Listen to This Webinar on How to Hold a Ben Franklin Circle

Back in the day, Ben Franklin had established a mutual improvement club that he organized for over 40 years, in the spirit of dialogue and self improvement. It is in this vein, that the folks at the 92nd Street Y, created the Ben Franklin Circles (also an NCDD member org) to offer a framework to hold conversations on Franklin’s 13 virtues. NCDD partnered with BFC last year and we are thrilled to find this free webinar recently released that gives the basics on what a Circle entails. You can listen to the webinar below and find the original on BFC’s site here.


Ben Franklin Circles 101

This webinar covers the basics of Ben Franklin Circles – great for anyone looking to start one or brush up on the who, what, when, where and why!

Listen to BFC 101 or read the highlights below. Questions? Email us at benfranklincircles@gmail.com.

What is a Ben Franklin Circle?

  • Small groups of people coming together to talk about how they can do good…in their lives, in their work, in their relationships and in the world.
  • Circles choose one of Franklin’s 13 civic virtues and discuss what that virtue means today.

Where did the idea come from?

  • From Franklin! Franklin wrote about his club for mutual improvement – his junto – in his autobiography.
  • The Ben Franklin Circles team at 92nd Street Y updated Franklin’s structure for the 21st Century and created all the tools for people to host their own Circles.

Who are in the Circles?

  • Circles are for anyone and everyone!
  • Find members by personally inviting 5-10 people, posting on social meeting, creating a MeetUp group…or be brave, and drop some invites in your neighbors’ mailboxes and invite them to get together for a conversation.

Where do people host?

  • Locations vary! Public libraries will often provide space. Some groups meet in peoples’ homes or in cafes or restaurants.
  • You’re looking for a casual space that’s not too loud so you can have intimate conversations.

How often do Circles meet?

  • Some meet monthly, some meet every week, some just meet once to try it out!

What’s next?

  • Check out our toolkit and/or join our Host Facebook Group
  • Set date, invite your members, set a location and you’re ready to go.
  • Let us know when you’ve started so we can add you to our map, social media, host resources list serve and more!

Takeaways

  • Circles are an opportunity to pause, reflect and connect with others around big ideas.
  • Members are encouraged to leave each Circle conversation with one actionable thing they can do for good.
  • Circles are very similar to a salon. The Circle model simply gives you an easy structure/topic to use for your conversations.
  • There’s no wrong way to do this!

You can find the original version of this article on the Ben Franklin Circles’ site at www.benfranklincircles.org/webinar/ben-franklin-circles-101.

Deliberation and How We Use it in Everyday Life

The National Issues Forums Institute – an NCDD member and NCDD2018 sponsor org, recently shared an update on the work that the Kettering Foundation has found on the nature of public deliberation. While process and design are important parts of engagement work, the reality is that deliberation happens every day, both inside of ourselves and in our casual interactions. Having a structure is immensely helpful in bringing our reactions and decisions into more concrete reality, and yet even outside of the more formal spaces of forums, we are still going through the experience of weighing our options and deciding on next action steps in our everyday life. You can read the article below and find the original version on the NIFI site here.


Deliberation Every Day – An Update on Kettering Foundation Research on Public Deliberation

Two of the most-often-used words in describing public decision-making are deliberation and forums. All forums aren’t deliberative and all deliberations aren’t carried out informally organized forums. However, in this instance, the subject is deliberative forums. These forums serve several purposes. One is to remind people of their own ability to deliberate and to show what distinguishes deliberation from other forms of speech. When people become aware of their innate power to deliberate, it is self-empowering. Another function of deliberative forums is to help move public thinking from first opinions to more shared and reflective judgments. And still another is not just to inspire more forums but to bring deliberation into all the places and occasions where people are talking about the decisions they have to make as citizens.

There are some common misunderstandings that stand in the way of deliberative forums doing what they need to do in order to make democracy work as it should. One is that it is a magical process or technique that will produce a stable and lasting democracy. But, as has been said, democracy is a journey, not a destination. Deliberation helps people keep moving in a positive direction. Democracy does not produce perfect governments (if there are such things), yet it does foster governments that are able to recover from their inevitable mistakes. Another misperception is that only the well-educated and economically well-off citizenry can deliberate. That just isn’t true. Still another error is thinking that public deliberation will only be significant if it gets “up to scale.” Deliberating is difficult sometimes but it is naturally occurring; there are elements of it in everyday speech.[1]In that sense, it is already up to scale. The difficulty is that it is often interrupted by partisan diatribes, blaming, wish-listing, and other common maladies of public talk. Recognizing what deliberation is like and what it can do are the antidotes.

The choices citizens make about what should be done to solve their problems or set policies need to be sound choices. That is the role of deliberation. Without deliberation, discussions easily degenerate into personal pleadings, sound bites, and partisan rancor. Peoples’ first opinions may be store-bought, prepackaged, and unreflective. Originally the word meant to weigh carefully, as was done on the ancient balancing scales used to determine the value of goods sold in the marketplace. Weighing means exercising good judgment, which has also been called moral reasoning. Moral reasoning or judgment is required when decisions have to be made about what is best for all or, in an ethical sense, what should bedone. There are no experts on such normative questions, and in a democracy there is no authority to give answers other than the people themselves.

The most distinctive characteristic of deliberation is giving a “fair trial” to unpopular views. That is difficult, which is why deliberation has been called “choice work.” Deliberation recognizes that our most challenging decisions aren’t between options that are good and those that are evil. Rather they are between options that are both good yet are in tension in given situations. For instance, doing something that will make us more secure may well restrict our freedom. In a democracy, there is no one authority everyone accepts who can tell us what is most valuable to us. We are the only ones who can do that. However, different people, being in different situations and having different experiences, will have different priorities. And these differences, which won’t go away, can only be harmonized or made less polarizing by the collective exercise of judgment. And that is the purpose of public deliberation.

Deliberation is intertwined with acting and isn’t a separate process; the experience of acting continually shapes the decision-making, just as the decision-making shapes the action.[2]It makes no sense to think of deliberation as separate from action. In fact, past actions or experiences, when filtered through the things people consider most valuable, often become the “facts” most relevant in making decisions. The public deliberation that Kettering has seen uses expert and professional knowledge but adds the information people create as they look at their experiences through the lenses of what they hold dear.

Although deliberation is difficult, it is a natural act. The human brain is wired for deliberation. And ancient languages around the world have a term for collective decision-making because it is essential to collective survival. The purpose of forums isn’t to introduce a new methodology, “deliberation,” but rather to make people more aware of a natural faculty. That recognition is empowering—self-empowering.

In daily conversations, people talk about the problems that concern them, what action should be taken to respond, and who is needed to act. Yet their casual conversations may not sound very deliberative. Deliberation isn’t something apart from ordinary speech but goes on in multiple layers of talk. At times people may just be complaining or posturing or looking for someone to blame. Carefully weighing alternatives may be interspersed with comments that don’t appear to have anything to do with deliberating. People may start conversations by telling a story about some troubling experience and then move on to explaining who they are in order to establish their identity. “Don’t think I am heartless when I say. . . .”

Everyday deliberation often begins to take shape over backyard fences, during coffee breaks, and at the grocery store. People start by talking to those they live and work with—sometimes including even those who aren’t of a like mind. (People who look alike don’t necessarily think alike.) And while people often take comfort in opinions they like, they may also be curious about contrary views, provided those views aren’t being advanced in an offensive manner. People certainly try to persuade one another as they hold on to cherished beliefs. Yet they may do more; they may begin to weigh the options they like best more carefully.

Although found in many neighborhood conversations, deliberation can’t always be heard because much of the careful weighing of options for action goes on inside people’s heads. Still, deliberation involves listening as much as it does speaking. By listening attentively, we can take in the experiences of others without necessarily agreeing with what they are advocating.

One of the main contributions of formally organized forums is to help people recognize ways they can move informal, top-of-the-head chatter in a deliberative direction. There, one may hear helpful questions like, “How does what we are seeing affect you personally or your family?” This gets at what people hold dear. Or a question like, “What else do people consider valuable?” broadens the focus beyond things purely individualistic. “Do you know of anybody else who is concerned but might have a different opinion?” expands the focus, as does the follow-up question, “Why do you think they care?” And asking, “If that is what bothers you, what would you do about it?” moves the conversation to options for action. That opens the door to a follow-up, “If we did what you propose but it had negative consequences for what you said you cared about, would you still favor your proposal?” This kind of question brings out tensions among all that people consider valuable. And it encourages careful weighing of options. Note that these deliberative-friendly questions are quite ordinary. There isn’t anything that they require before asking them.

The citizens’ briefing books that NIF uses follow the same basic line of conversation. They describe the things people consider valuable, present options for action that follow from these concerns, and then show the tensions or trade-offs that people have to work through in order to reach shared and reflective decisions about what they are or aren’t willing to do.

I should be clear that I am not suggesting that organized forums use these questions as a script for a moderator to follow. Nothing would be more likely to inhibit the exchange that must go on in order for people to deliberate with one another. These are just illustrations of what “working through” sounds like.

[1]See Jane Mansbridge, “Everyday Talk in the Deliberative System,” in Deliberative Politics: Essays on Democracy and Disagreement, ed. Stephen Macedo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Her concept of a “system” helps locate deliberative forums in the larger context of political speech.
[2]Daniel Yankelovich, Coming to Public Judgment: Making Democracy Work in a Complex World (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991), 95-96

You can find the original version of this post on the National Issues Forums Institute blog at www.nifi.org/en/deliberation-every-day-update-kettering-foundation-research-public-deliberation.

Utilizing Dialogue to Navigate Agricultural Tensions

Modern agriculture has brought some incredible technological advances to the way that crops can be grown, the usage of which can bring some serious tensions within a community; and using dialogic processes can help navigate these tensions. In Conway County, Arkansas, the use of the herbicide, Dicamba, was causing intense and tragic conflict between neighbors; and NCDD sponsoring org, Essential Partners, shares how utilizing reflective structured dialogue created an opportunity for folks in the community to listen to each other and work toward addressing the conflicts. You can read the article below and find the original on EP’s site here.


Small Communities, Big Divisions: Fostering Dialogue in Rural Arkansas with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

Late last summer, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (WRI) in Conway County, Arkansas, hired Essential Partners to offer two days of facilitation training to their program officers. The following week, the Arkansas Agriculture Secretary reached out to WRI to facilitate meetings of a task force on the use of the herbicide Dicamba.

Dicamba is one of the most effective herbicides for taming the spread of pigweed, an invasive plant threatening crops throughout the region.

Unfortunately, Dicamba also kills soybean crops whose seeds are not pre-treated for resistance to the herbicide. When Dicamba is used on one field, the herbicide can drift over neighboring fields and destroy another farmer’s crop.

Conflicts over herbicide drift have pitted neighbor against neighbor in a region where farmers are already struggling to survive. In October 2016, a dispute over Dicamba use resulted in the shooting death of a soybean farmer near the Missouri border.

The Arkansas Agriculture Secretary wanted an effective path through the heated, and now tragically violent debate.

With coaching from Essential Partners Senior Associate Bob Stains, and the skills they developed during their EP training, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute staff initiated a series of dialogues about the use of Dicamba. Farmers, seed dealers, product manufacturers, and crop consultants came together to share emotionally wrenching stories, building trust and understanding.

“In the work around Dicamba,” said WRI’s Chief Programs and Marketing Officer, Janet Harris, “the dialogue had to come first and inform the decision-making process, because even in this very small and homogeneous population, folks had become deeply divided. Those differences were born from very strongly held moral values and beliefs on both sides.”

Harris explained that reflective structured dialogue allowed the participants to hear the “why” behind the “what.”

“Most importantly,” she said, “even though they weren’t unanimous in their final recommendation, they could look across the table at someone who disagreed and still empathize with that person’s story.”

WRI helped the group arrive at a policy recommendation, which was adopted by the state agency. And despite significant legal challenges as well as dissenting views, the members of the WRI dialogue group remain firm in their recommendation almost a year later.

“What I think we did with Dicamba,” Harris noted, “was less about the regulation of an herbicide than it was about the preservation of human relationships. They understood and appreciated one another and rediscovered their common ground.”

Since then, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute has integrated reflective structured dialogue into many more projects.

“The learning we received from Essential Partners has helped us open up space for people to have difficult conversations in a different way. The more we do this, the more we realize that dialogue has to be a part of all our work.”

Most recently, WRI has employed EP’s dialogue techniques in a community development program, Uncommon Communities. They hope to encourage leaders in Arkansas’ rural communities to become catalysts for positive change and economic growth.

Even in small rural communities, Harris observed, there are rivalries and real differences of belief. And that’s where EP’s dialogue practices help.

“It’s not just a matter of civility,” she said. “It’s about our ability to foster mutual understanding across deep differences.”

You can find the original version of this article on Essential Partner’s site at www.whatisessential.org/blog/small-communities-big-divisions-fostering-dialogue-rural-arkansas-winthrop-rockefeller.

Local Civic Challenge #4: Telling Your Community’s Story

In the final installment of the Local Civic Challenge from by NCDD member, The Jefferson Center, they recommend folks get involved in telling the story of your local community. Last month, the Local Civic Challenge offered a mini-challenge every week to encourage folks to be more civically engaged in your community and local democratic efforts. This fourth edition advises to get to know your neighbors and listen to their stories, as well as, participate in your local newsgathering and share the story of your community. You can read the post below and find the original on the JC site here.


Local Civic Challenge #4: Telling the Story of Your Community

Supporting local storytelling strengthens our relationships and preserves the history of our communities. When we listen to the experiences of our neighbors, we can better understand one another, which makes it easier to work through projects and issues together.

Think about your role in your local news ecosystem–are you subscribed to the local paper? Do you know what the current headlines are? Can you identify a few stories that aren’t being covered, but should be? According to a 2015 Pew survey, Americans are great at sharing news, but we don’t often get involved in actual newsgathering ourselves.

For this week’s civic challenge, we’ve found a few ways you can start collecting stories and amplifying diverse voices in your neighborhood:

1. Meet with people

Find events like garage sales, movies in the park, and clothing swaps where you can sit (or stand) across from someone and get to know them. If these don’t exist already, create your own community gatherings! Share online, and post to community bulletin boards in places like the grocery store and community center.

2. Submit an op-ed or write a blog post

Take stock of the local papers and blogs in your community to see where you could submit a story. Here are a few tips on how to start writing for your community paper.

3. Use technology

Apps and social media pages that connect neighborhoods are becoming more common, such as:

Nextdoor is a “private social network” for your community. While some people use the app to report a break-in or a lost dog, you can also post about upcoming cookouts or garage sales.

Ioby helps kickstart community projects, through crowd-funding, social networks, volunteers, and advocacy. You can find out what projects are happening near you, and if it’s a cause you can get behind, help spread the word.

Patch is a customizable “hyperlocal” news feed with real-time alerts, local articles, and easy social sharing.

Neighborhood Facebook groups are another way to share photos, events, news, and concerns with people who live close to you.

Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat: by following the hashtag and location of your city on these apps, you can see what people are posting about locally.

4. Host a listening booth

Setting up a listening booth is easy: find a spot with some foot traffic, set up a table and two chairs, and make a sign that says “Let’s Chat!” Giving people your undivided attention, instead of focusing on when it’s your turn to talk, will likely open up an incredible conversation about their life experiences.

5. Launch a community history project

Using all the techniques above, you can record stories with tools like the StoryCorps app, which give people a chance to easily record meaningful conversations that are then archived at the Library of Congress. On their website, you’ll find guides to asking questions, resources you need to record, how to prepare for a storyteller interview, and more.

If you like taking photos, you could pair your story collecting with a photo series, like Humans of New York.

This marks the end of the Local Civic Challenge! Do you have other ideas that will help people get engaged with their communities? Let us know below.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/telling-story-your-community/.

Better Group Experience in Franklin Circles and Beyond

Since we established our partnership with NCDD member org, Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), we have been sharing stories from Circles that have been convening. This article from Victoria Fann, who hosts a circle in North Carolina, shared an article on A Better Group Experience, that shares some foundational tips to good group process that can be used for Ben Franklin Circles and beyond this process: the right setting, good guidelines, and gentle facilitation. You can read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


A Better Group Experience

As Ben Franklin discovered hundreds of years ago, something magical happens when a group of people get together to engage in meaningful conversation: that circle of individuals becomes something far greater than the sum of its parts. A powerful, dynamic energy emerges from the group collective and creates access to all the combined energy, tools, inspiration, the information, wisdom, insights and resources of that group of people.

In this context, people are able to share great levels of wisdom, become vulnerable with each other, establish a higher level of trust than they would in a social setting and have a deep level of intimacy with people they barely even know very quickly.

In addition, small groups that connect deeply often facilitate high levels of motivation, honesty, healing, growth, learning that can motivate people to think and behave in ways that they might not have considered before. When someone tells a story or models something new, it opens up a whole new range of possibilities, which ultimately, can foster hope and optimism.

Given what’s happening in our world today, with loneliness becoming an epidemic and suicide rates rising, this is extraordinary. And yet it’s something that isn’t done enough.

Yes, there are thousands of Meetup groups happening around the world based on common interests. But, unless there are certain conditions, those meetings will not yield the same transformative power as a small group having a deep discussion in a quiet environment.

So what are the conditions that open the doors to the extraordinary?

It’s fairly simple really. The right setting, a good set of guidelines and gentle facilitation.

Setting
Let’s talk about the setting first. I’ve run successful groups for close to thirty years, and the majority of those groups took place in my living room or the living room of a group member. Why? Because it’s one of the few places that combines privacy, comfort, quiet, natural lighting, a friendly host, non-public bathroom, occasional adorable pets, etc. If you want a group of people to relax, take off their masks, open up and share their stories, gather them in an environment that is familiar, that is associated with relaxation and ease and feels more like a gathering of friends than a business meeting. No other setting even comes close to this.

Our Ben Franklin Circle initially met in a local café, and while it was nice to be able to buy coffee and baked goods, it ended up being too noisy and not private enough. Plus, we were sitting around tables in wooden chairs with a table between us. Shifting to a living room setting in a member’s home sitting on comfortable chairs and couches, created a totally different experience that immediately allowed us to deepen the discussion. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief.

But setting alone isn’t enough. In fact, when you’re in a less formal setting, the tendency would be to fall back into casual, undirected discussion. This is why there is a strong need for guidelines.

Guidelines
Again, these are simple and not at all inhibiting. Instead, they create an even deeper level of trust and relaxation because the participants know that they will be heard and that conversation will stay on topic, and not degenerate into debates and philosophizing.

Here is the guideline that I created years ago for all the groups I’ve run and am currently using in our Circle:

  • Speak from the heart and from direct experience using “I” statements.
  • Speak without interruption or cross-talk.
  • Respect each other’s need for silence as well as each other’s need to speak and be heard.
  • Listen from the heart and serve as a compassionate witness for other people in the circle. To be an effective witness means paying attention to what’s being said without interpreting, judging, or trying to “fix” or rescue the person speaking.
  • Respect each other’s privacy and keep everything that’s shared confidential.

These guidelines are not new nor are they unique. However, they are incredibly effective creating a group experience that is deeply rewarding.

Gentle Facilitation
Finally, it is important to have someone that is able to lead the group with a gentle hand. Mostly, this person presents conversation-starting questions and quotes (or as I mentioned in a previous blog post allows them to be drawn from a hat), keeps the conversation on topic, makes sure everyone has had an equal opportunity to share and be heard and generally tunes into what is needed by the group. That sounds like it’s a lot, but it’s fairly simple. A good facilitator is one that fades into the background and appears to participate in the same way as other members. This establishes trust and removes any sense of hierarchy.

In my experience, setting, guidelines and gentle facilitation are what makes a good group experience, an extraordinary one.

I will leave you with a little food for thought from Ben Franklin:

“To expect people to be good, to be just, to be temperate, etc., without showing them how they should become so, seems like the ineffectual charity mentioned by the apostle, which consisted in saying to the hungry, the cold and the naked, be ye fed, be ye warmed, be ye clothed, without showing them how they should get food, fire or clothing.”

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at https://benfranklincircles.org/tips-advice/a-better-group-experience.

When NCDD Members Meet: Opening to Each Other’s Story

We love hearing about when our NCDD members make connections and meet up! Recently, Susan McCormack met up with David and Erin Leaverton of Undivided Nation at McCormack’s Vermont home to learn more about each other’s work; which Susan then shared the experience on her Creative Discourse blog. The Leavertons are spending the year traveling to every state in the US, to hear stories first-hand from folks and dig deeper into understanding the divisions in this country – learn more about their travels from our June Confab with them! You can read the post below and find the original post on McCormack’s blog here.


An Encounter With Hope

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a complete stranger.  He was traveling all fifty states with his family. He was in Vermont and wanted to meet with me to hear the story of my life and my work.

I soon realized that if we were to meet, I was most interested in hearing his story.  Here is what I knew from our brief correspondence.  A successful political consultant for conservative Republicans, he realized that maybe he had done his job too well; that the politics of division may have helped win many elections but this approach also led to a corrosive sort of politics dominated by fear.  This dawning awareness, along with a courageous dose of self-reflection and prayer (he and his wife are devout Christians), led him and his wife to quit their jobs, sell their house, and leave their comfortable life in a small, white, middle class Texas town. They packed up an RV and set out on a yearlong journey with their three young children.  Undivided Nation was born.  David and Erin had a big goal.  They hoped to understand the political divide and figure out how to bring unity to the nation.  Their journey has taken an unexpected turn. More about that later.

So, would I talk to this guy?  Of course I would. First, though, I needed him to know something about me.  If I was going to invite this stranger into my home, I needed him to know that I have a wife, not a husband as he might expect.  I e-mailed the invitation and waited. I didn’t hear back right away. I wondered if maybe his brand of Christianity just couldn’t accommodate the reality of my life.  It was a painful waiting, a fear of being rejected before ever being seen and known.

The next day, though, the response came through, and David accepted my invitation to come to our home the next day.  I would make us lunch.

Over a two hour period and grilled cheese sandwiches we talked.  The words couldn’t come fast enough. Hearing the story of David’s transformation was beautiful.  He began Undivided Nation with the thought that he and Erin were going to listen carefully to stories of the political divide and figure out ways to mend it.  That’s not the story that has unfolded. Twenty-four states in, David and Erin have heard stories of a terrible divide; a divide that has had a profound impact on people’s experiences, their prospects for success, whether they and their children live or die.  This is not the political divide they expected to learn about, but the racial divide in our country. David’s exposure to these stories, stories he never heard in his white, middle class bubble in small town Texas, jeopardized his lifelong view that America is the land of opportunity; that anyone can succeed by the “bootstrap” method of hard work and determination.  Through careful and courageous listening, David and Erin are learning how the racist systems our country was founded on have created significant obstacles for many brown and black Americans.

Unlike David, my life circumstances exposed me to people of diverse backgrounds and experiences from a young age.  In fact, I have been a student of these systems for many years.  If you take the time to look, you can see the legacy of hundreds of years of laws, policies, practices, and attitudes that were foundational to our country’s beginnings, and have continued in various forms over the years to perpetuate the status quo.  The racial divide is harsh, profound, and in stark relief in our current national consciousness. It is laid bare by the country’s reaction to our first black president and the rhetoric and actions of what some refer to as our first “white” president.

If you love this country and believe in the promise of our founding documents, our present reality is almost unbearable to come to terms with, especially for white Americans like me and David.  If I am honest, I have to admit that at times I continue to cling to the mythology of America; to romanticize our progress despite ample evidence to the contrary. This is a dubious luxury that people of color don’t have.  The reality isn’t just around them, it is impacting people of color directly, daily. Even though it is tempting for white people to turn away from this reality, it seems as if an awakening is occurring among many white Americans.  We are helped along on this path by a plethora of insightful bookspodcasts, blogs, and videos.

Once we realize that the systems designed to disadvantage some of us, end up disadvantaging all of us, aren’t we compelled to take action to change the status quo? The next question becomes, what sort of action should we take?  So much needs to change. For David and Erin, Undivided Nation is their unique contribution.

Without David’s journey, I wonder if he would have accepted my invitation to meet me and see my ordinary life with my wife.  We are all so much more than the characteristics and systems that are used to divide us up. Until we sit down across from each other and share our stories though, how will we ever know?

You can read the original version of this article on McCormack’s Creative Discourse blog at www.creativediscourse.org/blog/2018/7/10/an-enounter-with-hope.

Free Issue Guide for Addressing Controversial Memorials

For the last few years, many communities have struggled with what to do with the controversial Confederate monuments and memorials that still stand in public areas in cities around the country. NCDD member org, the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) shared on their blog a post about how the city of Jacksonville, Florida, is trying to figure out what to do with these statues by engaging people in the community. Veteran NIFI organizer, Gregg Kaufman developed a 15-page issue guide for the city, to help facilitate community conversations around what to do – you can download the free guide here. Read more about the effort around addressing these controversial memorials and the issue guide below, as well as, you can find the original post on NIFI’s site here.


In Jacksonville, Florida, Public Deliberations Help Inform Plans to Deal with Monuments and Memorials

Last month, veteran National Issues Forums (NIF) convener and moderator, Gregg Kaufman reported on a 16-forum public engagement project in the Jacksonville, Florida area, during February and March, 2018. The project was intended to help people in the community talk about Jacksonville’s history, and to deliberate about the best way to deal with controversial statues and monuments in the area.

In the forums, participants used an issue discussion guide that was authored by Kaufman and sponsored by the Jesse Ball duPont Fund  . The 15-page issue guide, titled How Should We Convey the History of Jacksonville? Monuments, Parks, and People, is available as a free download.

Kaufman has recently followed up with information about the genesis of the forums project, and subsequent, issue-related media coverage, announcements, and activities on the part of public officials.

Kaufman wrote:

In the autumn of 2017, Anna Brosche, City Council President called for public discourse and enlisted the help of the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund. Along with Leadership Jacksonville and other organizations, we hosted 16 forums in February and March 2018 with over 200 participants.

A June 20, 2018 local news report included:

“The city council president, who will conclude her leadership of the council at the end of this month, initially took a strong stand for ‘respectfully removing’ and ‘relocating’ the city’s Confederate memorials to places like museums. She has since come to the conclusion that just isn’t feasible in Jacksonville.”

And the same report quotes Brosche:

“There’s a desire to make our parks more welcoming to everyone in the city. At the same time, movement or relocation doesn’t seem to be an option that the entire community supports,” she said.”

When invited to comment about whether, or in what ways getting feedback from public deliberation on this community issue was helpful to her work as a public official, City Council President Broshe responded: It is an honor and privilege to have been elected by the people to serve the people. Public deliberation and public discourse are important contributors to our policy-making responsibilities. I appreciate Gregg Kaufman’s work to help us gain understanding from the citizens we serve on a very important issue for the Jacksonville community, and for the support of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and Leadership Jacksonville in working to meaningfully engage citizens in the work. Public engagement could serve to improve public trust in government and produce ideas and solutions for elected officials and we could stand to be more effective in educating and engaging the public in our work.

It is also important to note that my position of requesting an inventory for the purpose of respectfully relocating the confederate monument from our public park in the center of our city was informed by public input during meetings, comments in our local papers, as well as the report (from the 16-forum series). This process of public dialogue also yielded conversations and efforts that produced my proposal to erect a memorial to victims of terror lynchings based on the work of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice that opened in April 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama

You can find the full version of this article on NIFI’s site at www.nifi.org/en/jacksonville-florida-public-deliberations-help-inform-plans-deal-monuments-and-memorials.

NCDD Update: ALA Conf, Frontiers, NCL, and CO Workshop

The NCDD staff has been up to some exciting ventures this last month that we wanted to fill you in on! June 22nd, in particular, was a busy day for the NCDD team as we each trekked to several exciting events that were happening in our network; Co-Founder Sandy Heierbacher was at ALA’s Annual Conference in New Orleans, Managing Director Courtney Breese was at the Frontiers of Democracy conference at Tufts University, and I attended NCL’s National Conference on Local Governance in Denver where NCDD Board Chair Martín Carcasson presented.

As part of our partnership with the American Library Association (ALA), Sandy ran a workshop on Host Training in Conversation Café with NCDD member Susan Partnow. They gave this fantastic day-long session to a packed room of participants from public libraries serving small, mid-sized and/or rural communities; where attendees learned how to organize and host Conversation Cafés. In many communities, particularly smaller and more rural areas, libraries hold vital space as epicenters of community engagement and social change. The workshop prepared participants to run Cafés in their local libraries and how to use this great tool for holding exploratory dialogues with the community.

At the Frontiers conference, Courtney did a session on Partnering to Strengthen Participatory Democracy: How Might We Connect and Collaborate?, in which participants learned examples about efforts to connect engagement practitioners with librarians and journalists, and then explored ways to deepen network connections, particularly across fields. The conference was hosted by the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University and a primary focus this year was around how engagement work can better connect to activism. For example, there was a panel of students from Boston public high schools and Ph.D.s from UMASS, who spoke about the walkout they self-organized over budget issues, what their roles were and the ways they organized. Another one of the speakers was someone who had been previously incarcerated and they spoke about challenges of re-entering into society, the roadblocks they experienced, and how this impacted their ability to fully participate in a democratic society.

NCDD member org – the National Civic League, hosted the National Conference on Local Governance which was a jam-packed, one-day opportunity to dive into some of the cutting-edge practices and processes that improve equity within communities. Martín presented a session about Resident Engagement: How to Change Negatives in which he spoke about the neuroscience behind why traditional public engagement efforts often fall flat and how by designing better engagement processes, communities can be more effective in addressing challenging issues. It was a fantastic session with a perfect blend of information, while being engaging and entertaining! If you haven’t attended a session by Martín, I highly recommend you check one out the next opportunity you get! (Secret insider tip: He’s going to be running an exciting pre-conference session the day before NCDD2018 on Nov 1st that we encourage you to check out – Stay tuned to the blog for details to follow…)

Last week, I spoke at the monthly meeting for the Arvadans for Progressive Action about cultivating constructive conversations, in which I shared more about the NCDD network and several helpful tips and resources for making conversations more effective. Despite being a hot Colorado day, it was a great turnout of folks dedicated to working hard to engage the community and create a more equitable world. Huge thank you to all those who attended the event and asked really dynamic questions; and many thanks to the Arvadans for Progressive Action for inviting me to come share conversational tips and wisdom from the NCDD network.

On a related note, NCDD staff would love to come hold a workshop with your group, organization, or event!  We are happy to tailor the workshop to your needs for navigating challenging conversations. I am located in Denver, Managing Director Courtney Breese is in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Co-Founder Sandy Heierbacher is in Boston; all of us can travel to our respective surrounding areas to hold workshops. For folks that are located outside of these places, contact us and let’s see if we can coordinate logistics with travel or technology to make a workshop happen for you! Please contact me at keiva[at]ncdd[dot]orgfor workshop inquiries. 

Inspiring Our Best Selves Through Franklin’s Virtues

As part of our partnership with NCDD member org, Ben Franklin Circles (BFC), we have been connecting the stories coming from the Circles here on the blog. The most recent article, written by Sarah Goodwin Thiel of the Harwood Institute – also an NCDD member org – makes note of how Franklin’s 13 virtues can inspire us to live closer to our higher selves. You can read the article below and find the original on BFC’s site here.


Calling Our Best Selves

When one lives in the DC Metro area, the founding fathers are never far away. You see them everywhere – universities and institutes are named after them; books by and about them grace shop windows; they are memorialized at every turn – their likenesses found in statues, their words engraved on walls and plaques. And now, as in the case of Ben Franklin, groups of people are gathering monthly to discuss their ideas. Ben Franklin Circles are not unique to Washington DC but I was unaware of them before arriving here. Following the book club format, with good food and lively conversation, these circles bring people together to discuss BF’s 13 Virtues, considered and documented by Franklin when he was just 20 years old. At this writing, I have engaged with only four of Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues. My friend and I joined another friend’s neighborhood Ben Franklin Circle on month #5 where we had a rousing discussion of frugality and were left looking at the concept in new and different ways.

Since then, in our monthly discussions of the virtues, we have each shared and discussed our varied views of the concepts and we have done our best to make sense of BF’s definitions. Our conversations cover a lot of ground, we move between confidence and vulnerability as BF calls us to live purposefully and responsibly. His focus is not on doing the “right” thing but on doing all things thoughtfully and with intention. He asks us to be mindful of our own gifts, our own privilege and to make sound decisions that do no harm to others – or to ourselves. Each month, Ben Franklin slips into our lives to remind us
to be our best selves.

Imagine if we were all to do that. It stands to reason that together our efforts would be strengthened and our impact far greater. But that kind of intentionality begs for brutal honesty, discipline, self-awareness and a sincere belief in personal responsibility. And that’s the catch, right? How many of us have all these things? Or the wherewithal to practice them, if we do? Ben Franklin surely knew this. He knew from his own experience that living a “virtuous” life, as he defined it, would not come as second nature but would require practice. Franklin’s virtues must be repeated, they need to be considered regularly and practiced daily.

I have to say that in just four months, I find myself looking at things very differently. I am determined, with BF’s virtues in mind, and with lots of practice, to put my best self forward. To use my resources and my privilege to benefit others as well as myself. I will soon be leaving the Metro area and will no longer see the founding fathers every day but I go with a new aspiration to live thoughtfully and with intention – and I have Ben Franklin to thank for that.

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues

  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness. Drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e., Waste nothing.
  6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Sarah Goodwin Thiel is a Studio Associate at the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in DC, where she is a member of a Ben Franklin Circle. Post originally published by the Harwood Institute https://theharwoodinstitute.org/news/2018/7/5/calling-our-best-selves

You can find this version of the article on the Ben Franklin Circles’ blog at www.benfranklincircles.org/virtues/calling-our-best-selves.

Dig into this Democracy Summer Reading List

Now that summer is in full swing, we are hoping folks are getting some down time to enjoy the season. Whether you are relaxing or needing a break from work, check out this summer reading list gathered by Democracy Works, a podcast created by NCDD member org, the McCourtney Institute at Penn State. Let us know in the comments if you are reading any of these and please let us know your recommendations for books on democracy, dialogue, deliberation, and/or public engagement! You can read the article below and find the original version on the Democracy Works site here.


Season 1 finale: A democracy summer reading list

Ah, summer. Time to kick back and relax with a good book or two.If you’ve been to a book store or the library lately, then you’ve probably seen at least a few books on democracy on the shelves. The 2016 presidential election spurred a lot of conversation about the current state of our democracy and where things go from here. These books are not what most people would call beach reading, but they are important to understanding what’s happening in the U.S. and around the world right now.

We know you probably don’t have time to read all of them. Hopefully this episode will help you choose one or two to tackle this summer. Here’s the rundown of the books we discuss:

And here are a few others\ we recommend but didn’t have time to discuss in this episode:

Thank you to everyone who supported us on the first season of Democracy Works. Season two will begin in mid-August with a look at Confederate monuments and public memory on the anniversary of last summer’s riots in Charlottesville.

You can find the original version of this article on Democracy Works site at www.democracyworkspodcast.com/2018/07/09/season-1-finale-a-democracy-summer-reading-list/.