Stories from Ben Franklin Circles in North Carolina

As you may remember, NCDD teamed up with member org, Ben Franklin Circles and we announced last month that we were going to be sharing stories from Circles. In the article, Tiyo Hallock shares his experience running Circles in North Carolina, and particularly how the value of Silence has played into his life and work.  You can read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Circle Spotlight: Ty from Asheville, NC

Name: Tiyo Hallock
Hometown: Asheville, NC
Sponsoring Organization: Creative Facilitators
Date Launched: October 2017

What attracted you to Ben Franklin Circles?
I’ve done a lot of work with various facilitation methods. I was attracted to how the structure allows the participants to explore principles first and foremost, and then sets the groundwork for action in the community. I’ve been a part of many groups. I know you need to work on the underlying platform of trust and then everything else falls into place. Ben Franklin Circles gives you the tools and the people supporting it are awesome.

How did you recruit members for your Circle? Any lessons learned?
I started to put together some flyers and get the word out there. Then I realized that people I already knew would really appreciate this. I basically reverted my strategy to posting on my Facebook page and doing some one-on-one asks. Every single person I showed the video to and talked about the event with came. I’ve tried to invite someone to every meeting to keep it fresh and to try and keep the numbers up, as some folks have not been able to make every meeting. We have a shorter meeting than most because I am catering to busy folks and I feel like a smaller group size is actually much better for a shorter event. Long story short, we probably don’t need to invite anyone else now that our group is perfect.

How has hosting a Ben Franklin Circle impacted you?
I’ve hosted a lot of these things, but I had a profound experience with the principle of Silence. I was really able to bring my full self. I am an introvert and I felt that, when people had permission to be silent and the silence that we practiced was welcomed with open arms, we had more trust and flow in our group.

Which virtue means the most to you personally and why?
I don’t want to answer! Each one has been meaningful—and I am only on number three! However, I was profoundly moved by Silence and the community ideas that came out of that session, so there you go.

What is the last commitment you made to yourself? How’s it going?
I’m committed to having Silence as a principle, as an exercise when I work with other groups where we are growing trust. I’ve also committed to growing Ben Franklin Circles. I’m spreading the word to try to get other folks to start Circles.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circles’ site at https://benfranklincircles.org/circle-spotlight/circle-spotlight-ty-from-asheville-nc.

Watch A Public Voice 2018 Live Stream on May 9th

Coming up this Wednesday, May 9th, is the annual A Public Voice event, hosted by NCDD member orgs – the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute. APV 2018 will bring the outcomes of this year’s forums on immigration to policymakers and their staffers on the Hill. We encourage you to watch the event, which will be live streamed on Facebook Live from 9:30-11:30am Eastern. Learn more about A Public Voice 2018 here.


Watch a Livestream – A Public Voice 2018

May 9, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Eastern Time
National Press Club, Washington, DC

On May 9, 2018, the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) will host A Public Voice 2018 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. A panel will discuss outcomes from early forums on the issue of immigration reform. A more complete report later in the year will draw from forums that will be held throughout the coming months.

The A Public Voice 2018 event will also feature discussions about the potential of creating future discussion materials about divisiveness in public life.

The 9:30-11:30 a.m., Eastern Time, panel discussion will be live streamed on Facebook, where viewers will be welcome to post their comments.

Gary Paul, a National Issues Forums Institute director and professor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, will moderate the exchange among members of a roundtable that will include:

  • John Doble, Kettering Foundation senior associate and contributing editor of the Coming to America issue guide
  • Jean Johnson, National Issues Forums Institute vice president for moderator development and communications and contributor to the Coming to America report
  • Alberto Olivas, executive director, Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service, Arizona State University
  • Virginia York, National Issues Forums moderator, Panama City, Florida
  • Oliver Schwab, chief of staff, Rep. David S. Schweickert
  • Mischa Thompson, senior policy advisor, US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
  • Adam Hunter, former director, immigration and the states project, Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Betsy Wright Hawkings, program director, governance initiative, Democracy Fund

The event will be live streamed via Facebook Live. We want to hear from you about topics, such as how difficult it can be to talk across divides in this country; what those divides look like in your communities; and how you think elected officials could help citizens bridge these divides. Your comments will be part of the live event in DC.

Join the Facebook event to receive updates on when and how to participate.

Learn more about A Public Voice 2018 at www.apublicvoice.org/.
This announcement is from NIFI’s email newsletter which you can sign up for at www.nifi.org/en/user/register.

Tapping in D&D Work with Engaged Journalism

While this piece on the growing movement of engaged journalism was written last fall, we find its lesson to still be of great importance. NCDD sponsoring org, the Jefferson Center wrote on the increasing emergence of engaged journalism, a facet of journalism that seeks to elevate the needs of the community, not just push out click-bait style media. Something that has become quite apparent lately, is the seeming disconnect between the work of the D&D field and the public’s awareness this work is going on – a phenomenon that can significantly be decreased with stronger relationships with community-centered journalism and better exposure of the many efforts going on in the field.

Public News Service gave excellent coverage of last week’s National Week of Conversation that we encourage you to check out:

There is a lot of still-untapped potential between the D&D community and our media makers. The NCDD network has been deepening our relationship with journalists over the last several years, exploring how the D&D community can create stronger partnerships with journalists; and it is our hope to continue to nurture this bond. For additional exploration on how to improve this opportunity, check out our Journalism-D&D Confab call, our podcast with Journalism That Matters, and the recorded media panel from the last NCDD conference in 2016 (click here for the recording). Below is the article from the Jefferson Center and you can also find the original here.


Exploring Engagement & Participation in Journalism

Journalism has had a rough couple of months (or years, if you’re watching closely). News agencies are discredited, criticized, and attacked daily. Partisan news outlets seem to spring up every week, making it difficult to find neutral information.These trends compound another major problem in the journalism world: with the growth of social media, ad-blockers, and the domination of Facebook and Google (and soon, Amazon) in the digital advertising market, traditional models of ad-supported journalism are collapsing. Many citizens also don’t see the news, on a local or national scale, as representing their needs and interests. This is not just a crisis for journalism, it’s a crisis for our democracy.

Like us, many organizations are rolling up their sleeves to embrace the challenge, supporting engaged journalism approaches. Engaged journalism seeks to inform and empower communities, with news organizations prioritizing community needs above those of advertisers. Engaged journalists use the knowledge and talents of their community to cover critical stories and challenges. Instead of driving profit through clickbait news, engaged and participatory journalism focuses on (re)building relationships between journalists and the communities they serve.

What are others doing?

Around the globe, a few large newsrooms, startups, and nonprofits are experimenting with new business models, leading community engagement efforts, working to restore local trust in news, and building a sustainable subscriber base of community members.

To target media “deserts” in rural and urban regions of Ohio, where traditional media outlets don’t exist, Journalism That Matters is exploring deliberative ways to design local news media and information communication systems. Similarly, the News Voices initiative from Free Press uses community organizing and public engagement events as a way for journalists to carve out a new niche in their communities by supporting citizens. Hearken offers newsrooms a model called “public-powered journalism” to meaningfully engage the public throughout the development of stories.

If you’re interested in diving into engaged journalism yourself, visit Gather, a platform to support community-minded journalists and other engagement professionals. The site officially launches October 2nd, 2017, but for now you can explore their mission, request to join, and follow the latest engagement strategy stories on their Medium page. Gather is a product of the Elevate Engagement workshop, which explored how engaged journalism can help communities thrive. After the workshop, our director Kyle Bozentko worked with engagement strategist Joy Mayer and journalist and author March Twisdale to draft the Elevate Engagement Manifesto,which establishes guidelines and goals for this emerging community of journalists, media researchers and educators, and engagement practitioners.

Research, support, and will to try audience-driven and collaborative journalism is just starting to take off, but there are a few barriers in the way. Many small and medium-sized news outlets might hesitate to embrace engaged journalism because of a lack of organizational capacity, uncertainty about the impact of new techniques, or a fear of losing their long-held identity. However, the growth and determination of the programs and organizations above (and these are just a few examples) could help provide the capacity and resources to make long-lasting changes in local journalism.

The Role of the Jefferson Center

We’re excited to announce the launch of Your Voice Ohio and Media Seeds, two collaborative programs that will test, evaluate, and refine sustainable methods for engaging and serving communities through better, more participatory journalism. We’ll explore the complementary roles of public deliberation and discussion, community organizing, digital engagement, media collaboration, and other journalistic approaches in helping communities, and journalism, thrive. Dozens of print, radio, and television newsrooms have already signed onto Your Voice Ohio to create a statewide news collaborative. The collaborative will share experiences and align reporting resources to better serve more Ohio communities.

Media Seeds, through a partnership with Journalism That Matters, will support media innovations in communities lacking daily local news. The project will support community residents and stakeholders using JTM’s “Create or Die” model, which includes community dialogue, innovation gatherings, and community communication pilot projects.

These projects are funded by a $250,000 grant from the Democracy Fund and a $75,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with additional support from individual donors. These projects build on the work of Your Vote Ohio during the 2016 election, focused on supporting journalists to produce political coverage tailored to the diverse needs of communities across Ohio. Your Voice Ohio and Media Seeds are also a way to move forward the principles, goals, and values our organization committed to in the Elevate Engagement Manifesto. Joy Mayer was also a recipient of a Knight Foundation Grant under the “Trust, Media and Democracy” initiative.

Our main goals:

  • Through experimentation and shared learning, increase the capacity of newsrooms around Ohio to practice engaged journalism.
  • Partners will create new examples and local case studies of engaged journalism, with more detailed information about implementing engaged journalism practices.
  • Provide better comparative data about the value of engaged journalism approaches, as multiple communities systematically experiment with similar efforts.

You can download our official press release, visit the official Your Voice Ohio website, and follow the program on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

You can find the original version of this article on the Jefferson Center’s site at www.jefferson-center.org/exploring-engagement-participation-in-journalism/.

**The Jefferson Center recently did a follow up piece on this effort which you can find at www.jefferson-center.org/conversation-to-build-collaboration/.

NWOC Partner Shares Piece on Hearing Every Voice

The National Week of Conversation is wrapping up tomorrow, April 28th, and many across the nation have participated in this collective movement to bring Americans together to talk and heal divisions. Which is why we wanted to lift up this piece that fellow NWOC partner AllSides recently shared on their Perspectives blog on Hearing Every Voice written by Tom McSteen of Sacred Discourse. The article talks about the experience of connecting through conversation in a way that honors every voice present and the importance of utilizing structures like those of Living Room Conversations, also a partner of NWOC and an NCDD member. Read the post below and find the original on AllSides site here.


Hearing Every Voice

How do you feel when your voice is heard? How do you feel when it is not?

We all want our voice to be heard. We all want to feel self-expressed. We all want to leave a gathering where we had something to say, having said what we wanted to say. If that does not happen, feelings of frustration, disagreement, and aloneness can creep in. These feelings, particularly when experienced over time, can lead to states of separation and division.

Unsurprisingly, I have experienced many conversations and public events where I felt my voice was not heard, from extended family gatherings at holidays to governmental forums on whether to build pipelines. Leaving these situations with the experience of not being heard left me feeling isolated.

Hearing every voice can be literal, as in taking the time at a particular gathering to give everyone a chance to speak. It can also be figurative, when people feel in some collective way that their views or experiences have been dismissed. This figurative example is often seen in national elections, when groups of people feel glossed over and unheard. Yet, this state is more likely to develop over time when there are not tangible forums for people to fully eexpressthemselves.

We have choices, both in the literal and figurative sense. We can act so as to not hear or marginalize certain voices, to selectively hear only what we want to hear. When we do so, however, we add, often unintentionally, to the current division in our politics, our public discourse.

Or, on the other hand, when we intentionally make an attempt to hear every voice, in any setting on any topic, literally or figuratively, we create the possibility of conversation or discourse that is more inclusive and connective.

When people do not feel heard, they are more likely to be dismissive of others’ voices. And, when people feel heard, they are more likely to allow others to be heard, in turn.

It may not always be easy or simple to create the space for every voice to be heard. But it’s possible. Setting rules of engagement and establishing a safe and clear container in a structured environment are two key ways to allow for every voice to be heard.

The new and rising organization, Living Room Conversations, provides a safe place to hear every voice. Having been a part of multiple conversations using this methodology, I know firsthand that people with very different points of view can come together and have a civil conversation. And, most importantly, they can walk away with a new understanding of the “other.”

A key differentiator, perhaps, is a well-stated intention to hear every voice no matter the setting. Whether in families or at the office, imagine what is possible when there is a concerted effort to hear all voices. Business journals, as an example, laud corporations that invest the time and effort into really providing time and space to listen to each and every employee. Could not the same be true for public discourse? Particularly for local issues, town halls can be a forum where there is a clear intention to give time and space to hear every voice on a given topic.

The experience of being heard can go a long way toward acceptance of a decision that goes against what I want to happen. When I feel that I have had the opportunity to express myself fully, and I feel the self-respect that comes from being able to do so, I can much more easily accept whatever the decision may be, even if I disagree with the outcome.

Might this simply be a return to respectful dialogue? In early April, the organization A Peace of Mind set up a studio at a leadership conference focused on cultivating civil discourse. They asked participants, “How have you cultivated civil discourse in the past year?” The responses were wide-ranging, and they provide numerous examples of what people can do to promote this practice.

One participant said: “I try to really learn about the speaker’s perspective and not just wait for them to pause so I can jump in and talk.” What a difference this could make toward returning to an experience of civil discourse that is respectful and constructive and that does not separate and divide.

As we move forward to the 2018 national elections, and then on to the 2020 presidential elections, what are ways that we each can be sure that those voices, particularly of people with whom we disagree, are heard? What community forums might we create to give people an opportunity to fully express their beliefs and concerns?

In addition to creating the forums, it helps to prepare people for these conversations. That is what we do at Sacred Discourse, following a relational framework that supports a shared intention to leave the others in a conversation feeling more whole, inspired, and connected after the conversation. Our framework begins with a commitment to hear all the voices, because without including everyone, we cannot move forward together.

You can find the original version of this article on AllSide Perspectives blog at www.allsides.com/blog/hearing-every-voice.

Ben Franklin Circles and Understanding Common Ground

One of the more challenging realities when trying to find common ground is that often times the core understanding of words can be dramatically different than from someone “across the aisle”. As NCDD board member, Jacob Hess discusses in this relevant piece with NCDD member org, Ben Franklin Circles, while we live in a period of rampant hyperpartisanship – how can we work together to find common ground when folks can have fundamentally different definitions? How do we take this phenomenon into account when building relationships and working towards bridging these divides? We encourage you to read the post below and carry this with you as you also check out the National Week of Conversation, happening until April 28th, that works to do just this through connecting conversations. You can find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Rediscovering Common Ground We (Mostly) Share

In our polarized American landscape, we often hear that if we “just came together” around values we share, we could find a lot of common ground.

I believe that, but only partially. The reason is I’ve spent years talking with people across the political spectrum about some of these core values.

And for anyone who does that – and there are many wonderful civic, community and dialogue leaders who have done similar things – something obvious emerges. While we might, in fact, hold common agreements on the importance of certain key principles, values and virtues, we sure don’t agree on what those mean, how to define (or redefine) them in the modern age and what, if any, application and relevance they hold for the many complex issues facing society today. For example, what does “justice” mean today or “compassion” or “religious freedom”? (hint: not the same thing across the political spectrum).

This isn’t bad news. It’s just the way things are. Even the very words we use come to mean fundamentally different things. I was involved in a project in 2016 mapping these different meanings in collaboration with dialogue professionals across some of the more salient socio-political differences. The goal was to create some kind of a term guide that might help translate and clarify between these understandings (and perhaps encourage more humanizing in real life). Included in that Red Blue Dictionary (now hosted as the All Sides Dictionary) are the contested meanings for basic words like “American,” “facts” and “politically correct” and “progressive,” and other terms with uniquely triggering meanings (for some), such as “white privilege” and “politically correct.” Still other emotional terms have been variously defined in very broad or limited ways, depending on the context, including “extremist,” “radical,” “irrational,” “hate,” “bigot,” “racist,” and “anti-gay.”

In each case, we document and explore fundamentally different ways of conceiving these principles, terms and definitions – and in some cases, these values. Depending on that meaning, the words can be experienced and function in profoundly different ways. For instance, when defined broadly, the word “extremist” or “radical” can be used to shut down those we disagree with, and can be experienced as very silencing. And words like “fact” and “truth” may be experienced so differently that people are hardly speaking about the same thing. Once again, this is not bad news at all – as long as we’re aware it is happening (in which case, we can respond in some kind of a productive way).

Unfortunately in most cases, for most Americans, this is simply not happening. They are almost entirely unaware that some of the basic words they use might actually mean something remarkably different to their left-leaning neighbor or to their right-leaning uncle.

In the absence of that recognition, a couple of things happen: first, we have a very difficult time communicating. Imagine two people coming together speaking two languages, but not even aware they are speaking two languages. This is kind of what’s happening now according to many observers in America. “Let’s all fight for social justice!” says one progressive college student – hardly aware that this very word, “social justice” can feel like an existential threat to many conservatives. “As long as can uphold what is Biblical we’ll be okay as a society” says another religious conservative – with little awareness at how much of an existential threat this word now represents to those who identify as LGBT+.

You can guess what happens next: we get frustrated. Instead of realizing that this person sees the same fundamental principles in a different way, we lash out them, treating them somehow as if they are somehow inferior or motivated by selfishness or evil, because they actively oppose things that, to our mind and our community, seem eminently and urgently needed, good and right (and righteous).

You see, as long as we are not understanding how fundamentally we are seeing things differently, we are left to scramble for another explanation. And that explanation is served up by the professional polarizers that have become de facto leaders for so many communities in our country – across the political spectrum.

There are real fears on both sides of the spectrum that the other side is destroying the true fabric of the country and betraying its core values. And in vocalizing these fears, Americans tend to draw on heavy rhetoric that draws promiscuous boundary lines that contribute to an especially frightening picture – aka, all conservatives lumped together with white nationalists and all liberals lumped together with revolutionary Marxists, etc. And so it goes and goes and goes – and expands and metastasizes until we are so much at each other’s throats that more than one political commentator has openly wondered about the possibility of growing political-inspired violence on the horizon.

Getting people to come together across the divide won’t be easy. There’s no app for that. But there are ways forward, albeit not simplistic ones. For instance, we can begin by sitting with someone who doesn’t see the world as we do and actually hearing them out with sincere questions and honest curiosity. Let’s be honest. That’s hard work. Especially now. Especially with our minds so cluttered by the residue of professional provocateurs so much so that their aggressive angst sit on the tip of our own tongue.

But here’s the good news: for those willing to actually go there, to actually try this, to actually sit with their discomfort and listen – really listen, not the fake kind, not the ‘let-me-watch-for-whatever-opening-I-need-to-expose-the-ridiculous-delusion-of-this-other-person’ kind – for those willing to do that, things can change. And things do change…dramatically.

Trust me. I’ve lived this for over a decade. As a conservative Mormon, some of my best friends and most cherished relationships include atheist professors, lesbian activists and even some crazy, adorable Marxists. My own fear and anger to my many political opposites has lightened, and given way to curiosity and affection. From experience, I know that fear can evaporate. The animosity can diminish. And affection can grow. And all of a sudden, you’re falling in love in small, but real ways, with your political opponents.

Earlier this year, I saw these principles in action in a group I joined called a Ben Franklin Circle. There were 6 across the political spectrum who came together to discuss one of Franklin’s 13 virtues to live by. For example, we spent one meeting talking about the virtue of sincerity, what it meant and how (and whether) it applied to society today. Then we looked at ways to apply it and maybe experiment with it more in our own lives. It was so sweet that I still remember how refreshing it felt.

Say what you want about the founding fathers. Disagree with many of the positions that they and most Americans at the time happened to hold. But one thing we might all agree upon is that they understood the value of virtues like, honesty, integrity, like moderation—virtues that seem in short supply today.

What if we made space – even just a little, even just once in awhile – for these virtues by coming together to direct our attention, on purpose, to one of these ideals? We would talk together about what they mean and whether they are applicable to us today—and if so, what they call on us to try in our lives – and what they could mean for our country.

Once again, we won’t agree on those answers, but that’s not the point. It’s really never been the point. Because as soon as we have a conversation. Things change, for all of us. And that might be just what America needs right now.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circle’s at https://benfranklincircles.org/ben-franklin-circle-hosts/rediscovering-common-ground-we-mostly-share.

Insights on Participatory Democracy via the Jefferson Center

NCDD member org, The Jefferson Center, recently shared their recap of the Innovations in Participatory Democracy conference that happened last month. In their reflections, they discuss the future opportunities for our democracy by better bringing together participatory principles and deliberative approaches. You can read the post below and find the original on Jefferson Center’s site here.


Making Participation More Deliberative, and Deliberation More Participatory

A few weeks ago, we attended the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The conference, which we were excited to support as both participants and presenters, brought together community leaders, government officials and staff, practitioners, researchers, funders, youth leaders, and technologists to explore innovations in government participation.

We led a workshop on Citizens Juries, Assemblies, & Sortition, and participated in a panel on the similarities and differences across participatory budgeting, Citizen Juries, and citizen assemblies. While we were there, we saw democracy in action at Central High School, where students are part of a current Participatory Budgeting Project initiative.

At the conference, it was clear the opportunities for participatory democracy are expanding. Participatory democracy is made up of two key parts: participatory principles, which often invite the public to share their thoughts and opinions, and deliberative approaches, which typically convene a smaller group of individuals to learn about an issue and create plans for action or policy recommendations. While these two unique approaches are sometimes thought of as opposing forces, we saw how people around the world are using both to make democracy more impactful and inclusive. There’s no longer one clear set of principles for the “right” way to participate in democracy, and it’s incredible to be part of this movement.

We wanted to share a few exciting outlooks for democracy that we took away from the conference:

1. Collaboration with governments will grow and change

In the United States, Citizens Juries and mini-publics are typically run by nonprofits (like us!), rather than officially sponsored by the national government. This is changing as governments are exploring new ways to engage with their citizens. But, that doesn’t mean the only outcomes of deliberation and participation need to be policy changes: we’ve learned throughout our work that participatory democracy can be used successfully for long-term, community-wide impacts.

At the conference, we shared the example of our Rural Climate Dialogue program in Winona County, where residents created recommendations for their community to adapt to climate change and extreme weather. Since the dialogue, the City of Winona has adopted an energy plan with goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. They’ve also invested in community education initiatives on energy efficiency and water savings. Urging policy changes while supporting long-term behavior changes, like we’re doing in Winona County, will help governments, their partners, and citizens sustain the results of engagement efforts.

2. It’s time to focus on the opportunities to combine participatory and deliberative approaches

By merging both participatory principles and deliberative approaches, we can make democracy more accessible and impactful. You might be familiar with the thoughts of Micah Sifry, of Civic Hall, on these two distinct tactics: “Thick engagement doesn’t scale, and thin engagement doesn’t stick”. Deliberation (thick engagement) can be productive, but needs lots of time and resources. Participatory approaches (thin engagement), like asking for input on social media, may be easier and quicker, but require little ongoing involvement or further opportunities for deeper engagement, as Matt Leighninger of Public Agenda explores. But, there’s a solution, and we saw countless examples of this at the conference: we can invite people to submit ideas and proposals online for consideration by participants who are meeting in person. Conversely, we can build on the recommendations and ideas generated at deliberative events to form the base of digital participation efforts.

We’ve been testing out this combined approach in a few different projects. Through Your Vote Ohio and Informed Citizen Akron, we used deliberative events to ask citizens in Ohio what they needed from their local news organizations. Their input set the stage for Your Voice Ohio, a project that explores community engagement approaches to help newsrooms across the state listen and respond to their audiences. With the deliberation recommendations as a guiding force, we host open community events, invite people to share their stories online and through social media, and are rolling out Hearken as a platform where local residents can ask reporters questions about the addiction crisis. By combining these forces we’re making democracy more accessible to everyone.

3. The entry to engagement is different in every community

One of the incredible projects we heard about was the Participatory Budgeting Project’s work with the Phoenix Union High School District, where they invited student input to decide how to spend district-wide funds. This was the first school participatory budgeting process in the U.S. to focus on district-wide funds, which started with five public high schools and has expanded since. While this may seem like a small step, this has begun to shift the relationship between students and administrators.

Administrators are now considering how they can adapt these participatory practices to the everyday culture of these schools, like inviting students to share their thoughts on changes such as scheduling and course offerings. Because the initial opportunity to participate was simple and manageable for both the students and the administration, they’ve laid the foundation for future collaboration and growth. Plus, young people got to use real voting machines in the process, which was a great opportunity to experience how voting and live democracy actually work. We’re excited to see how this can expand to other schools and communities.

4. Success means equipping others

In democracy work, we often focus on “bringing projects to scale”. This is important, but we also don’t want to leave communities behind without equipping them with the tools they need for sustained success. For too long, the dominant theory of change for deliberative democracy looked something like this:

  1. Select a topic
  2. Host a Citizens Jury (or other deliberative event)
  3. Generate a report
  4. Hope someone reads it and utilizes the recommendations.

But, we can do so much more. We can combine thick and thin engagement techniques to give people the resources to continue projects after engagement organizations and professionals leave the community. At the Jefferson Center, we are implementing this approach with our dialogue-to-action model. First, we co-define: we build relationships with stakeholders and community members to gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand. Next, we co-design: working with project partners, we develop and implement an engagement process to unleash creative ideas which also provides participants with the expertise, tools, and time they need to develop solutions. Finally, we co-create: our partners use the public input to advance local actions, reform practices and processes, and guide policy development and decision-making.

5. We can frame impact differently to support broader results

Deliberation and participation can be misunderstood as having one narrow goal: to influence a policy decision. But instead, we can evaluate the success of Citizen Juries, mini-publics, and other engagement efforts not just by their policy influence, but by the opportunities to impact individuals, communities, networks, organizations, and governments. Unless they are expressly commissioned by a government sponsor, the projects that go beyond one policy objective will likely have the most impact. By taking a more holistic approach to change, we can build sustainable partnerships between individuals, leaders, local institutions, the media, and others, who can carry on the important work in the community.

For instance, Participatory Budgeting Projects don’t just enable people to direct public money to community priorities. Throughout the process, community organizations and networks are strengthened, as groups work together to focus on their shared needs. After the discussion ends, these groups may form new organizations and partnerships and continue positive and constructive engagement. All of the PB award winners at the conference, Cyndi Tercero-Sandoval (Phoenix Union High School District), Sonya Reynolds (Participatory Budgeting NYC), and Cecilia Salinas (Participatory Budgeting Chicago in the 49th Ward) represent this investment in long-term impact.

Looking forward

Participation and deliberation should not be positioned as opposing forces. Instead, it’s time to identify meaningful opportunities to make participatory practices more deliberative, and make deliberative processes more participatory. For those of us committed to democratic reform and innovation, combining these elements effectively, regardless of the issue, method, or context, will support our ambitions to create a stronger, more vibrant democracy for all of us.

You can find the original version of this post on Jefferson Center’s blog at www.jefferson-center.org/making-participation-more-deliberative-and-deliberation-more-participatory/.

Undivided Nation Bridging Divides One State at a Time

Have you been keeping up with the travels of NCDD member Undivided Nation? David and Erin Leaverton and their family are traveling to every state in the US in order to listen to peoples’ stories and bring folks together over dinner to dialogue with “the other”; all to explore the myriad of experiences in our country and to find our connection points despite differences. They have shared with us a powerful learning opportunity they experienced in their journey about the way divisions manifest in peoples’ lives and emphasized the need to address the oppressive realities that exist only for certain groups of people.

On their journey, they would like to develop a film, Know Thy Other, to share their experiences of this important work of listening and bridging divides  The film will document their travels and powerful conversations; in hopes of better understanding what divides us and address the bigotry that comes from not recognizing the humanity of “the other”. Help amplify the impact of their work by donating to the film’s Kickstarter! You can read the post below and we encourage you to donate to their tax-deductible Kickstarter here.


It’s Hard to Reconcile with Someone Who Has a Boot on Your Neck

By David Leaverton

The 2016 Presidential election was a turning point in my life. Before my eyes, I saw many of my fellow countrymen treat each other not as political opponents, but as mortal enemies. Fear and division had gripped this land and I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer.

As a newcomer to the NCDD community, I had a desire to help bridge these divides and see our nation united, but I knew I first needed to gain a deeper understanding of the problem before I could offer up any real solutions to the discussion.

To find the answers we were looking for, my wife and I sold our house, quit our jobs and set out on a 50-state road trip with our three kids. As I write this, I am looking out from our RV over the spectacular Greenbrier River in West Virginia, state number 12 on our journey. To say we have been transformed by this experience so far would be an understatement.

As we enter each new state, we often go into a community knowing no one and cold calling or emailing leaders and organizations who represent different groups within in the community. I was recently on the phone with a leading African-American individual in Savannah, GA, sharing our journey and our mission for reconciliation and unity in America.

As I shared the purpose of our trip, which is often met with interest or curiosity, this gentleman sounded almost offended at my goal to seek reconciliation and common ground. While he was neither hateful nor rude, he still gave it to me straight when he said, “It’s hard to reconcile with someone who has a boot on your neck.”

That one line changed me.

One thing I have come to realize on our journey is that there are a number of Americans who wake up every day with a feeling of oppression in an America that I didn’t know existed. This was so disappointing to me as a proud patriot who believes in the America where all men are touted as being equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.

Thinking of this situation in literal terms, it is woefully insensitive for me to walk up to the individual on the ground with the boot on their neck to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation without first addressing the boot, and doing everything in my power to remove it.

I was never able to meet with this gentleman, but what I gained through his refusal to meet with me was probably more valuable.

I learned some important lessons about reconciliation from this brief but poignant conversation.

When we hope for reconciliation between two parties, we must first address and try to eliminate the cause of oppression or pain being experienced either party before the discussion can get too far. No one knows the boot better than the one whose neck it is on and they must be part of the process of understanding the situation. We may not have the ability to quickly remove the boot, but we can begin by acknowledging and addressing the situation as best we can.

I began this journey focused on our political divisions, but haven’t been able to get away from the racial divisions in our nation as I’ve begun to explore it. Many of the people we have spoken with, and this is by no means a scientific representative sample of the country, have been impacted more by our racial divides than the infighting in Congress.

Our history of oppression of Americans with deeper pigmentation in this country is extensive. Our journey across the country so far has taught us that slavery in America didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil War. Oppression has continued under different names such as convict leasing, sharecropping, peonage, lynching, segregation, Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, among others. Although the current situation in our nation regarding racial and ethnic disparities is extremely complex beyond skin pigmentation, learning these truths about our history has been vital in our quest for reconciliation and unity.

While I still have more questions than answers on the subject of division in our country, I do know that at the end of our year-long journey, I can’t go back to being a silent bystander.

David Leaverton and his wife, Erin, are the founders of Undivided Nation, an organization focused on serving as a catalyst for reconciliation and unity in America. They live with their three children on an RV somewhere in America. Follow their journey at http://undividednation.us.

Exploring How We Engage Values with Ben Franklin Circles

As we mentioned a couple of weeks back, we are going to be sharing stories from the Circles convened by NCDD member org, the Ben Franklin Circles. NCDD teamed up with BFC on this collaborative effort to bring alive the circle process our founding father, Ben Franklin, maintained for over 40 years. In the article, NCDD member Katherine Roxlo reflects on the Circle she convened in Scottsdale, Arizona with students from the Community College Initiative; and how the experience impacted the youth, as well as, affected how the values play out in her life. You can read the post below and find the original post on BFC’s site here.


Circle Spotlight: Katherine from Phoenix

Name: Katherine Roxlo
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona (Circle is in nearby Scottsdale)
Sponsor Organization: Scottsdale Community College
Date Launched: August 30, 2017

What attracted you to Ben Franklin Circles?
I have always been interested in respectful conversations and community. The Ben Franklin Circles give me an opportunity to reflect on important values in a constructive fashion and to develop a special community in my life. Concentrating on one value at a time has allowed me to work the values into my life. I feel that morality, ethics and respectful conversations that incorporate the good of our local and national community are at a low point right now in the U.S. The Circles are one small step in the right direction for me. And small steps are GOOD!

How did you recruit members for your Circle? Any lessons learned?
I sent out proposals to conduct Ben Franklin Circles to a number of organizations, including youth groups, senior citizen groups, schools and churches. Scottsdale Community College took me up on it! It is a perfect way to incorporate ethics into a class and to give the students a time to reflect on what they are doing.

I love the question that Ben Franklin started his day with: “What good can I do today?” We start each meeting with a meditation, prayer or moment of silence. It allows us all to calm down from our busy schedules and get centered. During this opening moment, we always ask, “What good can I do today? What good can we do for our community?”

How has hosting a Ben Franklin Circle impacted you?
So many ways! My Circle is made up of Community College Initiative (CCI) students. These are foreign students on a nine-month scholarship program in the U.S. with the goals of learning, gaining experience through internships in a field of interest and contributing to the community through 100-plus hours of volunteer service.

It is an honor to work with these bright students. I see them struggling, but also improving their talents, every time we meet. Some are speaking out more and improving their English. Some are taking on leadership roles. Some are learning to use their time more constructively.

Working with the group gives me extreme hope for the future. They are all thoughtful and smart. At first, the group was a little quiet. But, at the last two meetings, we started letting different students run different parts of the meeting. One conducts the opening. One reviews the past value, one the new value. One student keeps us on schedule. One student runs the last part of the meeting, which we call sharing, listening, caring. I was very impressed with how easily they stepped up to the plate. Giving them the opportunity has been enlightening for me! Now I just sit back, take notes and ask some questions. Often, I am working on my own issues with the virtue.

It is interesting to see the differences in values that they have. Their perspectives have been very good for me. They do not have the food addictions and issues with weight that many Americans have. They place a higher value on personal downtime and family time than those of us in the U.S. They say that Americans must be told everything specifically and literally, that we do not take hints that are obvious in their culture. They are more receptive to unspoken communication. This has been really valuable to me. I see how I can apply these perceptions to my own life in order to be a better person.

Which virtue means the most to you personally and why?
I am not sure. With temperance, I focused on tempering my use of playing solitaire on my cell phone. I had to keep my cell phone in another room at night. What an addiction! It gave me more time to be productive. It also gave me compassion for those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. If I have this much trouble with playing solitaire, I can only imagine someone’s struggle with drugs. Part of the problem is that there truly is a short-term pleasure and positive body response from addictive material. But I know it is short lived and leads to ruin.

With silence, I worked on not giving too many constructive suggestions to my husband (and to never repeating a request). By being silent I learned that he was doing more than I thought and actually had some good ideas of his own.

With order, I made a list of things I wanted to get done. All my plans and order went out the window when my husband had a heart attack. I gladly spent three days in the hospital with him, and realized how flexible and subject to change our priorities can be. It is easy to reorganize when something that is truly important comes up.

With resolution, I successfully gave up chips. That must sound like something small, but it isn’t for me. For more than a year, I have been focused on improving my health and fitness. I am cutting out as much sugar, flour and processed food as I can. The open bag of chips that my husband leaves above the refrigerator have been a huge temptation. I was never able to kick the habit of grabbing that bag of chips when I got home and was tired. But we are reporting our progress on our resolution back to the group and I didn’t want to tell them I failed! I am happy to say I can report eating no chips for three weeks. It is easier to give them up completely. Having to be accountable to my Circle is a huge driver for success.

You can find the original version of this post on Ben Franklin Circle’s at https://benfranklincircles.org/circle-spotlight/circle-spotlight-katherine-from-phoenix-az.

Opportunity to Host a Jefferson Dinner!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Critical Need for Collective Sensemaking

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


Navigating Change With Collective Sensemaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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