Home for the Holidays: Dialogue Across Divides Among Family and Friends

Living Room Conversations released the guide, Home for the Holidays: Dialogue Across Divides Among Family and Friends, which we found Fall 2017 (original publish date unknown). The guide give excellent pointers on how to hold living room conversations with family members taking into consideration all the challenges that family can bring. You can read the guide below, find a downloadable PDF here or the original on Living Room Conversation’s site here.

From the guide…

This year we’ve been hearing from all sorts of people that they want to use Living Room Conversations skills to help heal family relationships​. People have experienced loss of or harm to treasured relationships because of politics. And now with the holidays coming up they are considering how to navigate. Does love supersede politics? For most people it does. But there is still confusion and hurt to manage. How do we do this? How can we listen to each other and hold the tension of our differences?

People have reported going home and having better conversations with relatives and friends they disagree with after having Living Room Conversations. There are skills that we get to practice in Living Room Conversations that are easy to take home. ​Some have invited relatives to join them in Living Room Conversations. Like with any Living Room Conversation you only invite people you believe will be able and willing to abide by the conversation agreements and follow the structure. People have a natural intuition about what friends and family to invite. We all know family members that aren’t good at taking turns being curious or listening with respect. We also tend to know when family is good at it, or might be, with gentle reminders of the conversation agreements

For years we’ve told people that family is one situation where we are not fully confident that Living Room Conversations will work. Why? Because family is known for breaking host and guest social norms. Because family knows each other’s triggers and because family relations often require more of us. Emotional stakes tend to be higher, conversations are colored by history and it can feel easier to take the proverbial gloves off and fight dirty, unconstrained by the politeness we give others. But in most instances, we can love our family, even when we don’t like what they believe!

We are thrilled to have more and more people doing the Relationships First and other Living Room Conversations in order to hone their relationship skills and thinking. Some people come away with a new appreciation for the power of listening or new curiosity about why people they love think the way they do or new insights about the power of a asking questions without​ ​judgement​. There are very few quick fixes in the world of relationships. Building trust and understanding takes time. This is slow and satisfying work.

INTRODUCTION
It’s no secret we sometimes disagree with families and friends. What seems secret is how to handle it when we do! At Living Room Conversations, we specialize in structuring challenging conversations so they are safe and enjoyable using our Conversation Agreements and Conversation Guides. Wouldn’t it be great if we could talk to family and friends as respectfully as people in Living Room Conversations talk to strangers? We realized it could be useful to share our Conversation Agreements more broadly for the holidays. They are good to keep in mind for kinder dinner-table conversations. True, others may not be following the Conversation Agreements but sometimes good practices can be contagious and you can have the satisfaction of feeling better about your own part in the conversation.

CONVERSATION​ ​AGREEMENTS
These are the Living Room Conversation Agreements:

  • Be curious and open to learning​. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking. Enjoy hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration.
  • Show respect and suspend judgment. ​Human beings tend to judge one another; do your best not to. Setting judgments aside opens you up to learning from others and makes them feel respected and appreciated.
  • Find common ground and note differences. ​Look for common ground you can agree on and take an interest in the differing beliefs and opinions of others.
  • Be authentic and welcome that from others. ​Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal experience. Be considerate of others who are doing the same.
  • Be purposeful and to the point. ​Notice if what you are conveying is or is not pertinent to the topic at hand.
  • Own and guide the conversation. ​Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and that of the conversation. Be proactive in getting yourself and others back on track if needed.

THE​ ​BASICS
Listening is powerful. It doesn’t mean you agree. Just giving someone your full attention is a valuable gift. People rarely change their beliefs in a conversation; but people often expand understanding through conversation. Focus on learning and sharing rather than debating or convincing. To do so you can:

  • Ask thoughtful questions, inspired by whatever honest curiosity you feel
  • Try to understand, not convince or persuade
  • Share personal stories and experiences, not data points
  • Notice if there are areas of agreement.
  • Assume good intentions and extend the benefit of the doubt
  • Thoughtfully end the conversation when you are triggered or tired
  • Share appreciation for having the conversation

CORE​ ​SKILLS

  • Generous listening. Listen deeply, without an intention to respond, refute, or defend. Just listen.
  • Assume good intent. Give the person the benefit of the doubt.
  • Genuine curiosity. Show curiosity by asking questions and learning more about the person’s life experiences that have shaped their perspective.
  • Respectful engagement. Showing respect and kindness can diffuse a great deal of tension and it’s often contagious.

POTENTIAL​ ​PITFALLS

  • Insults or name-calling. Using unflattering names or making derogatory remarks about people that the other person cares about (including political leaders) are fighting words.
  • Overgeneralizing. Beware of using words like “you always” and “you never.” They are seldom true, and these words tend to feel attacking.
  • Leading questions. Steer clear of asking questions designed to “trap” the person or lead them to a pre-determined answer you want to hear.
  • Talking more than listening. It is rare to make progress on understanding a different perspective while doing the majority of the talking.
  • Facts, figures, and data-points. Few things shut down a good conversation faster than cold, hard, facts…and alternative facts! Focus on concerns and experiences rather than data.

Additional​ ​Skills​ ​to​ ​Build​ ​Connection

  • Set the stage. Establish your interest in an enjoyable, productive conversation rather than a debate or argument.
  • Listen for values and desired outcomes. Most of us have core values that overlap (health, safety, prosperity). Identifying these can help strengthen the relationship.
  • Verify and acknowledge feelings. Ask about, and seek to understand what the other person is feeling about the topic. They may have very personal experiences that shape their perspective. Be aware of these feelings and acknowledge them.
  • Use humor, if possible. Be willing to laugh at yourself when and where appropriate. Humor can lighten the mood and make the conversation enjoyable.
  • First-person language. Own your feelings and express them as “I felt ______(feeling) when you ______ (describe specific behavior and when it occurred). For example, “I felt frustrated when you said I was unrealistic this morning.”
  • Explore and reflect rather than disagree directly. For example, starting sentences with “I am wondering….” can be very productive if it is sincere.
  • Find common ground. Look for and acknowledge areas of agreement.
  • Use engaging language. See how often you can replace “but” with “and”
  • Ask open-ended questions. This allows others to think out loud and may offer a better path for understanding their perspective.
  • Keep a light tone. When judgement creeps in, your tone will give you away! If this happens, own it, apologize and ask another question. FIRST​ ​AID Families know where all the buttons are. What happens if you get triggered? Avoid responding when you know you are triggered and feel yourself being defensive and/or needing to be right. Sometimes, letting go of the conversation is the best course of action. A break for a short walk or new activity or change of subject can help restore equanimity. Try the following to change the direction of a conversation and/or mend a conversation that has turned destructive:
  • Let’s change the topic. Tell me, how is your garden (or other hobby)?
  • This is a heated conversation. Our relationship is more important to me.
  • I feel bad when we argue. Let’s stop for now.
  • I’m sorry we argued. I care about you.
  • Our relationship will always be more important to me than our differences.

OTHER​ ​CONSIDERATIONS
When we stand in self-righteous anger, i.e. “how can you believe THAT?” we find ourselves separated. Some people — including family members — would prefer to be right than to be connected.

Sometimes we see family as a reflection of ourselves. We may feel an obligation to make them see “the error of their ways.” And we may want to be clear that we are not flawed in that way, too. It can be much harder to avoid judging and remain curious with family–even when we know this is the most effective way for us to connect with them.

With family, not arguing and not pushing back can feel like a betrayal of our own beliefs. It can feel like selling out just to keep peace at the dinner table. But listening with genuine curiosity is not selling out or taking the easy road. There is deep value in taking a more respectful and curious approach. When we connect in this way mutual listening is far more possible. And remember: again and again we hear from Living Room Conversation Guide users who have friends and family with very different views that love​ ​comes​ ​first​. Let’s let it!

Some family and friends may not be ready for a thoughtful conversation and that is perfectly ok. At Living Room Conversation we choose conversation partners based upon their ability — and commitment – to abide by the conversation agreements and enjoy an exploratory conversation. At a holiday gathering you may be the only person following conversation agreements. Choosing who to engage with, in what setting, and at what level is wise. For some people listening might be the only thing you want to do with them…moving on to others where you believe some mutual curiosity and appreciation might be productive. Also, recognize that a family gathering might be a place where some topics are simply not welcome. Be gentle with yourself and others. Sometimes the simple act of breaking bread together is enough.

About Living Room Conversations
Living Room Conversations are a conversational bridge across issues that divide and separate us. They provide an easy structure for engaging in friendly yet meaningful conversation with those with whom we may not agree. These conversations increase understanding, reveal common ground, and sometimes even allow us to discuss possible solutions. No fancy event or skilled facilitator is needed.

Follow on Twitter: @LivingRoomConvo

Resource Link: www.livingroomconversations.org/home-for-the-holidays/

Pocket Guide to Hosting Zine

Story Artist Mary Alice Arthur and graphic facilitator Viola Clark collaborated in 2016 to create the first in their Zine series – a POCKET GUIDE TO HOSTING. One side features the Art of Hosting practices, the other side features the AoH methods.  Here is a little snapshot of a couple of pages of the zine. (A zine is a self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier.)

Art of Hosting will be using the Zine in the upcoming trainings in Innsbruck, Austria and Denmark.

Next in the series will be Harvesting.

Mary Alice advises: “It is set up as an A4 (if you are not on the A4 system, shrink to fit the space) — follow the instructions for folding (and unleash your inner creative geek!).”

Resource Link: http://ncdd.org/rc/wp-content/uploads/AoHHostingZine.pdf

Land of Plenty: How Should We Ensure that People Have the Food They Need? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The 25-page issue guide, Land of Plenty: How Should We Ensure that People Have the Food They Need?, was published June 2017 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation.. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address the inequities within the current food system and how to create a world where all people have the food they need to thrive. The issue guide is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here, where you can also find a post-forum questionnaire.

From NIFI…

All of us affect, and are affected by, the food system: students who grow and eat carrots and tomatoes from their school garden; farm owners who maintain patches of natural habitat for bees; immigrants who hand-pick our apples, grapes, and oranges; public employees who design food-nutrition labels and monitor food safety; restaurant workers who take our orders and serve our meals; food reporters who write about ethnic cuisine; local groups of gleaners who keep edible food out of the dumpster and put it to good use; food pantries that teach teenagers to garden on vacant lots; parents who work to stretch their food budgets to the next payday; policymakers who determine agricultural subsidies; community members who advocate for policies to ensure that all of us have the food we need.

While we have one of the most productive and efficient food systems in the world, millions of people in the US still fall between the cracks. People who may have enough to eat today worry about the availability and quality of food for future generations.

This guide explores different approaches and actions that are, or could be, taken to create a food system that works for all of us. While the approaches overlap in some respects, they do suggest different priorities and involve different trade-offs. With this in mind, what should we do to ensure that people from all walks of life have the food they need?

This issue guide placemat presents three options for deliberation:

Option 1: Improve Access to Nutritious Food
Despite our nation’s abundance of food, some people still don’t have enough to eat, which undermines their health, productivity, and overall well-being. According to this option, we need a food system that ensures everyone has a stable source of affordable, nutritious food. We must strengthen our school nutrition programs and food assistance for low-income families, as well as improve access to fresh food in rural and low-income communities.

Option 2: Pay More Attention to the Multiple Benefits of Food
We have drifted away from traditions and principles that once helped us enjoy a healthier relationship to food, according to this option. We all need to be better informed about the foods we choose, their nutritional value, and how they’re produced and processed. Rather than allowing food advertisements to determine our choices, we need to pay closer attention to what we value about our food, traditions, and well-being.

Option 3: Be Good Stewards of the Food System
We are not managing our food system as well as we should, according to this option. We must do more to safeguard the quality and availability of food for generations to come. Good stewardship is needed at every link in the food-supply chain, from the seeds we plant to the reduction of food waste. It also includes preserving our natural resources, choosing sustainable methods of production, and strengthening the food-system workforce.

Preview the starter video above. Like what you see? Press the ‘BUY’ button in the upper right hand corner of the video. Your purchase includes UNLIMITED streaming and downloads of this starter video.

NIF-Logo2014About NIFI Issue Guides
NIFI’s Issue Guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, Issue Guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.

Follow on Twitter: @NIForums

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/en/issue-guide/land-of-plenty

Global Responsibility for Children (IF Discussion Guide)

The 20-page discussion guide, Global Responsibility for Children, was published by Interactivity Foundation in 2015 and edited by Mark Notturno. For this discussion guide, IF brought together [in video conference] panelists from 14 different countries to explore what is means to take responsibility for children and what would policies can be put in place that would uphold this task. Below is an excerpt of the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here.

From the introduction…

Children are, almost by definition, the most vulnerable social group in our global society. They are often among the first victims of social crises: be they humanitarian crises arising from natural disasters, military crises arising from wars and other international conflicts, political crises arising from revolutions, human rights crises arising from abusive political regimes, psychological and physiological crises arising from sexual molestation and child abuse, or family crises arising from the divorces, breakups, and crimes of their parents. Children have been neglected, abandoned, and even killed by their parents and caretaker, both in myth and real life, and infanticide has a long history in Europe, China, and India. Indeed, the history of mankind has recorded wide scale abuses against children arising from the poverty, ignorance, and hatred of adults, caretakers, and other children – and from the unintended consequences of well-intended public policies designed to protect them.

Dickens chronicled the abuse of children in orphanages. Marx described the exploitation of children in the workplace. And Freud explained how the mind of a child could abuse itself. But children are not only vulnerable to being abused. They are also vulnerable to abusing others. They are notorious for bullying smaller children. They sexually molest and rape other children, sometimes brutally, and they frequently give birth outside of marriage. They use drugs, sell them on the street, and entice other children into addictions. They steal. They organize gangs that terrorize their neighborhoods. And, with seemingly increasing frequency, they kill other children, adults, and even their parents.

Churches, labor groups, teachers, and other reformers have long lobbied for child labor laws. And in the 19th and 20th centuries, a series of laws in Britain and the United States gradually shortened the hours, improved the conditions, and raised the age at which children can work. The United Nations’ 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, however, was the first legally binding international instrument to expand the full range of human rights to children. The Convention says that children everywhere have the right to survive; the right to develop their potential to the fullest; the right to protection from harmful influences, including abuse and exploitation; and the right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. It also sets standards in health care; education; and legal, civil and social services. All of the nations of the world, with the exception of the United States and Somalia, have ratified it. And they have, by doing so, committed themselves to develop and undertake all of their policies and actions in light of the best interests of the child or, simply put, to assume responsibility for our children.

But what, exactly, is a child? What are the different dimensions of childhood? Should we regard everyone under a certain age as a vulnerable child? Or everyone over that age as a responsible adult? And what, in any event, constitutes an abusive practice toward children? What are children vulnerable to? What does it mean to assume responsibility for a child? What are the different dimensions of such responsibility? How can a political convention, or a state, protect children when the world around them has been torn by war, natural disasters, or the breakup of their families? How can a political convention, or a state, protect the human rights of children if and when they are in conflict with the beliefs, values, and traditions of their families, societies, and cultures? How can we know what is in the best interest of a child? What concerns might parents, family members, and societies have about states assuming responsibility for their children? And what concerns might they have when states hold them responsible for the actions of their children?

This international online project brought together panelists from fourteen different countries in video-conferences to explore the different concerns that people might have about global responsibility for children, and develop different conceptual policy possibilities for addressing them.

If you are interested in further information about the process used to develop IF reports or IF’s work in general, we invited you to consult our website at interactivityfoundation.org

The PDF version of this report is available for download here

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website at www.interactivityfoundation.org.

Follow on Twitter: @IFTalks

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/global-responsibility-for-children/

Energy Choices: What Should We Do About America’s Energy Future? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The issue guide placemat, What Should We Do About America’s Energy Future?, was published on National Issues Forums Institute site in Summer 2017. This issue guide gives three options for participants to deliberate around the issue of how America’s energy consumption is sustainable.

In addition to the issue guide placemat, there is also a post-forum questionnaire available to download on NIFI’s site here.

From the guide…

Meeting the United States’ substantial appetite for energy raises a complex network of economic, environmental, and political issues. There are national-security and economic concerns, environmental problems like air and water pollution, and potential climate-change effects from fossil fuels, such as extreme weather, sea- level rise, and changing growing seasons.

Americans have long been aware of the wide- ranging impacts of fueling our energy needs, along with ever-increasing global demands. This awareness is reflected in growing support for clean energy, development of new ways to extract oil and natural gas, efforts to do more with less power, and so on.

Concerns over foreign entanglements, terrorism, and carbon pollution from fossil fuels have grown. At the same time, new domestic production from oil, natural gas, and renewable sources has helped America move closer to energy independence. New technologies for power production, storage, vehicle fuels, and energy efficiency are proliferating. The question is how to navigate this changing landscape and arrive at an energy future that supports a thriving economy.

This guide presents three options based on views and concerns of people from across the country. Any path we choose will put some of these concerns into tension with some others. Our task is to deliberate, or weigh options for action against the things that people hold valuable. What should America do to ensure a continuing supply of energy to meet our needs as well as those of our children and grandchildren?

This issue guide placemat presents three options for deliberation:

Option 1: Keep America Self-Reliant and Stable
We should use our own abundant natural resources to produce all the energy we need to fuel our economy and avoid entanglements in unstable and unfriendly regions. Relying on the market and technological advancements will continue to lead us to a cleaner energy future, BUT large-scale energy production, even solar and wind power, has major environmental impacts, and unfairly affects communities near facilities like mines, refineries, and transmission lines. Furthermore, the transition to cleaner energy may not occur quickly enough to stave off the threat of climate change.

Option 2: Take Local Responsibility for Clean Energy
If we want our country to transition to clean, low-carbon power, everyone needs to participate, as not only a consumer but also a producer. Currently, most of the electricity in our system flows one way, from large power plants through transmission and distribution lines to end users. We need to decentralize that system to enable more clean, locally produced energy to ow where it is needed, BUT retooling our power grid and fueling infrastructure could be costly, take a long time, and cause economic disruptions. This would change how our communities look and how we live, and add a responsibility for producing power, which people may not want or be able to afford.

Option 3: Find Ways to Use Less Energy
We should aggressively reduce energy use and boost efficiency. Energy consumption in the United States has leveled off recently, but to tackle climate change, we must rapidly reduce carbon emissions. Using less energy could also lead to greater security, BUT requiring energy conservation could restrict personal choices and limit economic growth. And tackling climate change could depend more on replacing fossil fuels with cleaner fuels than on how much energy we use.

NIF-Logo2014About NIFI Issue Guides
NIFI’s Issue Guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, Issue Guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.

Follow on Twitter: @NIForums

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/en/issue-guide/energy-choices

The Future of K-12 Education (IF Discussion Guide)

The 20-page discussion guide, The Future of K-12 Education, was published by Interactivity Foundation and edited by Adolf Gundersen; based on discussions facilitated by Gunderson, Dennis Boyer, Sue Goodney Lea, and Zeus Yiamouyiannis. This guide provides five policy perspectives regarding learning and the nature of education. From IF, “The discussion report on the Future of K-12 Education grew out of a longer-term project discussion in 2006-2008 that produced an initial set of more conceptual or theoretical possibilities for education in general. These possibilities were eventually re-rafted to make them somewhat more practical or policy oriented. And the revised possibilities were then tested in four additional public discussion series in the fall of 2010. Overall, six different discussion panels (meeting in four regions of the country) and seven IF facilitators/fellows contributed to the development of this report.” This report is available in Spanish and can be found on IF’s site here.

Below is an excerpt of the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here.

From the introduction…

Purpose and Origin of This Report
You are here because you’re interested in discussing the future of K-12 education. The materials in this Citizen Discussion Report will help you do so in a way that is exploratory, rather than competitive or argumentative. The more exploratory your discussion, the more likely you will leave thinking about K-12 education as a social concern and about how public policy might respond to it. You will also be better equipped to make more informed choices as a citizen.

This report has two main parts: a short list of possible questions and answers about K-12 education policy, followed by five public-policy responses. The information is designed to help launch your discussion. It will serve as a point of departure for your discussion, not as a map of what’s already been “discovered” through expert study or what’s been agreed on by influential groups. It will also help keep your discussion exploratory, as it provides general possibilities rather than final answers.

The descriptions you will find here examine a variety of perspectives on K-12 education policy, while maintaining the idea that there are always more to consider. Because they are general, or conceptual, there should guide you in examining the “big questions”, while helping you avoid technical arguments over details. They invite you to develop them further or come up with entirely new ones of your own.

Who Developed the Report
This report is a product of the Interactivity Foundations (IF), a nonpartisan public-interest foundation that was established to promote citizen discussions like the one you are about to have. One of IF’s roles is to produce discussion materials like this report.

Typically, IF reports result from a series of discussions that unfold over the course of a year and half. They are organized and conducted by a single IF fellow, who also edits and collects the material in the form of a report. In this case, an IF discussion project produced an initial set of possibilities, which were then re-drafted and tested in four additional discussion series during the fall of 2010. In all, six discussion panels (meeting in four regions of the country) and seven IF facilitators had a hand in this report.

Generally, participants in IF projects are selected for their ability to think creatively and constructively about the chosen area of concern. Discussion panelists are then divided into two groups: one of expert-specialists; the other of citizen-generalists.  The advantage of having two groups is that the resulting discussion report will draw on different and complementary skills. The expert-specialists contribute professional or special knowledge; the citizen-generalists contribute their life experiences and general insight. When they come together at the end of a project, each group’s thinking enriches the other’s.

Another important feature of the IF process is that IF panels meet “in sanctuary”, meaning panelists are guaranteed confidentially from start to finish. This way, they are not expected or obligated to assert their authority, defend a particular constituency or organization, or avoid probing questions or mistakes. They are free to think and speak openly and creatively. This also means that those who discuss IF reports are free to focus on the ideas presented rather than the personalities or backgrounds of the authors.

In other OF projects, discussion panels are free in another important sense; they make selections or decisions through a deliberative process of exploration and convergence rather than consensus or compromise. Panels can take their time exploring and developing a wide range of possibilities. Convergence occurs as panelists agree on a range of possibilities that they believe are worthy of public discussion rather than ones they personally or collectively endorse. In addition, throughout the sanctuary discussion process, any single panelist can keep alive a particular possibility simply by asking that it be preserved. This procedure helps ensure that the panels achieve their goal of developing a series of contrasting possibilities, rather than a single set of recommendations or conclusions.

If you are interested in further information about the process used to develop IF reports or IF’s work in general, we invited you to consult our website at interactivityfoundation.org

The PDF version of this report is available for download here

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website at www.interactivityfoundation.org.

Follow on Twitter: @IFTalks.

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/future-of-k-12-education/

How Should We Reduce Obesity in America? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The issue guide, How Should We Reduce Obesity in America?, was published on National Issues Forums Institute site in Spring 2017. This issue guide gives three options for participants to deliberate around the issue of obesity in the US. In addition to the issue guide, there is a moderator’s guide and a post-forum questionnaire, all available to download on NIFI’s site here.

From the guide…

Obesity is a health problem that is growing rapidly in the United States and other parts of the world. In this country, it is epidemic. About one in three Americans is obese.

It may be natural for people to gain at least a little weight later in life. But that is no longer the issue. The problem today is that by the time American children reach their teens, nearly one in five is already obese, a condition all too likely to continue into adulthood.

This issue guide asks: How should we reduce obesity in America? It presents three different options for deliberation, each rooted in something held widely valuable and representing a different way of looking at the problem. No one option is the “correct” one, and each option includes drawbacks and trade-offs that we will have to face if we are to make progress on this issue. The options are presented as a starting point for deliberation.

Option One: “Help People Lose Weight”
Take a proactive stance in helping people lose weight— persuasion and education by families and doctors, and the establishment of consequences by employers and insurance companies. Losing weight is a personal decision but it is one that affects all of us.

Option Two: “Improve the Way Our Food Is Produced and Marketed”
Although our food system does a good job of keeping the cost of food low, many of the resulting products are both very unhealthy and very enticing. We need to get better control of our food production system, including how foods are marketed to us, and ensure more equitable access to healthy foods.

Option Three: “Create a Culture of Healthy Living and Eating”
This option would promote overall, lifelong wellness by making sure our children start learning to make better choices as early as possible. This option also calls for reshaping our neighborhoods and buildings to help us get more exercise.

Continue reading

Shaping Our Towns and Cities (IF Discussion Guide)

The 40-page discussion guide, Shaping Our Towns and Cities, was published by the Interactivity Foundation in 2014 and edited by Jeff Prudhomme.  The guide offers seven contrasting public policies to consider when shaping our towns and cities. These policies are broad approaches on how to design our communities; and while not exhaustive, these are mean to provide a starting point for creating public policy that supports thriving communities.

You can view the discussion guide in full on IF’s site and it can also be downloaded as a PDF for free here.

From the introduction…

As we look to the future of our towns and cities, what choices might we face about their design and development? From this one core question many more follow.

What basic vision of community design might guide our decisions? What makes good community design? What makes a good place to live? What values might guide our community design decisions? What if our values are in conflict?

The appearance of a community (its aesthetic qualities) is often a key value for many people. What would it take to design beautiful towns or cities? What about designing a community for a thriving economy? Some people value a sense of social connection in a community. Can we design towns and cities for a thriving community life? Can we have communities where young and old live together, where people are urged to stay rather than move to a new community in their later years? Can we design communities in a way that encourages interactions among all kinds of people who live there?

Cities and towns grow beyond their boundary lines as newcomers and immigrants arrive. Populations change with new languages and cultures. Cities also shrink as industries die off or as young people seek opportunity elsewhere. How can community design take account of such changes? What are the environmental considerations regarding community size or community design? How might we harmonize the constructed environment of our communities with the natural environment surrounding them?

Many community design and development decisions depend on transportation policy. Could our transportation decisions be the key to designing our communities? What model of transportation might we embrace as we design our towns and cities? The sprawling design, or lack of apparent design, of many communities depends on widespread car ownership.

What if people need or want other transportation options? What happens if fuel and energy costs spike to the point where car-centered designs are no longer tenable for most people?

Of course many of our community design decisions depend on funding. Our models for funding housing, infrastructure, public spaces, and so on determine much about the design and development of our towns and cities. Finance models determine who gets to live where, in what kind of housing, in what kind of neighborhood, and with what kind of transportation options. They determine the kind of infrastructure we have and the public and private spaces that make up a town or city. What different funding models might there be?

The direction of community design decisions also depends on who gets to make them. These decisions depend on governmental structures based on boundaries that might no longer make sense for a highly mobile society. What happens when the realities of our cities expand beyond the reach of traditional governance structures? Over time, we’ve seen cities expand into “greater metropolitan areas,” megacities, or interconnected urban corridors with increasingly urbanized suburbs and edge cities. Could we coordinate community design policy across a region rather than patching together policies from isolated jurisdictions? Could we harmonize community design decisions across various governmental agencies so we could better integrate, say, our environmental, transportation, economic, and housing policies?

These are just some of the many questions that might come up when you think about public policy for shaping our towns and cities. What other big questions can you imagine emerging in our future?

A group of your fellow citizens explored questions and concerns such as these over the course of roughly a year as part of an Interactivity Foundation discussion project. Some of the participants were experts in various fields related to community design and development. Others were simply interested citizens. All of them agreed to explore perspectives beyond their own and to develop diverging policy possibilities beyond their own preferences.

These explorations are loosely focused on “urban design.” In this case, “urban” isn’t limited to major cities or high-population centers. Instead, you could think of urban as indicating a settlement where people are living in proximity to one another and where they face shared decisions about how to design and develop the built environment of that community. As you explore these ideas, try not to get bogged down in disputes over what counts as “urban” or over the size of the communities under discussion. In this project, the participants used “town” or “city” in non-technical ways to talk about settlements of various sizes where communities face public decisions about how to design or structure their settlements.

The PDF version of this report is available for download here.

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website atwww.interactivityfoundation.org.

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Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/shaping-our-towns-cities

Safety and Justice: How Should Communities Reduce Violence? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The 28-page issue guide, Safety and Justice: How Should Communities Reduce Violence?, written by Tony Wharton was published on National Issues Forums Institute site on January 2017. This issue guide provides three options for deliberation around how communities should address the violence within their communities. In addition to the issue guide, there is a moderator’s guide and a post-forum questionnaire, all available to download for free on NIFI’s site here.

From NIFI…

After falling steadily for decades, the rate of violent crime in the United States rose again in 2015 and 2016. Interactions between citizens and police too often end in violence. People are increasingly worried about safety in their communities.

Many Americans are concerned that something is going on with violence in communities, law enforcement, and race that is undermining the national ideals of safety and justice for all.

It is unclear what is driving the recent rise in violence, but bias and distrust on all sides appear to be making the problem worse. Citizens and police need goodwill and cooperation in order to ensure safety and justice. For many people of color, the sense that they are being treated unfairly by law enforcement—and even being targeted by police—is palpable. Others say police departments are being blamed for the actions of a few individuals and that the dangers, stress, and violence law enforcement officers face in their work is underestimated. Still others hold that if we cannot find ways to defuse potentially violent interactions between citizens and police, we will never be able to create safe communities in which all people can thrive and feel welcomed and comfortable.

How should we ensure that Americans of every race and background are treated with respect and fairness? What should we do to ensure that the police have the support they need to fairly enforce the law? To what degree do racial and other forms of bias distort the justice system? What should we do as citizens to help reduce violence of all kinds in our communities and the nation as a whole? How should communities increase safety while at the same time ensuring justice? This issue guide is a framework for citizens to work through these important questions together. It offers three different options for deliberation, each rooted in different, widely shared concerns and different ways of looking at the problem. The resulting conversation may be difficult, as it will necessarily involve tensions between things people hold deeply valuable, such as a collective sense of security, fair treatment for everyone, and personal freedom. No one option is the “correct” one; each includes drawbacks and trade-offs that we will have to face if we are to make progress on this issue. They are not the only options available. They are presented as a starting point for deliberation.This issue guide presents three options for deliberation:

Option One: “Enforce the Law Together”
Expand policing while strengthening community-police partnerships. According to this option, residents and police officers in every community should focus on working together in ways that ensure that everyone feels safe. Americans should be able to expect that they can go about their daily lives, taking reasonable precautions, without becoming the victims of violence.

Option Two: “Apply the Law Fairly”
Remove injustices, reform inequities, and improve accountability. This option says that all Americans should be treated equitably, but that too often, some people are treated unfairly due to systemic bias throughout the criminal justice system and, in many cases, the way police go about their work.

Option Three: “De-escalate and prevent violence”
Address the causes of violence and take direct actions to disrupt conflict. BY ANY MEASURE, the United States is far more violent than other large developed nations. While violent crime has declined over the past decades, there is still far too much day-to-day violence, and the threat of it, in many communities. Many US cities have more murders than much larger countries. 

NIF-Logo2014About NIFI Issue Guides
NIFI’s Issue Guides introduce participants to several choices or approaches to consider. Rather than conforming to any single public proposal, each choice reflects widely held concerns and principles. Panels of experts review manuscripts to make sure the choices are presented accurately and fairly. By intention, Issue Guides do not identify individuals or organizations with partisan labels, such as Democratic, Republican, conservative, or liberal. The goal is to present ideas in a fresh way that encourages readers to judge them on their merit.

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Resource Link: www.nifi.org/en/catalog/product/free-safety-and-justice-issue-guide-downloadable-pdf