Kick off NWOC at Listen First in Charlottesville April 20-22

The National Week of Conversation (NWOC) is coming up this month from April 20-28th! It will be an unprecedented week of conversations throughout the Nation designed to bring folks from across divides to build relationships and provide opportunities to work more effectively together in addressing the divisions in this country. NCDD is a proud organizing partner for this effort, joined by over 50 partner organizations, all working to help Americans have better conversations with each other.

One of the first major events to kick off this exciting week is Listen First in Charlottesville (LFC), which will be from Friday, April 20th – Sunday, April 22nd. This event will convene several heavy hitters from the NCDD network, including our own Sandy Heierbacher -We strongly encourage folks to attend! Sandy will be moderating the final panel at the Saturday session, Bridging Divides Across America, with NCDD member David Leaverton of Undivided Nation, as well as, David Blankenhorn of Better Angels, Malka Fenyvesi of On Being’s Civil Conversations Project, and Joseph Pinion of Conservative Color Coalition.

LFC will also feature many influential people in the D&D field, including NCDDers Pearce Godwin of Listen First Project (a major convener of this event!), Parisa Parsa of Essential Partners, Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer of National Institute for Civil Discourse, Debilyn Molineaux of Bridge Alliance and Living Room Conversation Project, Liz Joyner of Village Square, John Gable of Allsides, John Steiner of Mediators Foundation, and Erin Leaverton of Undivided Nation. Check out the incredible line-up hereWe are thrilled to see so many exciting and engaging leaders in the field at one event, we hope you can make it!

Below is the agenda for the weekend with events beginning on Friday evening and concluding on Sunday. For those from the NCDD network that will be attending, Sandy would love to connect with you, so let her know that you will be there by emailing her sandy[at]ncdd[dot]org. To learn more about other exciting events happening during the National Week of Conversation, to start up your own event, or to join as a partner – click here to learn more!


Listen First in Charlottesville

Presented by Bridge Alliance Education Fund
April 20-28, 2018

  • To support the progress of healing and reconciliation in Charlottesville.
  • To inspire America toward mending the frayed fabric of society by bridging divides with conversations that prioritize understanding the other.

Friday, April 20th, 6pm, various locations
Village Square & Connect Cville Challenge invite you to host or attend diverse Charlottesville Dinners. Register at ConnectCville.org or contact liz@villagesquare.us.

Friday, April 20th, 8:30pm, The Haven
Free concert by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Saturday, April 21st, 1-5:30pm, Sprint Pavilion
Listen First Conversations which prioritize understanding the other among panels of local and national influencers as well as personal conversations amongst all attendees that both enhance understanding and spark ideas for action, followed by inspiring keynotes. Conversation topics will include:

  • Charlottesville’s Historical Divisions and Fresh Wounds
  • Charlottesville Working to Heal and Progress
  • A Nation Divided
  • Bridging Divides Across America

Sunday, April 22nd, various times and locations
Programming by Listen First Coalition partners Living Room Conversations, Montpelier, Common Ground Committee, Better Angels, Converge UVA, United Citizen Power, AllSides, and Charlottesville’s Playback Theater. Details at the Saturday event.

National Week of Conversation
This event is part of the first National Week of Conversation (April 20-28) in which Americans come together coast to coast and #ListenFirst to understand the other in conversation. At a moment in history in which we’re increasingly isolating ourselves from our fellow Americans, especially those with whom we disagree, NWOC is an opportunity to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time. Learn more at NationalWeekofConversation.org and share your experience using #ListenFirst & #NWOC!

You can find the original version of this announcement on Listen First Project’s site at www.listenfirstproject.org/listen-first-in-charlottesville-event/.

The Importance of Civics Education in our Country

While NCDD member org, Everyday Democracy, shared this article on the importance of civics education a while back, we wanted to lift it up because it is still so relevant. The article talks about how education in this country has shifted from preparing students to be more civically engaged, to training students for the workforce. While the latter is important, our democracy suffers when the people are not trained on how to be civic agents. The article stresses that in order for our democracy to thrive and for our communities to be stronger, people needed to have civics a part of modern education. You can read the article below or find the original on Everyday Democracy’s site here.


The Decline of Civic Education and the Effect on our Democracy

EvDem LogoWhen I was five years old, my parents dropped me off at Radnor Elementary School for my first day of Kindergarten. This was the first day of many years of public education for me.

My high school, like so many in our country, steers students towards science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Personally, I was lucky enough to have great teachers who encouraged me to look beyond this narrow focus and find subjects that interested me, but my story is the exception rather than the rule.

In the past few decades, the focus of our public education system has turned sharply toward STEM as part of a broader reconceptualization of the role of public education. Whereas education was once seen as a public good designed to prepare students to participate in our democratic system, it is now seen as a primarily individual pursuit intended to help people develop employable skills and prepare to contribute to the workforce.

A little bit of history on the public education system

To better understand this monumental shift, it is important to understand where our public education system comes from. The history of public education in the U.S. is inseparable from the history of our nation, and I believe that their futures are intertwined as well.

Before the American Revolution, school was primarily for the lower and middle classes. Wealthy families hired tutors for their children, so only parents who could not afford tutors sent their children to school. A few colonies had experimented with state-supported education in the 17th century, but these early public education systems had mostly died out by the middle of the 18th century.

Under British rule, colonists had no reason to care whether or not their neighbors were sufficiently educated. There were plenty of ways for people with very little education to support their families and average colonists had very little political power.

The Revolution changed that: we fought a war for the idea of republican government, and now we needed citizens who could sustain it. In a letter discussing the soon-to-be-held Constitutional Convention, John Adams wrote that “the Whole People must take upon themselves the education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expenses of it.” This belief was widely shared amongst the founding fathers, who recognized that a people transitioning from subjects to citizens would need to be educated in order to serve the many functions required of them in the new republic.

After the Revolution, American citizens would need to decide who would represent them, know when their representatives had violated their trust, serve on juries, and possibly decide on Constitutional Amendments. Education had to reflect this reality by teaching history, rhetoric, and government in addition to literacy and arithmetic.

While some states headed the call of the founding fathers and created state-supported public education systems, most states needed more persuading. This persuading came in the form of widespread demographic changes.

From 1820 to 1860, the percentage of Americans living in cities nearly tripled. Caring for the poor residents of these cities was expensive, and the fact that many of them were Irish and German immigrants bred resentment. To cities looking to reduce poverty, assimilate immigrants into American culture, and keep people out of trouble, institutionalized education systems made a lot of sense. In 1918, Mississippi became the last state to embrace compulsory education; and no state has abolished its public school system since.

Civic education

The rise of public education was motivated by the need to prepare students to participate in American life as citizens, workers, and community members. While the early public education system took all three dimensions of their mandate very seriously, the rhetoric surrounding public education today has a very different focus.

You have probably heard some variation of the argument that American students are falling behind the rest of the world and we need to invest in science and math education so that our economy can stay competitive. You may have seen college majors ranked by post-graduation earning potential, or read about how educational attainment is a “signaling device” to employers, or heard some of the arguments for and against the “Common Core Standards.” These opinions are well-intentioned, but they all focus on a single educational outcome: career success.

To be clear, I believe that education ought to prepare students to participate in the workforce. I recognize that the increased economic opportunity that comes with educational attainment is a primary motivator for many students to attend school, and I am not suggesting that career success is not an important focus of our public education system. Instead, my argument is that our obsession with the economics of education comes at a substantial cost in terms of civic health, which in turn introduces new risks to our economic stability.

According to a 2015 study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, only 31% of Americans can name the three branches of government (and 32% cannot name a single branch). In 2011, when Newsweek administered the United States Citizenship Test to over 1000 American citizens, 38% of Americans failed. This widespread civic illiteracy is not just shameful, it is dangerous.

How can we expect people to hold their representatives accountable when 61% don’t know which party controls the House and 77% can’t name either of their state’s senators? How can we expect Americans to exercise their rights when over one third can’t name any of the five rights protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, the press, protest, and petition)?

Our democratic system depends on citizens to take an active interest in the affairs of our government, develop informed opinions about how our government should act, and chose representatives who share their beliefs about the direction our country should take. When legislators know that their constituents do not know or care what they are doing, it gives them an incentive to cater to the lobbyists and special interest groups who are scrutinizing the legislators’ actions. From 1964 to 2012, the percentage of Americans who believed that government is “pretty much run by a few big interests” increased from 29% to 79%, while the percentage of Americans who believed that it was run “for the benefit of the people” decreased from 64% to 19%.

Citizens of a Democracy do not have the luxury of refusing to care about their government. We the People are ultimately responsible for what our representatives do on our behalf using our collective power. Willful ignorance does not absolve us of this responsibility.

Civics education teaches students how to fulfill this essential responsibility, which is why the public pays for it. If education were all about training people for jobs, we would expect employers to pay for the basics and individual students to pay to train for more advanced jobs. Instead, we recognize that citizens need a certain amount of education to carry on our democratic traditions and that it is in the public’s interest to ensure the future stability of our country. Part of that stability is preparing people to get jobs and contribute back to society financially, but the main part is ensuring that people understand the role they play in our system and are able to play that role.

Strong civic health means stronger communities

There is also a growing body of research that suggests that communities with strong civic health have stronger economies, were more resilient during the financial crisis, and have higher rates of employment. When people come together with their neighbors to identify, discuss, and solve community problems, they build relationships and develop skills that ultimately help all of them economically as well as personally.

Nobody will make us be citizens. If we do not want to understand how government works or what it is doing, we can give our political power to someone else. There are plenty of countries who have vested that power in a monarch, party, oligarchy, aristocracy, technocracy, emperor, etc. Subjects in these countries have no need to trouble themselves with public affairs, and we could be like them; but, as Plato once wrote, “the heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”

In the United States, we the people have decided to take responsibility for governing, and we temporarily delegate some of that responsibility to our elected representatives and the unelected officers they select. We benefit tremendously from living in a democratic republic, but these benefits are not without cost.

For the last several decades, the focus of our education system as shifted from civics to job training, and we have all paid a steep cost. Special interest and lobbying groups have unprecedented power over our political system. A lack of knowledge about public affairs has made citizens more susceptible to political advertising, which has given the wealthy tremendous power to shape politics through campaign contributions and ad spending.  So few Americans trust the political system that nearly half of 2016 primary votes went to candidates promising anti-establishment revolutions.

If we really care about preserving our democracy for future generations, we will stop treating civics education as secondary to math and science instruction and put it back at the core of our school curricula.

You can find the original version of this article on Everyday Democracy’s site at www.everyday-democracy.org/news/decline-civic-education-and-effect-our-democracy.

Attend the UNCG Annual Conference in Portland this June

The University Network for Collaborative Governance is holding their annual conference in Portland, Oregon from June 3rd – 5th. Hosted by NCDD member org Kitchen Table Democracy, along with National Policy Consensus Center at Portland State University, this conference will be an excellent opportunity for academic professionals working on collaborative governance to learn from each other and deepen the impact of collaborative governance work on a systemic level. The conference will focus on the integration and innovation of collaborative governance research, practice, and teaching, through group discussions and “Lightning Talks” [5 min or less presentations]. Proposals for “Lightning Talks” are due by April 16th, so make sure you submit yours ASAP! We encourage you to read the announcement below or find the original on Kitchen Table Democracy’s site here.


University Network for Collaborative Governance 2018 Conference

June 3-5, 2018 – Portland, OR

Hosted by the National Policy Consensus Center, Portland State University (UNCG members Oregon Consensus, Oregon’s Kitchen Table, Oregon Solutions)

About the Conference

What does the tapestry for collaborative governance research, practice, and teaching look like for the next 10 years?

The UNCG annual conference is an opportunity for academic professionals – including faculty, staff, and students – from across the county who are engaged in the work of collaborative governance to come together to learn from each other.  This year’s conference will build off recent strategic planning activities and will challenge participants to ask how we as a network can strategically evolve to more systemically address societal challenges, engage the next generation of university-based collaborative governance professionals, and contribute to deepening the understanding of the impact and results of collaborative processes.

At this year’s conference, we are particularly interested in two topic areas:

  • Integration of Research, Practice, and Teaching: How are we – or how could we be – connecting the dots and integrating the three topic areas UNCG focuses on: research, practice, and teaching.  What are some instances where we have been weaving together all three through one approach, program, or project, where research, teaching, and practice all come together? What are the challenges to being able to incorporate all three together? And, how could we be doing that better? What are the opportunities for us – either as a Network or in our individual/center work – to bring research, practice, and teaching to inform one another and advance each forward?
  • Innovations in Research, Practice, or Teaching: Where have we been particularly innovative in research, practice and teaching, or in the development of supportive public policies, around collaborative governance? As we look forward to another 10 years of UNCG, how are our member centers, individuals, and partners venturing out on innovative paths? What ideas, perspectives, or approaches are emerging, or should emerge, in collaborative governance?

This year’s conference format will include a mix of “Lightning Talks” and group discussions focused on the above two topics.  Attendees will also spend time in focused breakouts/work sessions to advance priority actions identified in the 2018 UNCG Strategic Plan that will advance collaborative governance research, practice, and teaching.

Call for Proposals

We invite submissions from UNCG members, university-based faculty, staff, and students, and members from other networks working in the field of collaborative governance to present “Lightning Talks.”  Lightning Talks are short (5 minutes or less) presentations that respond to either one of the two topic areas, Integration or Innovation (see above).  Presentations may be accompanied by a slideshow, but much like Pecha Kucha or Ignite Talks, slides are limited to 15 and will be advanced for you! As part of UNCG efforts to explore different communication methods and approaches, we’re also challenging presenters to use slides with a limit of 5 words (per slide) and images, graphics, art, or video. The intention is that the slides will act as prompts to help you in your presentation and to “illustrate” what you’re talking about rather than act as text for you/the audience to read and focus on.

Click here for: Lightning Talks Template

Helpful tips are here and here.

You can practice with a timer! There’s an app for that.

Submit your proposal here by April 16.

You can find the original version of this on Kitchen Table Democracy’s site at www.kitchentable.org/annual-conference.

Webinars and Updates from the Institute for Local Gov’t

Our friends at the Institute for Local Government, an NCDD member org, recently shared with us some updates which we wanted to lift up to the NCDD network! This coming Friday, March 31st from 10am – 11am Pacific, ILG will be hosting a webinar on how local governments can have a more accurate address list for the upcoming 2020 Census through community-based canvassing. You can also watch this short video on the importance of the 2020 Census and the need for partnerships with culturally competent community organizations. ILG has another webinar on Wednesday, April 12th from 11am – 12p Pacific about best practices for holding more effective public meetings. You can read more in the post below or find the original versions on ILG’s site here.


120 Day Deadline: How Local Governments Can Conduct Community-Based Address Canvassing to Ensure Low-Income People Are Counted

Friday, March 30, 2018
10:00 am – 11:00 am PDT

The deadline for cities and counties to submit your LUCA list is looming.  Is your local government’s address list complete? Luca stands for Local Update on Censuses Addresses Operations. Cities that registered for LUCA back in December to participate in updating local address lists that will help with accurate census population count in 2020.  Every household missing means thousands of dollars per year for local governments.  Join us Friday, March 30th from 10am to 11am (Pacific) for this free webinar to learn tips and tools for how you can use community-based address canvassing to avoid an undercount of low-income residents.  ILG’s Sarah Rubin will host and our close colleague Zulma Maciel from the City of San Jose will share her experience along with tips for success and lessons learned.

What you’ll learn:

  • Case Study on how the City of San Jose leveraged nonprofits and volunteers to conduct community-based address canvassing
  • What software and training resources available for community-based address canvassing
  • Sample roll-out schedule
  • Checklist of how to identify unconventional housing

Register Now: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4151792579898674690

For more information, you can visit: https://www.census.gov/about/policies/quality/corrections/luca.html or the California state webpage.

2020 Census

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and ILG’s 2016-17 Board Chair Henry Gardner talk about the coming 2020 US Census, the importance of a complete count and critical need for partnerships with culturally competent local community-based organizations. Read more about the Census here.

Get Your Public Meetings Back on Track! Tips and Tricks for Effective Meetings

Webinar April 12, 2018 – 11:00am – 12:00pm

Description

Tired of public meetings that are disruptive, extend into the long hours of the night or are dominated by the same few people? Learn more about how to get your public meetings functioning effectively and efficiently again. This webinar will highlight best practices for holding effective public meetings, from how to successfully chair a meeting to how to enhance public participation.

Speakers

  • Supervisor Joe Simitian, County of Santa Clara
  • Tom Jex, Attorney of City of Wildomar and Town of Yucca Valley  I  Partner at Burke, Williams and Sorensen

Please register here

You can find the original version of this announcement from ILG at www.ca-ilg.org/webinar/get-your-public-meetings-back-track-tips-and-tricks-effective-meetings.

Opportunity to Host a Jefferson Dinner!

We are excited to announce NCDD is working with NCDD member organization The Village Square to support dialogues across the country using the format of the Jefferson Dinner, which invites people with differences of opinion to discuss an important topic over dinner.  These dinners are compelling experiences that The Village Square wants you to experience firsthand, and so we are letting you all know about an exciting opportunity!

Because they are particularly interested in making this surprisingly powerful tool available to NCDD members, they are offering stipends to at least 15 moderators to organize and facilitate a Jefferson Dinner. And the best part is that you can pick the topic for your dinner from any current political or civic topic around which there is substantial disagreement in the public square.

Some history about this tradition: Jefferson hosted his dinners at a time when prospects weren’t good that our new republic would hold together. Early legislators were described as coming to work “in the spirit of avowed misunderstanding, without the smallest wish to agree.” Sound familiar? Jefferson hosted dinners that were profoundly humanizing for these angry opponents. One dinner – with guests Alexander Hamilton and James Madison – resulted in the Dinner Table Bargain of 1790, widely credited with saving the American experiment.

In the same way that Jefferson mastered the art of these dinners as a way to make things happen that mattered to him, The Village Square would like you to experience how you can do the same.  Your dinner is about what’s in your heart  – whether that’s starting a civic project, running for office, contemplating solutions to a problem that deeply concerns you or imagining the future. By intentionally gathering people with diverse opinions – something that doesn’t happen enough these days – you’re harnessing incredible power toward whatever matters to you.

All that’s really required: 8-12 diverse guests, 1 dinner table and a welcoming environment. Could be your home, a private room at a restaurant, or a picnic table at a park. If you’re feeling inspired, put a modern twist on it & make it a brunch. Live a little!

The Village Square also hosts group Jefferson Dinners (a number of conversations in the same room, as part of a public event) and is delighted to support you in offering this format as well.

Find the Village Square’s Jefferson Dinner project online: www.jeffersondinner.org.  Read a feature piece about a dinner here.

This is a great opportunity for members to use this model to connect people who normally wouldn’t share a meal together and experience its potential to form the basis of unique alliances. NCDD would love to see a whole bunch of our members get involved with Dinners across the country. It’s another great way we can work to strengthen community connections and help people bridge divides, at this particularly divisive time in our nation.

If you are interested and would like to connect with organizers to learn more about how the dinner format can be used to achieve your goals, please fill out this quick form here and they will contact you directly!

For more information about The Village Square please visit https://tlh.villagesquare.us/. The Jefferson Dinner project is funded by a grant from the Bridge Alliance and in partnership with the 92Y’s Ben Franklin Circles project (all NCDD Members!).

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. ”  — Thomas Jefferson

The Critical Need for Collective Sensemaking

We recently found this piece we’d like to share from NCDD member, Beth Tener of New Directions Collaborative, and how processes shift the way that change is navigated. She talks about how the essence of understanding and how the way we make sense of things, affects the change we can have.  You can read the article below or the original version of it on the New Directions Collaborative site here.


Navigating Change With Collective Sensemaking

In the news lately, I frequently hear commentators talking about how a particular event or action is unprecedented, such as three hurricanes so close together or the actions this Administration is taking to deregulate quickly. These times call for us to practice ‘collective sensemaking’ to more clearly see what is unfolding and avoid being caught in denial or wishful thinking. We may unconsciously use the same playbook that has worked before…when the game and territory have changed. This is time for key questions such as, What is changing? What is needed to respond now? What is now possible?

This sensitivity to a changing world is a key skill for ensuring longevity and resilience. Arie de Geus, who worked on strategic planning at Shell, got curious and researched corporations with long life spans. To his surprise, he found companies in Japan and Sweden that had existed for 700 years. In these companies, he found common patterns, manifested in unique ways in their context. As he wrote in Harvard Business Review, “living companies have a personality that allows them to evolve harmoniously. They know who they are, understand how they fit into the world, value new ideas and new people, and husband their money in a way that allows them to govern their future.” The four common characteristics he saw across many long-lived companies were:

  • Sensitivity to the world around them
  • Conservatism in financing
  • Awareness of their identity
  • Tolerance of new ideas.

In these times of rapid change with complex dynamics to navigate, the need to stay sensitive and responsive to a changing world is critical. I recently co-taught on Applied Systems Leadership for Complex Problem-Solving in the MBA program at Marlboro College. As foundational context, we shared the concept of “collective sensemaking.” In an article entitled Sensemaking, by Debora Ancona, she writes that the term was created by Karl Weick, referring “to how we structure the unknown so as to be able to act in it. Sensemaking involves coming up with a plausible understanding—a map—of a shifting world; testing this map with others through data collection, action, and conversation; and then refining, or abandoning, the map depending on how credible it is.”

To do sensemaking effectively, it is crucial to synthesize multiple perspectives to \discern what is changing and what is needed next. No one person has the full picture and we all have blind spots or limiting beliefs. Cross-pollinating the view points, ideas, experiences, and wisdom of many people helps us to develop a clearer understanding of what is changing and see a wider range of potential responses. Leadership today calls for being receptive with the capacity to listen, seek out multiple stories and perspectives, and together find the signal amidst the noise.

Some of the methods we use with groups for collective sensemaking include:

  • World Café – Small group conversations, sharing stories, finding patterns, cross-pollinating, listening for themes – all these aspects of World Café help a group hear many perspectives and connect and distill ideas across them.
  • 1-2-4-All – A similar exercise where people come up with ideas by themselves first, then share in conversation with a partner, then join a group of four.
  • Open Space – After some initial cross-pollinating conversations, it is helpful to invite participants to suggest topics or questions to delve into further. This allows space for the inquiry to follow what is emerging. People interested in topics can find each other and take the inquiry further.
  • Circle Process – With roots that stretch far back in human history and are kept alive in indigenous traditions, listening as each person speaks, sitting in a circle, offers a powerful way to listen for emerging insights and share learning with a group.

The outputs of sensemaking then need to translate into conversations about action in response to what is learned. This quote from Joseph Jaworski and Otto Scharmer speaks to the need for this sensemaking and adaptability, though I suggest taking it to the level of groups and communities as well:

“What distinguishes great leaders from average leaders is their ability to perceive the nature of the game and the rules by which it is played, as they are playing it.”

You can find the original version of this article on the New Directions Collaborative site at www.ndcollaborative.com/sensemaking/.

Creating Community Through Ben Franklin Circles

Back at the end of Summer, we announced NCDD had teamed with Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), an NCDD member org, and we have some exciting updates to share! BFC is a collaborative project with New York’s 92nd Street Y, Citizen University, and the Hoover Institution. We are starting to hear the stories from these Circles and we will continue to uplift them on the NCDD blog over the coming weeks. Learn more about the grassroots development of these self-improvement talking circles, inspired by one of our founding fathers, and the ways in which these experiences have helped to build relationships and community. We encourage you to read the post below or find the original on BFC’s site here.


Why I Started a Benjamin Franklin Circle

Even just a cursory look at headlines these days brings forth an environment of “us vs them” and foretells a path toward greater divisions.

While our society has had a history of deep divisions, this somehow seems different. What seems different is that the people who make this country work – the teachers, the social workers, the police, the tradesmen, the small business owners, the big business employees, are now pulled into a colossal, epic struggle among themselves. We are letting go of the final threads holding us together – the threads that remain after television first brought our attention indoors instead of out; after social media took us from face-to-face contact even with our closest friends and families; after the hectic life style took away our free time to build community. We are now building walls all over. You said this, so I reject you. You believe this, so I will un-friend you.

“Where there is no human connection, there is no compassion. Without compassion, then community, commitment, loving-kindness, human understanding, and peace all shrivel. Individuals become isolated, the isolated turn cruel, and the tragic hovers in the forms of domestic and civil violence.” – Susan Vreeland, Art, Peace, Compassion

But, I’m an optimistic at heart who believes that people, deep down, are good and want to bring joy to others in order to create happiness for themselves. And so, this brings us to a small but significant action you can take. Benjamin Franklin Circles is a model that revives a model of community gathering created by one of our founding fathers (And yes, our founding fathers were not perfect. Some had qualities that are incomprehensible or even reprehensible to us now, but play along with me here.) These circles aimed to gather people of diverse backgrounds for self-improvement and community benefit. Is this not what we need more of today?

I decided to start my own Benjamin Franklin Circle to build more community connections as a means to strengthen our society and build its resilience against the onslaught of divisive forces. In the best practice of starting with yourself and close to home, I decided to organize this Circle among my neighbors, of whom, after 8 years of living here, I knew very few. My personal objectives were two: to meet my neighbors, and create a stronger community spirit.

We have no community listserv. The last neighborhood directory was published in 2010. In short, we all live our lives inside our homes, smile at each other if we’re walking our pets, but we don’t ask a favor of them or even know their names, nevermind invite anyone over. In thinking about the Circles, my first fear was that if I invited neighbors, no one would come. While that slowed me down for a few days, I realized that there was no other way to reach my objective than to invite people I do not know. And what’s the worst that can happen? People I don’t know will think that my initiative was futile. And what’s the best that could happen? I meet new friends and feel more a part of a community. From that perspective, my decision was strengthened.

With no email addresses or phone numbers, I decided to create flyers and distribute them. I printed out 150 flyers and placed them on door knobs. In the process of walking around the community, I met many people for the first time. I learned stories of previous community networks that no longer exist. I was encouraged by everyone for the needed initiative. One neighbor walked with me and shared with me her knowledge of the community as she was one of the first residents. Without a single response to my invitation, the first objective was being accomplished!

The first responses came to me shortly after I returned from the distribution with the following messages:

“I just wanted to let you know that I would love to be a part of your Benjamin Franklin Circles! I think it’s great that you’re starting something like this; as we both know the world could use a coalition of thinkers for the better.”

“It was great to meet you today! I’ve read your flyer, and would love to participate in the circle.”

Within 10 days, the deadline I had communicated, I had 10 people on the roster. We held our first meeting in November.

So, if you are wondering what you can do or if you are wondering if small things can make a difference, I share with you one of my favorite quotes by 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.”

More connection, not less, is what is needed to help all of us bring forth our better selves. If we all make an effort, make some new friends and strengthen the bonds with those around us, that can only bring more good to the world.

Nanette Alvey spent the majority of her career in West Africa, managing education, health and training programs. She was recently Director of Leadership and Organizational Development at EnCompass LLC in Maryland. She continues to consult with international development programs and she’s working to strengthen US non-profits addressing economic inequities and racism in the Washington DC area. She runs a Ben Franklin Circle in Gaithersburg, MD.

For more information, please visit: benfranklincircles.org. You can follow BFC on FacebookInstagram, and on Twitter at @BFCircles as well as the hashtag #BenFranklinCircles.

You can find the resource on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at www.benfranklincircles.org/ben-franklin-circle-hosts/why-i-started-a-benjamin-franklin-circle.

Register to Join Harwood Institute’s Spring Virtual Lab

For those working in community, NCDD member org – the Harwood Institute, has an exciting training just around the corner. Their Spring Virtual Public Innovator Lab extends their signature 2.5-day training over an 8-week interactive online course which teaches participants how to deeper engage in your community. NCDD members receive $50 off the training and to the receive the discount code, email keiva[at]ncdd[dot]org.  Register to join this educational series ASAP, which starts April 5th. You can learn more about the training in the post below and find even more details on Harwood’s site here.


Virtual Public Innovator Labs

Our training platform is built for you.

The Virtual Lab is a robust multi-week online course offered several times each year. Attend sessions from the comfort of your own computer, participate in structured discussions, and practice your new skills with other amazing people. Through our online course, you and/or your colleagues will learn our time-tested approach to creating deeper and more meaningful impact in your community.

Spring Virtual Lab: April 5 – May 24, 2018
Registration Open

Fall Virtual Lab: September 27 – November 1, 2018
Registration Open

WHO SHOULD ATTEND
The Lab is for people who are leading or supporting work to help address community problems. We call these individuals public innovators. They can come from nonprofits, faith organizations, businesses, government, academia and other areas. Their organizations can be any size from any size community.

  • We are looking for people who run programs or initiatives, are part of the senior staff, or lead organizations.
  • If you already use our approach but have new staff, this is a great, cost-effective way for them to get trained.

WHAT WILL I LEARN?

  • How to engage and understand your community the right way
  • How to use what you learn from the community to gain new allies
  • How to improve your programs and strategies so they work for your community – not just for the experts
  • How to get work moving with the right partners in the community when it seems like everyone is stuck and there’s talk but no action
  • How to be a more intentional community leader that exercises genuine authority, authenticity and accountability

WHAT WILL I GET?

  • An action plan that you can start on as soon as you get home
  • A toolkit with all the materials you can copy and use with your colleagues
  • A library of videos on topics we cover in the Lab
  • Regular updates from the Institute through our newsletter

THE FORMAT

  • The Virtual Lab is structured as an 8-week online course.
  • This program will take place every Thursday from 1:30-3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time for 8 weeks.
  • The online sessions are highly interactive. You’re expected to participate in discussions.
  • In between sessions, you will participate in online discussions and have about 30 minutes of “homework” to do so you can apply what you are learning as you are learning it.

You can learn more about the Spring Virtual Lab on Harwood Institute’s site at www.theharwoodinstitute.org/virtual-labs.

Apply for Technology and Democracy Fellowship by 4/15

As NCDD reflects on the ways in which technology can support face to face D&D in today’s Tech Tuesday, we wanted to share this fellowship opportunity which supports the technological work that enhances democratic governance. [By the way, you can still join the free Tech Tuesday here!] Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, an NCDD member, recently announced they are offering an unpaid, non-resident Technology and Democracy Fellowship; to create space for participants to build relationships, develop their work or research, and have a unique opportunity to dig into the bigger questions behind their practice. The fellowship deadline is April 15th, so apply now if you are interested! Learn more about the details of the fellowship in the post below or find the original here.


Technology and Democracy Fellowship

Applications are now open for 2018 Fellowships. Applications can be found here

The Technology and Democracy Fellowship is part of an Ash Center initiative to explore technology’s role in improving democratic governance—with a focus on connecting to practice and on helping Harvard Kennedy School students develop crucial technology skills.

Over the course of the fellowship, participants design, develop, or refine a substantive project that is salient to their field. This project could entail research, writing, and developing strategy relating to each fellow’s work, or could take the form of a new platform, service, app, or idea.

Technology and Democracy Fellows form a virtual community through which they share ideas and resources, pose questions, offer feedback, and help one another with solving challenges in their projects or other work. The Kennedy School serves as a unique space for these technologists to take a step back from the day-to-day minutia working in the world of practice to discuss, research, and write about the bigger questions their work addresses.

Fellows also help students, staff, faculty, and other members of the HKS community to develop their understanding of major concepts and to build skills related to technology and governance. This knowledge sharing is primarily delivered through a hands-on, skill-building workshop that each fellow designs and leads once during the year on a topic of interest to the fellow (see past workshops here).  Fellows can also develop personal relationships with faculty, staff, and fellows at HKS in the form of consultation and mentoring, event/speaking opportunities, and more.

The Technology and Democracy Fellowship is an unpaid, non-resident fellowship, so Fellows are not expected to reside or work locally. We invite Technology and Democracy Fellows to Cambridge at least twice during the course of the fellowship year (at the Ash Center’s expense) to give workshops, present their work, and meet with members of the HKS community.

Eligibility
The Fellowship welcomes mid-career practitioners with an interest in leveraging technology to improve democratic governance. Each cohort of fellows includes technologists with an interest or background in democratic politics and governance or public and civic leaders with technology expertise.

How to Apply
Applications are now open. Please apply here.  The deadline for completed applications to be submitted is April 15, 2018. For questions, please contact Teresa Acuña at Teresa_Acuna@hks.harvard.edu.

Current Technology and Democracy Fellows
The 2017-18 Technology and Democracy Fellows are below.

Fatima Alam, Researcher on Trust and Safety at Google

Tiffani Ashley Bell, Founder and Executive Director of The Human Utility

Jeff Maher, Software Engineer for CivicActions

Marina Martin, Public Interest Technology Fellow at the New America Foundation

Aaron Ogle, Director of Product for the OpenGov Foundation

Mjumbe Poe, Co-founder and CTO of FixList

You can find the original version of this article on the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation’s site at www.ash.harvard.edu/technology-and-democracy-fellowship.

MetroQuest Webinar on LRTP Engagement Strategy, 3/20

Next week, NCDD member org MetroQuest will be hosting the webinar, A Winning Public Involvement Approach for LRTPs; co-sponsored by NCDD, IAP2, and the American Planning Association (APA). The webinar is on Tuesday, March 20th and will feature the work of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments about best practices for developing an exciting public engagement strategy on long-range transportation planning. You can read the announcement below or find the original on MetroQuest’s site here.


MetroQuest Webinar: A Winning Public Involvement Approach for LRTPs

A winning recipe for public involvement – how to build a LRTP the public will support!

Wednesday, February 28th
11 am Pacific | 12 pm Mountain | 1 pm Central | 2 pm Eastern (1 hour)
Educational Credit Available (CM APA AICP)
Complimentary (FREE)

REGISTER HERE

How can you captivate the public to collect input for your long-range transportation plan? Make it visual. Gamify it. Map it. Learn how on March 20th!

Join Trevor Layton, Christina Ignasiak, and Trevor Brydon from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments for an insider view of their brilliant approach to public outreach. Learn how they identified local issues with map markers, educated citizens with visual preference surveys, and uncovered local priorities with online rankings. They engaged over 4,000 residents! The result? A 2045 Regional Transportation Plan that reflects local values.

Register for this complimentary 1-hour live webinar to learn how to …

  • Reach beyond public meetings to engage 1000s online
  • Pinpoint key issues with online map markers
  • Educate citizens in 5 minutes with visual preferences
  • Substantiate top priorities with online rankings
  • Impress agency officials with definitive, actionable data
  • Seating is limited – save your spot today!

You can find the original version of this announcement on MetroQuest’s site at http://go.metroquest.com/LRTPs-with-SEMCOG.html