MetroQuest Hosts Facing Contention Webinar, Jan. 30th

Coming up at the end of January, NCDD member org MetroQuest will be hosting the webinar, Facing Contention – How to Detox Public Engagement; co-sponsored by NCDD, IAP2, and the American Planning Association (APA).  If you are looking to improve public engagement processes around controversial projects, then make sure you register ASAP to join the webinar.  We encourage you to read the announcement from MetroQuest below or you can find the original here.


MetroQuest Webinar: Facing Contention – How to Detox Public Engagement

Are you looking for effective ways to collect meaningful and constructive public input for controversial projects?

Tuesday, January 30th
11 am Pacific | 12 pm Mountain | 1 pm Central | 2 pm Eastern (1 hour)
Educational Credit Available (CM APA AICP)
Complimentary (FREE)

REGISTER HERE

Jeanette Janiczek from the City of Charlottesville with Jonathan Whitehurst and Sal Musarra from Kimley-Horn and Associates will discuss their success with an innovative approach to public involvement on the contentious Belmont Bridge Replacement project.

Numerous forces have combined recently to create an increasingly toxic and adversarial climate for public engagement. These patterns and their effects are being felt across the country and its planners and community engagement staff who increasingly find themselves on the front lines of this conflict. Finding ways to design and manage public engagement efforts to maintain a respectful and productive dialog and collect meaningful and constructive public input is more important than ever.

This highly-visual webinar will showcase the Belmont Bridge Replacement case study along with proven best practices, research findings, and practical tips to guide agencies towards the successful application of community engagement on hot button and contentious projects.

Attend this complimentary 1-hour webinar to learn how to …

  • Create public engagement process to mitigate tensions
  • Engage more people from a broader demographic to hear diverse viewpoints
  • Collect informed and constructive public input on contentious topics
  • Get past entrenched positions to understand community priorities
  • Work with opposing groups to create a more harmonious outcome

You can find the original version of this announcement on MetroQuest’s site at http://go.metroquest.com/Belmont-Bridge-Kimley-Horn-Webinar.

PBP Opening for PhDs as Participation Design Strategist

There is an exciting opportunity for recent PhDs to work with NCDD member org, Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) and help strengthen participatory democracy! PBP recently announced they have an opening as a Participation Design Strategist, part of the Mellow/ACLS Public Fellows program, for those who are new PhDs. The deadline to apply is March 14th, 2018 for the position, and we hope some NCDDers will apply (by clicking here)! You can read more information on the fellowship opening in the post below or find the original here. Good luck to all applicants!


Mellon/ACLS Fellowship Opening – Participation Design Strategist

At the Participatory Budgeting Project, we’re pleased to announce that we have been selected by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) as a host organization for the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows Program, a career-building fellowship initiative designed to expand the reach of doctoral education in the humanities. In 2018, the Public Fellows program will place up to 25 recent PhDs from the humanities and humanistic social sciences in two-year staff positions at partnering organizations in government and the nonprofit sector. Fellows will participate in the substantive work of these organizations and will receive professional mentoring, an annual stipend of $67,500, and health insurance.

The application deadline is March 14, 2018 (9pm EDT). For more information, please visit http://www.acls.org/programs/publicfellowscomp/.

Fellowship Details
Position Title:
Participation Design Strategist

Position Description:
We are seeking a Participation Design Strategist to work in PBP’s Participation Lab, one of our three program areas. The Lab evaluates, researches, and develops tools and practices to make participatory budgeting and democracy work better. The strategist will work closely with other staff and partners to develop and test strategies that improve PBP’s services and PB processes. Through this work the strategist will identify and help implement design solutions that enable participatory democracy to grow and scale, and that advance equity, diversity, and inclusion in civic participation. This will include close collaboration with government and nonprofit staff, community leaders, and user design experts.

This position is great preparation for those interested in a career in the nonprofit or public sectors, including in user experience design, human centered design, public participation, civic engagement, program evaluation, service delivery, or public administration. This is a new position that expands PBP’s capacity to make data-informed design decisions as well as to keep pace with the increasing volume and diversity of communities excited about deepening local democracy. See the full job posting here.

  • Stipend: $67,500 per year, with health insurance coverage for the fellow, a relocation allowance, and up to $3,000 in professional development funds over the course of the fellowship
  • Tenure: Two years; start date on August 1 or September 1, 2018, depending on the fellowship position
  • Applications will be accepted only through the ACLS Online Fellowship Application system (ofa.acls.org). The system will open on January 4, 2018.
  • Application deadline: March 14, 2018, 9pm EDT
  • Notification of application status will occur by email starting late-May 2018.

Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows is a fellowship program offered by the American Council of Learned Societies and is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Please direct all inquiries about the fellowship program to ACLS.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Participatory Budgeting Project’s site at www.participatorybudgeting.org/mellon-fellowship/

ILG Offers Training for Local Gov’t Public Engagement

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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


The Urgency of Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

New D&D Job Openings

Looking to switch things up in your job life? There have been a lot of fantastic job and internship opportunities this month that we’d love to see filled with folks from our talented network! If you’re looking to hear about the jobs we find ASAP, make sure you sign up here for our Making-A-Living listserv where we post opportunities as we find them. To note, access to the Making-A-Living listserv is part of being an NCDD member, so make sure you join/renew your NCDD membership here to receive this great benefit! Finally, if your organization is hiring, send the details directly to the Making-A-Living listserv or to keiva[at]ncdd[dot]org.

The list of the openings and links we’ve seen lately:

Everyday Democracy, an NCDD member org, is seeking a Training and Resource Officer. The position will remain open until filled and applications will start being considered by February 15th. Learn more about the position and how to apply here.

The Participatory Budgeting Project, an NCDD member org, is hiring a Finance and Operations Manager, who would be based out of their Oakland or Brooklyn office. Learn more about the position and how to apply here.

Public Agenda, an NCDD member org, is hiring for a Graphic Designer and Data Visualization Specialist. Learn more about the position and how to apply here.

University of Michigan‘s Program on Intergroup Relations, an NCDD member org, just announced they are looking for an LSA Associate Director and Lecturer. There are two interrelated postings for the position and interested candidates must be qualified and apply for both. Learn more and apply for both postings here and here.

The 106 Group has an opening for a Community Engagement Specialist in the St. Paul, MN office. Learn more about the position and how to apply here.

Anti-Oppression Resource & Training Alliance (AORTA) is looking to hire three worker-owner candidates for full time positions. Deadline to apply is February 11th. Learn more about the position and how to apply here.

The Democracy Fund has several full time job offerings, including: Communications Director. IT Senior Administrator, Executive Assistant to VP & President, Associate Director – Elections Policy, Director of Grants Management, Associate Director – Public Square; as well as a contract position, Project Manager – Voter Study Group. They also have several paid internships available, including: Governance Program Internship, Elections Program Internship, Public Square Internship, as well as, Strategy, Impact and Learning Internship. Learn more about the positions and how to apply here.

Democracy Works is hiring an Administrative Associate in their Brooklyn headquarters and looking to have this person start March 1st. Learn more about the position and how to apply here.

Generation Citizen is looking for a Program Associate for their Teacher-Led model. Deadline to apply is January 22nd but applicants will be considered on a rolling basis until the appropriate candidate is secured. Make sure you move fast on this one if you’re interested. Learn more about the position and how to apply here.

Not in Our Town is hiring for a Community Organizer based in Oakland, CA. Learn more about the position and how to apply here.

Please share with this announcement with your networks and best of luck to all applicants!

Submit Your #CLDE18 Program Proposals by Jan. 29th

For those of you passionate about advancing civic engagement in higher education, make sure you check out the 2018 Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Meeting (CLDE18) coming up June 6, 2018 in Orange County, California. Coordinated by the American Democracy Project (ADP), The Democracy Commitment (TDC), and the NASPA Lead Initiative; it’s sure to be a great networking and learning opportunity. Program proposals are currently being accepted until January 29, 2018 – submit yours ASAP! You can read the announcement below or find the original on ADP’s site here.


#CLDE18: Lend your voice to something bigger than yourself

An unprecedented chapter of America’s political history is upon us and it has never been more critical to nurture engagement with democracy in our students. It is as engaged citizens that we can put the values we proclaim on our campuses into action, and support those with less access, privilege, resources, and even basic rights, who are seeking a path to higher education.

The 2018 Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Meeting (CLDE18), being held June 6-9, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency Orange County, in Anaheim, California, offers an opportunity for student affairs professionals, faculty, community partners, and students, to participate in discourse around the fundamentals of democracy and gain inspiration from our featured speakers to take back to your campus community. #CLDE18 will rejuvenate your passion for activating your students to be the change they want to see in the world.

The American Democracy Project (ADP), The Democracy Commitment (TDC), and the NASPA Lead Initiative are committed to advancing the civic engagement movement in higher education, and invite you to submit a program proposal to this unique and vital professional development event by Monday, January 29, 2018.

We urge you to be a part of something bigger than yourself by sharing your civic learning or democratic engagement theory, success, or best practice—or by joining us as a participant for this year’s convening of change.

Register by May 1, 2018 to get the best rates.

You can read the original version of this at ADP’s site at www.adpaascu.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/clde18-lend-your-voice-to-something-bigger-than-yourself/.

Free NIF Workshop at ALA Midwinter Meeting in Feb.

As part of our partnership with the American Library Association, we have been working with the ALA on their Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change series; an initiative which seeks to train librarians in various dialogue and deliberation approaches. There is an opportunity for academic librarians to attend a free National Issues Forums workshop tailored for academic libraries on Friday, February 9th from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. MT at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver. Qualifications for attending the workshop are in the post below or on the original post here. While participation is free, space is limited – please check it out and share with your academic librarian friends!


Free Workshop for Academic Libraries this February!

We’re reaching out to encourage you to contact your academic library partners about this exciting opportunity for them to receive a free training workshop in the National Issues Forums model at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver.

Academic libraries are invited to attend “LTC: National Issues Forums Workshop for Academic Libraries,” which will be held on Friday, February 9, 2018, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

The one-day pre-conference workshop at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting will highlight the National Issues Forums approach to dialogue and deliberation. Participation in the workshop is free; however, space is limited and registration via this website is required.

NOTE: In order to qualify for the in-person workshop, librarians must view three 90-minute online learning sessions prior to the workshop and must claim a participation badge via Credly.com after each webinar. View the online sessions here and create a Credly account by following these instructions.

Please share this opportunity with your academic librarians and encourage them to both view the free webinars and apply to attend the workshop. Space is still available but it won’t last long!

About Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change

This workshop is offered as part of Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC): Models for Change, an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) and the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD). The initiative seeks to introduce libraries to various dialogue and deliberation approaches, enabling libraries to foster conversation and lead change in their communities. LTC: Models for Change Series 2 highlights dialogue and deliberation models most useful for academic libraries.

LTC: Models for Change is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant RE-40-16-0137-16.

You can find the original version of this announcement on ALA’s LTC site at: www.apply.ala.org/LTCMidwinter.

Upcoming 2018 IAP2 Trainings with TPC

If you are looking for D&D trainings to kick off your year, we encourage you to check out the new calendar of trainings offered by NCDD member organization The Participation Company. TCP offers certification in the International Association for Public Participation‘s model, and dues-paying NCDD members get a discount on registration! We encourage you to to read more about the trainings in the TCP announcement below or learn more here.


The Participation Company’s 2018 Training Events

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

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

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

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

Planning for Effective Public Participation (3-Days) and/or *Techniques for Effective Public Participation (2-Days)

  • Jan. 31-Feb 2 in Boulder, CO:  3-day Planning
  • Mar. 19-23 in Phoenix, AZ: 5-day Both courses
  • Jul. 30-Aug 3 in Minneapolis, MN: 5-day Both courses
  • Sep. 24-28: Chicago, IL: 5-day Both courses

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

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

  • Mar. 26-27 in Salt Lake City, UT
  • Apr. 19-2o in Orange County, CA
  • Apr. 26-27 in Los Angeles County, CA
  • Jun. 28-29 in Denver, CO
  • Jul. 26-27 in Minneapolis, MN
  • Oct. 18-19 in Chicago, IL

Register online for these trainings at www.theparticipationcompany.com/training

We also anticipate additional training coming to the following cities:

Foundations: Chicago, DC area, Orlando
Strategies/Outrage: Las Vegas, San Diego

The Participation Company (TPC) offers discounted rates to NCDD members. 

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

NCDD Board Member on Protecting our Civic Ecosystem

Our NCDD board member, Jacob Hess recently wrote a piece in which he correlates the increasing call to protect our threatened natural ecosystems with the need to also protect our democratic ecosystem. In the article, he shares his experience adapting Living Room Conversations in Utah by collaborating with individuals and organizations already doing civic engagement work, of which developed into a thriving network of civically-engaged folks. We encourage you to read Jacob’s piece below or find the original here.


Preserving and Protecting Our Precious Civic Ecosystem

Lots of attention is going today to physical habitat under siege (and for good reason): without more attention, many of these beautiful areas might go away, or be irreparably damaged. For that reason, many believe that energy invested in this protection and preservation is well spent.

Far less attention, however, goes to the way our civic ecosystem remains under increasing siege. What began as occasional concern for the hostility in the U.S. media and elected leaders, has become widespread trepidation regarding public animosities deepening in every direction, on nearly every issue.

Some believe that without more attention, this precious civic ecosystem could go away or likewise become irreparably damaged, thus prompting similar calls for additional investment to protect and preserve this fragile democratic habitat.

A case study in Utah. Starting in 2014, I had the opportunity to work for Living Room Conversations in a Utah experiment to help cultivate the civic ecosystem there. Rather than plowing up the roots already in place (or riding into town with the “newfangled solutions”), it felt important to build upon and leverage whatever rich habitat already existed.

Thus we began with a local reconnaissance reaching out to 20 different civics organizations to find out what had already been done (it turns out, a lot, as you can see here in a general summary and here in a more recent success in LGBT-religious conservative dialogue). After meeting with a number of leaders in the past work, including John Kesler (Salt Lake Civil Network), Michele Straube (Environmental Dispute Resolution, U of U) and David Derezotes (Peace & Conflict Studies, U of U), I was struck at how underrecognized and little known their efforts were, compared to much louder initiatives that captured the public eye.

Given the lack of recognition and continuing suspicion this kind of bridge-building elicited from many, we have experimented with different ways to connect more people to the possibility of vibrant and productive “disagreement practice”, as defined in the AllSides Dictionary.

Small is big. Perhaps the most obvious way to do so is meeting people where they are – in their own homes and communities. From my own early experiences, I quickly became mesmerized by the almost magical power of small group gatherings to bring people together across divides (see Eating Hummus With the ‘Enemy’: From Aversion to Affection).

We subsequently experimented with different ways to introduce people in Utah to this Living Room Conversation practice, from a local press release with offers of free consultation, to highlights of a filmed conversation, to even going door to door with invitations in my own neighborhood. Our conversations ranged from gun rights and evolution, to women’s rights and same-sex marriage/religious freedom. Everyone who participated came away feeling uplifted and encouraged. Out of all these efforts, two additional lessons became clear: (1) The pervasive busyness of American culture remained the largest barrier to involvement: why should I take away time from other things to do this? (2) As simple as these conversations seem, they elicit some visceral fears in some people of political confrontation or dangerous exposures. That explains another parallel dialogue “gateway” that we attempted.

Easing concerns with a PARTY! Alongside direct invitations to try it in your own home, we also organized larger community events where people could come have some food, laugh and watch a high-quality conversation take place on stage. This was possible due to the critical support of our key partner, Utah Humanities, in two different “seasons” of dialogue events. As you can see in the highlights from our inaugural Village Square event, we intentionally aimed to make the atmosphere light and social.

After repeating this approach in a dialogue on the secular/religious divide in Utah, we got feedback that people wanted more of a chance to explore the issue on their own, rather than just listen to a panel explore it. So in each event since – immigration, policing, climate change, racial bias – we have done a hybrid Village Square / Living Room Conversation model, where we begin with small table conversations over a meal before turning to a panel and then ending with small debriefing conversations.

The success of these efforts over time led to a larger, day-long gathering, that we called the Utah Citizen Summit. Sponsored by nearly 15 prominent Utah organizations, this event brought together local citizens and national speakers to first, learn how and practice dialogue, and then celebrate positive steps being taken. That event expanded our network to include the Salt Lake Public Library system, The Deseret News (the largest newspaper in the state), Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams’ office, the Governor’s Office of Civic & Character Education, the NAACP, and the conservative Sutherland Institute.

Equipping citizen leaders. Even with all this, however, we noticed most people were hesitant and not confident in their own capacity to make any difference. Thanks to a grant from the Bridge Alliance, we’ve started an ongoing series of training for citizens who want to grow in their capacity to lead conversations, using the Essential Partners “Power of Dialogue” trainings as a vehicle.

Each participant comes away from these trainings with a new awareness of the many approaches they might use in their own community.

Building a practice network. One single event or training is not enough, though. As with most any craft, real time and work is needed to hone and develop the practice.For that reason, we have been deliberate about developing a network of dialogue practitioners throughout the state. This includes in-person and zoom meetings, as well as ongoing coordination in how to support each other’s work.

Like those who gather who practice meditation and gather with others for ongoing support and training, we aim to be a community of like-minded folks who support each other in “honing the craft.” Part of this “practice network” approach is helping each other make space and time for the practice, much like a meditation network encourages each other to “keep practicing.”

Why do we make time for this?

Because it’s worth prioritizing. Rather than waiting for national leaders to figure out how to talk across differences, our network of Utah citizens are committed to do whatever we can cultivate and preserve the civic ecosystem in our own communities. Once again, instead of advocating one technique, one organization or one practice as holding the singular capacity to “save” us from our current political atrophy, our overriding focus is on the complex and multiform civic ecosystem needed in order for communities to thrive. Just as, in nature, no single species in an ecosystem can thrive without a degree of interdependence on other forms of life, so too must efforts toward constructive dialogue draw strength from a web of other existing efforts. In this way, we envision Utah becoming a national model of what it takes to fight to protect a robust ecosystem for civic engagement, and in this way, strengthen our democracy.

You can find the original version of Jacob Hess’ article at: www.livingroomconversations.org/preserving-and-protecting-our-precious-civic-ecosystem/.

Civil Conversation Transforms Holiday Experiences

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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