Democracy Fund Revamps electiononline Website

If you are looking for unbiased news and information on US elections, then check out the newly revamped electionline website! The Democracy Fund – a sponsor of NCDD2018, recently redeveloped the platform, which is a resource for our nation’s elections and offers tools and best practices for improving the voter experience. The site has daily news, an elections calendar, training resources, jobs marketplace – and is a great space for civic organizations, elected officials, or anyone interested in learning more about US elections. You can read the announcement below and find the original version here.


Democracy Fund Relaunches electionline

Today we are pleased to unveil a new and improved electionline — America’s only politics-free source for election administration news and information.

In January 2018, we announced that electionline had become a project of Democracy Fund’s Elections program. We felt then, as we do now, that it is a vital platform for finding trusted news and information about the people and processes that guide our nation’s elections, and for sharing tools, best practices, and innovative ideas for improving the voting experience. Our simple goals for redeveloping the site were to enhance its capabilities and expand content — but our long-term plans are to create a place where readers are exposed to new ideas, opportunities for continuing education, and relationship building.

To do this, we started by thinking long and hard about the site’s current audience and their needs. Starting today, election administrators, academics, voting advocates and other regular readers of electionline will find new items of interest on the site, including:

  • A calendar of national, state and other field-relevant events;
  • A directory of organizations and their areas of expertise;
  • Reports, trainings, tools, guides, and other materials;
  • A marketplace featuring job openings in the elections field and information on used election equipment for sale; and
  • Better search functionality throughout

Electionline remains the only place on the internet to find state-by-state curation of daily election administration news. In addition to publishing the classic electionline Weekly newsletter, we will also begin sharing original reports and exclusive content from leaders and experts in the field — making the site a must-read for local election officials, civic organizations, and journalists who cover elections.

While redeveloping the site, we learned two really insightful lessons that might be helpful for others who are developing virtual spaces for information sharing and engagement.

First, collaborate with your audiences and include some “outsider” perspective. As our team weighed important decisions about the look and feel of the website, we were grateful to receive insight and direction from many readers who already trust and rely on electionline.

Second, reflect your values. Redeveloping or creating a new platform is an opportunity to reinforce essential characteristics that inform readers who your organization is, and what they care about. For us it meant focusing on authenticity (even if it means publishing unflattering stories about ourselves or our partners); transparency about who we support with resources in the field; and cultivating greater interest for under-covered areas of importance like voting trends for overlooked communities.

Through this process, we hope we were able to successfully incorporate the feedback we heard from current readers. We also hope that the new electionline website more deeply resonates with all those who are interested in elections in America. We’re excited to hear your thoughts and reactions as you explore the new website. Please visit www.electionline.org and let us know what you think!

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Democracy Fund site at www.democracyfund.org/blog/entry/democracy-fund-relaunches-electionline.

Ben Franklin Skills for Commitments and Virtues

We love gems of wisdom like the ones below on commitments and virtues, shared by Ben Franklin Circles, an NCDD member org and presenter at NCDD2018. Last year NCDD partnered with BFC and we’ve shared many stories about the powerful way that Circles bring people together and inspire change. For those attending NCDD2018, we encourage you to participate in the BFC workshop happening during the first session block from 1-2:30 pm on Friday, November 2nd. You can listen to the webinar below and find the original on BFC’s site here.


BFC Circle Host Forum – Commitments and Virtues

For this Ben Franklin Circle Host Forum, we interviewed BFC Host, Ryan Cooke to discuss the virtues and making commitments.

For review, the basic structure of a Ben Franklin Circle meeting is as follows:

  • Welcome/ review group guidelines
  • Discuss virtue
  • Make commitments

Virtues are aspirational and are not easily defined. We may never fully reach our aspirations towards these virtues which give us something to continuously work on.

After each meeting, Ryan sends a recap of the discussion and the commitments made. Halfway between meetings, he sends a reminder of the commitments to check in with the group as well as a preview of next virtue.

Here are some of the best practices we discussed for making 30-day commitments around the virtues:

  1. Make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relatable, Time-Bound)
  2. Take inspiration from other hosts and the sample commitments provided in the Meeting Guides
  3. Start small by making micro commitments. Check out tinyhabits.com for inspiration.
  4. Track your progress. Use a paper calendar or an app track Streaks, like Jerry Seinfeld’s one joke a day habit
  5. Make the commitment appropriate to your readiness for change (see Stages of Change model)
  6. Work with others who can provide accountability
  7. Consider shared group commitments to work on together

You can find the original version of this article on the Ben Franklin Circles’ site at www.benfranklincircles.org/webinar/bfc-circle-host-forum-commitments-and-virtues.

Count Me In! – Backyard Ballot Bash & Ballot Speed Dating

We always love hearing about cool, fun engagement efforts going on, which is why we’re excited to share with you an effort happening in Colorado called, Count Me In! It’s a collaborative civic engagement effort that educates voters on what’s on their ballot in a transpartisan way, bringing in all sides of the initiatives. CMI seeks to empower voters to know what they are voting on and vote on the whole ballot, with fun events like Ballot Speed Dating and Backyard Ballot Bashes. If you are in Colorado, check out the events that are lined up or contact CMI to plan your own! For those not in the state, we encourage you to check it out and see if you can bring something similar to your communities! You can learn more about CMI in the post below and on their site here.


Learn about what’s on your ballot with Count Me In!

There are going to be 13 initiatives for Coloradans to vote on this year, and that’s just the statewide ones. Even the most well-informed among us will need some help figuring out how they’re going to vote on all of these issues. That’s why Count Me In! is here. Once again, Count Me In! is partnering with community organizations around the state to make sure voters get all the information they need to make informed decisions about these critical policies affecting our state. Count Me In! is nonpartisan and provides information that is objective. There is still time to bring Count Me In! to your community, connect with us and we will plan an event that works for your community.

Check out where Count Me In! is headed with our list of events below. Join us for these events and share with your folks. We are getting new requests every day so check our website and Facebook page for the most up to date CMI! Events.

Save the Date(s) for Count Me In! Ballot Speed Dating

Count Me In! Colorado is hosting a few bigger ballot events we are calling Ballot Speed Dating. You’ll learn about each measure at these fun, informational ballot events. Count Me In! will be inviting all the statewide ballot campaigns to join us. You’ll get to ask your questions and learn more about each measure, like you would while speed dating. There will be appetizers, drinks, prizes, and engaging election information. Don’t miss this event!

  • Grand Junction Ballot Speed Dating: Thursday, September 27 from 5:30 –7:00 pm, SpringHills Suites, 236 Main Street, Grand Junction. Please share this event with folks in your network that would be interested!
  • Denver Ballot Speed Dating: Wednesday, October 17 from 5:30 – 7:30 pm, Great Divide Brewing, 1812 35th St, Denver, CO 80216. Be on the lookout for more info and promotional material for this event later this week.
  • Denver Ballot Bash: Saturday, October 20 – Denver Game Lounge – more info to come!

Ballot Bash in a Box

This year, in addition to great events at cool venues in every corner of the state, voters will be invited to host their own Backyard Ballot Bash (patent pending) using materials we’re calling Ballot Bash in a Box. If you’re dying to help your friends and neighbors get informed and want to make sure they vote their ballots from the bottom up, or you just need more information about Count Me In!, make sure you email Caitlin Schneider at schneider@coloradofiscal.org today.

Follow Count Me In on the social media, FacebookTwitterInstagram!

Check out the calendar of events planned so far!

Date/Time Event
9/13/18
10 am – 11:30 am
 Count Me In! at the Southwest Rural Philanthropy Days
9/20/18
7 pm – 8 pm
 CMI! joins DougCo Dems for “What’s on Your Ballot?”
 Highlands Ranch Library, Highlands Ranch CO
9/23/18
5:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Tri-County Health Network hosts Count Me In! in Telluride
9/27/18
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
 Grand Junction Ballot Speed Dating
 SpringsHill Suites by Marriot, Grand Junction CO
10/01/18
6 – 7 pm
What’s on your Ballot?
Aspen, CO
10/02/18
11:30 am – 1:30 pm
What’s on your Ballot?
Colorado Mountain College, Edwards Campus, Edwards CO
10/04/18
5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
 CMI Happy Hour with Common Cause
10/10/18
5:30 am – 7:00 am
 Count Me In! partners with Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Littleton Colorado
10/11/18
8 am – 10 am
 CMI! in Summit County “What’s on your Ballot”
10/11/18
12 pm – 2 pm
 CMI! in Grand County “What’s on your Ballot?”
10/14/18
9:30 am – 10:30 am
 Count Me In! and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Littleton Colorado

You can read more information about Count Me In! at www.countmeincolorado.com/.

National Week of Conversation from October 5th – 13th

The next National Week of Conversation (NWOC) is October 5th – 13th! During NWOC, folks around the country will be joining conversations, in hopes to better address the intense divisions in our society through dialogue, deepening understanding, and building relationships. We encourage you to join a conversation already going on and/or start your own here! To help support these conversations, resources like conversations guides and helpful background information are provided on the National Conversation Project (NCP) site here, many from the NCDD coalition! And don’t forget to check out the 3k+ resources on the NCDD Resource Center too! You can read more in the post below and on the NCP site here.


National Week of Conversation: October 5-13

Americans of all stripes are stepping up to address the growing cultural crisis of hyper-polarization and animosity across divides. Together we can turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division with widespread conversations in which we #ListenFirst to understand. Supported by 100+ organizations, National Conversation Project promotes monthly conversation opportunities as well as National Weeks of Conversation.

In April of this year, thousands of Americans took part in the first National Week of Conversation (NWOC). More than 130 schools, libraries, faith communities, activist groups and nonprofits hosted conversations coast to coast in 32 states. These conversations were grounded in a pledge to listen first and seek understanding. The official #ListenFirst hashtag reached millions during NWOC and continues to be promoted by celebrities and journalists to millions more. NWOC events gained media attention across the nation including in the New York Times.

Majorities of NWOC participants walked away feeling more tolerant, understanding, appreciative and curious toward people with different perspectives. Two-thirds rated the value of their conversation as a 9 or 10 out of 10. More than three-quarters now feel better equipped and more likely to listen first to understand, as well as more likely to participate in conversations across divides. A survey of all Americans found 75% willing to set a good example by practicing conversations across divides, and 36%—amounting to more than 100 million people—want to see a national campaign promoting such conversations.

The next National Week of Conversation is October 5th – 13th! Join a conversation already going on or start your own here: www.nationalconversationproject.org/how_to_get_involved

TOPIC OF THE MONTH: Bridging Divides

The United States is facing a cultural crisis. Increasingly in America today, we don’t just disagree; we distrust, dislike, even despise those who see the world differently. Animosity for positions is becoming contempt for the people who hold them. Difference and disagreement are deeply personal as we rage against and recoil from those we see as enemies across widening divides—political, racial, religious, economic and more. Most of us see fewer things that bind Americans together today and have few or no friends from the other side. The rate of loneliness has more than doubled to nearly 50%, creating a public health epidemic. We’re withdrawing from conversations—thereby eroding relationships and understanding—which threatens the foundational fabric of America. 75% of Americans say this problem has reached a crisis level, and 56% believe it will only get worse. Our condition is rapidly deteriorating into what’s now being described as a soft civil war.

There’s nothing wrong with passionate beliefs, disagreement, and protest, but it feels like something more dangerous is taking hold. Do you see it? Personally feel it? What’s changed? What can we do about it together? How we can bridge the divides that threaten our future?

Conversation Guides on Bridging Divides

Background Information to support these conversations:

National Conversation Project Calendar – click here

National Week of Conversation – Fall ‘18: October 5-13, 2018
Listen First Friday – Nov: November 2, 2018
Listen First Friday – Dec: December 7, 2018
Listen First Friday – Jan: January 4, 2019
Listen First Friday – Feb: February 1, 2019
Listen First Friday – Mar: March 1, 2019
National Week of Conversation – Spring ‘19: April 5-13, 2019
Listen First Friday – May: May 3, 2019
Listen First Friday – Jun: June 7, 2019
Listen First Friday – Jul: July 5, 2019
Listen First Friday – Aug: August 2, 2019
Listen First Friday – Sep: September 6, 2019
National Week of Conversation – Fall ‘19: October 4-12, 2019
Listen First Friday – Nov: November 1, 2019
Listen First Friday – Dec: December 6, 2019

You can learn more about the National Week of Conversation at www.nationalconversationproject.org/.

Join National Conversation on Civility Live Stream Tonight

In case you missed it, you are invited to join the livestream for a National Conversation on Civility tonight from 7-9 pm Eastern, hosted by NCDD member org National Institute for Civil Discourse and the American Psychological Association. The conversation moderated by Scott Simon of NPR, will feature a panel with Dr. Johnathan Haidt, Sally Kohn, Dr. Arthur Evans, and Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, as they explore the importance of civility in our society and how to repair it moving forward. They will be answering questions via the live stream and for folks in the DC area you can attend the event in person, see the details below.


Revive Civility: Our Democracy Depends on It

From the Brett M. Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearing to people burning their Nike products, as the country approaches the 2018 midterm elections, our national rhetoric is more polarized than ever. Rudeness, name-calling, bullying and insults have become so commonplace that many Americans have tuned out. Can these behaviors be curbed, and can we learn to disagree civilly? To address these and other questions, the American Psychological Association and the National Institute for Civil Discourse have partnered to present “A National Conversation on Civility.”

Please join us for a National Conversation on Civility via live stream on September 26th from 7-9 PM (Eastern) on Civility and our Democracy in the run up to the 2018 elections with Scott Simon, (NPR) moderating a panel that includes authors Jonathan Haidt and Sally Kohn Dr. Arthur C. Evans and Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer .  We’ll be exploring the importance of civility, why it has broken down — and why it’s necessary for solving the major challenges confronting our nation.

You can participate in this event via live stream from your home, coffee house, place of worship, library or community center.  Gather with family, friends, members of your community organization to watch together.  There will be opportunities for you to share questions for the panel via YouTube and to engage with those gathered around you.

REGISTER HERE

For those in the DC area who can join in person:
Jack Morton Auditorium George Washington University 805 21st St., N.W. Washington, DC 20052

Doors open at 6:30. Panel discussion with audience participation from 7-9 p.m., followed by a reception from 9-10 p.m. Haidt and Kohn will be signing copies of their books. Tickets are available for purchase at www.gwutickets.com $18 for the panel discussion only, $28 for the discussion and reception

Together let’s continue to explore how we can build civility and respect into our lives and public discourse.

This information was drawn from Cheryl Graeve, National Community Organizer with the National Institute for Civil Discourse and from a blog post on NICD’s site from the American Psychological Association at www.nicd.arizona.edu/news/cant-we-all-just-get-along-national-conversation-civility-features-psychologists-media.

Public Square Academy Seeking Program Collaborators

The Public Square Academy (PSA) is looking to develop educational and civic online programs. NCDD member Michael Freedman shared the announcement that they are looking for those with civic and educational expertise to develop programs across broad topics areas of education, community engagement, government, and more. There is an opportunity for free 4-weeks training while developing the program, which you can learn more about in the post below and find the original on PSA’s site here.


The Public Square Academy Program Designers

The Public Square Academy (PSA) is building a catalog of civic and consumer education programs. These programs differ from typical online programs in that they will emphasize student interaction, cohesive group learning, and active mentoring. This model results in deeper learning and a more rewarding experience for the participants.

We are looking for designers, teachers, subject matter experts (SMEs), authors, and influencers who have civic or consumer education expertise and passion, to develop programs for the Academy. These will be narrow topics in a broad area of programs: from policy and advocacy to government structure and operations, personal and community development, school and workplace engagement, consumer training in financial literacy, healthcare, and consumer rights.  Come on. Rise up!

Programs are remote, based on an LMS, and use video conferencing. We offer the following program models:

Classes – Led by teachers

  • Synchronous Class – These are group-based courses for complex learning with a focus on interactivity: discussions, case studies, and projects. This is our primary course model and provides the best learning experience by using active mentoring, dynamic groups, and interactive learning experiences. Synchronous courses have scheduled group meetings using video conference or in person.
  • Asynchronous Class. Short DIY courses for foundational knowledge. These are equivalent to typical online programs. These programs are good as short courses for a basic introduction to a content area but do not provide deep learning. These programs are not group-based but will include active mentoring.

Workshops – Supported by Guides / SMEs

  • Workshops are supported, content-rich skill or capacity-building programs where individuals or groups work on guided, but self-directed projects to learn and develop specific skills to develop actionable results. Workshops are a good follow up to a course where new skills can be put right into practice.

Forums – Guided by Moderators

  • Topic-focused program with rich background material and guidance focused on generating solutions to problems. These may be continuous learning communities or time / event-bounded.

Candidates will receive 4-weeks training in program design at no charge while they refine their program proposal.

Compensation will be royalties based on revenue earned when a mentor uses your program (you will retain the I.P. rights to the programs you build). If you mentor your program directly, then you earn a greater share of the revenue. So, if you have a great program and/or are an exceptional teacher, you will be able to earn a respectable income. To be clear, income is based on student revenue, so won’t be earned until the programs are up and running. Here are some program ideas we think are worthwhile.

For starters, please send a short – one-page proposal for a program(s) you want to build/offer along with a resume. Include a brief outline/description, identify the target audience/participants and the program’s learning goals.

Here are design guidelines to work with:

  • Select one or more program models from the above list, define your audience (be as defined and narrow as you can be) and learning objectives.
  • Our programs are for adult learners (individuals, groups, or within schools or organizations)
  • Incorporate highly interactive elements: discussions, projects, collaborations, scripted role plays, simulations, and games/competitions.
  • Optionally, develop a turnkey curriculum for students and mentors, make it customizable and localizable. This option enables program owners to scale their programs and income.
  • Commercially viable: people will want to participate because it’s meaningful and enjoyable. It will provide participants with a transformative experience.
  • Proposed programs must be in alignment with the Academy’s mission.

Please feel free to ask questions or ask for a phone call or video chat. This program emphasizes relationships, so why not start with a conversation.

For more information, contact Michael Freedman at: Michael (at) ThePublicSquare (dot) Academy

You can find the original version of this announcement on PSA’s at www.thepublicsquare.academy/program-designers/.

NCDD Member Discount on Future Search Workshops

Did you know?? NCDD member org Future Search is offering NCDD members a 30% discount on their upcoming workshops if you register by October 15th. Make sure you register ASAP to get this great offer and experience these workshops led by fellow NCDD member Sandra Janoff and Marvin Weisbord. This announcement was shared with us via the Main NCDD Discussion listserv [and you can learn how to join this list if you aren’t already by clicking here]. Read the announcement below and find more information on FSN’s site here.


Sign Up for Future Search Workshops

We believe positive change takes the most powerful hold when it’s done in a participative, whole-systems way. Join us at a workshop in December to learn the skills – based on almost 40 years of experience – that make Future Search so effective.

Future Search Network is offering 2 Workshops in Philadelphia, PA December 10-12 and 13-14. We are offering a special  30% Tuition Discount for Members of NCDD if you register by October 15, 2018. If you need more help with tuition, please let us know!

Register Today! Come to one or both events 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 10-12, 2018 – Philadelphia, PA, USA

Materials include your copy of Future Search – Getting the Whole System in the Room

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.

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.

Learn more at www.futuresearch.net/workshops/mfs/

Lead More, Control Less –  A Master Facilitation Class
December 13-14, 2018 – Philadelphia, PA, USA

Materials include your copy of Lead More, Control Less

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

In this workshop, based on the latest 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.

  • With the right structures, people will learn more, teach one another, and exercise a level of control you cannot impose.
  • Change the division of labor and you change everything.
  • You overturn convention when you encourage people to use discretion in their work and to share information, coordination, and control of their work.

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. These lessons are brought together with real world experiences to create a unique and memorable seminar.

Learn more at www.futuresearch.net/workshops/lmcl/

“Controlling people never makes great things happen. I have found that applying the principles in “Lead More, Control Less” takes patience, time and imagination. The result is always rewarding and well worth the effort” – Jesper Brodin, Global Head of Range and Supply, IKEA

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

Essential Partners Fall Workshops & NCDD Member Disc

If you are looking to strengthen your dialogue skills, make sure you check out the workshops this coming fall from Essential Partners, an NCDD member and a sponsor of NCDD2018. They will be offering: Introduction to Dialogue Across Differences, The Power of Dialogue: Constructive Conversations on Divisive Issues, and The Power of Stories: Moving Beyond “Them” and “Us”. Learn more about the discount available to NCDD members! You can more information about these workshops on Essential Partners’ site here.


Our Workshops

Introduction to Dialogue Across Differences
September 20, 2018

This one-day workshop uses real-world case studies to introduce participants to the theory and practice of EP’s Reflective Structured Dialogue framework. For three decades, our unique approach has transformed conflicts across the country and the world—but the basic principles of EP’s framework are applicable to local community issues, organizational development, congregations, and everyday conversations.

Intentional communication helps individuals, organizations, and communities build trust, enhance resilience, and engage in constructive conversations despite deeply-held differences of value, belief, opinion, or identity. This workshop provides a set of simple tools to achieve those goals.

Learn more and register: www.whatisessential.org/workshop/introduction-dialogue-across-differences

The Power of Dialogue: Constructive Conversations on Divisive Issues**
October 11 – 13, 2018

The Power of Dialogue is our flagship workshop. This is a comprehensive “deep dive” into our time-tested approach for transforming conflicted conversations about divisive issues. It begins with the theory of our framework and solidifies that with immersive experiential learning. Even within the most contentious issues or fraught situations, the right tools enable a community to foster understanding, restore relationships, and move forward.

The Power of Dialogue is a highly interactive workshop that offers a widely applicable skill set for those with a range of experience levels. As a facilitator, you will learn how to create conversations that foster mutual understanding between groups and individuals divided by deep differences. Hundreds of facilitators, peacebuilders, mediators, and other community leaders from the US and 18 other countries have taken this workshop since its inception in 1996 and are implementing its lessons worldwide. **Discount available for NCDD members

Learn more and register: www.whatisessential.org/workshop/power-dialogue-constructive-conversations-divisive-issues

The Power of Stories: Moving Beyond “Them” and “Us”
November 8, 2018

What are the stories we hold most dear about ourselves? What stories do we tell about others, and how do those stories take shape? Research indicates that we make sense of the world through stories. But stories – particularly the ones we tell about other people – can sometimes deepen the rifts that come between us, creating a feared other; a caricatured “Them”.

This workshop offers tools and structures for harnessing the power of stories to move beyond stereotypes and fear, bringing “Us” and “Them” into relationship through understanding.

Learn more and register: www.whatisessential.org/workshop/power-stories-moving-beyond-them-and-us

You can find more information about these workshops and future ones at Essential Partners’ site at www.whatisessential.org/workshops.

Practicing Vital Life Skills in Ben Franklin Circles

It’s not often enough that there are dedicated times to practicing a vital life skill like active listening, but Ben Franklin Circles are just the opportunity. This recent article, written by Danyel Addes – one of the NCDD2018 planning team members, talks about the valuable space that BFCs offer to strengthen our listening skills and truly hear another person out. Make sure you check out the free upcoming webinar on August 30th at 2pm EST, “Sharing Airtime: Current BFC hosts share advice for balancing participation and encouraging deep listening.” We encourage you to read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Ben Franklin Circles: Creating the world by listening

In her June 2018 Host Profile, Kim Crowley a BFC Host from Connecticut wrote that some of her circle group members had “mentioned difficulties with listening while others in the group are talking.” She explained that as a host, “It made me realize that providing support around listening skills may be important for every group I facilitate.”

Sometimes our efforts to nod attentively and assure people we are listening is a purposeful strategy that we employ in the service of efficiency and multitasking. But what about the times that we genuinely want to listen but find it unexpectedly difficult? How long are you able to listen to someone without thinking about your own opinions, how you want to respond, or what you are going to say next? Why is this so hard to do?

These questions feel particularly relevant to Ben Franklin Circles. At least once a month, circle members make a concerted effort to go somewhere specifically to listen to others. The last time I paid attention to how much time I spent listing vs. how much time I spent thinking about what I wanted to say, I realized I was missing out on many of the contributions of my peers, contributions I had come to hear. Ben Franklin Circles have helped me realize that I have far less control over my ability to listen then I had assumed.

short article by Eric Westervelt from 2014 provides some context for this experience. Westervelt spoke with writer Julian Treasure, whose observations I think about often while in conversation with fellow BFC group members (yes, sometimes while they are speaking).

Treasure observes that “it would be some sort of shock horror story if a child left school unable to read or write. But we do not teach explicitly, or test in the main, either speaking or — much more importantly — listening…. Listening is a skill. This is not something that is just natural that we can expect everyone to be brilliant at just because we are human. It is something we have to work out. Listening is an activity. It’s not passive. We are creating the world by listening all the time.”

Professor Laura Janusik adds, “There’s this assumption that, just because we can hear, that means we can listen effectively. That’s like suggesting that just because we can speak we can speak effectively. And we all know that is absolutely not the case.”

When I catch myself “failing” to be able to listen, it helps to remember that this is a difficult skill that I’ve never really had a chance to practice.

Most of us can imagine how we would practice an athletic skill like a jump shot or an artistic pursuit like ceramics. It can be hard to imagine what that looks like when it comes to listening. Luckily, there are creative ways to do this.

A few years ago in a workshop, I was told that the facilitator would time us and we would each have 2 minutes to speak. I expected the following conversation to be stressful and awkward. But soon after we started I realized that knowing exactly when my turn was coming and how long it would last, freed me up from thinking about those things and allowed me to do a better job of listening as each person spoke. It made the whole conversation more fun and more enjoyable.

In a brief TED talk, Julian Treasure offers suggestions for individuals who want to improve their ability to listen. His first suggestion, Silence, will be familiar to members of Ben Franklin Circles, who know that Silence is one of Franklin’s virtues.

For years, I didn’t realize I was missing out on a life skill that now feels incredibly vital and valuable. I am thankful that (for those of us looking for them) Ben Franklin Circles can offer many opportunities to develop a listening practice, as individuals and as a community.

Danyel Addes is a Program Manager at the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y in NYC.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at www.benfranklincircles.org/ben-franklin-circle-hosts/ben-franklin-circles-creating-the-world-by-listening.

The Democracy Fund on Adapting Long-term Strategies

Our democratic institutions have taken many hits in the last few years, and organizations working to improve democracy have been struggling with how to continue with long-term strategies despite dramatic changes. The Democracy Fund – a sponsor of NCDD2018, recently shared this article on adapting long-term strategies when immediate needs may call for different actions which may seem not in line with the larger vision. The article speaks to how the Democracy Fund has worked on being better able to respond to change and offers advice, for foundations and other orgs, on how to address these challenges. You can read the article below and find the original on The Democracy Fund’s site here.


Adapting Long-term Strategies in Times of Profound Change

Over the past few years, foundations have increasingly embraced a systems approach, formulating longer-term strategies designed to solve chronic, complex problems. We value foundations for having strategic patience and being in it for the long haul. But what happens when they carefully craft a set of strategies intended for the long-term, and the context of one or more the interconnected problems they are trying to address changes considerably? Our experience at Democracy Fund, which aims to improve the fundamental health of the American democratic system, provides one example and suggests some lessons for other funders.

My colleagues and I chronicled the systems-thinking journey of Democracy Fund as we went about creating initiatives. After becoming an independent foundation in 2014, we went through a two-year process of carefully mapping the systems we were interested in shifting and then designing robust strategies based on our understanding of the best ways to make change. Our board approved our three long-term initiatives—elections, governance, and the public square—in 2016.

The 2016 election and its aftermath
It would not be an overstatement to say that the context for much of our work shifted considerably in the months leading up to, during, and following the 2016 US presidential election. Our strategies, as initially developed, were not fully prepared to address emerging threats in the landscape of American democracy, including:

  • The massive tide of mis- and dis-information
  • The undermining of the media as an effective fourth estate
  • The scale of cybersecurity risks to the election system
  • The violation of long-held democratic norms
  • The deepening polarization among the electorate, including the extent to which economics, race, and identity would fuel divisions

During and after the election, we engaged in a combination of collective angst (“How did we miss this?”) and intentional reflection (“How can we do better?”). We came out of that period of introspection and planning with three clear opportunities for our work that we carried out over the next few months.

  1. Ramp up our “system sensing” capabilities. We realized we needed to be much more diligent about putting our “ear to the ground” to understand what was going on with the American electorate. Our sister organization, Democracy Fund Voicewas already doing research that explored why many Americans were feeling disconnected and disoriented. Building on those lessons, we founded the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, a bipartisan collaboration of pollsters and academics that seeks to better understand the views and motivations of the American electorate. It explores public attitudes on urgent questions such as perceptions of authoritarianism, immigration, economics, and political parties. We also ran targeted focus groups and conducted polling around issues of press freedom, government accountability and oversight, and the rule of law. Collectively, these gave us (and the field) insights into the underlying dynamics and voter sentiments that were shaping the democratic landscape.
  2. Create an opportunistic, context-responsive funding stream. Our long-term initiatives, while highly strategic, did not leave many discretionary resources for needs that arise in the moment. Hence, with support from our board, we launched a series of special projects—time-limited infusions of resources and support to highly salient, timely issues. Our special project on investigative journalism supports and defends the role of a robust, free press in America’s public square. Our special project on fostering a just and inclusive society seeks to protect those whose civil rights and safety seem endangered in this emerging landscape. And finally, our special project on government accountability, transparency, and oversight aims to strengthen the checks and balances that help Americans hold their leaders and government accountable. Taken together, these projects address urgent issues undermining the foundations of our democracy.
  3. Codify our convictions. As a bipartisan organization, we believe that sustainable solutions require broad buy-in, and we strive to incorporate good ideas wherever they originate. However, in the midst of multiple violations of democratic norms in the heat of the 2016 election, we asked, “Does being bipartisan mean being neutral?” In other words, we questioned whether our positioning prevented us from taking a stance. The answer was a resounding no. But we also felt we needed a point of reference from which to act. We then set about creating a healthy democracy framework that codified our core convictions—a framework that would allow us to take principled positions, speak out when needed, and act by putting our resources to work. The framework articulated a set of beliefs, including the importance of respecting human dignity, the role of checks and balances, the significance of a free press, and the expectations of elected leaders to act with integrity. These beliefs act as a filter for what fits or doesn’t fit our general frame for action.
Lessons for other funders
Based on conversations with other funders, I know our experience is not unique. The field, as a whole, is trying to understand what it means to be strategic at a time of unprecedented change. Below are a few lessons that may be helpful:

  1. Recognize that “both/and” is the new normal. Rather than see the dynamic between the long-term and the immediate as an either/or, foundations need to adapt a mindset of both/and. The urgent needs are in many ways symptoms of systemic failure, but they do need dedicated responses and resources in the short term. Our attention is our most precious resource, and foundations need to constantly calibrate theirs to make sure it is appropriately focused.
  2. Go beyond adaptive learning. Notions of adaptive philanthropy—having clear goals, a learning agenda that tracks to those goals, and experimenting along the way—are helpful and did indeed shape our thinking. At the same time, we and other funders must recognize that adaptive learning, by itself, may not be sufficient when the nature of change is profound, rather than incremental. There may be times when we need to take several steps back and examine core assumptions about our work, as Democracy Fund did with our healthy democracy framework, and the McKnight Foundation did with its strategic framework.
  3. Invest in self-care. This may seem like strange advice in a discussion about strategy, but organizations are made up of people, and people tend to burn out in times of incessant and relentless change. It is important to recognize that we are living in a fraught political environment, and foundation staff, grantees, and partners may need an extra ounce of kindness and grace from others as they carry out their work. This may mean additional capacity building support for grantees, wellness counseling for staff, and an organizational culture that promotes empathy and understanding.

Conclusion
Foundations are unique in the sense that they have the ability to focus on an issue over a considerable period of time. And the recent strides the field has made on systems thinking have ensured that long-term strategies consider the multi-faceted nature of systems we are seeking to shift. However, we are grappling with the question of what happens when long-term thinking bumps up against immediate and acute needs.

In Democracy Fund’s case, building better system-sensing capabilities, creating a context-responsive funding stream, and codifying our convictions have equipped us to better respond to changing context. Our journey is by no means complete and we have a lot to learn, but we hope that our experience gives others—especially foundations wrestling with how to address immediate needs without abandoning their core priorities—an emerging roadmap for moving forward.

You can find the original version of this article on The Democracy Fund’s site at www.democracyfund.org/blog/entry/adapting-long-term-strategies-in-times-of-profound-change.