to and engaging people with different views, we have too much of a culture of dismissal, disdain and groupthink. As a result, we end up with a politics full of magic bullets, scapegoats, and focus-group-tested slogans.

To counter these inflammatory forces, we need a democratic culture and set of practices that help people encounter and weigh competing ideas and the choices we need to make as we face the future. Such structures will enable people to transform gut-level opinions and assumptions into what Dan Yankelovich calls “public judgment” — views that people have won, not received, through the hard work of thinking for themselves and talking with others.

What we truly need, then, is not just more democracy, but better quality democracy, with better resources for public conversation and judgment.

If there’s an upside to the current turmoil it’s that, despite the demagogic excess, important questions are swirling to the surface.

Why is the economy working so well for a small number of Americans and so poorly for so many? Is the disappearance of middle class jobs, and along with them the American Dream, inevitable or can we do something about it? If so, what? How can we better address our entrenched issues around race and ethnicity, and best adapt to our rapidly changing demographics? How can we work to make gridlock the exception rather than the norm?

We need more robust democratic conversation on questions like these — not just to “save the people from themselves” but to renew America’s democratic promise and set the nation on a better path.

You can find the original version of this article on the Deliberative Democracy Consortium site at http://deliberative-democracy.net/2017/06/16/fixing-what-ails-democracy/

Democracy Fund Revamps Their Engaged Journalism Lab

Over the last couple years, NCDD has been working to grow and strengthen the partnership between the D&D and journalism fields (which you can learn about from our NCDD2016 conf panel, our D&D-journalism podcast, and Confab call).  Journalism is vital to both a functioning democracy and the engagement field – because without journalists, the important stories from the community don’t get shared in the same way and thus have a less powerful impact. We have been especially excited for efforts around engaged journalism, which is why we wanted to share the recent announcement from the Democracy Fund – an NCDD2018 conference sponsor org, about their Engaged Journalism Lab, a resource for audience-driven journalism. You can read the article written by Josh Stearns below and find the original on the Democracy Fund’s site here.


Welcome to the Democracy Fund Engaged Journalism Lab

The Engaged Journalism Lab is a resource for building and supporting trusted, inclusive, and audience-driven journalism.

The ability of journalism to serve as our Fourth Estate — to be a check and balance on government and powerful interests — is under increasing threat. Journalism today faces multiple challenges: a faltering business model with shrinking resources; a political environment in which they find themselves under attack; and a climate of deep distrust by the American people.

In a 2017 survey, the Poynter Institute, a Democracy Fund grantee, found that only 49% of Americans have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the media. We believe this distrust is connected to another problem: journalism’s lack of deep engagement with its audiences, exacerbated by news organizations whose staff and coverage do not represent the communities they serve.

At Democracy Fund, one of our goals is to ensure that every American citizen has access to audience-centered, trusted, resilient journalism. To meet this goal, we are working to build a media landscape that truly serves the public interest.Through our Public Square Program, we support projects and organizations that enable newsrooms to build meaningful, trusted relationships with their communities through audience-driven storytelling, inclusion, and transparency. We call this work “Engaged Journalism,” and have seen firsthand how practical investments in these organizations and ideas can have a transformative effect on newsrooms.

As a part of this effort, we’re re-launching this Medium publication as the Democracy Fund Engaged Journalism Lab. The Engaged Journalism Lab will focus, not on how to get a grant from Democracy Fund, but rather on what our grantees and partners are doing and learning. We’ll also discuss the big ideas shaping the field and shine a spotlight on the people helping to make journalism more inclusive and engaged with its community. We hope it will serve as a resource for those working at the intersection of media and democracy.

The Local News Lab’s work exploring bold ideas for the future of local news continues at LocalNewsLab.org and through the weekly Local Fix newsletter. And you can find out more about Democracy Fund, a bipartisan foundation created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to ensure our political system is able to withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people, at democracyfund.org.

Managed by Paul Waters and Lea Trusty, the Engaged Journalism Lab will feature content on a variety of subjects, including how newsrooms can better:

  • Engage their communities in content generation, production, dissemination, and discussion;
  • Address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion within journalism through inclusive newsroom policies and practices, including recruiting, retaining, and promoting diverse staff and supporting minority ownership of independent media properties;
  • Experiment with new tools and technology that aim to help the public and news distribution platforms identify quality, trusted news; and
  • Rebuild and fortify trust between the media and Americans.

We recognize that these are not small goals — and we know we can’t do it alone. Democracy Fund believes that collaboration is the only way we can begin to solve journalism’s most pressing challenges, and as a systems change organization, we are committed to learning, iterating, and partnering in ways that strengthen both our work and the field at large.

It is our hope the Democracy Fund Engaged Journalism Lab becomes a place to highlight new ideas and uncover new solutions that we haven’t thought of yet. If you have a question or a thought, please share it. If there’s an idea or project that we should know about, please let us know. You can reach us at EJLab[at]democracyfund[dot]org. We don’t pretend to have all answers to journalism’s problems, but we hope this will be a place where we can work through some of the questions together.

You can find the original version on the Democracy Fund site at www.democracyfund.org/blog/entry/introducing-the-engaged-journalism-lab.

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/.