The Mediated Town Halls of the Eastern Cape (Connections 2016)

The eight-page article, “The Mediated Town Halls of the Eastern Cape” by Rod Amner was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the fourth article of the newsletter, Amner discusses the ways in which public engagement has been transforming in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, focusing on the ways in which journalism outlets have facilitated engagement spaces with the community to better amplify the voices of the people. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

The town hall meeting is a simple, old-fashioned idea: an informal public space in which community members come together to discuss issues, to voice opinions, or to engage with public figures.

But, despite 22 years of democracy, it is a relative rarity in South Africa.

So, it is significant that in recent years, a number of “legacy” and “emerging” community news organizations in the Eastern Cape province of the country have hosted scores of town hall meetings in a range of formats, all ostensibly aimed at re-engineering in some way relationships with and between the people they formerly knew as their audiences.

It is also surprising because the Eastern Cape does not immediately suggest itself as a promising incubator of journalistic, civic, or any other kind of innovation. It is South Africa’s poorest province—beset with stagnating industries in the urban areas and the frustrating persistence of sub-subsistence agriculture in most of the countryside. Just 26 percent of its citizens have jobs, and its schools produce the worst educational outcomes in the country— and by most benchmarks, the entire world.

On the other hand, despite its apparent marginality, this province has always been an important fulcrum of South African politics. It is a traditional stronghold of the African National Congress (ANC), producing the bulk of its struggle icons (Mandela, Tambo, Biko, and Hani) and nurturing decades of peaceful, mass-based protest.

So, when the hitherto unassailable ANC lost political control of Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth) to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in the August 3, 2016, local government elections, the resulting shock waves convulsed the region’s post-apartheid political landscape.

But, many of the region’s journalists were not shocked. Mainstream media houses like Nelson Mandela Bay’s Eastern Province Herald and Buffalo City’s Daily Dispatch, along with community outlets like Grahamstown’s Grocott’s Mail, Skawara News in the rural hamlet of Cofimvaba, and radio stations like ZQKM, had for years been convening public platforms for engaging citizens in political discourse. Many of their journalists had therefore been in unusually close and deep dialogue with local citizens and communities and had seen the writing on the wall. The Kettering Foundation has a longstanding interest in how journalists go about the work of reporting in a way that encourages greater citizen engagement in the democratic politics of a given community. The examples in this article reveal how journalism practice and community agency can be transformed by a citizen-centered approach to reporting.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link:


From AllSides…

Unlike regular news services, AllSides exposes bias and provides multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant.allsides_logo

At AllSides, we believe the way society gets its news and information affects the world around us. And lately it hasn’t been going well. News, social media and even search results have dramatically changed in the last several years, becoming so narrowly filtered, biased and personalized that we are becoming less informed and less tolerant of different people and ideas.

This is how it happens, and what we can do about it.

Blasted with the overwhelming 24-hour news noise of today, which is often loud, extreme, partisan and rude, we tend to do one of the following:
Disengage from trying to understand or solve society’s problems.
Block out different perspectives, becoming more close-minded and less tolerant of other people and ideas.

There’s a better way… AllSides sees a strong connection between our ability to comprehend and tolerate different opinions, and our ability to develop better schools, more jobs, more wellbeing, and less violence. So we decided to address the core problem – the overwhelming and often one-sided information flow.

How? Change the way we get information so it is easy to sort through the noise and see different perspectives. Armed with a broader view, we can resist attempts to manipulate us in one direction or the other. Instead, we can truly decide for ourselves:

Understand and appreciate different perspectives and people. We’re creating a better informed, less polarized world.

AllSides delivers technology and services to provide multiple perspectives on news, issues, and topics – and the people behind the ideas. With it, we get a broader, deeper understanding of the issues and each other so together we can build a more perfect union.

About the AllSides Bias Rating
The AllSides Bias Rating TM reflects the average judgment of the American people. Bias is normal. If you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got a bias. But hidden bias misleads and divides us. That’s why we have the AllSides Bias Rating.

Bias ratings can be a powerful tool. With it, we can easily look at a news story or issue from different perspectives just by looking at articles on the same topic but from sources that have different bias ratings. By understanding bias, we can understand topics and each other better.

Join us in making bias more transparent everywhere. Rate your own bias, learn how you compare to others (options on this page to the right), and help us rate the bias of other news sources.

How AllSides Calculates Bias
The AllSides patented bias detection and display technology drives arguably the world’s most effective and up-to-date bias detection engine. It’s powered by a combination of wisdom-of-the-crowd technology and the best statistical research and methodologies.

You drive the bias ratings. What you do at AllSides affects our bias ratings. That includes how you rate your own bias and how you rate the bias of news sites, especially through our blind bias surveys. All of this is added to our crowd data, which is statistically normalized to represent a balance of the American public.

Multiple methods for calculating bias. Our blind bias surveys, described in the graphic below, is our most complete and robust method for rating the bias of the source. That is not the only method we use, and often we don’t need anything as robust as that. The source itself might openly share its own bias, 3rd party research may have already determined the bias, an independent review might be decisive, or a broad consensus could be sufficient. Take a look at the variety of methods we use to measure bias.


Our bias detection engine gets smarter as time goes on. We are constantly evolving the bias engine. And, the more you participate, the better our ratings will be and the more sources we can rate. We also ask you to rate your own bias. We’re continuing to improve ways to help you get the most accurate bias self-rating so you can participate on AllSides and in life with transparency and self-awareness. Make the world a better place by understanding and sharing your own bias openly!

Resource Link:

Divisive Discourse: The Extreme Rhetoric of Contemporary American Politics

The 258-page book, Divisive Discourse: The Extreme Rhetoric of Contemporary American Politics, by Joseph Zompetti was published January 2015. In the book, he discusses the extreme rhetoric that currently prevails in American political discourse and its subsequent effects on people to disengage and the political environment to become polarized. Zompetti shares insight into this toxic political environment, sheds light on the extreme rhetorical practices performed in US politics, and offers critical thinking skills for people to better participate despite this.

Divisive_discourseBelow is an excerpt from the book and it can be purchased on Amazon here.

From the book…

Divisive Discourse challenges assumptions about political ideology. The book examines the techniques and contents of the divisive discourse that pervades contemporary American political conversation. It teaches us about extreme rhetoric, thus enabling readers to be more critical consumers of information.

The book provides a framework for identifying and interpreting extreme language. Readers learn about rhetorical fallacies and the strategies used by political pundits to manipulate and spin information.

In subsequent chapters the author examines and analyzes how divisive discourse is used in discussions of specific political issues including homosexual rights, gun control, and healthcare.

Divisive Discourse provides insight into how divisive discourse leads to societal fragmentation, and fosters apathy, confusion, animosity, and ignorance. By exposing the rhetoric of division and teaching readers how to confront it, the book reinvigorates the potential to participate in politics and serves as a guide for how to have civil discussions about controversial issues. Divisive Discourse is an ideal teaching tool for anyone interested in contemporary issues and courses in political science, media studies, or rhetoric.

About Joseph Zompetti
Dr. Zompetti is professor of communication at Illinois State University where he teaches courses in communication and social issues, classical rhetoric, and political communication. Dr. Zompetti’s research interests include the rhetoric of critical cultural studies and the rhetoric of civic engagement.

Resource Link: Divisive Discourse: The Extreme Rhetoric of Contemporary American Politics

The Compost of Disagreement: Creating Safe Spaces for Engagement and Action

The 6-page article, The Compost of Disagreement: Creating Safe Spaces for Engagement and Action (2014), by Michele Holt-Shannon and Bruce Mallory, was published in Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 10: Iss. 1. The authors describe the experience coordinating the New Hampshire Listens campaign to address the growing concern around aggressive and combative many public events were becoming from mid-1990s and on. Over years of experience, they found that the more diverse and varied the participants and experiences, the richer the conversation that would emerge. And in order to do so, it is vital to create spaces that are safe for all parties involved, in order for transformative dialogue to take place.

Find the PDF available for download from the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the article…

We understand that one of the most important contributions we can make to public life is to create safe spaces where diverse points of view can be expressed, deeply held differences can be explored, and the potential for discovering common ground amidst the cacophony can be nourished. The work runs counter to the natural tendency to want to “manage difference” or find “consensus” or help everyone to “just get along.” Paradoxically, we use the tools of deliberation to uncover those things that divide in order to find a shared path forward.

We could think about this uncovering and exploration as working the community compost. Taking the raw ingredients of values, beliefs, attitudes, cultural norms, local history, municipal policies and practices, traditional and social media, and the multifaceted personalities of local actors, we strive to create a space that allows for heat, conflict, and the transformation of old patterns and approaches to new kinds of rich, nuanced, adaptive solutions. Believing that knowledge and action are co-constructed in the milieu of community, it is logical that listening to and considering a range of perspectives can give rise to feasible, practical approaches.

In addition, we have witnessed explicit attempts to shut down deliberation and essentially block action by elected and appointed officials. Using audio and video recording devices in ways that are felt as intimidating or harassing, and occasionally displaying side-arms, these vocal few make it hard for others to feel that their views will be heard or respected. We are not suggesting this has become the norm, but the frequency has increased since we began this work. Our response has been to engage these voices as much as possible, both in focused conversations to hear directly their concerns and by welcoming them as participates in public deliberations. With some exceptions, we have found that the use of clear, agreed-upon ground rules; facilitators capable of fostering a respectful, honest, safe conversation; surfacing and recording the disagreements as well as common ground; and close scrutiny of participant evaluations regarding their experiences are all necessary for creating safe spaces for disagreements.

In the end, welcoming the most skeptical voices into the conversation is fundamental to the integrity of the process, creates a richer mix of perspectives and ideas, and helps us learn how to create conditions that maximize both safety and disagreement. The challenges described here have made us better. Balancing the sometimes competing constructs of safety and strong disagreement, we are able to be more transparent, we are clearer about digging into disagreements, and we are more skilled at setting boundaries that are legal and effective. Over many years, we have learned from those who have taken issue with the fundamental tenets of deliberative democracy, from the everyday citizens who want to make their communities better in some way, and from the various public and private stakeholders who are directly affected by engaged deliberations. The most important lesson, perhaps, has been that the richer the compost mix, the better the result. The complementary lesson is that strong disagreement requires a safe space if shared understanding and action are to be achieved.

Download the case study from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public Deliberation
Journal of Public DeliberationSpearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link:

The Reunited States of America

The 192-page book by Mark Gerzon, The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide, was published February 2016. This book is a manifesto on how to bridge the political divide in America, during a time when the political environment is deeply poisoned. Gerzon shares the experiences of 40 individuals and organizations that are already doing the work of finding common ground, and working together around challenging and divisive issues. Here you will find a toolkit to join the emerging movement towards a transpartisan political environment and help reunite the states of America.

You can find the book on Mark Gerzon’s site here and also, in physical copy or audio format from Amazon here.

Reunited_StatesFrom the book…

We Americans are solving problems and achieving positive results not despite but because of our differences. Many or our fellow citizens are living evidence of this third story. They are putting country before party. They are drawing the outlines of a new political map that connects us rather than divides us. They are forming networks and organizations that are building bridges rather than walls. They are bridging the partisan divide- in living rooms and in communities, in state legislatures and on Capitol Hill.

Story #3 does not mean agreeing on everything. Nor does it mean being “nice” or being “moderate” or “splitting the difference”. On the contrary, it may mean fighting for what one believes in- but respecting one’s adversary for doing the same. It means knowing the difference between an issue on which you are willing to listen and learn, and one where you believe you are not. Above all, it means disagreeing strongly without ever forgetting that “they” probably love America just as much as “we” do. 

The truth is, 70 to 90 of us say that we are “very patriotic”. That means almost all of us claim to love our country deeply. If we love our family, we want it to stay connected. Similarly, if we love America, we naturally want our country to be able to work through its deep and genuine difference and remain united.

This book is part of a campaign- not a Republican or Democratic campaign, but an American campaign; not a campaign for office, but a campaign for our country. It is about the people, some of whom are our neighbors, who are drawing a new political map that connects us rather than divides us. It is about our fellow citizens who are already reuniting American- in living rooms and in communities, in state legislatures and on Capitol Hill. These are, in my view, today’s real American heroes.

The book is available for purchase, both in physical and audio format, from Amazon here

About Mark Gerzon
Mark is an author, leadership expert, and veteran convener of cross-party conversations. Having worked in both the private and public sectors, both domestically and internationally, his primary current focus is having a positive, transformative impact impact on the 2016 election.

Resource Link:

Reaching Out Across the Red-Blue Divide, One Person at a Time

The four-page conversation guide, Reaching Out Across the Red-Blue Divide, One Person at a Time (2009), was written by Maggie Herzig from Public Conversations Project. This useful guide provides a framework for navigating highly polarized conversations and includes several starter questions to help keep the dialogue open. Read the intro to the guide below and download the PDF, as well as, find the original guide on PCP’s blog here.

From the guide…PCP_red blue divide flag

What this guide offers
This guide offers a step-by-step approach to inviting one other person—someone whose perspectives differ from your own—into a conversation in which • you both agree to set aside the desire to persuade the other and instead focus on developing a better understanding of each other’s perspectives, and the hopes, fears and values that underlie those perspectives; • you both agree to pursue understanding and to avoid the pattern of attack and defend; • you both choose to address questions designed to open up new possibilities for moving beyond stale stereotypes and limiting assumptions.

Why bother to reach across the divide?
Many people have at least one important relationship that has been frayed by painful conversations about political differences or constrained due to fear of divisiveness. What alternatives are there? You can let media pundits and campaign strategists tell you that polarization is inevitable and hopeless. Or you can consider taking a collaborative journey with someone who is important to you, neither paralyzed with fear of the rough waters, nor unprepared for predictable strong currents. You and your conversational partner will be best prepared if you bring 1) shared hopes for the experience, 2) the intention to work as a team, and 3) a good map that has guided others on similar journeys. We hope this guide will help prepare you to speak about your passions and concerns in ways that can be heard, and to hear others’ concerns and passions with new empathy and understanding—even if you continue to disagree.

Are you ready?
Are you emotionally ready to resist the strong pull toward polarization? What’s at the heart of your desire to reach out to the person you have in mind? Is pursuing mutual understanding enough, or are you likely to feel satisfied only if you can persuade them to concede certain points? What do you know about yourself and the contexts in which you are able—or not so able—to listen without interrupting and to speak with care? Are you open to the possibility—and could you gracefully accept—that the other person might decline your invitation?

Are the conditions right?
Do you have a conversational partner in mind who you believe will make the same kind of effort you are prepared to make? Is there something about your relationship that will motivate both of you to approach the conversation with a positive spirit? Will you have a chance to propose a dialogue in ways that don’t rush or pressure the other person? Will you be able to invite him or her to thoughtfully consider not only the invitation but the specific ideas offered here— ideas that you might together modify? Can you find a time to talk that is private and free from distraction?

If you decide to go forward, take it one step at a time. 

To continue reading the guide, download it below or read it on Public Conversation Project’s site here.

PCP_logoAbout Public Conversations Project
PCP fosters constructive conversation where there is conflict driven by differences in identity, beliefs, and values. We work locally, nationally, and globally to provide dialogue facilitation, training, consultation, and coaching. We help groups reduce stereotyping and polarization while deepening trust and collaboration and strengthening communities. At the core of many of today’s most complex social problems is a breakdown in relationships that leads to mistrust, gridlock, and fractured communities. Public Conversations’ method addresses the heart of this breakdown: we work to shift relationships, building the communication skills and trust needed to make action possible and collaboration sustainable. Since our founding in 1989, Public Conversations’ practitioners have worked on a broad range of issues, including same-sex marriage, immigration, abortion, diversity, guns, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have also contributed to peace-building efforts in several conflict-torn regions overseas. In situations where a breakdown in trust, relationships, and constructive communication is part of the problem, PCP offers a solution.

Follow on Twitter: @pconversations

Resource Link: Reaching Out Across the Red-Blue Divide, One Person at a Time

The Transpartisan Listserv

The Transpartisan Listserv was launched in March 2014 by the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, Mediators Foundation, and over a dozen co-founders who are leaders in political bridge building work.

The purpose of this moderated listserv is to introduce potential colleagues to one another, to expand our knowledge of transpartisan theory and practice, and to showcase ongoing activity in the transpartisan field. Our goal is to provide a simple, safe communication channel where individuals and organizations that are active in this boundary-crossing work can connect and learn from each other.

What is transpartisanship? One perspective was published in the Washington Post on January 27, 2014. In Katrina vanden Heuvel’s editorial, she wrote: “At a time of paralyzing political polarization, partisanship has naturally gotten a bad rap. But a reactionary shift toward bipartisanship — toward an anodyne centrism — isn’t the solution. Passion, deftly deployed, is actually an effective political tool with which to advance good ideas. That’s the promise of transpartisanship.”

The Transpartisan Listserv was launched by the following co-founders:

  1. Mark Gerzon, Tom Hast and John Steiner of Mediators Foundation
  2. Sandy Heierbacher, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD)
  3. Tom Atlee, Co-Intelligence Institute
  4. Steve Bhaerman, humorist and author
  5. Dr. Don Beck, The Spiral Dynamics Group
  6. Joan Blades and Debilyn Molineaux, Living Room Conversations
  7. Laura Chasin, Bob Stains, Dave Joseph and Mary Jacksteit, Public Conversations Project
  8. Lawry Chickering and Jim Turner, co-authors of Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life
  9. Jacob Hess and Phil Neisser, co-authors of You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong)
  10. Margo King, Wisdom Beyond Borders-Mediators Foundation; John Steiner’s networking partner
  11. Mark McKinnon,
  12. Ravi Iyer and Matt Motyl,
  13. Evelyn Messinger, Internews Interactive
  14. John Opdycke,
  15. Michael Ostrolenk, transpartisan organizer and philosopher
  16. Pete Peterson, Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute
  17. Amanda Kathryn Roman, The Citizens Campaign
  18. Michael Smith, United Americans
  19. Kim Spencer, Link TV and KCETLink
  20. Rich Tafel, The Public Squared
  21. Jeff Weissglass, Political Bridge Building Advocate

You are welcome to subscribe to the Transpartisan List if any of the following are true:

  • You are interested in learning more, and sharing what you know, about current efforts to transcend and transform unproductive partisan politics.
  • You want to meet potential colleagues who share your concern and are working to improve research, dialogue, deliberation, collaboration, and improved decision making across party lines.
  • You want to share what you (or your organization) do in this field that you consider “transpartisan” – conversations that break out of the narrow, predictable ideological exchanges.
  • You believe this subject is vital to our country’s future and simply want to learn more about how you might get involved.

If some or all of these statements apply to you, join the Transpartisan List by sending a blank email to Together, we can ask the questions that need to be asked about this challenging field, and seek the answers as a learning community.

As you may know, NCDD-sponsored listservs are moderated and embrace ground rules that have proven effective for our lists. Please follow the following guidelines if you choose to participate.

Transpartisan Listserv Guidelines

The following guidelines will help keep the list focused, manageable, and useful for subscribers. Please read these over before posting or replying to the list. The moderator may choose not to approve messages that break one or more of these ground rules.

  • Please refrain from over-posting (once per day maximum; 3-4 posts per week max). Aim for quality over quantity.
  • Identify yourself. Include your usual email signature (i.e. your name, organization, email address, where you’re from…) when you send a message to the list. This will help us get to know each other a little better and make it easier for people to connect with you.
  • Keep your messages relevant to transpartisan work. If it is not immediately apparent that your message is relevant to transpartisan work, explain in your message why you think it is relevant.
  • Please do not use this list as a forum for debating public policy issues. If you really want to delve into a specific social or policy issue with other members of the list, feel free to contact members individually via email or social networking sites.
  • This goes without saying, but please stay civil and treat other subscribers with respect. Model good dialogue behavior and refrain from name-calling, making unwarranted assumptions about people, and making sweeping statements about individuals or groups of people without backing them up with facts and data. If you’re unclear about why someone said something or thinks/feels a certain way, ask them. (Note: the moderator reserves the right to reject or ask you to reframe posts which seem overly confrontational towards another person on the list, since we are fostering a supportive, respectful space for leaders in transpartisan work.)
  • Direct your message to the subscribers of the list. If you forward an announcement or article, please offer some context. Emails with attachments/links and no explanation of what’s in the attachment/link will not be approved.
  • If your message is directed at one individual in particular, do not send your message to the entire list. If replying to an individual, click “Reply” instead of “Reply All.”
  • Please do not fundraise or send regular digital newsletters to the list.
  • If you ask the list for advice and get a variety of good responses on and off-list, consider taking the time to compile or summarize the responses and share them with the list. We’d greatly appreciate that!

Please note that this listserv has a daily digest option. If the list becomes busy and you’d prefer to receive no more than one message a day from the list, email NCDD office manager Joy Garman at and let her know you’d like to be switched to the daily digest for the Transpartisan List. Joy can also remove you from the list or change your email address.

Subscribe by sending a blank email to Once you’re subscribed, use the email address to send a message to the list.