NCDD Member Shares Faith & Dialogue Insights on NPR

In a testament to the critical work of NCDD’s network, we were proud to hear our very own Parisa Parsa – Executive Director of NCDD member org Essential Partners and an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister – interviewed recently on NPR. Parisa was featured on the show Friends Talking Faith with The Three Wise Guys, where she shared about the keys to having good dialogue even in tough conversations. We encourage you to read more about her appearance in the EP blog piece below, find the original version here, or listen to the show here.


Making Difficult Conversations Not So Difficult

There you are – heart rate up, eyes dilated, adrenalin kicking in, jaw tightening. Maybe you’re the celebrity actor waiting for your big moment in your latest action movie. Maybe you’re about to experience your first skydiving jump. Or maybe you’re just standing, looking over the hedge of cubicles lining the company landscape, and beyond that is the curve of the earth.

Most people might see the Arctic Circle and Antarctica as being polar opposite to each other. Some people might see the United States as being on the opposite side of the planet from China. But we know that our planet is a sphere, and ‘opposites’ and ‘sides’ are all relative. We tend to live in fixed perspectives, not yet adjusted and molded as a result of different experiences.

Truth is that we don’t know who other people are until we get to know ‘them’. The other team, other cultures, different beliefs and values sprinkled with our own ignorances, and assumptions are ingredients that can serve up the perfect storm. In its wake there’s fear, anger and resentment. But at the center of a storm there’s is calm – the silent moment during which all sides of a conflict can be considered. Finding that space, in quiet reflection, we find chances to communicate, share stories, and engage in dialogue.

Speaking to this point, our very own Executive Director Parisa Parsa was recently featured on Central Florida’s NPR interview show, Friends Talking Faith with The Three Wise Guys with Imam Muhammad Musri (Senior Imam of the Islamic Society of Central Florida), Rabbi Steven Engel, and the Rev. Bryan Fulwider. Rev. Parsa talked about about faith, difficult conversations, and the key to dialogue that can bring positive results.

The May 2, 2017 episode titled Faith & Society: Difficult Conversations with the Rev. Parisa Parsa can be found here: www.twgradio.com/podcast/s10e18-rev-parsa-tough-talks-5217.

There just might be celebrity life, skydiving, or a trip to Antarctica in your future after all. Either way, step out of your sphere, and conquer fear.

You can find the original version of this Essential Partners blog piece at www.whatisessential.org/blog/making-difficult-conversations-not-so-difficult.

Addressing the Problem of Separation through Dialogue

In these divided times, we wanted to share an encouraging piece that NCDD member organization Public Agenda recently posted on their blog. It summarizes insights gained from focus groups PA convened which demonstrated something our field knows – when people from different perspectives engage in dialogue, they realize they aren’t so different or separate after all. We encourage you to read PA’s piece below or find the original version here.


What Discussing Polarizing Topics Like Inequality Exposes

After a divisive election season we continue to see stark evidence of polarization and conflict in our society. But also – and this is less frequently reported on – we see a desire to bridge gaps and find common ground.

Polarization is about more than simply holding differing or even opposing views. These days, it is also about how people with a certain view are, by choice or circumstance, increasingly isolated from those who think differently. The interaction of diverse views is valuable, but the trend of increasing separation of and decreasing interaction between those who hold opposing views is troubling and potentially consequential. The less we interact with those who think differently, the more hardened our views tend to become, and the more apt we are to vilify one another and rely on stereotypes, which in turn further divide us.

Such political polarization is on the rise. While this is much more extreme among political leaders, there are also troubling signs that it is becoming more true among the public. According to a 2014 Pew survey of over 10,000 Americans, Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in the past two decades. And, among those who hold “consistently liberal” or “consistently conservative” views, the majority of each group report that most of their close friends hold their same views.

However, it is important to not gloss over the rest of the story. According to the same study:

These sentiments are not shared by all – or even most – Americans. The majority do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation. And more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.

And while those with more “consistently held” ideological views are more likely than others to say it is important to them to live in a place where most people share their political views, still only 28% of Americans overall say this is important to them. Growing numbers of Americans also say racial diversity in the United States is important to them: in another Pew survey from this month, 64% of Americans said an increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in the U.S. makes the country a better place to live, an increase from 56% who said so in August 2016.

When we convened groups of ideologically, racially, and socioeconomically diverse Americans in six large and small urban centers across the country to discuss the economy, inequality, and opportunity, people were clearly grateful for the exposure to different viewpoints and people.

Sitting in on each of these groups, I knew that the participants were a diverse yet accurate cross-section of their surrounding community. I knew there were Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; wealthy and unemployed people; and people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds sitting together at the table. Some of these differences were evident to our participants, others less so.

This meant that participants had many valuable moments of listening to, and learning from, people with very different backgrounds and experiences from their own. And it meant that when consensus emerged within the group, despite the diversity of views, it could be revelatory and important.

One example of learning from others’ experiences involved conversations about race and prejudice. In our Cincinnati group, there was an exchange about whether racial prejudice that limited people’s job prospects was more problematic than other forms of prejudice, such as gender or age discrimination. While there was no clear resolution to the discussion, white respondents were clearly deeply affected by the following story told by a black woman:

Female: My first name is [considered typically black], and I got out of my master’s program and I looked for a job for months, and months, and months…. I redid my résumé and instead of putting my full name, I just put my first initial, then my last name. Voilà.

Moderator: How do you feel about that?

Female: It’s sad. It’s sad. I personally named my daughter a white-sounding name so that in the future, when she gets old enough to get a job, she can get a job because her name sounds white.

Male: Wow.

Female: I considered that when I named her. It’s sad.

Cincinnati-area resident; in her 30s; black; upper-income; Democrat

In our follow-up interviews with respondents several days after the group, a number of people said this story stayed with them, including two white males. To me, it seemed that if they had not been brought together for this research focus group, they might not have ever had such exposure to an experience like the one this woman shared.

A good example of the importance of finding consensus also came from a participant in our Cincinnati group, who was surprised to find he had common ground with another participant who was different from him on numerous counts:

Now, you know, she’s a young African American female and I’m a more senior white male and she’s working and I’m retired, and we still came out thinking the same way. I think that’s kinda cool. That doesn’t mean her and I were right or wrong it just means we thought the same on that. I tend to be a conservative person and this made me think other ways, you know, whether I agreed or not but it made me come up with other ways to look at things. And I liked that.

Cincinnati-area resident; in his 70s; white; upper-income; Republican

Diversity of viewpoints and experience is not the problem we are faced with, but rather the separation we have between those who hold those different views and have had those different experiences, and the lack of ways to bring people of differing views together to gain perspective from one another. You can read more about these focus groups and the conversations between participants in the research report, The Fix We’re In.

You can find the original version of this Public Agenda blog piece at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/what-discussing-polarizing-topics-like-inequality-exposes.

Key Lessons on Community-Police Relations from APV2017

Last week, NCDD member orgs the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute hosted the 2017 “A Public Voice” forum that convened D&D practitioners with congressionl staff to talk about how to improve community-police relations. For those of you who couldn’t tune in to the livestream of the event, we wanted to share this insightful write up of the event’s highlights from our friends at Everyday Democracy below. We encourage you to read their piece below or find the original here. And if you’d like to watch the whole 90-minute recording of APV 2017, you can find links to it here.


A Public Voice 2017: Safety & Justice

EvDem LogoHighly-publicized police shootings, especially of unarmed black boys and men, have highlighted a national crisis of public safety and justice. These devastations lead us to ask how we can reduce crime as well as police violence, and how we can balance security and liberty. The National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) recently published a Safety & Justice guide and is moderating forums throughout the country to help people grapple with these issues and work towards solutions.

“A Public Voice,” the Kettering Foundation and NIFI’s “annual exploration of public thinking on key issues,” held on May 9 in Washington, D.C., provided the opportunity for Kettering to share with policymakers their insights from the 150 Safety & Justice forums held so far. Senior Associate Leslie King represented Everyday Democracy.

In his opening address, David Mathews, President of the Kettering Foundation, declared “There is no one in this city, no matter how important they are, that can answer questions of judgement – we have to do that.” He characterized the event as part of the work to bridge divides between the people and the government of America.

At tabletop discussions, NIFI moderators, deliberative practitioners, Congressional staffers and federal officials discussed how people are thinking and talking about issues of safety and justice. Those watching the livestream of the event had the chance to listen in to one of those discussions. Read on for insights from the conversation.

A policing perspective

“We in policing have to demystify policing,” one participant remarked, and went on to describe a 70 year-old woman who only just learned about the concept of community policing after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown. Part of demystifying the profession, according to him, requires acknowledging when someone has done wrong – otherwise, he said, the public assumes what police are thinking.

Talking about Safety & Justice leads to conversations about, and capacity to address, other issues

Leslie King pointed out that in dialogues about community-police relations, participants invariably end up talking about related issues such as employment, housing, and education. Having dialogues and organizing around community-police relations, she added, ends up building community capacity to deal with other issues. Community members realize they have agency and that government officials can’t simply dictate solutions.

People want to address root causes

In an online Safety & Justice forum, a representative from Kettering shared that the most-agreed-upon point was the need to invest more in education in communities with high rates of crime. He saw this as evidence of people’s desire to address root causes of violence and crime.

Gail Kitch, who serves on the NIFI’s board, reported on common themes from the initial Safety & Justice forums. These included:

  • People feel we urgently need to increase understanding and mutual respect between police and people of color. Popular suggestions for achieving this included police making connections with youth, and police going through cultural and racial bias trainings.
  • Participants took responsibility for the issue. Many identified community building and improving relationships within the community as tools to reduce crime.
  • Many expressed the belief that it is unsustainable for police to deal with mental illness and drug-related issues.
  • People expressed a desire to address root problems such as unemployment, poverty, and inequality.

In closing, Mathews described Kettering’s work as “awakening the capacities of people to deliberate with one another.” He left participants and viewers with a challenge he called daunting, but not hopeless: “to build on what grows” – a quote he credited to J. Herman Blake. Every person has the capacity for good judgement, he said — the job of people in the deliberative field, then, must be to nurture that ability.

You can find the original version of this Everyday Democracy blog post at www.everyday-democracy.org/news/public-voice-2017-safety-justice.

Navigating a Polarized Landscape with Our Nonpartisan Credentials Intact

In the post-2016 election landscape where talk of “threats to democracy” abounds, many organizations focused on deliberative democracy and public engagement, including NCDD, have had to relearn not only how to balance participating in public conversation about issues that didn’t used to seem partisan before, but how to do so while maintaining our nonpartisan stances and not violating our organizational or personal values. It’s not easy, which is why we appreciated NCDD member org Healthy Democracy‘s recent piece that offers solid advice for how to evaluate and maintain our nonpartisan nature in this fraught new environment. We highly recommend you read their piece below or find the original here.


Nonpartisan Hygiene: 6 Tips to Stay Squeaky Clean

We find ourselves in a political moment where significant sectors of the country warn of existential threats to our democracy. This began before the 2016 election, but it has since reached a fever pitch. Signals such as the Economist Intelligence Unit’s recent “downgrade” of the US from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” have added fuel to the fire. At Healthy Democracy, we do not take a position about whether these threats are real or not, though we spend a great deal of time trying to improve our democracy.

Nonpartisan “Positions”

As a nonpartisan organization, we cannot take a position that would turn off members of any political or demographic group. This is because we rely on our reputation as unbiased process experts when working with citizens from across the political spectrum. Additionally, we don’t take positions on issues that might come before a Citizens Initiative Review panel, including the proposals of our peers in the elections reform space.

In some ways, this makes it easy for us to choose the issues on which we take a public position (pretty much nothing), but when “threats to our democracy” come up, and considering our name is Healthy Democracy, what do we do? Do we retweet a statement praising a free press? Or is publicly expressing support for a free press now viewed as a partisan act?

We can make these decisions ad hoc, but we risk inconsistency, or worse: letting our personal perspectives and biases sway our decisions. We realized that Healthy Democracy needed to do some thinking. Some nonpartisan hygiene, if you will, to get our internal activities and the external communication of our work squarely in our nonpartisan ethos.

As a result of our analysis, we humbly share some “nonpartisan hygiene” tips that may come in handy to other organizations in this space, including bipartisan political organizations, nonpartisan think tanks, newsrooms, and professional organizations. Government scientists and policy thinkers may find this helpful, as well. This is written with nonpartisan nonprofits in mind, but please take from it anything that is helpful to your organization’s needs.

What we lose when we’re not scrupulously nonpartisan

There is an idea that floats around nonpartisan and social good organizations that we have “nonpartisan capital” that builds up when an organization is nonpartisan for a long time. The theory goes that we can spend this capital in little bits when it’s worth it, for example when a politician does something particularly egregious, or when a policy is implemented that violates our ethics. I speculate that this thinking is dangerous and flawed. Being nonpartisan is an all-or-nothing proposition when it comes to public perception. This is part of why nonpartisan spaces are precious and scarce.

Additionally, that perceived “nonpartisan capital” should not be mistaken for influence or power. Even if we accept the idea of nonpartisan capital, we cannot reliably mete it out, spending only enough to “make a difference” without trashing our reputation. In fact, we risk throwing away our most precious resource if we view it, incorrectly, as something can be given away in metered chunks.

6 Tips to Stay Squeaky Clean and Effective

1. Reassess your internal and external values. Most nonprofits have a set of values articulated in their strategic plan. These are typically things like transparency, service, and inclusion. Often, these are internal values about how the organization runs itself, or they are a mix of internal and external values. Take transparency, for instance. This is a laudable internal value, and many nonpartisan nonprofits list it among their core values. But if a politician or public figure does something that violates that value, should the organization publicly condemn it? Probably only if transparency is a core external value, such as the fictional nonpartisan group, Americans for Transparent Government.

Do the same exercise with service and inclusion and you can see how this can get tricky if you don’t have a clear sense of your organization’s internal versus external values. Spend some time clarifying internal and external values in a board meeting, retreat, staff meeting, or chat. If you are starting from scratch naming external values, start with your mission and think about what you need to do to keep credibility in your space. Your communications team should be well-apprised of these values, since they are on the front lines of selecting the media with which the organization affiliates and interacts.

2. Shore up your nonpartisan bonafides among your staff, board, and partners. The simplest way to get nonpartisan credibility is to have actual political diversity on your staff, even if you don’t publicly identify your political affiliations. Not only will this increase your organization’s credibility, it will make you better at your work.

If you have trouble attracting staff from one side of political spectrum, examine that! If you can’t easily hire to bring more political diversity onto your staff, consider affiliating with a thoughtful person who brings a different political orientation and is willing to consult now and again. If you have a question about whether a particular activity or position would be viewed as overtly partisan, get their take on it. This can reveal blind spots and save your bacon. And there is really no reason not to have a board that reflects political – and other – diversity.

3. Play out scenarios, both commonplace and extreme. In your retreat, staff meeting, or chat, start with your external values and play out some scenarios that would challenge them. Consider everything from the commonplace (“Should we retweet this?”) to the extreme (“What if we were asked to do our program on a policy that offends our values?”). In our version of this conversation, we asked ourselves whether we would agree to deliver a Citizens’ Initiative Review on a fictional ballot measure. The fictional measure would require members of a particular religious faith to register with the state government. This kind of policy deeply offends our personal values, and would be an “extreme” scenario.

We talked through the pitfalls: would our participation lend legitimacy to an unconscionable policy? Would we run the risk of becoming tainted by affiliating ourselves with the public conversation about the measure? We decided, somewhat to our surprise, that we would do it; we would deliver a citizen review of the measure. But only if we were sure it could be done in a fair and unbiased way, as with every measure we review. The legitimacy question is moot; the measure is already on the fictional ballot. Our participation would simply allow the voters of that state to shine a light on the measure, and that’s a good thing. You really have to believe in your programs in a case like this. Thankfully, we do.

4. Invite external evaluations of partisanship and effectiveness. Be transparent about the results, and make changes in response to critical feedback. Take advantage of university researchers who will fund themselves to research your work! Think of this like ripping off a band-aid. If you get spotless evaluations the first time, great, but you probably won’t. Be transparent about your efforts to improve non-partisanship and you’ll reap greater effectiveness and rewards.

We’re proud that every Citizens’ Initiative Review has been evaluated by independent university researchers, and we owe a great deal our credibility as a deliverer of fair and unbiased processes to those evaluation results. This is worth its weight in gold. If you can’t find a university researcher, at least partner occasionally with an external auditor of your programs to shore up your internal evaluation methods and get a reality check on how well you’re doing.

5. Be uncompromising in your affiliations. Hold partners to a high standard of nonpartisanship and rigor. If your work calls for you to affiliate with partisan groups, seek a balance. Don’t work with anyone who doesn’t evaluate their work, or who misrepresents themselves as nonpartisan when they’re not scrupulously so.

6. Hold the nonpartisan space. Nonpartisan spaces are scarce and valuable. There are many actors in the advocacy space. Let them do their jobs, and let us do ours.

You can find the original version of this Healthy Democracy blog piece at www.healthydemocracy.org/blog/nonpartisan.

Learn from Iceland’s Deliberative Constitutional Change

We want to encourage our NCDD network, especially those in California, to consider registering to attend an intriguing event this June 3 at UC Berkeley called A Congress on Iceland’s Democracy. This international gathering aims to explore new approaches to democracy inspired by the deliberative process that Iceland used to create its new constitution through a mock legislative process, and we’re sure many NCDDers would take a great deal of inspiration from participating.
You can learn more about the gathering in the invitation letter below sent to the NCDD network from our friends at Wilma’s Wish Productions, whose Blueberry Soup documentary on Iceland’s constitutional transformation we previously posted about on the blog, or learn more at www.law.berkeley.edu/iceland.


A Congress on Iceland’s Democracy

We are writing to extend an invitation to an event we believe would interest you. On June 3rd, 2017, we are hosting a citizen’s gathering at the University of California, Berkeley.

This event will translate participatory discussion into concrete action proposals by organizing as a mock legislative body to develop, debate, and decide on proposals for moving forward with Iceland’s constitutional change process. The event’s structure takes inspiration from the 2010 Icelandic National Assembly and Robert’s Rules of Order.

This powerful summit will revolve around discussions on how to address the current political and social climate in the United States, using Iceland’s constitutional reform process as an example. Iceland’s new constitution was written in perhaps the most democratic way possible and we want to model this methodology and learn how it can be applied in communities across the United States and the world. Our goal is to create a non-partisan environment that will foster new approaches to democracy and a shared vocabulary.

Many prominent political figures from Iceland will be in attendance as well as many of the authors of the new constitution. Furthermore, academics, activists, startups, and journalists from all over the United States and Europe are also coming to participate in this “Icelandic National Assembly” style event.

This gathering of citizens has piqued the interest of people from all around the globe – a mass exodus of Icelanders and Europeans are flying in just to sit at these tables because they know real change is possible through dialogic methodologies. We hope this historic gathering will shape the way Americans think about democracy with a focus on the impact that dialogue can have on the democratic process on a local as well as global scale.

This conference aims to achieve exactly what many of you have dedicated your life to – reimagining democracy and the way we converse with one another about tough issues. Your passion for dialogue and democracy in addition to your excellent facilitation skills makes me believe you would be a valuable asset to this event and an excellent voice for others to engage with.

We want a broad range of perspectives present at this event, so we invite you to register to attend this citizens gathering and participate in history as it is being made.

You can learn more about the Congress on Iceland’s Democracy at www.law.berkeley.edu/iceland.

Tune into “A Public Voice” Safety & Justice Event Tomorrow!

We want to remind the NCDD network – especially those of you focused on community-police dialogue – to tune in live to the 2017 “A Public Voice” event tomorrow, May 9th from 1:30 -3pm Eastern via Facebook Live.

APV2017 Facebook Event

“A Public Voice” is the annual event that the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forums Institute – both NCDD member orgs – host every year to bring public input on policy straight to Washington DC. This year’s APV forum will be a working meeting with Congressional staff about the results of the numerous forums on safety and community-police relationships that NIFI, many NCDD members, and other D&D organizations hosted this year using NIFI’s Safety & Justice issue guide.

They will be streaming the live event tomorrow on Facebook Live, and we encourage our network to join the broadcast, not just to watch, but to send in your questions, comments, and other feedback that will be incorporated directly into the event!

Don’t miss this important discussion! You can sign up for a reminder and find the link to the live feed on May 9th in the APV 2017 Facebook event or learn more at www.apublicvoice.org.

Share Power through Public Participation… Or Else

As NCDD reflects on D&D in “flat” organizations during today’s Confab Call, we found a special appreciation for this insightful blog piece from NCDD member org The Participation Company. In it, TPC leader Debra Duerr writes on how conventional public participation still assumes a top-down model where the regular people address public officials who are really listening. She reflects on how the assumptions of that model are no longer working as power is ever-more concentrated out of the reach of everyday citizens and what might happen if we can’t facilitate, or even force, power sharing through real participation. We encourage you to read her provocative piece below or find the original here.


Revolutionary Conflict Resolution Styles

These are challenging times for us public participation practitioners. Our life’s work is conflict management and dispute resolution, plus adjusting to the various conflict resolution styles. To support this, we’ve built some nice, neat boxes that contain tools for working with people in most of the ‘real world’ situations encountered over the last 40 years. But, boy, the real world has changed. It seems there are no more boxes and no more rules.

The framework developed by the International Association for Public Participation to encompass the range of ways people can impact decisions is our ‘Spectrum’ (IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum). Says the organization, “IAP2’s Spectrum of Public Participation was designed to assist with the selection of the level of participation that defines the public’s role in any public participation process. The Spectrum shows that differing levels of participation are legitimate and depend on the goals, time frames, resources, and levels of concern in the decision to be made.”

Here’s the big But: This whole paradigm, including the ‘empower’ construct, implies that there’s an identifiable decision maker listening to what the public has to say. It’s an entirely top-down model. There are reasons why the top-down approach has worked for a long time, given the way worldwide democracy has developed over the past several decades. And there are reasons why it isn’t working anymore; the challenge is trying to figure out what those reasons are, and how to address them.

Everyone has conflicts that are eventually resolved through a variety of conflict resolution styles. A little history is helping me think about this. The bookends, for me, are the events and political climate of the early 1970s (when public involvement did not exist as a discipline) and the events and political climate of January 2017. So many parallels…

At the beginning of this phase, I wrote my thesis on Structural Constraints on Citizen Participation in Planning. It all had to do with Power: who has it, who doesn’t, how can power-sharing be forced, and what’s the role of professional facilitators in this process. In the intervening years, public participation in government (and even private industry) planning and decision processes has been recognized as not only legitimate, but crucial to implementing anything. To accommodate this, we’ve built structures in which citizens expect to have a voice, know how to make that voice heard, and expect that somebody’s listening – this is the ‘promise to the public’ that IAP2 honors. It’s been a long, slow process of building trust.

Breaking down that trust hasn’t taken nearly as long. It feels like it’s happened overnight – Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, Brexit, a mind-blowing presidential election, backlash demonstrations in the streets. It’s clear that social movements have a life of their own, and they are certainly not initiated or approved by decision makers.

I believe the common theme, then as now, is still Power. The more power is concentrated within the walls of the citadel, the more citizens will be pounding on the gates. Listen to us! Let us in! We want a piece of this! Off with their heads!

So, what happens when large segments of the population feel that nobody’s listening? When conflict resolution styles and processes are not being followed or addressed? Revolution. I suggest that we put this thought on the table for dialogue and deliberation (as we P2 people are fond of promoting). If we can help create a way to channel the astounding energy and commitment of grassroots movements into the halls of power in a mutually constructive way, we’ll be heroes. We did it once; I think we can do it again … but it’s like eating an elephant.

Here’s some inspiration:

  • from St. Francis of Assisi – “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
  • from the seminal anthropologist of the 20th Century, Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

You can find the original version of this blog post from The Participation Company at www.theparticipationcompany.com/2017/03/revolutionary-conflict-resolution-styles.

NCDDer Gives TEDx Talk on #BridgingOurDivides

Did you know that NCDD member Mark Gerzon did his own TED Talk recently?

We were proud to see Mark – the Founder and President of NCDD member org, the Mediators Foundation – speak at TEDxVail this past January about the need for our country to deepen the work of #BridgingOurDivides between the partisan left and right blocs. In his talk, he challenges us to take inspiration from the integration of the left and right parts of our own physiology as we consider the importance of going beyond partisanship.

We think Mark’s selection for this prestigious opportunity speaks to the power of the sorts of ideas that drive the work of NCDD. We encourage you to join us in congratulating Mark on the accomplishment, and check out his 11 minute talk below.

NCDD Members Win Big in Bridge Alliance Grant Competition

In case you missed it, we wanted to highlight the fact the a total of nine different NCDD member organizations were awarded grants as part of first round of the Bridge Alliance‘s Collective Impact competition. We think having so many NCDD members win grants in a competition aimed at helping transpartisan groups “to better collaborate on ways to fix political processes on the local, state, and national levels” is a huge testament to the powerful work that our network does. We invite you to join us in congratulating Bring it to the TableDavenport Institute, Essential Partners, Healthy Democracy, Institute for Local GovernmentLiving Room Conversations, National Institute for Civil DiscoursePublic Agenda, Village Square, and all of the other winners!
You can learn more in the Bridge Alliance’s announcement below (we’ve marked the NCDD member orgs with an asterisk) or find the original here.


The Bridge Alliance Collective Impact $500,000 Grant First-Round Projects, March 2017

Recognizing that organizations cannot effectively bridge the broad political divide alone, the Bridge Alliance is awarding up to $1 million in Collective Impact grants in 2017 to enable our member organizations to better collaborate on ways to fix political processes on the local, state and national levels. We are pleased to announce today the awarding of more than $525,000 in inaugural grants, to be shared by two dozen Bridge Alliance member organizations.

These joint projects will help members implement and test innovative approaches in our Alliance’s three core areas: expanding civic engagement and participation; improving governance; and reforming campaign and election processes. The programs are designed to generate tools, ideas and best practices for all Bridge Alliance members to use and to multiply the impact of each group’s work.

Additional grants will be awarded later this year, financed in partnership with Invest American Fund and others.

GOVERNANCE 

  • Improve the workings of state legislatures nationwide bybringingtogether legislators from across the country to study how to talk with others with opposing views and how to reach policy decisions without or with minimum acrimony.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: National Institute for Civil Discourse*; State Legislative Leaders Foundation; National Foundation of Women Legislators.  Grant amount: $50,000 in two phases.

  • Make local government meetings and decision making more effective by distributing a toolkit to make public meetings more productive and guide how people inside and outside of local government perceive and communicate with each other.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Public Agenda*; Cities of Service; Institute of Local Government*. Grant amount: $45,000

CIVIC PARTICIPATION & ENGAGEMENT

  • Help people and groups find opposing forces who are willing to talk and stimulate dialogue between those of differing viewpoints by creating an online “matchmaking site” to help divergent Bridge Association members and others find each other for open conversations on difficult issues.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: AllSides, Living Room Conversations*, Digital Citizen. Grant amount: $65,000

  • Find out if voters can make better-informed decisions on initiatives and referenda, by expanding and testing new Citizen Initiative Review Panels’ voter information guides in a California demonstration project.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Public Agenda*, Davenport Institute*, Healthy Democracy*. Grant amount: $60,000

  • Enable open conversation between leaders and groups with diverging views, with a test project in Utah to train civil discourse facilitators who will lead and teach others how to find common ground for discussion.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Essential Partners*, Living Room Conversations*, Village Square*. Grant amount: $45,000

  • Improve government decision making and civic participation by better informing people of government procedures, successes and roadblocks, by creating, testing and distributing a new series of radio, TV and webcasts.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: AllSides, Living Room Conversations*, Bring it to the Table*, Coffee Party. Grant amount: $38,000

  • >Harness the power of social media to showcase positive acts of governing instead of just the negative, through research, tests and the participation of social media experts and companies

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Civil Politics, Living Room Conversations*, Village Square*. Grant amount: $25,000

  • Create a new model for Americans of different backgrounds and beliefs to come together in face-to-face conversations, with social media tools and guidelines to allow all Bridge Member groups, other organizations, and individuals to organize powerful “circles” and moderated dinners for cross-party dialogue and civil debate.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: 92Y, Village Square*. Grant amount: $90,000 in two phases

CAMPAIGNS AND ELECTIONS

  • Educate voters where new election processes are in place or under consideration, such as open primaries and ranked choice voting.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Fair Vote, Open Primaries, Reconsider Media, Independent Voter Project. Grant amount: $35,000

  • Encourage and enable more people to run for public office, with social and other media outreach to potential candidates and the public at large, to foster a more representative, responsive, and functional government.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Centrist Project, Independent Voting.org, Represent.Us. Grant amount: $60,000

You can find the original version of this Bridge Alliance announcement at http://www.bridgealliance.us/collective_impact1.

Phoenix Students Spend $26K in District-Wide PB Process

We are proud to share that the Participatory Budgeting Project – an NCDD member org – recently completed the first-ever school district-wide participatory budgeting in Phoenix, AZ, and it was a huge success. The process empowered over 3,500 students to deliberate and vote on how to spend $26,000 of district money, and the project’s success is already being looked to as a model for more school PB processes in the future. It’s a great win for teaching D&D practices to more young people! We encourage you to read more about how it went in the PBP blog update below or find the original here.


What Happens When Students Lead PB?

“Let’s rock and roll!” shouted Christopher Oglesby, Assistant Principal at Carl Hayden Community High School, to a team huddle of 30 spirited students. The group dispersed in all directions and prepared to welcome over 1,500 student voters to the gym.

This team of student leaders – along with school district staff, nonprofit partners, and volunteers – met just before the Phoenix sunrise to set up thousands of ballots and stickers, 40 voting booths, dozens of blue and gold posters, eight voter check-in stations, three display boards, and two official Maricopa County vote machines.

During this workshop, students, teachers, and staff from five public high schools in the Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD) learned about PB, and began planning how students in each school would directly decide on how to spend part of the school district’s budget. Six months ago, in September of 2016, we kicked off  the school year in Phoenix with an introductory workshop on participatory budgeting (PB) – a democratic process in which local people directly decide how to spend part of a public budget.

PUHSD was the first school district in the U.S. to do school PB with district-wide funds. Since their introduction to PB in September, five schools have worked through six months of trainings, outreach efforts, idea collection events, and meetings with district staff to transform ideas about ways to improve their schools into project proposals. These student-led efforts culminated with an entire week of voting – five voting days that each began before the sun came up.

Making history in Phoenix made for deep learning about school PB

As the school district begins implementing winning projects at each school, we’re reflecting on the outcomes we’ve already seen beyond projects themselves. During Vote Week Dr. Chad Gestson, PUHSD Superintendent, said,

“If there are any schools or districts across the country that are thinking about doing school PB, in our opinion it’s a no-brainer.”

Impacts from this district-wide initiative underscore Dr. Gestson’s point, and highlight the potential for PB to create similar outcomes for students, teachers, school district staff, and beyond. When schools or school districts use PB to empower their students to decide how to spend the dollars that impact their daily lives, everyone wins.

Students

PB helped students build friendships across grade levels. Many students talked about the ways being involved in PB increased their own self-confidence and ability to talk with fellow students about how to improve their school.

Teachers

Teachers who stepped up to advise PB at each school developed stronger relationships with students outside their regular classes, and enjoyed seeing students learn and lead with great creativity and compassion throughout the PB process.

School District Staff

The PUHSD Executive Director of Logistics was so excited to see so much student interest in school maintenance and facilities that he’s planning to incorporate student input and participation into school improvement initiatives beyond the winning PB projects – including repainting some of the schools and renovating cafeterias.

Beyond PUHSD

City staff and community organizers from the City of Phoenix and the City of Tempe, and from as far away as Fresno, CA, and Toronto, Ontario attended a vote walkthrough and panel discussion with students, teachers, and staff involved in PB. These staff members and community organizers were excited by the work happening in the school district, and several are already planning for ways to bring PB to their communities!

And the winning projects are…

Drumroll, please!

During Vote Week, 3,854 students in five public high schools – an average of over 80% turnout rate – directly decided how to spend $26,000 in school district funds. Students voted to fund music programs, filtered water stations, shade structures, and a study lounge.


Teamwork made this dream work

In any community, a successful PB process is built on strong collaboration.

PUHSD PB took teamwork to the next level, and established partnerships across Phoenix that have already inspired other school districts and cities to reimagine ways to work together.

During Vote Week, the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office generously partnered with PUHSD; they provided voting booths, official vote machines and ballots, and staff support for each voting day. In doing so, County Recorder Adrian Fontes and his office created a voting experience that embodied real democracy just as an election does – and in some ways did so even better.

Recorder Fontes has confidence that “there are other elected officials around the country just like [him] who would be more than happy to come on out and help support these sorts of elections with staff and equipment.”

“[PB] is part of education that’s not testable” he said, “isn’t this one of the most important aspects of our American democracy?”

Beyond support from an elected official, local partners from across Phoenix came together with commitment and creativity to support this student-driven initiative. This successful Vote Week was due in great part to the time, talent, and remarkable volunteers from the Center for the Future of Arizona, One Arizona, Mi Familia Vota, and Arizona State University.

Telemundo, NPR’s KJZZ, and Arizona PBS each covered Vote Week, and produced compelling news reports linked below:

Cronkite News AZ PBS’s coverage of Phoenix Union High School District PB process goes from 16:00 – 17:45 in this video.
More coverage of the first PB process with school district funds from 91.5 KJZZ.

What’s next for Phoenix?

We’ll wrap up this pilot year in PUHSD with a PB Celebration and Participatory Evaluation Workshop in May – where students, teachers, and staff from all five schools will come together to celebrate their work, reflect on what was challenging and what can be improved, and share ideas and plans for next year.

What’s next for you?

At PBP, we’re excited to see the movement for PB in schools continue to spread across Phoenix, and beyond! Our guide to PB in schools is supporting the growth of PB in schools around the world – download it here to take action.

How can we work together to bring PB to your community?

If you’re interested in more in-depth support from PBP to launch PB in your school, contact Ashley Brennan at ashley@participatorybudgeting.org.

You can find the original version of this Participatory Budgeting Project piece at www.participatorybudgeting.org/what-happens-when-students-lead-pb.