ILG Offers Training for Local Gov’t Public Engagement

For those in the NCDD network working in local government and looking to improve public engagement skills, check out this great training coming up from NCDD member org Institute for Local Government (ILG). ILG is offering their TIERS Learning Lab, which will be a two-day training on Tuesday, March 13th and Wednesday, March 14th in Sacramento, CA. This is a great opportunity for staff and elected officials working in local government to better engage and sustain their public engagement efforts. You can read the announcement from ILG below or find the original version here.


TIERS Public Engagement Learning Lab – March 13th & 14th, Sacramento CA

The Institute for Local Government is thrilled to offer our Public Engagement Learning Lab to California local governments on March 13-14 in Sacramento. The Learning Lab includes a two-day training and up to six hours post-training consulting. During the training, you will learn how to implement ILG’s TIERS Framework, a step-by-step public engagement guide, and practical tools to successfully plan your public engagement efforts. By the end of the training, you will also have a “blueprint” for the implementation of your given public engagement effort. Early bird registration deadline is February 2.

What: The TIERS Public Engagement Learning Lab is a training and coaching program for local government staff and elected officials. In the TIERS Learning Lab you will:

  • Receive customized coaching on your public engagement projects from ILG staff
  • Learn to utilize ILG’s TIERS Framework to successfully plan and implement your public engagement projects
  • Apply the TIERS process to a specific public engagement project you are working on
  • Discuss strategies to overcome a wide variety of barriers and challenges often seen in public engagement work
  • Practice valuable facilitation skills and communication techniques that can be applied to many areas of your work

Who: Teams of 2-5 individuals from cities, counties and special districts looking to strengthen their public engagement work.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018: 10am – 4pm Pacific
Wednesday, March 14, 2018: 9am – 2:30pm Pacific

Location: 1414 K Street, Adelante Room (1st floor), Sacramento, CA 95814

Registration Deadline: February 16th (Early Bird: February 2nd)

Learning Lab Overview
The TIERS Learning Lab is a comprehensive training and coaching program from ILG that provides local government teams of 2-5 individuals with hands-on instruction and coaching on the TIERS Framework. By participating in the TIERS Learning Lab, staff and electeds will learn how to utilize, customize and implement the TIERS tools and processes. The TIERS Learning Lab will help you build and manage successful public engagement in order to support local government work, stakeholder input and project success.

TIERS Learning Lab Components
The TIERS Learning Lab consists of training and support over a six month period for an agency team of up to five people. This six-month hands-on coaching opportunity includes:

  • A pretraining consultation with ILG to discuss your goals, plans and challenges; and to select your Learning Lab public engagement case
  • Immersive two-day Learning Lab: hands-on, participatory in-person training with expert coaches and peer learning
  • Post-training customized implementation coaching (up to 6 hours)
  • Monthly ’Open Lab’ for problem solving during the three months post training
  • Training workshop materials and meals
  • Scheduling and coordination of consulting calls for pre and post training

Learn More & Registration
For additional information and pricing, please visit http://www.ca-ilg.org/TIERSLearningLab.
To register please contact publicengagement@ca-ilg.org or (916) 658-8221.

“Attending TIERS was a great learning experience for the San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD) team.  The training helped us understand why our traditional methods of public outreach were not as effective as we hoped, and it provided insight into how we could enhance those efforts in the future.  Spending time together as a team was helpful, and the exercises and tools presented were enlightening.  The methods we learned at TIERS have already changed our public engagement process.  Using many specific techniques that we learned and working as a team, RTD increased our annual Unmet Transit Needs responses from 12 last year to over 1,350 this year! Thanks for the help!” -Donna DeMartino, Chief Executive Officer, San Joaquin Regional Transit District

You can find the original information of this training on ILG’s site at: www.ca-ilg.org/TIERSLearningLab.

Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, we wanted to share this article from NCDD member org, Everyday Democracy‘s Executive Director, Martha McCoy. The article speaks on the painful realities of racism and how it continues to afflict the world around us. McCoy calls on us to better understand and address racism together in order to create a more just and true democracy. You can read the article in the post below or find the original on EvDem’s site here.


The Urgency of Now

EvDem LogoThe writings of Martin Luther King continue to urge me to clearer sight and greater urgency on issues of racial justice.

As a white girl growing up throughout the South – with most of my young years in Richmond, Virginia – I saw and was part of a genteel culture of segregation and inequality that supported discrimination and a systematic denial of opportunity for people of color. That experience was seared into my brain and soul. I was blessed that black faith leaders and teachers took the time to teach me when I was in my teens and early 20s. They helped me understand the meaning of what I was seeing.

Through the work of Dr. King and others, I began to see how racism affects all of us, not just people of color, and how it suffuses the very fabric of our democracy, to the detriment of all of us. That is why envisioning and fighting for a “New South” that would embrace racial justice – and indeed, a “new United States” – became an integral part of my life’s work.

As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his assassination, may those of us who have internalized his messages bring them to life.  For me, Dr. King is so much more than an historical figure. He affects me directly. The people he taught went on to teach me, and as a result I am working to pass those teachings along. He still speaks to our country today about the “fierce urgency of Now” – a line from his “I have a dream” speech that is less often quoted.

We have an urgent need to help all people in our country understand the ways in which racism sickens our souls, our relationships, and our body politic. We need to understand that racism is a “shape shifter” that uses culture, policies, institutions, and social media to perpetrate itself. But there is the hope that Dr. King described. He called on us to see racism clearly, understand its impact, address it together, and use the highest democratic principles to create true opportunity for all. The more of us who understand that and move forward to create a “New United States” that embraces racial justice, the more authentic our democracy will be, and the more our country will experience true greatness.

You can find the original version of this article on Everyday Democracy’s site at www.everyday-democracy.org/blog/fierce-urgency-now.

Civil Conversation Transforms Holiday Experiences

While the holiday season is now behind us, we wanted to pass along this reflection shared with us from NCDDer Ellen Geisler on their transformative holiday experience bringing facilitated dialogue to her family. In the article, she talks about how a civic engagement series at a public library opened up space for community dialogue (similar to the NCDD partnership with ALA). Geisler then brought civil dialogue home for the holidays and shares a key takeaway as we move into the New Year – that we can strongly disagree and still hear each other out. You can read the article below or find the original here.


Helping Families Learn How To Disagree About Tough Topics Over The Holidays

Every year, my large, extended family gathers for the entire week of Thanksgiving, which also coincides with deer hunting season in Wisconsin. While we agree to get along, we also rarely talk about controversial topics and the underlying values we hold that shape our perspectives on them. This Thanksgiving, though, inspired by my work as a community development educator for University of Wisconsin-Extension Marinette County, I brought one work project home to my family gathering.

Civility Speaks was a series of discussions held at the Stephenson Public Library in Marinette from June 2016 to June 2017. The series began when a patron asked if the library could organize events for visitors to learn and talk about controversial issues in a non-threatening environment in the lead up to the 2016 presidential elections. Working with UW-Extension, the library hosted community discussions that gave participants an opportunity to talk about controversial issues.

The goals of such discussions are that as participants learn about issues, they learn how to transform conflict, take individual and collective action, and improve institutional decision making. In turn, these changes can lead to increased civic capacity and improved community problem solving.

The series included discussions on a variety of topics throughout the year. For example, one was co-facilitated by Amy Reddinger, director of the LGBT Center at UW-Marinette, which serves Marinette and Oconto counties in Wisconsin and Menominee County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  More than 30 people gathered at the library to learn and talk about transgender youth. One participant attended “to learn more about LGBT communities and how I could be more open-minded toward LGBT people,” and another asked, “what cultural issues can address these issues for our children and take away fear and [stigma] that may exist?”

It was surprising to hear transgender youth who attended the discussion describe their experiences with teachers and school administrators. The youth said they felt unsupported and in some cases threatened by classmates and adults. The LGBT Center, which opened in February 2017, continues to host events about transgender-related topics and other issues to build awareness and fulfill needs of the region’s LGBT community and their family and friends.

Prior to Thanksgiving this year, my uncle invited me to share with our family what I do for work — I suggested we organize a facilitated discussion about the use of technology. Politics, religion and agricultural production methods were all topics that hit close to home, so I proposed we start with an easier topic that wouldn’t necessarily feel so personal.  We all needed practice disagreeing with each other and talking about our values, as we rarely reach that area of conversation within our family.

After supper the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my uncle introduced me as the guest facilitator for our family’s discussion, which would include 25 people ranging from age 8 to 65. We started by establishing ground rules as a group, and to my surprise everyone agreed to stay and participate instead of moving to another table to play cards. Everyone worked in groups of three or four responding to questions I offered. Every 10 minutes, they rearranged into new groups and I gave another prompt.

When the family came back to a large group to debrief, the most pleasing feedback was two adults, ages 65 and 35, saying they were impressed and excited by the thoughtful responses and participation from the youngest members of the family.

Our family comes from a dozen households, each with differing set of rules about what can or cannot be talked about in polite company. However, because this discussion started with established ground rules, everyone was on the same playing field.

During our family discussion, it was surprising to notice the kids seemed more at ease than the adults. When probed with questions like, “What about that is important to you?” the younger family members were eager to expound. The fact that so many relatives could listen to each other encouragingly suggests that we can disagree openly and continue to get along.

The day after our family discussion, it was revealed that four cousins in their 20s stayed up well into the night, prompted by one cousin who expressed an interest in discussing “something that matters, like abortion or euthanasia.” In another unanticipated outcome, a cousin and I slowly worked our way into discussing our perspectives about a topic about which we very strongly disagree.

My family is making progress in ways I could never have imagined. My optimistic five-year plan is to encourage family members who don’t want to ruffle feathers to talk about more contentious topics like reproductive rights, gender and sexuality, or immigration. It was exciting to take civil dialogue home for the holidays.

WisContext produced this article as a service of Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and Cooperative Extension.

You can find the original article on the WisContext site at www.wiscontext.org/helping-families-learn-how-disagree-about-tough-topics-over-holidays.

Connecting Outside of our Filter Bubbles

Have you seen the recent Ted talk featuring two prominent folks from the NCDD network? NCDD member Joan Blades of Living Room Conversations and John Gable of AllSides, recently did the Ted talk at the TEDWomen 2017 conference in November. The two talk about the power of breaking outside of your filter bubbles by holding authentic conversations with people that are different than yourself and that by building relationships with people we tend to “listen differently to people we care about”. They share how their friendship has formed despite coming from very different ideological backgrounds and experiences, and how that has transformed the work they do. You can listen to their Ted talk below or find the original here.


Free Yourself from your Filter Bubbles

Joan Blades and John Gable want you to make friends with people who vote differently than you do. A pair of political opposites, the two longtime pals know the value of engaging in honest conversations with people you don’t immediately agree with. Join them as they explain how to bridge the gaps in understanding between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum — and create opportunities for mutual listening and consideration (and, maybe, lasting friendships).

You can find this Ted talk at www.ted.com/talks/joan_blades_and_john_gable_free_yourself_from_your_filter_bubbles.

NCDD Member Explores Creating Brave Spaces

What does it look like to create not just safe spaces for conversation, but brave spaces? NCDD member, Mary Gelinas explored this is her recent blog post, Creating Brave Spaces, which challenged if it’s possible to be both safe and uncomfortable? (Spoiler alert, it’s possible.) As we navigate a myriad of conversations, especially during this holiday season, it’s important to keep in mind the needed bravery to stay within the harder conversations. We encourage you to read the post below or find the original version here. Also, let us know in the comments section, “What ground rules do you think would help one of your meetings be a brave space?”


Creating Brave Spaces

Setting ground rules or conversation guidelines seems to be the sine qua non of meetings these days. Having ground rules can create a safe space for people to interact, but they can also interfere with authentic conversation because people conflate safety with comfort. Is it possible to be both safe and uncomfortable?

My husband and business partner Roger James and I believe it is and that it is essential to be able to be both safe and uncomfortable without reverting to self-protective behaviors. When we react to discomfort by fighting, fleeing or freezing, we do not have the conversations we need to have to solve tough problems or create the organizations and communities we want to create. It is often in exploring our differences—uncomfortable for many of us—that we deepen our understanding of one another so we can find a way forward.

What’s the difference between safety and discomfort? Earlier this month Roger provided a good example in a workshop we led during the Campus Dialogue on Race at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. After noting that we were married he said, “We have difficult and uncomfortable conversations but I never feel unsafe.”

To tackle tough issues, in addition to tolerating discomfort, we also need to be brave, to stay present and engaged in the face of fear and unease. It takes courage to take risks and say what might be hard for others to hear, to listen to people’s painful experiences, and to hear things that contradict our opinions and challenge deeply held beliefs about the world and us. This is especially true when the conversation involves issues of inequality, inequity, racism, sexism, or agism, i.e., topics related to power and privilege.

Two ground rules that contribute to creating safe spaces but not necessarily brave ones are:

Agree to disagree. People can use this rule to avoid or retreat from a disagreement. If we are brave enough to stay with the frisson of a conflict—not get overwhelmed by fear or anger—we will no doubt learn something new and deepen our understanding of what the disagreement is really about. More constructive ground rules are “Listen to understand, first” and “Speak the truth without blame or judgment.”

Respect. This is ubiquitous in lists of ground rules and is the least controversial or discussed. But what does it really mean? When someone proposes this, ask, “What does respect look like? What would each of us be doing and saying to follow this ground rule?” Ask for examples of how anyone could challenge or disagree with someone else in a respectful manner. There are multiple, cultural understandings of what “respect” means. Talking about it surfaces these perspectives and helps people understand one another better. It also sets the stage for a common definition of “respect” that helps create a brave space.

What ground rules do you think would help one of your meetings be a brave space?

* I am grateful to Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens whose article “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice” inspired this blog.

You can read the original version on this article at www.gelinasjames.com/creating-brave-spaces/.

Davenport Offers Local Gov’t Public Engagement Certificate

We are excited to share, NCDD member org the Davenport Institute, in partnership with the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, recently launched a professional Certificate in Advanced Public Engagement for Local Government [non-academic] and are offering the workshop this Jan 19-21, 2018. NCDD members receive a 20% discount on the training, so make sure you register by Jan 7th at the latest to receive this great benefit. Excellent for anyone involved or working with local government, or in graduate school for local government/public policy. They are accepting applications until the class is full, so sign up while you still can! You can read the announcement below or on the Pepperdine School of Public Policy’s website here.


Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership: Professional Certificate in Advance Public Engagement for Local Government

Are you a local government practitioner in search of a New Year’s Resolution? Do you know someone who is?  Why not make 2018 the year to become a champion of resident engagement?

Join us in Malibu, California on January 19-21 for a three-day intensive workshop.

In an age where trust in government (and indeed in all institutions) is at an all-time low, and indifference toward local government is at an all-time high, the very future of local representative democracy requires leaders with a new skill – an ability to break through cynicism and mistrust and engage residents in local policy.

From public safety, to city budgets and spending, to planning and environmental policies, today’s challenges need leaders who can re-vitalize public involvement and lead residents engaged in the difficult work of self-government.

This program is designed for local government and private-sector practitioners serving local governments as well as for graduate students focused on local government. Concepts covered include:

  • Getting engagement right from the start
  • Leading edge techniques for creative public engagement
  • Engaging marginalized communities
  • The role of technology in public engagement
  • Facilitating difficult conversations
  • Leading public engagement from where you are.

For more information and to apply visit: http://publicpolicy.pepperdine.edu/certificate-public-engagement.

Applicants who are accepted to the program can receive a 20% discount when they use the code “NCDD” during registration.

You can read the announcement on the Pepperdine School of Public Policy’s website at www.publicpolicy.pepperdine.edu/certificate-public-engagement.

NCDD Discount on Upcoming Future Search Workshops

We are thrilled to share with you that the Future Search Network is offering NCDDers a discount on their upcoming workshops led by fellow NCDD member Sandra Janoff and Marvin Weisbord. This announcement was shared with us via the Main NCDD Discussion listserv [learn how to join this list if you aren’t already by clicking here] and make sure you register for the workshops ASAP to enjoy this great offer! You can read the announcement below or find the original on FSN site here.


Sign Up for Future Search Workshops in Philadelphia

Future Search Network is offering 2 workshops in Philadelphia, December 11-13 and 14-15. Participants are coming from Australia, UK and across the US to learn how to use Future Search for planning and innovating in their Community, Business or Congregation.

Sign up with a Special Tuition Discount for Members of NCDD – 5% off the early registration fee. Save as much as $800! Let us know if you need more help with tuition. Contact Sally at fsn@futuresearch.net.

Future Search is among the best-established and most effective methods for enabling people to make and implement ambitious plans. At the Managing a Future Search workshop, you willlearn how to get the “whole system in the room,” help people find common ground, and create long-lasting follow-up. At Lead More, Control Less workshop, you will learn how to focus on structure, not behavior, to allow people to grow, share ideas, take responsibility and manage themselves.

Register Today!

PHILADELPHIA, PA, USA
DECEMBER 11- 13, and 14-15, 2017

with Sandra Janoff – co-founder, with Marvin Weisbord, of Future Search Network, and recipient of the Organization Development Network 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award!

“There is a high return on this investment in human capital. It takes a lot of energy to plan but it’s worth it because of the new relationships you build, the energy unleashed, the new perspectives people get on key issues.” – Brian Roberts, United Methodist Church, NJ

Managing a Future Search – A Leadership Workshop
December 11-13, 2017 – Philadelphia, PA, USA

MFS Workshop Details        mail and e-mail registration form

This workshop is for leaders and facilitators who want to learn how applying Future Search principles and methodology enables an organization to transform its capability for action. Four key principles underlie the Future Search design:

  • Getting the “whole system” in the room.
  • Exploring the same global context (“whole elephant”) as a backdrop for local action.
  • Focusing on the future and common ground rather than conflicts and problems.
  • Inviting self-management and personal responsibility for action during and after the conference.

This highly successful strategic planning method is used around the world and in every sector to:

  • Create a shared vision and practical action plans among diverse parties.
  • Devise a plan and gain commitment to implement a vision or strategy that already exists.
  • Initiate rapid action on complex issues where no coordinating structure or shared vision exist.

Lead More, Control Less – A Master Class in Leadership
December 14-15, 2017 – Philadelphia, PA, USA

Lead More Workshop Details        mail and e-mail registration form

“Self control is the best control.” Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff

In this workshop, based on the new book by Sandra Janoff and Marvin Weisbord, “Lead More, Control Less: 8 Advanced Leadership skills that Overturn Convention”, you will learn a philosophy, principles and actions that produce superior results while reducing your need to control. These skills will support the way you work with diverse groups and complex problems.

Speed and complexity are impacting leaders everywhere! There are insights and skills that you can learn that overturn conventional responses and let you experience more self-control in leading in today’s world.

In her work around the world, Sandra discovered that she could get better results by creating an unconventional approach to leadership – focusing on structure rather than behavior and letting people take responsibility and manage themselves. This leads to higher motivation, greater creativity and productivity. These lessons are brought together with real world experiences to create a unique and memorable seminar.

You can read more about the workshops on Future Search Network’s site at www.futuresearch.net/method/workshops/.

Turning to Eachother During Unwelcome Conversations

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


Unwelcome Conversations

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

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

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

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

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

Save the Date for David Mathew Center’s 2017 Civic Institute

The NCDD member organization, David Mathews Center for Civic Life announced the date for their upcoming 2017 Civic Institute on August 18. The 2017 Civic Institute is a day-long opportunity to meet with fellow civic engagement enthusiasts and practitioners to explore the future of Alabama. Participants choose one of three event tracks to delve into deeper during Civic Institute, which are: building civic infrastructure, renewing civic education, and creating civic media. This event will also serve as the official launch of the three year forum series, What’s Next, Alabama? which will be an opportunity for Alabamians to envision the future of their communities. We encourage you to read more about the 2017 Civic Institute in the announcement from David Mathews Center below or find the original version here.


2017 Civic Institute – Save the Date: August 18, 2017

The 2017 Civic Institute is your chance to connect with civic-minded change-makers and thought leaders from across Alabama in a dialogue on our state’s past, present, and future. From the morning panel discussion on the “geography of economic prosperity” in rural and urban communities, to the keynote address by Dr. David Mathews, (President and CEO of the Kettering Foundation), the day will be packed with engaging speakers and interactive sessions centered around some of the most profound issues we encounter as Alabamians.

Participants are able to choose among three different learning tracks for the day, including: building civic infrastructure, renewing civic education, and creating civic media. Each track includes a deliberative forum in the morning, as well as an interactive workshop in the afternoon–all in addition to the panel discussion and keynote address, which will be delivered over lunch!

With our state’s bicentennial on the horizon, we believe that the Civic Institute is the perfect event to collectively ponder the power of our citizens and our communities to build the kind of Alabama they want to call home. To this extent, the Civic Institute will serve as the official, statewide launch of the DMC’s newest forum series, aptly titled, What’s Next, Alabama?

This series is a three-year endeavor, focused on what economic prosperity means in different communities across our state. The series will conclude in 2019, coinciding with Alabama’s bicentennial celebrations, and will frame the conversation about our future, even as we celebrate our past.

2017 Civic Institute Learning Tracks:

Building Civic Infrastructure:
This learning track is tailor-made for those wanting to engage their own communities in dialogue and deliberation around important local issues. The morning forum is an abridged “What’s Next, Alabama?” forum, entitled, “The State We’re In.” This will be a deliberative experience in which participants will ask, “where are we now” as a state? What is the story of Alabama at the start of the 21st century? How far have we come? How far do we have to go? Instead of focusing on the assets and challenges of a single locale, this forum will give participants the opportunity to embrace a statewide perspective in order to reimagine the productive potential of what binds us together collectively, and what sets us apart from each other idiosyncratically.

The afternoon workshop, “Building Civic Infrastructure,” will equip participants with the tools necessary to engage their own community in dialogue and deliberation. From naming and framing local issues, to convening and moderating forums, participants will receive a crash course in the building of a meaningful and durable civic infrastructure capable of supporting and sustaining a robust public life for its citizens. The aim of the workshop is to give participants everything they need to bring “What’s Next, Alabama?” forums to their own communities.

Renewing Civic Education:
This track is perfect for educators, government officials, and anyone else interested in transforming the idea of civic engagement into real action. This learning track begins with a deliberative forum on the state of civic education (and education more broadly) in Alabama. With renewed interest in civic education statewide, this forum will be an opportunity to discuss what civic education could and should look like beyond the classroom. How do we get young people to be active citizens in their own communities? How can we create synergy between the classroom and the community? Is there a curricular way to achieve this, or should we also broaden our own understanding of youth engagement to include students and young people playing an active role in local government? These are some of the questions that will frame the morning discussion.

The afternoon workshop, “Community as Classroom: Equipping Youth for Civic Leadership” will give attendees a chance to connect with–and learn from–local elected officials from all over the state that are breaking new ground when it comes to young people playing an active role in their communities. Participants will hear from local elected officials about how they are working side by side with youth to confront the epidemic of brain-drain, retain the young talent they have in their communities, and propel that next generation into civic leadership roles.

Creating Civic Media:
This track is ideal for those interested in the fields of media, journalism, art, technology, and public life. To begin, attendees will participate in a group discussion entitled, “Flipping the Script: A Dialogue on Media, Representation, and the Role of Alabama in the National Imagination.” This dialogue is meant to elucidate ideas about the role that our state plays–willingly or unwillingly–on the national stage. We will discuss the production of “Alabama” as an archetype in traditional media and popular culture, before being introduced to emergent forms of media that serve to disrupt the conventional representations of Alabama as a monolith. This dialogue will lead naturally into the afternoon workshop, where participants will get a hands-on primer into actually creating civic media that defies typification and demands nuance.

The afternoon workshop, “Creating Civic Media: Provoking Thought, Inviting Action” is a crash course in solutions-oriented journalism and restorative narratives, aimed at creating connections among citizens and journalists to bridge the gap between statewide or national media outlets and local stories that often go unnoticed. Participants will learn best practices for crafting an op-ed piece for their local newspaper, or for a larger outlet. This workshop will teach participants how to take a local story from abstract idea to published piece. This is your chance to connect with other journalists, writers, and active citizens to tell your community’s story, reframe the narrative, and flip the script.

You can find the original announcement from David Mathews Center at: www.eventbrite.com/e/2017-civic-institute-tickets-33344668802

Exploring Possibilities by Challenging Assumptions

We wanted to share this piece from NCDD member, Beth Tener, on the New Directions Collaborative blog about her recent experience at a workshop she ran on The Art of Strategic Questioning and the insights she took away about the power of framing questions. Tener notes how much more powerful questions can become when they are co-developed by a diverse group of people in order to test the assumptions on how a question is framed and consequently open up the creative possibilities. We encourage you to read Tener’s article below or find the original on the New Directions Collaborative blog here.


Questioning to Question Our Assumptions

Asking powerful questions can spark people’s intrinsic motivation to learn, contribute, and create positive change. They also allow organizations and networks to tap and synthesize the knowledge, experience, and perspectives of many people in a system, organization, or community. Today I taught a workshop called The Art of Strategic Questioning, with a group of about 30 people who do facilitation, sponsored by New Hampshire Listens, a civic engagement initiative of the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH. We explored the art of framing questions that open up possibilities and help a group find its way to a joint vision and/or action steps.

Good questions are framed in a way that is truly open, meaning they don’t lead to a yes/no answer or contain or suggest a solution. Examples of open questions are, “what is an important conversation we are not having?” or “what gifts and assets can be better utilized and connected?” We practiced creating questions for one another’s current challenges and noticing what makes a question powerful. Here are some insights that emerged:

In the introductions, I asked people to share their name, organization, and a question they were sitting with. A wide range of interesting questions were shared and about halfway through, I asked people to notice how they felt hearing others’ questions. They said they were drawn in, curious, and wanted to talk further and hear more. Acknowledging our questions, what has us thinking, and where we are curious or don’t know naturally stirs human interest and puts us on a more equal footing.

A participant mentioned the need to be aware of her assumptions. This is hard to do on your own. The time spent talking and practicing questions revealed that the way to really see our own assumptions, beliefs, and blind spots is through the process of conversation. Being asked questions by people who have other perspectives sheds light on where our viewpoint or thinking is limited.

Through the course of the workshop, people noticed how their own assumptions affected how they framed the question. For example, we can frame a question as “will option A or B be a better way to go?” or we can open it up to ask “what course of action will help me achieve my intention; option A, B or some other option I can’t see yet?”

As a way to practice using good questions in meeting design, we practiced the 1-2-4-All exercise, a great alternative to traditional brainstorming. People answered this question:

What question could be most powerful for us to take into our communities at this time?

Participants wrote their ideas first and then shared in a pair. One of the participants wrote this question first:

What happens if the current versions of our social safety nets fail?

When he paired up to talk with another participant, the reaction he got was, “wow, that’s a downer of a question that would be hard to get people to engage with.” They both recognized that was true. His professional training as a software engineer had him trained to look for problems and what might fail. This is a valuable skill and way of thinking for some situations; however, in a context of engaging a group and community in a conversation, this question needed some work. Together, they came up with a reframed version:

What would our community look like if it didn’t matter if our safety nets failed?

A more powerful question, indeed. When the original pair joined another pair of people to talk, the other participants immediately began envisioning what that community would feel and look like. This is a sign of a good question – it unleashes a sense of potential and possibility, it draws us in, and sparks our intrinsic motivation to engage and contribute.

This story also illustrates how coming up with a powerful question is best done in conversation with a group. This allows us to can better see our own assumptions and get insights from various perspectives. This is why it is so valuable to have a design team work together well ahead of a meeting to “set the table” for a good meeting. The team can design the agenda and get clear on the appropriate questions and how to word them most powerfully. Diversity on a design team is key to discern the most appropriate question(s); diversity in a meeting or gathering is key to discern the best answers.”

When we ask questions we don’t know the answers to and trust the unknown and the wisdom of the group, new insights and possibilities can emerge. This quote from Ria Baeck and Helen Titchen Beeth sums this up beautifully:

“Emergence is the manifestation of the truly new that has never existed before, where new connections are made that create a new whole. It requires a degree of chaos, where the structuring comes not from manmade attempts at control, but from holding a strong energetic container for the necessary chaos, while staying with the guiding question and the intent that the emergence is invited to serve.”

You can find the original version of this New Directions Collaborative blog article at www.ndcollaborative.com/question-assumptions/