Join Launch of the Partnership for American Democracy

Did you miss America Talks? This incredible event kicked off the 4th annual National Week of Conversation from June 12-20, 2021. Although the National Week of Conversation 2021 has passed, you can stay connected to their upcoming events here!

Including this announcement from the #ListenFirst Coalition about a special event happening tomorrow July 1 at 12pm Eastern, 9am Pacific – “Thursday marks another milestone as we help launch the Partnership for American Democracy, a new initiative that will serve as the collaborative nerve center to attract and direct greater attention, energy, and resources to efforts to renew and strengthen our democracy. Bridging cultural and political divides, embodied in our #ListenFirst Coalition, is one of five priorities the Partnership will support.” Join the launch here!

The Launch of the Partnership for American Democracy

We’re launching the Partnership for American Democracy, a collective impact initiative bringing greater attention and resources to the renewal of American democracy.

We have five years before the 250th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, over which time we’ll make progress to prove to the world that the American system of self-government can once again solve problems at scale. Join us for the event that will launch it all, and hear from the change-makers driving forward the next chapter of America’s future. Learn more about the Partnership for American Democracy at

Register here for the launch event: linked here

More About America Talks and National Week of  Conversation 2021

America Talks (June 12-13) a powerful two-day event that invited Americans to connect one-on-one, face-to-face on video across our divides organized by a coalition of nonpartisan, bridge-building organizations and promoted by USA TODAY and other media partners. America Talks offered the opportunity to pair participants of different political associations who were seeking to find common cause and repair divides to speak directly.

Following America Talks, was the 4th annual National Week of Conversation  (June 14-20), which invited Americans to practice “Courage over Contempt” by having conversations despite differences in bold and energizing ways. NWOC events were hosted by more than 100 partners from the #ListenFirst Coalition and anyone else who wanted to host a conversation.

The National Week of Conversation 2021 presented a packed week of multiple sessions to attend.  Each event was meant to challenge our courage over contempt and make our way step by step in healing the division felt in this country. Both events encourage Americans of all stripes to listen, extend grace, and discover common interests. Take a courageous step on this hopeful mission to defeat toxic polarization and heal America by transforming division and contempt into connection and understanding. #ListenFirst

Join Women Leading Disaster Recovery Webinar Weds, 2/24

You don’t want to miss the upcoming Equitable and Inclusive Engagement webinar hosted by Public Agenda, an NCDD member org, this coming Wednesday February 24th. The event will take place from 1-2:15pm Eastern, 10-11:15am Pacific. This segment will spotlight BIPOC Women Leading Disaster Recovery and the indispensable role they play in assisting their communities with what was needed in the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. This conversation is part of Public Agenda‘s FREE webinar series. Register here! Read more below about the event or find the original posting here.

Equitable and Inclusive Engagement: BIPOC Women Leading Disaster Recovery

Join Nicole Cabral, Associate Director of NY Engagement Programs at Public Agenda, in conversation with Maria Garrett, President of the Fresh Creek Civic Association in Brooklyn, New York; Myrtle Phillips, President of Grand Bayou Families United in Grand Bayou, Louisiana; and Daphne Viverette, former Community Development Director of the City of Moss Point, Mississippi.

Nicole will facilitate a conversation with these three leaders about the integral role they play in the recovery of their respective communities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

Register here.

Maria Garrett is the founding member and first elected president of the Fresh Creek Civic Association in Brooklyn, New York. For over twenty-five years, Maria has been deeply involved in community building, conservation, and environmental resilience through her work with Flatland 7 and Flatland 8 Community Block Associations, United Canarsie South Civic Association (UCSCA), Community Board 18, the 69th Precinct and more. She resides in Canarsie with her husband and children.

Myrtle Philips was born and raised in Grand Bayou village in the bayou of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. She is the President of Grand Bayou Families United. As a Native American activist, she is dedicated to fighting for the community, even in the face of extreme environmental and political challenges.

Daphne Viverette is the former Coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources in the Office of Coastal Restoration & Resiliency, where she played an integral role in her community’s recovery after Hurricane Katrina. Her past work includes twenty-five years in a public service capacity implementing and administering local, state, and federal grants as Community Development Director at a Gulf Coast multiple government.

Nicole Cabral is the Associate Director for New York Engagement Programs at Public Agenda. She manages the Public Engagement team in the development and execution of projects on a variety of local and national issues.

For reasonable accommodation requests to attend this discussion, please contact Jennifer Orellana at no later than Wednesday, February 17, 2021.

Find the original version of this on the Public Agenda’ site at:

Reporting on All Narratives/ Hidden Common Ground in Unprecedented Times

The growing sense of division in our country has been felt  strongly this year in conjunction with the physical separation of pandemic life and elections right around the corner. This article published on USA Today, written by David Mathews, President of Kettering Foundation, explores a narrative that is rarely reported on. USA Today networks and America Amplified, a public media collaborative, equipped with research provided by organizations including Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation want to uncover the common ground. The main findings reported demonstrate more common ground exists than we realize, and sustains the possibility of collaboration as divergent narrative for Americans and journalists alike.

To read the op ed in detail read below and for the original posting on USA Today click here.

How Americans can learn once again to solve our nation’s problems together

To solve really difficult problems, people realize that they have to work with others who may be different.

The year 2020 will go down in history as extraordinary. Americans, by most accounts, are deeply divided. They can’t even talk to those they disagree with.

Many people appear traumatized by fear. Some insist that change is long overdue. Some see the country sliding into moral chaos and want to preserve what they value in the American way of life. But there is little agreement on what needs to change or what needs to be preserved.

That’s the dominant story. But it isn’t the only one.

In covering the 2020 election, some journalists are telling another story. The group includes the USA Today Network and America Amplified, a public media collaborative. They are drawing on nonpartisan research provided by organizations including Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation, where I work.

Kettering’s research draws on nearly 40 years of results from local deliberative forums held by a nationwide network known as the National Issues Forums. Here are the main findings from our research:

►There is more common ground on policy issues than is recognized. People favor such policies as increasing economic opportunities, providing for affordable childcare and keeping jobs in the U.S. But the thing Americans agree on most is that there is too much divisiveness — even if they contribute to it sometimes.

►Citizens and government officials often talk past one another, which makes the loss of public confidence in government grow even greater. For instance, on health policy, those in government are naturally concerned about the cost to their budgets. But NIF forums show that people are most concerned about a health care system so complex it is almost impossible to navigate.

►Despite the tendency to favor the likeminded, in some circumstances people will consider opinions they don’t like. There is a space between agreement and disagreement, an arena in which people decide, “I don’t particularly like what we are considering doing about this problem, but I can live it — for now.”

This is the arena of pragmatic problem-solving. Observers of National Issues Forums have seen people move into it even on explosive issues like immigration. Described as a pivot, it changes the tone of decision making. When it happens, problem solving can move forward, even without total agreement.

This pivot occurs when issues are described in terms of what people find deeply valuable — not “values” but age-old imperatives like safety and being treated fairly. When issues are described in this way and framed with several options for solutions, with both advantages and disadvantages clearly laid out, people will confront tensions between what they prefer and consequences they may not like.

Recognizing that everyone is motivated by the same basic imperatives removes barriers to listening to others who may not be like us or even like us. Even if people disagree, they become aware of greater complexity. They explore the tradeoffs inherent in difficult decisions. That opens the door to understanding the experiences and concerns of others.

NCDD Member Discount Available on TPC’s IAP2 Trainings

Now is a great time to strengthen your D&D skills and knowledge, which is why we are excited to announce the upcoming training schedule for NCDD member org, The Participation Company. TPC offers certification in the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)‘s model, and dues-paying NCDD members get a discount on registration! You can read more about the trainings in the TCP announcement below and learn more here.

The Participation Company’s 2020-2021 Training Events

Completely revamped in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, TPC is pleased to announce that we are ready to offer on-line courses:

The International Association for Public Participation’s flagship Foundations Program.  Module One introduces a proven method for planning effective public participation and Module Two equips students with 40+ diverse methods for accomplishing engagement objectives.  Both courses are delivered in half-day sessions full of interactive exercises and opportunities to get to work with your fellow students virtually.  Class size, as always, is limited to 25 students to provide the maximum opportunity to learn.

IAP2’s Foundations in Public Participation (9- 4 hour on-line sessions) Certificate Program:

  • Planning for Effective Public Participation (5- 4 hour on-line sessions)
  • Techniques for Effective Public Participation (4- 4 hour on-line sessions)*

*The Planning module is a prerequisite to Techniques module

  • PLANNING NOV 2 – 6;  TECHNIQUES NOV 9 – 12    
  • PLANNING JAN 25 – 29;   TECHNIQUES FEB 1 – 4
  • PLANNING APR 12 – 16;   TECHNIQUES APR 19 – 22
  • PLANNING MAY 10 – 14;  TECHNIQUES MAY 17 – 20

The International Association for Public Participation’s Strategies for Dealing with Opposition and Outrage in Public Participation. This four (4)- 3 hour on-line sessions of conflict resolution training workshop builds on IAP2’s global best practices in public involvement and the work of Dr. Peter Sandman, offered in partnership with the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2).

IAP2’s Strategies for Dealing with Opposition and Outrage in Public Participation (4- 3.0 hour on-line sessions)

  • STRATEGIES NOV 16 -19  

The Participation Company’s new course on Building Public Trust in Government
This two (2)- 3.0 hour on-line workshop will help you and your team (re)build trust with oftentimes cynical, skeptical and oppositional citizens. Attendees will better understand and manage interactions with highly suspicious and skeptical citizens who don’t believe in government authority or the value of public service professionals. Learn more about the course or choose your date below:

TPC’s Building Public Trust in Government:

  • BUILD TRUST   OCT 20 – 21  

For more detailed information:

The Participation Company (TPC) offers discounted rates to members of AICP, ICMA, IAP2, and NCDD.
AICP members can earn Certification Maintenance (CM) credits for these courses.

NIFI Updates Issue Guide on Immigration

NCDD member org, the National Issues Forums Institute released their new updated issue guide, Immigration: What Should We Welcome? What Should We Do? In this short updated guide, you can find helpful information and three approaches to assist conversations on this topic that affects almost every single person in America. Read the new announcement below or find the original on NIFI’s here

New Issue Guide – Immigration: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do?

This issue is part of the Hidden Common Ground initiative, and sets of free materials are available for conveners and moderators. Scroll down for the Immigration issue guide and other related materials. Need help with your order? Contact customer service.

The immigration issue affects virtually every American, directly or indirectly, often in deeply personal ways. This guide is designed to help people deliberate together about how we should approach the issue. The three options presented here reflect different ways of understanding what is at stake and force us to think about what matters most to us when we face difficult problems that involve all of us and that do not have perfect solutions.

The US government essentially shut down immigration, at least temporarily, during the coronavirus pandemic. But as our country begins to reopen, difficult questions remain:

  • Should we strictly enforce the law and deport people who are
  • here without permission, or would deporting millions of people outweigh their crime?
  • Should we welcome more newcomers to build a more vibrant and diverse society, or does this pose too great a threat to national unity?
  • Should we accept more of the millions of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing gang violence and war, or should we avoid the risk of taking in people whose backgrounds may not have been fully checked?
  • Should our priority be to help immigrants assimilate into our distinctively American way of life and insist they learn English, or should we instead celebrate a growing mosaic of different peoples?

The concerns that underlie this issue are not confined to party affiliation, nor are they captured by labels such as “conservative” or “liberal.”

The research involved in developing the guide included interviews and conversations with Americans from all walks of life, as well as surveys of nonpartisan public-opinion research, subject-matter scans, and reviews of initial drafts by people with direct experience with the subject

You can find the original version of this announcement on the National Issues Forum site at

Practical Academics shares: Online Meeting Best Practices

NCDD Member Michael Freedman of Practical Academics shared the following blog post with us. In the post, Michael shares best practices for your online meetings – a timely topic for this moment! We encourage you to check out the article below, or over at the Practical Academics site here.

Online Meeting Best Practices

The advantages of online meetings are to save travel time, convenience, and flexibility while retaining or augmenting the benefits of group interactivity. For interactivity, we need engagement; for engagement, we need encouragement and trust.  A one-way webinar is not a lot better than a video or a one-to-many lecture. Here are some points to consider in developing and running an interactive online meeting.


Leverage time together for interactivity and sophisticated communications. Ask your participants to prepare in advance. Be clear on what this means: what they should come equipped with, and what should they be prepared to do.

Minimize large group time, maximize small group time. Large group time is for opening comments and announcements, setting the tone and agenda, for sharing results of small group efforts, wrap-up, and follow-up. Replace lectures and one-to-many instruction and guidance with pre-work sent in advance.

Group management. Small group models suggest optimum group sizes are 5-9.  If this is a short ad hoc session, try less, perhaps 3-5. Use break-out sessions or hold multiple meetings if that’s what it takes.

Present structured activities and conversations with targeted outcomes; and be flexible if those outcomes evolve as this is the point of having people work things over: to develop the thinking.

Provide timeframes for working sessions with the Goldilocks model: not too short and not too long. Provide enough time for all to participate, along with a deadline to drive action. Most of the small group working sessions will have specific tasks that can be addressed in five – twenty minutes.  If the working session agenda is long, use multiple working sessions.

Have an end game.  What are you seeking to accomplish, and what will you do with the results?

If you have unstructured conversations, then make that distinction and ask folks to come with some thoughts on the topic to be discussed.

Have two leaders: One focuses on content delivery (short and succinct) and the other on the chat and looking at participants to get an idea of their engagement. This person then “presents” next. One can play the role of synthesizing with help from the group.

Consider a group participation agreement, formal or informal, depending on the group.

Include an opening round-robin so that everyone has a chance to say something – this will “break the ice,’ and set the tone for full participation.  Make sure opening is on topic and relevant, not a timewaster.

Plan carefully to avoid time-zone and cultural snafus.

Use easy-to-use technology and make sure you know how to use it. Offer to train participants in advance.


Be consistent with your start time protocol and start on time. Consider an “unofficial” start time where folks can get set up and say hello.  But start on time.

As the leader, show up early and kick off the conversations. Get people comfortable and participating. Try the “one-word” exercise: share a word that reflects how you are and what’s going on.

Keep a roster of participants and take notes on crucial contributions, factoids, and follow-ups.

Put on a show – prepare a solid opening, make it positive and constructive, if not joyful. Make time for people to add their ideas and modify the agenda.

Don’t overuse technology. Tools should serve their purpose without getting in the way.  A show of hands might be better than an online poll.

Seek buy-in where possible. Buy-in engenders commitment and commitment fosters participation.

Allow some personal clearing and ideation; these are trust-building and tone-setting activities.

The downside of virtual conferencing is the limited ability to read non-verbal cues. Encourage all to use video so that expressions are readable, and to counteract the narrow “bandwidth,” slightly exaggerate your expressions and tone.

Wrap up

Follow-up. Distribute the results of the meeting with any action items and clear responsibilities as soon as possible following the end of the session.

Keep the momentum going.

Thanks to the members of the Right Company for their contributions.

Recording Available for Cultivating Community Capacity!

On April 24th, NCDD hosted a special event from NCDD sponsoring member Susan Stuart Clark of Common Knowledge, titled Cultivating Community Capacity with Four “Deep Wisdom” Practices. The event, attended by more than 60 participants, was the start of a series of activities and collection of resources at, a new pro bono project for Common Knowledge and allies in the arts, healing and community transformation.

Susan shared with us the four practices identified by cross-cultural pioneer Angeles Arrien, which we can use to help deepen our individual and collective capacity for discovering the deeper wisdom in and between us.  Susan outlines the interpretation of these four practices and their importance to us and our work designing and facilitate community engagement during and after this pandemic in this wonderful piece

Drawn from ancient and indigenous wisdom, these practices invite us to bring our whole selves – heart, body and mind –  to our work as cultivators of community, dialogue stewards and/or peace builders. During this time of physical isolation, let’s embrace the ways we can bring closeness to one another through sharing our truest selves with each other. Let’s see how we can expand our capacity to understand the patterns and structures that brought us to this current moment and choose more inclusive and collaborative ways to co-create our future.

The event was purposefully held on Arbor Day to acknowledge how trees can teach us a lot about nurturing individual and collective resilience.  After an overview of the four practices, break out groups compared their experiences and what is inspiring their work. Participants had the opportunity to connect more deeply with one another, sharing how the practices resonate for them, as well as how they relate to their work in and with communities.The full group reflection served as a wonderful stepping off point for future discussions.

Julie Gieseke created a wonderful visual map during the event which can be viewed below. The full session can be watched at this link, and the chat transcript can be found here. If you’d like to contribute resources and participate in future discussions, visit


National Issue Forums Institute Reports on Climate Forums

Over the last three years, deliberations have been occurring across the country on the 2016-released issue guide, Climate Choices, both at in-person forums in several states and online via Common Ground for Action deliberative forums. The guide was a collaborative effort between NCDD member organization, the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), and the article below reports on some of the takeaways from the forums. You can read the report below and find the original on NIFI’s site here.

Report on NIF Forum Activity: Climate Choices

When people gather with friends, neighbors, and fellow community members to deliberate on shared problems, they often report that they are exposed to ideas and perspectives they hadn’t previously entertained. They also often say that they leave the deliberative forums, not with completely changed minds, but “thinking differently” nonetheless.

Recent forums using the Climate Choices issue guide were no exception. In questionnaires returned after the forums, just under half of participants responded that they were “thinking differently about the issue.” For example, one participant from an Ohio forum said, “I now realize that everything we do to address climate change has other effects.” The questionnaires also show that slightly more than half of participants noted that they “talked about aspects of the issue they hadn’t considered before.” From a forum participant in Connecticut: “I hadn’t considered the possibility of rushing into poorly researched energy sources and possibly causing more harm than good.”

The Climate Choices issue guide was a joint effort of the National Issues Forums (NIF) and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). NAAEE’s interest in producing the issue guide relates to their Environmental Issues Forums (EIF) initiative, in which they hope to encourage a nationwide network to hold forums on issues that affect the environment. Since its publication in 2016, people have held forums using the Climate Choicesguide in ConnecticutFloridaKansasMissouriOhio, and New Mexico, among other locales. More than 25 climate choices forums have also taken place online using the Common Ground for Action platform.

Some of the more interesting forum reports we hear about occur when multiple organizations work to coconvene forums. This was the case for a late 2017 forum that took place in Wichita, Kansas. Representatives from three different organizations partnered to put on a forum to deliberate about the environmental challenges facing Kansas and the world at large: the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Engagement, the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams, and Kansas State University’s Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy. Included in the group of 15 were representatives from county and municipal government and professionals from the energy and agriculture sectors, as well as local retirees and students. In this group we see people wrestling with trade-offs in a number of the options. According to the convenors, the group was enthusiastic about option 2 (Prepare and Protect Communities) but worried that possible actions would do little to address underlying environmental issues. In talking about Option 3 (Accelerate Innovation), the group was concerned about the number of unknowns and uncertain prospects for success associated with trying to innovate our way out of the problem.

Another interesting area of activity was Columbia, Missouri, where there were another six climate choices forums. Led by Christine Jie Li of the University of Missouri’s School of Natural Resources, three of these forums were at the Columbia Public Library, two at a local Episcopal church, and one with local students on the University of Missouri campus. The convenors of the Missouri forums report that participants felt anxious about environmental threats but were eager to take action. One participant said, “When I hear about climate change, I often feel overwhelmed and hopeless. It is such a huge overarching issue that it feels impossible to solve.” Another said, “I am curious to know my fellow citizens’ ideas and to work toward a community-supported decision.” Convenors from Missouri reported an increase in hope among participants after the forums with one participant saying, “I feel better and more optimistic that people are thinking about this.”

This article is based on analysis by Kettering Foundation staff of reports made available by the National Issues Forums Institute.

Fall 2019 IAP2 Trainings with The Participation Company

If you are looking to step up your public participation skill-building game this fall, then we encourage folks to check out the newly released training schedule from NCDD member org The Participation Company. TCP offers certification in the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)‘s model, and dues-paying NCDD members get a discount on registration! You can read more about the trainings in the TCP announcement below and learn more here.

The Participation Company’s 2019 Training Events

If you work in communications, public relations, public affairs, planning, public outreach and understanding, community development, advocacy, or lobbying, this training will help you to increase your skills and to be of even greater value to your employer.

This is your chance to join the many thousands of practitioners worldwide who have completed the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) certificate training.

The Participation Company (TPC) offers discounted rates to members of AICP, ICMA, IAP2, and NCDD. 

AICP members can earn Certification Maintenance (CM) credits for these courses.

IAP2’s Foundations in Public Participation (5-Day) Certificate Program:

  • Planning for Effective Public Participation (3-Days)
  • Techniques for Effective Public Participation (2-Days)*

2019 Events

  • Sept 11-13 Denver, CO  (3-Day Planning)
  • Sept 24-26 Orange County, CA  (3-Day Planning)
  • Oct 7-11 Kansas City, MO (5-Days, Both Planning & Techniques)
  • Oct 14-18 Pittsburgh, PA  (5-Days, Both Planning & Techniques)
  • Oct 21-25 Phoenix, AZ (5-Days, Both Planning & Techniques)
  • Oct 21-22 Denver, CO (2-Day Techniques)
  • Oct 23-25 Colorado Springs, CO  (3-Day Planning)
  • Nov 21-22 Orange County, CA (2-Day Techniques)
  • Nov 4-5 Colorado Springs, CO (2-Day Techniques)
  • Dec 2-6 Salt Lake City, UT (5-Days, Both Planning & Techniques)
  • Dec 9-13 West Palm Beach, FL (5-Days, Both Planning & Techniques)

2020 Events

  • Jan 13-17 Charlotte, NC (5-Days, Both Planning & Techniques)
  • Feb 24-28 Phoenix, AZ (5-Days, Both Planning & Techniques)
  • Apr 20-24 Plano, TX (5-Days, Both Planning & Techniques)

*The 3-Day Planning training is a prerequisite to Techniques training

IAP2’s Strategies for Dealing with Opposition and Outrage in Public Participation (2-Days)
formally Emotion, Outrage – newly revised and renamed

2019 Events

  • Oct 7-8 Saint Paul, MN
  • Nov 18-19 Phoenix, AZ
  • Nov 21-22 Chicago, IL

Register online

The Participation Company can also assist you and your organization in other endeavors! Our team of highly experienced professionals help government and business clients manage public issues to accomplish client’s objectives. We can plan and manage your participation project from start to finish. We can provide strategic advice and direction. We can coach and mentor your staff and managers. We help you build agreements and craft durable and defensible decisions.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the TPC site at

NCDD Sponsor Shares Housing Engagement Best Practices

The issue of housing is complex and personal, and during community engagement efforts it’s vital to be able to inform participants about key points of an issue in order to best people to make decisions and engage fully. Knowing what information to share can be a daunting challenge, which is why we encourage folks to check out this piece from NCDD sponsor organization, Common Knowledge, with some best practices on developing housing issue guides. You can read the article below and find the original on CK’s site here.

What do community members want to know about housing?

When it comes to providing information on complex issues, such as housing, it can be hard to know where to begin. Some people seem to know a lot, some not very much and confusion feels prevalent.

For the past four years, Common Knowledge has been engaged in ongoing research about how people from different life stages and life experiences learn about the issue of housing. We support communities in developing some baseline reference points that are then accompanied by constructive dialogue about options for moving forward. An initial pilot in Marin County supported by the Kettering Foundation led to an extensive project with seven cities, so far, in San Mateo County, sponsored by Home for All.

Our approach is anchored in interactive outreach to a broad cross section of each community, including those who have not been involved in past discussions about housing, as well as those who have been highly engaged. Throughout, we use open-ended questions and are attentive to people’s starting points on the issue. We also listen closely for the prevailing narratives and the stories people tell about the issue. What types of information or perspectives might be missing from their working model of the situation?

We have conducted trainings on this topic for Home for All and other organizations.  You can see some of the training materials on this topic at our sample presentations page. The following are some highlights of our findings.

Community Information Needs

Before engaging people around any of the policy aspects of the housing issue, we’ve found that first it helps to assess what members of a given neighborhood or community need to know about  housing at the personal, community and system levels. Attending to information across these levels is an important way to address diverse community needs and to meet people where they are.

For example, the Redwood City housing department provides lots of information about housing resources, several of which were funded by the city. Yet, during interactive outreach and dialogues last spring, they heard that many in the community were not aware of these resources. In response, they developed a bilingual, community-friendly Resource Guide, which is also available in print.

Housing Policies or Projects

Once people’s personal and neighborhood information needs are satisfied, they are better prepared to focus on what is happening in the civic arena. Based on our research in two Bay Area counties, we’ve found that information about housing policies or projects should address four central objectives:

  • Where are we now?
  • How did we get here?
  • What can we do together?
  • How can I learn more?

This type of introductory background information helps community members deepen their understanding of the current housing context and enables them to talk more freely from a common set of facts. Background information can include basic demographic data, information about who lives and works in the community and current housing costs.

To see an example of the range of information presented, see the presentation and background handout from Half Moon Bay’s first community conversation. Meeting materials from each of the seven participating cities in San Mateo County can be viewed on the Home for All website.

In addition to facts about the current housing situation, sharing qualitative information gathered through prior outreach, such as commonly held hopes for the future and shared concerns, also helps to reinforce that past input was considered and valued. Acknowledging broadly values and interests in the language used by community members helps develop a cumulative sense of shared understanding, while also creating space for concerns that residents may bring into the room during a community meeting.

This type of background information is purposefully not exhaustive, but instead a pen and ink sketch that community members then color in through dialogue with one another. We have learned how most adults make sense of complex issues like housing by talking with each other, rather than through statistics or opinion pieces. In fact, it is the intentional combination of baseline facts and dialogue, guided by thoughtful questions, that draws out people’s lived experiences and helps people grow into a richer understanding of the multidimensional issue of housing. We’ve observed repeatedly that the most progress in learning happens when people sit and talk side by side with those they do not know well – e.g., longtime residents next to new arrivals, renters next to landlords, people from different occupations and income levels. Together, they make sense of what is happening, making them more likely to trust the broader, shared narrative that they help shape.

Community Curiosity & Energy

Over the past few years, we have designed, helped facilitate and analyzed informal outreach, surveys and over twenty large dialogues about housing. In these contacts with about 3,000 diverse community members, some patterns have emerged. People most frequently express interest in learning more about:

  • Current Actions on Housing: What are local governments, nonprofits, businesses and other community members already doing right now to address the community’s housing needs?
  • Innovative Solutions: How are cities thinking creatively about housing? What new approaches are being considered?
  • Community Partnerships: How are public agencies, employers, organizations and local groups working together to address the community’s housing needs? How have other cities formed creative partnerships to address land use or funding needs?
  • Related & Overlapping Issues: How is housing being addressed alongside related complex challenges, such as traffic, transportation or climate resilience? What is being done to ensure new developments address the community’s shared challenges?
  • Ways to Get Involved: In addition to staying involved with the civic process, people appreciate knowing about concrete actions they can take to enhance housing options, such as home sharing, helping to refurbish housing stock and other volunteer opportunities. People want to be able to share information about resources with others.

Accessible & Responsive Information Design

In addition to addressing the topics listed above, we’re also helping cities to be more inclusive, engaging new community members, particularly those who may have been less likely to participate in formal “civic process.” At Common Knowledge, one of our guiding principles is that information should be accessible and responsive, meaning we design for the broadest audience possible and iterate based on community member feedback.

Through interviews, surveys and feedback forms, we continually assess how well information is meeting community member needs. We ask people to identify the things they want to know more about and to reflect on what the broader community needs to know. We ask them to think about what might be missing or what can be simplified. This process of testing information with community members and refining content based on their feedback are essential parts of the community-based design process.

Ultimately, each interaction with the public is an opportunity to learn more about their information needs. By listening first, designing information with community input and iterating based on community feedback, we’re able to more effectively build shared understanding and encourage healthy, productive dialogue – even when it comes to a multidimensional issue, such as housing.

You can find the original version of this on Common Knowledge’s blog at