NCDD2018 Pre-Conference Sessions Announced for Nov 1!

We are excited to announce the pre-conference sessions for the upcoming 2018 National Conference for Dialogue & Deliberation happening in downtown Denver! While the conference will officially be from Friday, November 2nd through Sunday, November 4th; we also have a full day planned for several pre-conference sessions on Thursday, November 1st! We encourage you to keep these in mind when planning your trip for NCDD2018 and consider joining us the day before to participant in these fantastic pre-conference sessions – which you can check out below.

Stay tuned to the NCDD blog in the coming weeks for information on registering for these pre-conference sessions, and we will begin announcing the workshops next Monday. Friendly reminder to get your tickets for NCDD by clicking here. We have a room block at the Sheraton Downtown Denver (where the conference will be held), and if you are looking for a roommate for the conference – check out our blog post here to coordinate!


Pre-Conference Sessions: Thursday, November 1st

Tackling Wicked Problems in Local Communities: A Workshop for Local Governments, School Districts, and Community Leaders
This workshop is focused on building local capacity to engage difficult issues more collaboratively and productively through the use of deliberative engagement processes. Deliberative engagement involves interactive, often facilitated, small group discussions utilizing materials and processes designed to spark collaborative learning rather than merely the collection of individual opinions. An opening session will examine the concept of “wicked problems” as a framework to better understand difficult issues and then review recent research on social psychology to help explain why traditional engagement processes are often counterproductive to supporting the high quality communication democracy requires. The workshop will then review the key components to deliberative engagement and explore and engage in hands-on practice with a variety of tools and techniques drawn from several dialogue and deliberation traditions. The workshop will be particularly valuable to practitioners focused on their local community working to build capacity across the public, private, and non-profit sectors for higher quality engagement.

All proceeds from the workshop fees are being provided to NCDD to support their ongoing efforts.

Martín Carcasson, Ph.D
Professor of Communication Studies at Colorado State University, the Founder and Director of the CSU Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) (www.cpd.colostate.edu), and the current chair of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation Board of Directors (www.ncdd.org).

We the People Are More Powerful Than We Dare to Believe
The Community Rights movement has helped more than 200 communities in nine states to pass local laws that begin to dismantle corporate rule from the local up. Communities are banning harmful corporate activities, stripping corporations of their corporate personhood, & enshrining local community self-government. Profound culture shift takes place in this transformative process, where residents discover their power & authority as We the People. Learn how YOUR community can join this growing movement of people saying “No!” to corporate interference and “Yes!” to nurturing healthy communities.

Paul Cienfuegos
Founding Director, Community Rights US

Standing Up for Social Justice in Times of Fear & Hatred
When discussing and confronting “heated” racial and/or social justice issues within our communities, utilizing practical facilitation skills that are both culturally-responsive and sensitive to the needs and issues facing minority groups are imperative. In this workshop, we will make use of personal stories, diversity vignettes, and film clip scenarios to encourage participants to authentically address a variety of social justice issues. The group will be taught “Mindful Facilitation Techniques” to support one another to become stronger and more effective allies within our communities.

Lee Mun Wah
Master Diversity Trainer, Founder/CEO, StirFry Seminars & Consulting, Inc.

Transforming Community Spaces: A Workshop for Community Facilitators
Many places around the globe are seeing insistent challenges to monuments, memorials, contaminated sites, and other locations identified with histories of harm. These challenges offer opportunities to foster more complete understandings of history and to take action to remedy deep, systemic inequities, which tend otherwise to be ignored or suppressed. “Transforming Community Spaces” (TCS) is a new, national project led by the Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN) at the University of Virginia to help institutions and communities take on these challenges through inclusive, transparent dialogues that uncover hidden histories, advance social justice, and promote collective healing. This training will introduce facilitators to the concepts of problematic community spaces, to cultural humility, to trauma-informed facilitation, and to the Transforming Community Spaces Toolkit that will be provided to community leaders and others working to better their communities. The training will be highly interactive with both exercises and simulations. We anticipate that participants will return to their own institutions and communities with a new appreciation for the issues at stake in these conflicts and new capacity to help those institutions and communities bring people together to address their own problematic spaces.

Frank Dukes, Ph.D
Distinguished Institute Fellow, Institute for Environmental Negotiation
Tanya Denckla Cobb
Director, Institute for Environmental Negotiation
Selena Cozart, PhD
Community Facilitator, Institute for Environmental Negotiation

A Taste of the Theory and Practice of Bohm Dialogue
This one-day pre-conference session will provide participants with a weave of the background, theory, guides, and basic building blocks of Bohm Dialogue together with an experience of being in Dialogue on emergent topics. Bohm Dialogue can play a powerful role within polarized communities. This process is based on the work of the late David Bohm, a quantum physicist who turned to philosophy to move ideas from his quantum worldview into practical ways of resolving complex social problems often rooted in unacknowledged cultural assumptions.

Linda Ellinor
Founder and Sr. Partner, Action Dialogue Group
Beth Macy, Ph.D
Owner and Lead Consultant, Macy Holding Management LLC 

Better Group Experience in Franklin Circles and Beyond

Since we established our partnership with NCDD member org, Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), we have been sharing stories from Circles that have been convening. This article from Victoria Fann, who hosts a circle in North Carolina, shared an article on A Better Group Experience, that shares some foundational tips to good group process that can be used for Ben Franklin Circles and beyond this process: the right setting, good guidelines, and gentle facilitation. You can read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


A Better Group Experience

As Ben Franklin discovered hundreds of years ago, something magical happens when a group of people get together to engage in meaningful conversation: that circle of individuals becomes something far greater than the sum of its parts. A powerful, dynamic energy emerges from the group collective and creates access to all the combined energy, tools, inspiration, the information, wisdom, insights and resources of that group of people.

In this context, people are able to share great levels of wisdom, become vulnerable with each other, establish a higher level of trust than they would in a social setting and have a deep level of intimacy with people they barely even know very quickly.

In addition, small groups that connect deeply often facilitate high levels of motivation, honesty, healing, growth, learning that can motivate people to think and behave in ways that they might not have considered before. When someone tells a story or models something new, it opens up a whole new range of possibilities, which ultimately, can foster hope and optimism.

Given what’s happening in our world today, with loneliness becoming an epidemic and suicide rates rising, this is extraordinary. And yet it’s something that isn’t done enough.

Yes, there are thousands of Meetup groups happening around the world based on common interests. But, unless there are certain conditions, those meetings will not yield the same transformative power as a small group having a deep discussion in a quiet environment.

So what are the conditions that open the doors to the extraordinary?

It’s fairly simple really. The right setting, a good set of guidelines and gentle facilitation.

Setting
Let’s talk about the setting first. I’ve run successful groups for close to thirty years, and the majority of those groups took place in my living room or the living room of a group member. Why? Because it’s one of the few places that combines privacy, comfort, quiet, natural lighting, a friendly host, non-public bathroom, occasional adorable pets, etc. If you want a group of people to relax, take off their masks, open up and share their stories, gather them in an environment that is familiar, that is associated with relaxation and ease and feels more like a gathering of friends than a business meeting. No other setting even comes close to this.

Our Ben Franklin Circle initially met in a local café, and while it was nice to be able to buy coffee and baked goods, it ended up being too noisy and not private enough. Plus, we were sitting around tables in wooden chairs with a table between us. Shifting to a living room setting in a member’s home sitting on comfortable chairs and couches, created a totally different experience that immediately allowed us to deepen the discussion. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief.

But setting alone isn’t enough. In fact, when you’re in a less formal setting, the tendency would be to fall back into casual, undirected discussion. This is why there is a strong need for guidelines.

Guidelines
Again, these are simple and not at all inhibiting. Instead, they create an even deeper level of trust and relaxation because the participants know that they will be heard and that conversation will stay on topic, and not degenerate into debates and philosophizing.

Here is the guideline that I created years ago for all the groups I’ve run and am currently using in our Circle:

  • Speak from the heart and from direct experience using “I” statements.
  • Speak without interruption or cross-talk.
  • Respect each other’s need for silence as well as each other’s need to speak and be heard.
  • Listen from the heart and serve as a compassionate witness for other people in the circle. To be an effective witness means paying attention to what’s being said without interpreting, judging, or trying to “fix” or rescue the person speaking.
  • Respect each other’s privacy and keep everything that’s shared confidential.

These guidelines are not new nor are they unique. However, they are incredibly effective creating a group experience that is deeply rewarding.

Gentle Facilitation
Finally, it is important to have someone that is able to lead the group with a gentle hand. Mostly, this person presents conversation-starting questions and quotes (or as I mentioned in a previous blog post allows them to be drawn from a hat), keeps the conversation on topic, makes sure everyone has had an equal opportunity to share and be heard and generally tunes into what is needed by the group. That sounds like it’s a lot, but it’s fairly simple. A good facilitator is one that fades into the background and appears to participate in the same way as other members. This establishes trust and removes any sense of hierarchy.

In my experience, setting, guidelines and gentle facilitation are what makes a good group experience, an extraordinary one.

I will leave you with a little food for thought from Ben Franklin:

“To expect people to be good, to be just, to be temperate, etc., without showing them how they should become so, seems like the ineffectual charity mentioned by the apostle, which consisted in saying to the hungry, the cold and the naked, be ye fed, be ye warmed, be ye clothed, without showing them how they should get food, fire or clothing.”

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at https://benfranklincircles.org/tips-advice/a-better-group-experience.

Local Civic Challenge #3: Getting Ready for Election Season

In the third part of the Local Civic Challenge from by NCDD member, The Jefferson Center, they encourage folks to get ready for election season and offer some great resources to prepare. In June, JC had a mini-challenge every week for folks to be more engaged with their local democracy. This round connected folks about registering to vote and volunteering for elections. You can read the post below and find the original on the JC site here.


Local Civic Challenge #3: Getting Ready for Election Season

Maintaining the integrity of our elections is vital to democracy, so this week we’re challenging you to get more involved with the process. Below, find out where you vote, how to register yourself and help others, volunteer at the polls, and more.

1. Get Registered

First off, make sure you’re registered to vote. A great place to start is vote.gov, where you can find out how to register online, or download a hard copy of the National Mail Voter Registration Form to send in. For information about registering in person, registering in other languages, registration deadlines, voter requirements, and more, check out this voting guide.

2. Find out where you vote

You can find your local election office here. This website will direct you to your state’s voting guide, where you should be able to see your polling place (including maps and directions), districts for your precinct, and candidates and questions that will be on the ballot at the next election. Your state may also have a primary election coming up soon, which determines the candidates that will be on the ballot in the general November election.

3. Know the issues and positions

What issues do you care about? Do you know where candidates stand? Here are a few resources that will help you match your views with your vote:

iCitizen or Vote411: provide voter guides by location

Project Vote Smart: helps you explore not only issues and stances, but voting records and campaign contributions

BallotReady: research every name and issue on the upcoming ballot

iSideWith: working backwards, this matches you with the “perfect” candidate based on your stances on issues

After you find your favorite candidates, see if they could use any help on the campaign trail. Joining a volunteer team is usually as simple as making a quick phone call or sending an email.

4. Help others

Help another person register to vote. Download and share voter outreach materials like these online and at your office, college, or neighborhood centers, and see if your community has a local get-out-the-vote campaign. For teachers, programs like Your Vote Matters can help students learn more about the voting process.

5. Work at the polls

Election judges are temporary, paid employees of local election offices who handle all the aspects of voting day! Your duties would include setting up the polling place, ensuring elections are fair, impartial, and secure, and tabulating the votes for the precinct. Contact your local election office to find out the requirements, like if you have to be a registered voter in that state, of a certain age, or officially affiliated with a political party.

How are you preparing for the upcoming elections? Was it difficult to find information about voting in your community?

Next week, we’ll take a look at the power of supporting local journalism and community storytelling.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/getting-ready-for-election-season/.

Looking for a roommate at NCDD2018? Coordinate here!

In just a little over three months, the 2018 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation will be taking place in the heart of downtown Denver. NCDD2018 will convene folks from across the country who are passionate and dedicated to dialogue, deliberation, and engagement work. With ticket sales flying and folks already trying to find hotel roommates, we wanted to hold space here on the blog for conference attendees to use for coordinating NCDD2018 connections – whether it be to find a roommate, organize rideshares, or whatever else you need. Use the comments section of this blog post to let other attendees know what you’re looking for. Click here to check out our blog post for the previous NCDD2016 conference for an example of what we mean.

While the official conference kicks off the morning of Friday, November 2nd, we wanted to give attendees a heads up to consider arriving on Wednesday evening or Thursday because we have a full line-up of pre-conference session being organized for Thursday, November 1st! We will begin announcing those pre-conference sessions next week and are thrilled for what our network has in store.

In addition to the cool offerings at NCDD2018, the conference is really well located in Denver’s cute downtown and there is no shortage of fantastic restaurants and things to experience. The conference will run until Sunday, November 4th around 4pm, so we recommend you stay until Sunday evening or depart Monday, November 5th. Find out more about your transportation options on our NCDD 2018 travel & lodging page.

The conference will be held at the Sheraton Denver Downtown, located right on the popular 16th Street Mall. We’ve negotiated a great rate of $165/night for conference attendees. You can learn more about the hotel on their website here, but you must use this link to get the NCDD rate:

www.starwoodmeeting.com/Book/NCDD2018

Alternatively, you may book by phone by calling Central Reservations at 888-627-8405 and mentioning you are part of the “National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation – NCDD2018” block. Note that the rate is only in effect until 5:00pm MST on Wednesday, October 10th, though we encourage you to book your room ASAP as rooms are filling up fast.

If you need to cut lodging costs while still staying at the hotel, drop a comment in the comment section below about your interest in finding a roommate. We suggest you mention:

  1. Your name, gender, and any special requirements or considerations your potential roommate should know about you (for example, if you’re a smoker, night owl, snorer, etc.)
  2. When you’re arriving and departing and which nights you want to share a room
  3. Email or phone contact info in case people would like to connect with you directly

If you have any questions that are not addressed here, check out our conference FAQ page. If you still have questions after that, feel free to send Keiva an email at keiva@ncdd.org.

Can’t wait to see you all there!

Local Civic Challenge #2: Explore Local Leadership Roles

Democracy is all about community members being engaged in their government, and learning more ways on how to deeper connect with your local politics. A great way to do this is to join the Local Civic Challenge started by NCDD member,The Jefferson Center, where during the month of June they offer a mini-challenge every week for folks to learn more about and engage with, their local government. This second installment of the Challenge offers ways to explore local leadership roles (you can read the first installment about getting familiar with your local government here.) We encourage you to learn more about how you can become a more engaged citizen in the post below and you can find the original on the JC site here,


Local Civic Challenge #2: Joining Local Offices, Committees, and Boards

This post is part of our Local Civic Challenge, a chance to complete a few easy tasks each week that will help you become a more engaged citizen! To get the series delivered directly to your inbox, sign up here.

Learning more about the day-to-day work of your local gov, and how community members are thinking about issues, can often segue into taking on a leadership position yourself. We’ve seen this happen a few times throughout our work at the Jefferson Center. Just last week, Erin Buss, a participant in the Minnesota Community Assemblyfiled to run for City Council in Red Wing, Minnesota.

She told the local paper:

“As a participant in the Red Wing Citizens Assembly, I learned a lot about residents’ concerns and the importance of doing the work to keep this city on the right track. People want their government to be responsive, accountable and accessible. I’m excited to bring a fresh viewpoint to City Council — it’s time for Red Wing to move forward.”

Here’s a few ways you can start exploring local leadership roles:

1. See what’s open

It’s an election year, and it’s likely you’ll have some seats in your community up for grabs. Find out which seats these are, and who else is running. While the deadline to file for congressional seats has passed in most states, there may be time to file for city, township, and school district offices.

2. Learn who holds local office

Even if you won’t run yourself, it’s key to know who is. These aren’t always the elections we pay close attention to, especially when the national and state elections take over our newsfeeds. Resources like Common Cause and Ballotpedia make it easy to find your local representatives.

3. Listen to your neighbors

If running for an official title isn’t your thing, check out when your local neighborhood council or community development association meets. This is a great way to find out what issues are important to your neighbors, and where the current gaps are. You could start by listening in at meetings, and eventually move up to a volunteer leadership position.

4. Tune in

Find out when your city council meets, and see if they are streamed online if you can’t attend the meeting in-person. If they aren’t, that might be something to suggest to your city to make the meetings more accessible for everyone.

5. Search

It seems simple, but just googling “get involved in [insert your city] government” will likely bring up a page full of volunteer opportunities! For instance, you might be needed to teach local community ed classes, clean up parks and trails, help out in community gardens, participate in invasive species education, or assist library staff. If your city doesn’t have a dedicated volunteer page, try contacting the department you’d want to work with directly.

Do you hold a leadership position in your community? How did you end up there? If not, what’s holding you back? Let us know in the comments.

Next week, we’ll explore how you can get ready for election season.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/local-civic-challenge-2-joining-local-offices-committees-and-boards/.

NCDD2018 Early Bird Extended Until Tomorrow, July 18th!

In case you missed the opportunity to get your tickets for NCDD2018 at the Early Bird rate, we’ve decided to give folks some extra time to take advantage of this great deal for one of the premier events in the dialogue, deliberation, and engagement field. Which is why we have extended the Early Bird rate to still be active until tomorrow, Wednesday, July 18th!

The National Conference for Dialogue & Deliberation will be from November 2 – 4 in Denver at the downtown Sheraton. It is already shaping up to be an immensely engaging event, where over 450 leaders, practitioners, and enthusiasts in the D&D field will come together to dive deep into this work, collaborate, learn from each other, network, and build relationships that carry on long past the closing plenary. The conference team has been deep in planning over the last many months – developing interactive plenaries, coordinating a jam-packed workshop session line-up, and building networking opportunities in-between it all – you don’t want to miss this exciting opportunity! (Pssst, while not part of this early bird rate… insider tip: we also have several full-day pre-conference sessions that are being developed for Thursday, November 1st – stay tuned to the NCDD blog for more info!)

The early bird rate is $385 until tomorrow, then it goes to our regular registration rate of $450 on Thursday. So we encourage you to get your tickets for #NCDD2018 ASAP while this rate lasts!

You can learn much more about this year’s national conference at www.ncdd.org/ncdd2018, and register today at www.ncdd2018.eventbrite.com to take advantage of the Early Bird rate.

Want to get a better sense of what our conferences are like? Watch the video of NCDD2016 and NCDD2014 and learn even more about our past conferences by clicking here.

NCDD Update: ALA Conf, Frontiers, NCL, and CO Workshop

The NCDD staff has been up to some exciting ventures this last month that we wanted to fill you in on! June 22nd, in particular, was a busy day for the NCDD team as we each trekked to several exciting events that were happening in our network; Co-Founder Sandy Heierbacher was at ALA’s Annual Conference in New Orleans, Managing Director Courtney Breese was at the Frontiers of Democracy conference at Tufts University, and I attended NCL’s National Conference on Local Governance in Denver where NCDD Board Chair Martín Carcasson presented.

As part of our partnership with the American Library Association (ALA), Sandy ran a workshop on Host Training in Conversation Café with NCDD member Susan Partnow. They gave this fantastic day-long session to a packed room of participants from public libraries serving small, mid-sized and/or rural communities; where attendees learned how to organize and host Conversation Cafés. In many communities, particularly smaller and more rural areas, libraries hold vital space as epicenters of community engagement and social change. The workshop prepared participants to run Cafés in their local libraries and how to use this great tool for holding exploratory dialogues with the community.

At the Frontiers conference, Courtney did a session on Partnering to Strengthen Participatory Democracy: How Might We Connect and Collaborate?, in which participants learned examples about efforts to connect engagement practitioners with librarians and journalists, and then explored ways to deepen network connections, particularly across fields. The conference was hosted by the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University and a primary focus this year was around how engagement work can better connect to activism. For example, there was a panel of students from Boston public high schools and Ph.D.s from UMASS, who spoke about the walkout they self-organized over budget issues, what their roles were and the ways they organized. Another one of the speakers was someone who had been previously incarcerated and they spoke about challenges of re-entering into society, the roadblocks they experienced, and how this impacted their ability to fully participate in a democratic society.

NCDD member org – the National Civic League, hosted the National Conference on Local Governance which was a jam-packed, one-day opportunity to dive into some of the cutting-edge practices and processes that improve equity within communities. Martín presented a session about Resident Engagement: How to Change Negatives in which he spoke about the neuroscience behind why traditional public engagement efforts often fall flat and how by designing better engagement processes, communities can be more effective in addressing challenging issues. It was a fantastic session with a perfect blend of information, while being engaging and entertaining! If you haven’t attended a session by Martín, I highly recommend you check one out the next opportunity you get! (Secret insider tip: He’s going to be running an exciting pre-conference session the day before NCDD2018 on Nov 1st that we encourage you to check out – Stay tuned to the blog for details to follow…)

Last week, I spoke at the monthly meeting for the Arvadans for Progressive Action about cultivating constructive conversations, in which I shared more about the NCDD network and several helpful tips and resources for making conversations more effective. Despite being a hot Colorado day, it was a great turnout of folks dedicated to working hard to engage the community and create a more equitable world. Huge thank you to all those who attended the event and asked really dynamic questions; and many thanks to the Arvadans for Progressive Action for inviting me to come share conversational tips and wisdom from the NCDD network.

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

Local Civic Challenge #1: Learn More About Your Local Gov

As a fantastic way to help folks further strengthen civic muscles, our friends at The Jefferson Center – an NCDD member org recently began offering a Local Civic Challenge. Every week they have a mini challenge for becoming more engaged with your local government and we will be lifting them up here on the NCDD blog. The first challenge is to get familiar with your local gov! Let us know in the comments below if you have additional great tips for getting familiar with our own city governments. We encourage you to flex those civic skills by checking out the post below, which you can find the original on the JC site here, and sign up to get it delivered to your email!


Local Civic Challenge #1: Get Familiar With Your Local Gov

To kick off the first week of the Local Civic Challenge, we want you to learn more about the ins and outs of your city government! That includes how it operates, who’s involved, and ways you can give feedback. Once you’re done, you’ll be more familiar with how the system works, and you might even have some ideas on the ways things could be improved.

Do you want the Local Civic Challenges delivered directly to your inbox? Sign up here.

1. Locate your city’s charter

In the United States, city charters usually define the organization, power, functions, and procedures of local government. Not all states allow local governments to create their own charters, so double check this list before your search.

2. Find out if your mayor is strong or weak

This isn’t a comment on your mayor’s effectiveness (that’s a different conversation), but their level of authority on local issues. In a “strong mayor” system, mayors are directly elected, and can make appointments and veto legislation. Meanwhile, most “weak mayors” are elected from within the city council, and do not have veto powers or executive authority on most matters. Yours may not be entirely one or the other, either!

3. Give some feedback

What’s one thing you think your local government is doing well? What could they improve on, and do you have any suggestions for them? Make a list, then head to your city’s website to find who to contact. Most have phone numbers and email addresses for different departments, from parks & rec to public works, so you can reach out to the right people.

4. Save the dates

If you don’t want to miss upcoming upcoming public meetings, see if your city has an upcoming events calendar or schedule published online.

5. Follow and like

Does your city or county use Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? If you follow them, you can just catch important projects updates and events as you scroll! Plus, you can easily give feedback by messaging, liking, or commenting.

6. Get familiar with the voting system

Local elections in the US vary widely, but the most common are first-past-the-post voting and instant-runoff voting (often called ranked-choice voting). In first-past-the-post, the candidate with the most votes wins the election. In instant-runoff, voters rank the candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. Ballots are counted and each voter’s top choice is recorded, and losing candidates (those with the lowest votes) are eliminated, and their ballots are redistributed until one candidate remains as the top choice of the majority of voters.

Was it difficult to find information about your city? Could your local government be more accessible? Let us know in the comments below!

Next week, we’ll explore how to join local offices, committees, and boards.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/local-civic-challenge-1-get-familiar-with-your-local-gov/.

Evolving Infogagement for More Democratic Public Life

As technology and the needs of our society continue to evolve, the ways in which we engage each other and utilize information when participating in public life will also continue to change. The paper, Infogagment: Citizenship and Democracy in the Age of Connection, written by NCDDer Matt Leighninger in collaboration with Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), was recently re-released to reflect the ways in which these changes are shaping. We encourage you to read more in the post below and find the full original report on PACE’s Medium site here.


Infogagement: Citizenship and Democracy in the Age of Connection

PACE LogoTable of Contents

Executive Summary

Our traditional notions about the “public square” are out of date. In thinking about information, engagement, and public life, we have generally put information first: people need to be educated, and then they will become politically involved (the original title of this PACE project was, accordingly, “Information for Engagement”). But as we interviewed leading thinkers and practitioners in the fields of journalism, civic technology, and public engagement, it became clear that the sources of information and the possibilities for engagement have diversified dramatically. Instead of a linear progression from education to involvement, public life seems to seethe and spark with connections and reactions that are often unexpected and always hard to map. Our Norman Rockwell image of public life has become something more like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Another question animating this PACE project was how to bring “new voices” — meaning young people, poor people, recent immigrants, and people of color — into the public square. But because public officials, journalists, technologists, and citizens (both new voices and established ones) are playing different roles, and interacting in different ways, this too is a more complex question than it first appears. The real challenge is figuring out what the new public squares might look like, how they can be equitable and democratic places, and how they should be built.

Through interviews and small-group discussions, we have identified and clarified a number of key trends:

  • Thinking of citizens mainly as voters, volunteers, and writers of letters to the editor is no longer sufficient. Civic engagement has changed radically over the last twenty years, spooling out into thick and thin strands of participation. “Thick” engagement happens mainly in groups, either face-to-face, online, or both, and features various forms of dialogue, deliberation, and action planning; “thin” engagement happens mainly online, and is easier, faster, and potentially more viral — it is done by individuals, who are often motivated by feeling a part of some larger movement or cause.
  • The institutions of journalism are going through a painful transition period, but new collaborative practices, “hyperlocal” innovations, and engagement activities (including the use of engagement as a revenue source) may be signaling the rebirth of the field. Meanwhile, in their profession, journalists are employing a greater range of skills and playing a wider range of roles.
  • Despite the early optimism, the new Internet-connected world of information and engagement has not (so far) been a more equitable and empowering environment for people of color, low-income people, and other marginalized groups. Addressing this challenge will require a better understanding of community networks, how they map cultural differences, and how they channel information and engagement.
  • Storytelling is more powerful and ubiquitous than ever: a much higher percentage of people can share their opinions and experiences, and hear the opinions and experiences of others, in ways that are more convenient, continuous, and public. By comparing notes on what we mean by storytelling — and listening — we might come to a better, shared understanding of why people want to take part in public life, and better recommendations for how to facilitate and support their efforts.
  • Big data, once the domain of experts, is now part of the public engagement picture. The opportunities and challenges of big data may require a set of intermediaries — people and organizations that can curate and interpret data for everyday citizens. The future of big data may depend less on the skill and expertise of these intermediaries, and more on whether citizens trust them.

In the past, discussions of information and engagement revolved around the wrong questions. “I’m pretty tired of the ‘How do we save newspapers?’ discussion, as well as the ‘What’s the latest techno gizmo that will save the world?’ discussion,” says Jon Funabiki, a journalism professor who directs the Renaissance Journalism center at San Francisco State. It doesn’t seem sensible or compelling to ask how we can bring back the past in the newspaper industry, or how we can realize an unrealistic future with technology.

Furthermore, we can’t keep thinking of the public square as a place that is dominated by civic professionals, where citizens occupy a limited set of predictable roles. That vision, which originated with Progressive thinkers like John Dewey, is no longer viable. To help communities build new public squares, we should focus on four questions:

1. What kinds of infogagement infrastructure and institutions at the community level would support the best flow of news, information, and engagement?

2. How can such an infrastructure support a high level of democratic engagement across the community, especially for people who have borne the brunt of past injustices and inequalities?

3. What should be the complementary, constructive, yet independent roles of journalists, public officials, and technologists?

4. What are the core democratic skills needed by people in each of these professions, and how can we provide them?

You can find the original version of this on the Medium site for Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) at www.medium.com/infogagement/infogagement-citizenship-and-democracy-in-the-age-of-connection-cdf849610381.

DMC Hosts Third Annual Civic Institute on August 17th

The third annual Civic Institute is happening Friday, August 17th, hosted by NCDD member org the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. This will be one of the premier events dedicated to strengthening civic life in Alabama and will be a fantastic opportunity for those doing civic engagement work throughout the state.  DMC recently announced the session line up which you can read more below and on the DMC’s site here.


2018 Civic Institute: Be Together Differently

We’ve added new sessions to our third annual Civic Institute! Please join us Friday, August 17, for some deep conversations on strengthening civic life in Alabama – not for a day, but for the duration.

Each year, our hope at the Civic Institute is that Alabamians doing good, sustainable work in their neighborhoods and hometowns connect with each other in new ways. Every place has a unique story and faces a distinct set of challenges, yet across the state, the Mathews Center sees increasingly that Alabama residents and civic leaders often face similar issues. Through Alabama Issues Forums we see that when people desire to address an issue they all face – rather than politics or personalities – deliberative conversations can be especially suited for the uncommon and transformative experience of working together across difference. Wicked problems don’t tend to disappear overnight, and so the everyday habit of talking with each other as citizens – not circling issues, but working towards creating solutions we can all live with – often proves to be, simultaneously, one of the most effective and the most accessible approaches to sustainable community development.

At this year’s Civic Institute, we hope to find deeper ways to support Alabamians practicing such fundamental aspects of democracy as having sustained conversations on difficult issues, practicing innovations in journalism, bringing underrepresented groups to the table, and recognizing the potential each individual holds to make their communities better for everyone. More than ever, this year, we seek to continue modeling our call to listen first and to “pass the mic” by highlighting the following speakers and topics:

The Elephant in the Room: Talking About Difficult Issues: Talking about challenging issues in a divided political climate is hard. Listening to those we disagree with is difficult. Finding opportunities to bridge divides and discuss the “elephants in the room” in a productive, civil manner that prioritizes understanding over consensus is even more challenging. During this interactive session, learn from Alabama communities that are engaging citizens in deliberation on some of the most divisive public issues facing communities today. Discover tools and resources you can use to tackle the issues facing your community. Chris McCauley of Markstein will moderate; additional speaker details are forthcoming. This session is made possible by a generous donation from The Blackburn Institute at the University of Alabama.

“Public life is bigger than political life. We have narrowly equated the two in recent years, and we’ve impoverished ourselves in the process. Public life includes all of our disciplines and endeavors, including ourselves as citizens and professional people and neighbors and parents and friends. The places we’ve looked for leadership and modeling have become some of the most broken in our midst. And so it is up to us, where we live, to start having the conversations we want to be hearing and creating the realities we want to inhabit.”

– Krista Tippet, On Being

Who Remembers? Collective Memory and Public Life: The issue of monuments and memorials in public spaces divides communities around the nation, and people of goodwill on all sides of the issue struggle to hear each other productively.  In this facilitated discussion, participants will discuss what concerns them the most regarding this issue and whether they can imagine opportunities for deliberation within their communities and networks. This session will be moderated by Dr. Mark Wilson, Director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities at Auburn University. Our thanks to the Alabama Bicentennial Commission for generously sponsoring this session.

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”

– Wendell Berry

The Front Doors of Fellowship: Engaging with Difference Through Faith: What is the role of faith communities in public life? What do we find at the intersection of faith and civic engagement? How can we cultivate the physical and conceptual spaces that houses of worship occupy, in order to bring people together in new ways that connect our individual experiences and our rich inner lives with the work that we must all do, collectively, as a public? Faith communities, for many Alabamians, not only feed the spiritual life, they also serve as a hub of community life. This session will focus on stories, challenges, and opportunities in bringing faith communities together across divides to address key issues and challenges facing our hometowns and our state.

“The power of belonging creates and undoes us both; if spirituality does not speak to this power, then it speaks to little.”

-Pádraig Ó Tuama, Irish Theologian

Urban Perspectives on Civic Engagement in Alabama: The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Woodlawn Project and Spring Hill College’s Foley Fellowship in Civic Leadership are experiential learning opportunities that seek to work alongside neighboring communities to better understand and address the complex effects that poverty and other related disparities have on their quality of life. The effectiveness of each project is rooted in its being tailored to fit the particular contexts in which each institution operates. Attendees of this session will take part in a dialogue that compares and contrasts the unique challenges, approaches, and learning outcomes that these programs have yielded working with community partners in urban contexts on opposite sides of the state.

“As we internalize the view of others, we change. And as our perception of others changes, we see possibilities for acting together that we didn’t see before.”

-Dr. David Mathews

Who’s Not At the Table? Engaging Youth in Civic Deserts: Over the past decade, civic engagement and volunteering rates among young Americans have declined across race, income, and education levels. However, youth and young adults living in “civic deserts” are disproportionately represented among the disengaged.  Civic deserts are communities that lack adequate opportunities for young people to learn about and participate in civic and political life. Over 40% of American youth and young adults live in “civic deserts.” In rural areas, the percentage of young people living in civic deserts climbs to nearly 60%. Youth in civic deserts are less engaged in politics, are less likely to vote in elections, and are less likely to believe in the influence of their own voice and the collective potential of their community. While the statistics can be harrowing, there are leaders, educators, and organizers across Alabama who are working to revive youth engagement within rural and urban civic deserts. By capitalizing on the assets within their community to create leadership opportunities, mentorship programs, career training, and youth programming, the guest speakers in our Engaging the Disengaged: Youth in Civic Deserts session are creating innovative avenues for youth engagement. This session is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Alabama Public Television.

Passing the Mic: Representation & Empathy in Civic Media: The digital disruption of traditional news and media outlets has become an accepted, albeit cliche, archetype for the twenty-first century. The fourth estate that so many Americans revered throughout our history has been faced with growing distrust, diminished resources, and has struggled to translate its traditional structure and function into an increasingly viral model of news and journalism. At the same time, digital technologies have enabled millions to tell their own stories in a way that is diffuse, yet direct.

The rise of citizen journalism and social media has emerged as a critical component of what we today characterize as “civic media.” The centuries-long interpolation of citizen and journalist is newly-malleable, and calls for a radical reconceptualization of the citizen-journalist relationship. “I just want to be a voice for the voiceless,” is a refrain that is increasingly unable to bear the complex weight of citizens ready to speak for themselves. Why be a voice for the voiceless when you could just pass the mic?

This session will explore ways of passing the mic and equipping others to tell their own story through digital media as well as traditional journalistic outlets. From Twitter to the town square, we will consider examples of intergenerational cooperation amongst communities, local professors, and their students, as they reimagine what community journalism and self-representation can accomplish in our time.

To register, visit 2018civicinstitute.eventbrite.com. Please contact Rebecca Cleveland at rcleveland@mathewscenter.org if the cost of attending presents a burden; we have some scholarships available. To become a sponsor, contact Cristin Brawner at cfoster@mathewscenter.org. 

 You can find the original version of this announcement on the David Mathews Center blog at www.mathewscenter.org/2018-civic-institute-sessions/.