Picture a Conversation™

Nearly five years ago, after seeing so many couples and families interacting with their devices instead of each other, author, advice columnist and now conversation catalyst Debra Darvick felt compelled to do something. That “something” was to create Picture a Conversation™, an engaging set of conversation prompts whose topics are inspired by her husband’s gorgeous nature photographs. Darvick has made it her mission to help people reconnect through face-to-face conversations.

What distinguishes Picture a Conversation™ cards from others in the genre is Darvick’s innovation of using nature images as the inspiration for the conversation topics. The front of each card features an image and a reflection on our life challenges, situations, blessings and more. On the reverse, three questions invite meaningful discussion on a specific theme tied to the image and the reflection. For instance, an image of a butterfly hovering above a zinnia is accompanied by the phrase, “The moment is yours. Take flight!” Flip the card over to discuss take flight moments in your life and more. A card showing a grouchy monkey invites a conversation on how we deal with crankiness — others’ and our own.

Darvick field tested Picture a Conversation™ with women’s groups and families, in faith communities and with family and couples therapists. She found that the images made for a gentle “entry” into conversations. By enjoying a beautiful scene first, participants were in a more receptive and self-reflective state of mind as they began to engage in a meaningful dialogue on ideas that matter.

Each set of Picture a Conversation™ contains 25 cards featuring 25 different images and topics and seventy-five questions. In addition to sparking valuable conversations, the cards make useful journalling prompts, public speaking topics and meditation themes. They are appropriate for family dinner table conversations (ages eight and up), icebreakers, team-building endeavors, and discussions where the goal is to build bridges across seeming divides. Mental health professionals use them as well in their work with clients as communication support.

Resource Link: http://pictureaconversation.com/

This resource was submitted by Debra Darvick, creator of Picture a Conversation™ via the Add-a-Resource form.

Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The 23-page issue guide, Coming to America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? was published in January 2018 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address current immigration to the US. The issue guide is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here and is also available in Spanish here, and there is a post-forum questionnaire for both languages.

From NIFI…

The immigration issue affects virtually every American, directly or indirectly, often in deeply personal ways. This guide is designed to help people deliberate together about how we should approach the issue. The three options presented here reflect different ways of understanding what is at stake and force us to think about what matters most to us when we face difficult problems that involve all of us and that do not have perfect solutions.

The issue raises a number of difficult questions, and there are no easy answers:

Should we strictly enforce the law and deport people who are here without permission, or would deporting millions of people outweigh their crime?

Should we welcome more newcomers to build a more vibrant and diverse society, or does this pose too great a threat to national unity?

Should we accept more of the growing numbers of refugees from war-torn regions, or should we avoid the risk of allowing in people whose backgrounds may not have been fully checked?

Should our priority be to help immigrants assimilate into our distinctively American way of life, including learning English, or should we instead celebrate a growing mosaic of different peoples?

The concerns that underlie this issue are not confined to party affiliation, nor are they captured by labels like “conservative” or “liberal.”

The research involved in developing the guide included interviews and conversations with Americans from all walks of life, as well as surveys of nonpartisan public-opinion research, subject-matter scans, and reviews of initial drafts by people with direct experience with the subject.

This issue guide placemat presents three options for deliberation:

Option 1: Welcome Immigrants, Be a Beacon of Freedom
This option says that immigration has helped make America what it is today- a dynamic and diverse culture, an engine of the global economy, and a beacon of freedom around the world.  It says that part of what defines America as a nation is the opportunity for all to pursue the American dream. We should develop an immigration policy that builds on that tradition by welcoming newcomers, helping immigrant families stay together, and protecting those fleeing from war and oppression.

Option 2: Enforce the Law, Be Fair to Those Who Follow the Rules
This option says we need a fair system, where the rules are clear and, above all, enforced. With an estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally, our current system is unjust and uncontrolled. In fairness to the long lines of people who are waiting to come to America legally, we must strengthen our commitment to border security, crack down on visa overstays, and introduce more stringent measures to deal with immigrants living here without authorization.

Option 3: Slow Down and Rebuild Our Common Bonds
This option recognizes that newcomers have strengthened American culture in the past. But the current levels of immigration are so high, and the country is now so diverse, that we must regain our sense of national purpose and identity. We should have a measured immigration policy—one that reduces the rate of immigration and assists newcomers as they become part of the American community. We need to find ways to accommodate newcomers without compromising our sense of national unity.

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

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

Follow on Twitter: @NIForums

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/en/issue-guide/coming-america

Addressing Safety in Schools by Turning to Each Other

In the wake of the current gun violence, NCDD sponsoring organization Essential Partners recently shared this piece written by their executive director Parisa Parsa, on the urgency for people to come together and address how do we keep our schools and communities safer. She talks about the need to come in conversation with each other from a place of creativity and with the purpose of recognizing our shared values, and rise above the current polarization. These conversational practices are vital in order to deepen relationships and ultimately work towards preventing another mass shooting from happening again. You can read the Essential Partner’s article below or find the original version here.


…As if our lives depend on it

The question was: what is at the heart of the matter for you when you think about the question of whether guns should be allowed in schools?

Seven people ranging in age from their 20’s to their 60’s, 4 women and 3 men, leaned in to listen closely to one another’s responses. They had many different views on the question of guns in schools, and guns in American life in general.

When it came time for him to speak, one man’s eyes welled with tears. After a long pause he said:

“Here is what is at the heart of the matter for me: I don’t want to be talking about this at all. I don’t want to live in a world where kids are not safe going to school. So when someone asks me what I think, all I can think is how can we make this stop?”

The simple recognition of our shared grief and anger brought more of the group to tears, and began a shift in the conversation. Person after person had already shared the values they learned growing up about guns, and now enriched by one anothers’ stories the sense of companionship led to a new entry point to thinking together. What would it take for our town prevent mass shootings?

The conversation later turned to social isolation and the need for folks to really look out for each other, to know each other’s’ children. And to offer services for those in need who might escape other attempts at outreach. And support for concerned parents.

The community still needed to talk about the issue at hand: the question of arming school personnel. But this small group was now also armed with the beginnings of a conversation that could help them work together on many of the other known contributing factors to preserve safety in schools. Perhaps, I thought, working on some of those other things together would help them deepen their relationship so that the continuing conversation about guns could have more creativity than the zero-sum perception both sides have been diving into. And which we dive into again and again.

Most recently, we’ve watched it in the wake of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Social media has been awash, as ever, with people’s grief and anguish, fear and outrage. This time, the young people who survived the shooting almost immediately made a very pointed ask of our nation’s leaders. They asked the grown-ups in charge to sort out whatever needs sorting out to keep this from happening again.

The initial message they shared in the days immediately after the shooting was simple: as a nation we have to sort this out together. Their initial leadership was their refusal to accept that the current polarization in our conversation on guns is inevitable and permanent. And they are absolutely right to refuse the current story that this is an issue we cannot touch as a nation.

The students weren’t all, or even mostly, activists before the incident. Some were gun rights advocates, some gun control advocates, many more neutral and uninvolved. As the media conversation has continued, a predictable pattern has emerged: the loudest and most extreme voices have been amplified, put into debate mode with politicians at a Town Hall, lashed out on Twitter. And then came the responses: the kids are paid actors, being manipulated by left-wing interests, their Tweets analyzed and criticized for their violence and perceived extremism.

When the shouts begin, the door of possibility closes and we can’t figure anything out together. There is no listening, no further understanding, just suspicion and accusation. One “side’s” gains in activism get a counter-attack or build greater cynicism, driving the other “side” to feel justified in nasty rhetoric. So the win of one side becomes the rallying cry for the other, locking us in a battle few of us would have chosen. And the din leaves no space for the many folks who find themselves somewhere in the middle between the two defined “sides.”

The thing is, we can have sensible conversations with our neighbors who don’t agree. In our conversations about guns in Montana, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Wyoming we have found some trends that are worth considering and also cause for hope.

  1. Taking the time as a community to work toward building trust and understanding (even when we don’t agree, and won’t agree) can in itself be a factor in reducing gun violence. A Yale study in 2014 found a correlation between high social cohesion and reduced gun violence. Dialogue about guns can actually be a preliminary preventative measure, reducing alienation and isolation; building trust and understanding.
  2. Neither gun rights advocates nor gun control advocates feel heard or understood by the other side, but when invited to share their values and beliefs without trying to persuade or convince, 97% of participants felt heard and understood. And 94% of participants believed they could use the dialogue process in other settings where there is a conflict over diverse views.
  3. When we spoke with focus groups about this issue, we heard shared values across the spectrum of belief on this issue: a desire to live in safe communities, a belief in the importance of education, and a sense of responsibility for others.

Friends, there is no one but us, no time but now, and no way forward without turning to one another. Let’s start engaging in deep, honest, conversations about this violence in our nation. Our communities, and our lives, depend on it.

Here are three things you can do today to change the conversation:

  1. Invite a friend or family member with different viewpoints into conversation, and propose these agreements to get you started.
  2. Share a reflection on how you came to your own position on the Constitutional right to firearms, gun control, based on your own experience. Let it open up a conversation that asks others to share their own.
  3. When you encounter someone with a view you don’t share, try asking a question that invites them to speak about their experience that led them to that view. Try: Tell me a story from your life that has shaped your thinking about this.

You can find the original version of this Essential Partner’s blog piece at www.whatisessential.org/blog/if-our-lives-depend-it.

Promoting Mental Health in Community (IF Discussion Report)

The 18-page discussion report, Promoting Mental Health in Community, was published by Interactivity Foundation in October 2015 and edited by Nneka Edwards and Suzanne Goodney Lea. This is the initial draft of the discussion report; IF is planning to create a full discussion guide that communities can use when gun violence occurs in order to take mental health concerns into consideration when developing public policy. Below is an excerpt of the guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF for free from IF’s site here.

From IF…

This is a unique discussion project for IF, in that we have collaborated with the parents of a young man who was shot and killed in a mall rampage shooting in Columbia, MD, back in January 2014.  The young man who was killed (Tyler) was one of two young people killed before the gunman took his own life.  The shooter was only 18 and was most likely in the early stages of schizophrenia; he had actually tried to seek mental health care, but to no avail.  Tyler’s father did an interview on a local news station, and I was struck by his poise and compassion.  I’d never seen a parent in such a horrible situation exhibit such genuine empathy towards the shooter and his family.

It turns out that Tyler, who was just 25 when he was killed, had spent three years sober after overcoming addiction challenges.  He got sober once he made the connection for himself between his addiction issues and his own mental health state (he was manic depressive).  He had spent the three years before his death helping others to make the same connection between mental health and addiction so that they, too, could overcome their drug/alcohol dependencies.  The number of lives he touched surprised even his parents, who were moved by the many stories of the connections and healing Tyler had put out into the world around him.

Tyler’s parents have a strong desire to carry on Tyler’s work by helping citizens to become more aware of their own and others’ mental health—and of the importance of good mental health, more generally.  They are generally interested in creating a space to explore these issues in meaningful ways.  Violence is so rampant in American society, and, too often, efforts to discuss ways to curtail it become confounded by important debates over guns and gun restrictions.  Meantime, underlying mental health factors—which also must be discussed if we are to reduce the frequency and impact of these events–rarely get seriously explored.  We hope to begin to alter that narrative by providing the interesting array of possibilities in this discussion guide for exploration within communities of varying sizes and locations.  Very few American communities have been untouched by sudden eruptions of violence in a public space.

IF’s discussion guide on depression is by far the least discussed of any of our discussion guides.  This likely reflects the stigma associated with mental health conditions.  What’s interesting, however, is that when that discussion guide is discussed, the quality and meaningfulness of the discussion to its participants is marked.  We hope that your group’s exploration of the ideas and possibilities in this discussion guide will better inform your participants about things that they and/or their family members may be facing without even realizing it and about how to find and create the resources and support that will help to stave off the sorts of mental health disasters that too-often erupt within our communities.

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

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

Follow on Twitter: @IFTalks

Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/promoting-mental-health-in-community/

Digital Engagement Census Deadline Extended to Mon. 2/26

Shared with us by NCDD member, Tim Bonnemann on our Main Discussion listserv, the ParticipateDB 2018 Digital Engagement Census deadline has been extended until this coming Monday, February 26th. The survey, hosted by several international partner organizations, seeks to identify the digital engagement tools that people have been using and for folks to provide feedback on their experience using the tools. You can read more about the survey in the post below or find the original on ParticipateDB’s site here.


ParticipateDB 2018 Digital Engagement Census

Today, after extensive prep work since we first floated the idea back in 2016, we are excited to launch the ParticipateDB 2018 Digital Engagement Census, a global practitioner survey aimed at improving our understanding of how technology is shaping community engagement today.

Over the next ten days, we hope to hear from people working in community engagement and public participation in places all around the world to answer two basic questions:

  • Which digital engagement tools or services have you used in your work lately?
  • What were your experiences and lessons learned?

Respondents who leave us their contact information will:

  • be among first to get their hands on the interim report (to be issued later this month),
  • receive an invitation to our exclusive follow-up event, and
  • receive an electronic copy of the final report free of charge (to be issued later in March).

We are exceptionally pleased to be partnering with a group of renowned international organizations and practitioner networks in this field. This project wouldn’t be possible without their support and guidance. Thank you!

Please head to the project page for more details. When you get a chance, please take a few minutes to complete the online survey and share it with your colleagues near and far: ParticipateDB 2018 Digital Engagement Census

You can find the original version of this article at http://blog.participatedb.com/2018/02/09/welcome-to-the-participatedb-2018-digital-engagement-census/.

Living Room Conversation Guide: Guns and Responsibility

Living Room Conversation published the conversation guide, Guns and Responsibility, which was released October 2017. The guide gives pointers on how to hold living room conversations in order to develop a deeper understanding between participants around gun beliefs, gun safety, and responsible gun ownership. You can read the guide below, find a downloadable PDF here, or the original on Living Room Conversation’s site here.

From the guide…

Overview
In Living Room Conversations, a small group of people (e.g. 4-7) people come together to get to know one another in a more meaningful way. Guided by a simple and sociable format, participants practice being open and curious about all perspectives, with a focus on learning from one another, rather than trying to debate the topic at hand.

The Living Room Conversation Ground Rules
Be Curious and Open to Learning
Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration and learning.
Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking.

Show Respect and Suspend Judgment
Human beings tend to judge one another, do your best not to. Setting judgments aside will better
enable you to learn from others and help them feel respected and appreciated.

Look for Common Ground and Appreciate Differences
In this conversation, we look for what we agree on and simply appreciate that we will disagree on
some beliefs and opinions.

Be Authentic and Welcome that from Others
Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal and heartfelt experience. Be
considerate to others who are doing the same.

Be Purposeful and to the Point
Notice if what you are conveying is or is not “on purpose” to the question at hand. Notice if you are
making the same point more than once.

Own and Guide the Conversation
Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and the conversation by noticing what’s
happening and actively support getting yourself and others back “on purpose” when needed.

Though feedback is consistently positive, some people are concerned about managing people that dominate the conversation as well as off-topic, or disruptive situations during the Living Room Conversation. We offer these tips:
● Everyone shares responsibility for guiding the conversation and is invited to help keep the conversation on track.
● The group can decide to keep track of time in some way to help people remember to keep their comments similar in length to others. Soft music when the time is up is a great reminder.
● If an area of interest has arisen that has taken the group off topic, ask the group if they would like to set aside the new topic for a separate Living Room Conversation.
● If someone is dominating, disruptive or has found their soapbox, respectfully interrupt the situation, refer to the Ground Rules and invite everyone to get back on track with the current question
● If the group opts to shift from the format of the Living Room Conversations, please provide us with feedback for future learning. There are many ways to have a great conversation! Thank you! feedback@livingroomconversations.org

Rounds/Questions: The Living Room Conversation Starts Here
We all care about the victims of gun violence. We all love our children and our family. We all want children to arrive home safely at the end of the day. We have seen tragedy in our communities and want that to end. Let’s start with this as a given. This conversation focuses on our own personal experience with guns, gun safety and our beliefs about the balance between constitutional right and common good. This is a conversation about our hopes and concerns with a diverse set of community members in order to develop a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges surrounding responsible gun ownership.

Background Information: While you don’t need to be an expert on this topic, sometimes people want background information. Our partner, AllSides, has prepared a variety of articles reflecting multiple sides of this topic.

Round One: Getting Started / Why Are We Here?
● What interested you or drew you to this conversation?

Round Two: Core Values
Answer one or more of the following:
● What sense of purpose / mission / duty guides you in your life?
● What would your best friend say about who you are and what makes you “tick”?
● What are your hopes and concerns for your community and/or the country?

Round Three: Guns and Responsibility
Remember that the goal for this Living Room Conversation is for all of us to listen and learn about where we have different opinions and where we have shared interests, intentions and goals. Answer one or more of the following questions:
● Where did you learn about guns? And what did you learn?
● What role have guns played in your life?
● What are your concerns about gun safety?
● Are gun issues on your top 10 list of concerns? Why or why not?

Round Four: Reflection
Answer one or more of the following questions:
● In one sentence, share what was most meaningful / valuable to you in the experience of this Living Room Conversation.
● What learning, new understanding or common ground was found on this topic?
● Has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group, including yourself?

Round Five: Accomplishment and Next Steps
Answer both of the following questions:
● What is one important thing you thought was accomplished here?
● Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?

Closing​ – Thank you! Please complete the feedback form to help improve Living Room Conversations.

To download a printable version of this conversation guide with the feedback form, click here.

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

Follow on Twitter: @LivingRoomConvo

Resource Link: www.livingroomconversations.org/topics/guns_and_responsibility/

Public Agenda on the Importance of Measuring Engagement

One of the many ways to express the importance of engagement is to have effective ways to measure engagement efforts. In a recent piece by Matt Leighninger of NCDD member organization Public Agenda, he wrote on some of the challenges to engagement and why the need exists to be more effective at how engagement is measured, both qualitatively and quantitatively. This article is part 6 in the series on ways that public engagement needs to improve and the links to the 5 previous installments are at the bottom of the page. You can read the article below or find the original on Public Agenda’s site here.


How Public Engagement Needs to Evolve, Part 6

How can public engagement evolve in order to meet the needs and goals of citizens today? My previous post explored how public institutions may collaborate in their efforts to support engagement so that it becomes more efficient, systemic and sustained. For this final installment in the series, I’ll address the need for better ways to measure the perceptions, processes and outcomes of engagement, so that people know how to continually improve it.

Measuring engagement, especially in quantifiable ways, has always been difficult. There are a number of challenges, including:

  • Difficulty in defining engagement. Many leaders understand engagement to mean the one-way dissemination of “correct” information to the community, in order to disprove “incorrect” information. Some see it as purely meaning face-to-face meetings, while others are focused mainly on online interactions.
  • Differing forms of intensity. Engagement varies in intensity, from “thick” forms that are deliberative, labor-intensive and action-oriented, to “thin” forms that are fast, easy and potentially viral. Both are valuable, but for different reasons. Counting website hits or social media impressions may overemphasize the thin forms, while counting participation in meetings may overemphasize the thick forms.
  • Just counting heads may give you the wrong impression. Counting participants in any setting may be deceptive because in places where conventional forms of engagement are the only ones being used, people tend to mostly engage when they are angry or fearful about decisions being made by government. In this sense, higher numbers of people “engaging” can be a sign that governments are failing to practice more proactive, productive forms of engagement.
  • Inexperienced engagement staff. Counting staff positions dedicated to engagement as an indicator of government’s commitment can be misleading – since engagement is often defined in limited ways, these “engagement” job positions are often devoted to traditional PR or stakeholder relations. These jobs are often given by public officials to people who were particularly active campaign volunteers, but who have only a narrow and limited background in what engagement can do for governance and problem solving, and the many forms it can take.
  • Inability to measure impact. One of the most critical measures of engagement, especially to citizens, is whether public input has some kind of meaningful influence on public policies and practices. This is a particularly difficult thing to assess; it defies quantitative measurement and is subject to many different variables.

Despite these challenges, it is possible – and, in fact, critically important – to assess public engagement, including quantitative measures of both processes and outcomes. (Leighninger and Nabatchi, “How Can We Quantify Democracy?” Dispute Resolution, Fall 2015). Engagement practitioners have been able to measure how many and what kinds of people are participating. They’ve also been able to examine if people value the engagement, how the experience affects them, and whether engagement inspires and supports volunteerism, voting and other civic measures.

However, in most places, these kinds of measurement practices are done only sporadically and on a project-by-project basis. Leaders and practitioners are more likely to be focusing on the basics – how many people are participating, and the demographics of those participants – and have not begun assessing community members’ perceptions of engagement opportunities, or evaluating the impacts of engagement on volunteerism or policymaking. When measurement does occur, the findings are often not shared with the community and community members are rarely asked to help gather, analyze or act on the data.

If we can do better measuring on a more regular basis, we may connect the findings about engagement with some of the high-level indicators that are being used to track community success. These include the Civic Index that the National Civic League has maintained for over 25 years, the Civic Health Index developed by the National Conference on Citizenship a decade ago, and the Soul of the Community research produced by the Knight Foundation. There are also specific community examples like the Wellbeing Index in Santa Monica, California. While these indexes are interesting and helpful for assessing where the community stands, it’s unclear whether and how a community’s engagement level impacts the overall scores.

We probably need a family of measurement tools in order to bridge the gap between narrow evaluations and broad indicators. I’ve written about potential tools and have also been involved in creating others. One example is the Participatory Democracy Index, which is being piloted in beta by the World Forum on Democracy in Europe. The more that we can connect people who are building new tools, the more we can learn from one another and ensure that we are on the same page about fundamental questions, like how we are defining engagement. Public Agenda convened an online dialogue among people who are grappling with the measurement challenge, so that we could compare notes and see if there are common themes in our work. Later in the year, the Knight Foundation will release a white paper based on what we found.

By doing a better job of measuring engagement, we can help clear up some of the confusion about what engagement means and why it is important. Many public officials and other leaders use the rhetoric of community building, citizenship and democracy, but the language often seems to be used mainly as a window dressing, making it difficult for citizens to monitor their progress or hold public officials accountable for their rhetoric. Finding new ways to measure these interactions can be a powerful way of making engagement more meaningful and productive.

You can find the original version of this article on Public Agenda’s blog at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/how-public-engagement-needs-to-evolve-part-6.

How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? (NIFI Issue Advisory)

The 4-page issue advisory, How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings in Our Communities? was published September 2016 from National Issues Forums Institute and Kettering Foundation. The issue guide offers participants three options to use during deliberation on how to address the tragic realities of mass shootings that are occurring in our communities. The issue advisory is available to download for free on NIFI’s site here.

From NIFI…

The tragic attacks in Orlando, Florida, San Bernardino, California, and other places have raised concerns among many people across the nation. Other violent episodes, such as a teenager who was gunned down after returning home from the president’s inauguration, have also drawn attention. While mass shootings are infrequent, they may be increasing. Each event has devastating effects on the entire community.

Overall, the United States has become safer in recent years. Yet mass shooters target innocent people indiscriminately, often in locales where people ordinarily (and rightly) feel safe—movie theaters, college campuses, schools. How can we stop these violent acts and ensure that people feel safe in their homes and communities?

This issue advisory presents three options for deliberation, along with their drawbacks:

​Option 1: Reduce the Threat of Mass Shootings
The problem is that we are too vulnerable to violence. Communities and homes should be places where people are safe. The means for carrying out mass shootings are all around, and those who might perpetrate them are free among us. It is too easy for individuals to obtain weapons that are designed to kill a large number of people in a short time. We cannot stop all violent impulses, but we can and should make it much more difficult for people to act on them. We need to restrict the availability of dangerous weapons, identify potentially dangerous people, and prevent them from carrying out their plans.

Option 2: Equip People to Defend Themselves
The problem is that most people are unable to defend themselves against sudden danger from violence. There will always be some people who are a threat to those around them. In such situations, we cannot afford to rely on someone else to rescue us. We need to be prepared for violence and have the means to defend against it. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees this right.

Option 3: Root Out Violence in Society
The problem is that we live in a culture that perpetuates violence and numbs people to its effects. Violence and criminality are pervasive in popular music, films, television, video games, and sports. Mass murderers gain notoriety through nonstop media portrayals. This results in a culture in which stories of mass shootings circulate and gain momentum, increasing the likelihood of further shootings. We need to root out and stop the glorification of violence to break this cycle.

Note about this Issue Advisory
Recent horrific events involving mass shootings have touched a deep chord in many of us. Deliberative forums on this issue will not be easy. It will be important to remember, and to remind participants, that the objective of these forums is to begin to work through the tensions between security, freedom, and a healthy society.

Mass violence evokes raw emotions. Participants in this forum may become angry, and those with strong feelings may feel attacked by those who hold other points of view. This may sidetrack the deliberation. In productive deliberation, people examine the advantages and disadvantages of different options for addressing a difficult public problem, weighing these against the things they hold deeply valuable. This framing is designed to help people work through their emotions to recognize the trade-offs that each of us must wrestle with in deciding how to move forward.

The framework outlined in this issue advisory encompasses several options and provides an alternative means of moving forward in order to avoid the polarizing rhetoric now growing around the major policy options. Each option is rooted in a shared concern and proposes a distinct strategy for addressing the problem that includes roles for citizens to play. Equally important, each option presents the drawbacks inherent in each action. Recognizing these drawbacks allows people to see the trade-offs they must consider in pursuing any action. It is these drawbacks, in large part, that make coming to shared judgment so difficult—but ultimately, so productive.

One effective way to begin deliberative forums on this issue is to ask people to describe how the issue of mass violence has affected them or their families. Some will have had direct experience; many more will say they are affected by the fear of such acts. They are likely to mention the concerns identified in the framework.

The goal of this framework is to assist people in moving from initial reactions to more reflective judgment. That requires serious deliberation or weighing options for action against the things people value.

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

Follow on Twitter: @NIForums

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/es/issue-guide/issue-advisory-how-can-we-stop-mass-shootings-our-communities-2016

Attend the 2018 IAP2 USA Skills Symposium in Austin, Texas

Are you looking to brush up on your IAP2 skills or really want to dive deep into learning public participation tools and techniques? We wanted to give folks in our network a heads up about the 2018 IAP2 USA Skills Symposium hosted by NCDD member org IAP2, happening in Austin from February 26 – March 2. This will be a great chance to take some of the classic courses from IAP2, as well as, several more recent training opportunities which you can read about below. They will also be hosting a National Dialogue event on February 28th exploring “How and why should the public be engaged in highly technical and complex projects?”. You can read the announcement below and find more information on the IAP2 site here.


Join us at the 2018 IAP2 USA Skills Symposium in Austin, Texas!

You’re invited! This year’s IAP2 USA Skills Symposium will feature a wide range of courses of varying duration and topics exploring skills, tools, and techniques that support effective public participation. This training will be undertaken in a rich learning environment, with activities building a creative and supportive space for participants whether they spend a day or the week at the event!

We will also be hosting a National Dialogue event on February 28, 2018 at the University of Texas at Austin talking about “How and why should the public be engaged in highly technical and complex projects?” See attached flyer for more details or register now!

Courses include but are not limited to…

Social Media And P2: How to design and host effective online engagement –  We know that online tools reach new participants and enable different kinds of conversation. But, it’s an emerging field and there is still much trial and error, so this course will give you a leg up by examining what’s worked and what’s failed. This interactive course will teach you to create social media campaigns that gather input creatively, enable collaborative online interactions, and sustain participation over time. You’ll also learn how to use social media for participant recruitment, and how to integrate mobile communication into your participation strategy. Bring your computer; this course gives you an opportunity to experience both the host and participant sides of online participation.

Evaluating & Measuring P2 – Evaluation should always be useful, and this introductory course will cover theories and practical strategies to help you evaluate your public participation efforts. In this hands-on course, you will apply foundational tools like logic models, examine the differences between process and impact evaluation, and review the components of an evaluation plan. You will craft evaluation questions, and identify indicators and sources of information to help you answer those questions. Overall, you will learn how to employ evaluative thinking as a learning strategy, in order to strengthen your work and achieve greater impact.

When Things Go Sideways: How to embrace emotion & outrage, and change results – Building on EOP2 (but not a pre-requisite) this highly participatory course will have participants uncover what’s driving emotion and outrage in P2 processes and discover what triggers these natural responses. Through exercises, discussion and multi-media presentation, participants will learn about AND PRACTICE highly effective, collaborative strategies to transform conflict and outrage and create an environment for constructive engagement.

Toolz For Tough Conversations – This conflict de-escalation and civil discourse training program prepares individuals, organizations, and communities for difficult discussions, cross-sector deliberations and collaborative decision-making. The unique, multi-track engagement framework, body-based mindfulness strategies, and powerful conflict communication skills are useful throughout all phases of creating dynamic, inclusive, community engagement programs. This highly-experiential training demonstrates mindfulness strategies and provides time to apply key concepts in all phases of project design: scoping, invitation, implementation, evaluation, and continuous improvement and shared leadership.

That’s not all! See our online Schedule to about the other courses that we have to offer! Spaces are limited. Check out our website for more information.

Courses are offered at $300/person/day for IAP2 members and $375/person/day for non-members with the following exceptions: IAP2 Foundations and “Strategies for Dealing with Opposition & Outrage in P2” courses are offered at $350/person/day for IAP2 members and $425/person/day for non-members. There will be a special rate for full-time students, see the website. The daily rate includes mid-morning beverages and lunch.

We hope to see you in Austin! Feel free to email us at info@iap2usa.org.

You can find this information on the IAP2 site at www.iap2usa.org/2018symposium.