Lifting the Discourse Beyond the Political Circus

In these challenging times, it is imperative now more than ever to work towards #BridgingOurDivides instead of the current state of political toxicity and mud slinging. Which is why we wanted to share this piece written by David Nevins, President of the Bridge Alliance – an NCDD organizational member – who recently wrote the aptly-named blog piece about the terrible state of politics in the US. In the article, Nevins states how in order to fix our broken political system, we must hold ourselves and our leaders to a higher standard of civic engagement and accountability.

We encourage you to read the blog article below or find the original on the Bridge Alliance site here.


The Political Circus

In 2012 before the previous presidential election I wrote an article entitled, “The Political Circus”.

At that time I said:

“The suffocating partisanship that most Americans abhor will surely be on display for all to witness in the coming election season. The accusations and innuendos, the misinformation and vilifying of one party by the other will be the typical tactics and game plan employed by those on the left and those on the right.”

Unfortunately things have gotten much worse in five years. The vicious ‘winning-is-all’ climate, the ‘meant-to-mislead’ rhetoric, the extreme and polarizing factions along with the sheer lack of decency are tethering our nation to a new low.

As we watch the behaviors of so many of our leaders today posturing against each other with twisted facts and vitriolic disdain, solely to WIN the sacred trust of the electorate, we ought to be asking ourselves, “Is this particular behavior having the effect of raising or lowering the level of discourse and understanding between and among us as citizens?”

As the president of a cross-partisan organization called the Bridge Alliance, we support organizations working to build new solutions to fix a broken political system. These organizations are working to deliver on America’s promise of government by and for the people.

It is time for us to realize that we the people are as much to blame for this unacceptable behavior as the politicians. It is important to call out all behavior that is inappropriate whether from our President or from members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation.

This is something that all Americans should and must agree upon.

More and more we are separated in our own silos, communicating only with those who share our opinions, embracing information that supports our beliefs, to ignore or distort evidence contrary to our beliefs. Although understandable, this tendency can blind us from the facts and the truth.

As Americans it is time for us to see through the charade and step up to the plate and support leaders who want something better. The political circus will continue to be flagrantly displayed unless citizens of our country demand something better.

It will not be easy. We must demand that our leaders resist the natural inclination to focus on who’s right and who’s wrong or who wins and who loses. Instead, we must seek to better understand thoughts, beliefs and viewpoints that differ from our own, even fundamentally. This can give rise to new insights, greater awareness, and generate otherwise undetected solutions and remedies to stalemated problems and issues.

Our national challenges and problems are earnest, urgent, and serious. They are worthy of being debated in a manner consistent with our great history and heritage. Politicians, just like the rest of us, respond to incentives. It is imperative that incentives be developed and implemented that encourage productive dialogue and promote responsible decision-making.

It is up to us. The time is now.

We must raise our awareness, so we are all less susceptible to the common fallacy tactics operating both on the right and the left. If we choose to focus on what the issues are and how they can best be solved as we sift through the barrage of exaggeration, innuendo, and half-truths pressing into the political fray, we will find ourselves closer to the truth and to each other more than we can imagine.

The 80 organizations of the Bridge Alliance are organizing a real and rising movement to transform the political terrain beyond partisanship through the collective voice and actions of our members. We put country before personal or political interest and ask our friends, neighbors, colleagues, competitors, and elected officials to do the same. We develop and share best practices with others, regardless of the side of the aisle on which they sit. We provide essential infrastructure and investment for our member organizations to collaborate, connect on the projects that further our shared goals, and generate collective impact far greater than any one group could make on their own.

We must require a higher standard from our elected officials. A new paradigm of politics; one based on civil political discourse, critical thinking, and personal accountability can and should be demanded by the electorate of its leadership, and the time to do so is now.

You can find the original version of this Bridge Alliance blog article at www.bridgealliance.us/the_political_circus.

NCDD Orgs Respond on How to Save American Democracy

As we grapple with a quickly changing political environment, many are struggling with the current state of American democracy and what are the best steps to repair our damaged system. Over the course of the year, several writers have expressed their beliefs that the way to improve our political system is to reduce public participation and increase political intermediaries/institutions.

In a direct response to these viewpoints, NCDD member org Healthy Democracy, recently published the article on their blog, Actually, More Public Participation Can Save American Democracy, which can be found here. The Deliberative Democracy Consortium, also a NCDD member org, wrote an immediate follow-up piece inviting the dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement community to respond to these claims and the writers themselves. For information on how to send your responses, read the DDC’s article on their blog here.

The article from Healthy Democracy can be found below or read the original on their blog here.


Actually, More Public Participation Can Save American Democracy

Lee Drutman of the New America Foundation, writing on Vox.com’s Polyarchy blog, makes a bold statement: more public participation isn’t the answer to our political woes because the reasonable, civically-minded voter is a myth. This is the latest in a trend of articles analyzing American politics and the role of citizens, beginning with Jonathan Rauch’s sprawling analysis for the Atlantic of our political system and its populist weaknesses.

Fortunately, Mr. Drutman’s analysis is narrowly focused and should not discourage those of us who have broader imaginations about democracy and the power of an active citizenry. Public participation is not limited to voting for or against representative policymakers, as Drutman asserts. Rather, civic life is a rich ecosystem of opportunities to participate in our grand experiment in self-governance. The individual voter is the building block of democracy. Civically-minded wise Americans exist across the land, and they are doing good, important work in their communities.

Drutman’s article relies on a series of assumptions that are, at the very least, not the whole picture. They are based largely on assumptions that Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes make in their recent Brookings paper advocating for an increased role of political intermediaries and a decrease in direct democracy. In their world, participation in politics is limited to the election of representatives; the sole result of a citizen exerting their political wisdom is to vote out politicians who prioritize interest groups over the people; and, finally, making politicians serve the people is the end goal of public participation. But in reality, citizenship and public participation encompass a wide array of powers and responsibilities. To be clear, I don’t take issue with the negative impacts of unbridled, reactive populism. Rather, I see clearly the vast and largely untapped potential of democratic wisdom at the citizen level.

The mythical citizen

Drutman articulates others’ assertion that there is a mythical wise citizen who will save our democracy by influencing politicians to serve the people. This citizen is “moderate, reasonable, and civic-minded” and if given more power would compel politicians to behave differently. It would indeed be naïve to assume that this magic citizen would influence American society so greatly that they could change the fundamental behavior of politicians. In that way, the author’s objection to this mythical citizen is easy to make.

And I agree that waiting for a perfectly reasonable, moderate, and civically minded voter to fix our Republic is a flawed strategy. Thankfully for all of us, public participation is much broader, deeper, and more creative than that. The various mechanisms of public participation build civic literacy, increase citizen power through knowledge and interaction with our political systems, and build bridging social capital among disparate groups. There are positive downstream impacts on our local, state, and national communities that come from citizens engaging in their communities in a meaningful way.

Drutman also addresses the role of political intermediaries. These intermediaries, which he defines as “politicians, parties, and interest groups” are the people who help people recognize what their interests are through cues. But this group is depressingly limited, and strikingly partisan. It ignores faith leaders, universities, media, community groups, advisory groups, citizens’ juries, and local government engagement folks. These groups, many of which are nonpartisan, provide moral leadership, knowledge, and granular information about voter interests that Drutman’s definition of intermediaries ignores.

The power of regular citizens

Drutman’s article forecloses the citizen’s ability to participate in democracy in ways that consider tradeoffs and the long-term view. There is a glimpse of possibility in his discussion of hybrid systems, citing Rauch and Wittes’s assertion that ““better decisions” come when specialist and professional judgment occurs “in combination with public judgment.” Unfortunately, Drutman rejects the concept by conjecturing that hybrid systems are not possible because they would not have a clear person who is “in charge” and holding the power. In fact, the entire field of democratic deliberation is devoted to creating hybrid systems that connect citizens with policy experts and allow them the time, space, and information to carefully consider policy choices.

Of course, power is held both formally and informally, and differently depending on the situation. In a classic representative system, elected policymakers have the ultimate power, and they can gather input in various forms. There are also stakeholder processes where groups can be given very strong recommending power, to the point where it would be politically infeasible to reject their advice. There is also direct empowerment of citizens, such as through ballot initiatives and referenda, where a majority vote of the people makes policy. Drutman’s claim that “voters are not policymakers” is simply not true in states, cities, and counties with direct democracy.

Creative solutions

In all of these cases, there are opportunities to merge technical expertise with citizen participation. The example with which I most familiar is the Citizens’ Initiative Review. This process, which was developed by Healthy Democracy, is a hybrid system in which a microcosm of representative citizens (reasonable, moderate, and civic-minded, by the way) examines a ballot measure. They draw upon the arguments of partisan intermediates (advocates for and against the measure) and the input of independent policy experts. Their goal is to provide to their fellow voters a clear statement that outlines the key facts about a ballot measure as well as the best arguments on each side.

The result of public participation in the Citizens’ Initiative Review is an artifact that can be used by voters to make civic-minded decisions when participating in direct democracy. The knowledge that a group of fellow citizens spent four days sorting through the issue on their behalf is an inspiring service, one that can compel not only the people in the room but those who read their statement and appreciate the service to be more civic-minded and engaged in their own lives.

Research by scholars in the political science, communication, and government fields affirms that the Citizens’ Initiative Review process is democratic, deliberative, and unbiased. Their analyses find that Citizens’ Statements are highly accurate and are a reliable source of information for voters. They also find that voters actually do use the statement when casting their ballots, and that voters who read the statement have more knowledge and are more confident in their knowledge.

This piece is not intended to be an advertisement for the Citizens’ Initiative Review, but the fact is that reforms like it are rare and most folks do not have the opportunity to witness these processes and their results. In our unique position as a deliverer of these reforms, we see the extraordinary transformation that regular people undergo when called to serve their fellow voters in this way. The vast majority of citizen participants leave with a better understanding of democracy, political values, and policy analysis—not to mention a deeper understanding of the policy topic under study.

It should be noted that one reason these reforms are rare is because they disrupt the work of partisan intermediaries who would prefer to deliver information to voters through a lens that suits their own ends, often at the expense of accuracy. In a refrain familiar to many political observers, partisan intermediaries’ assessment of the value of nonpartisan intermediaries corresponds closely with how well the information produced via nonpartisan means supports their partisan ends.

Democracy starts–but does not end–with politics

You see, citizen participation takes many forms. And participating in democracy does not fit neatly in the world of policy and politics. It is a common lament recently that hyperpartisanship has led to two Americas, and that our problem is that we refuse to talk to one another. Well, the first step to breaking down hyperpartisanship is to personally know people with politics that oppose your own. Any action that builds bridging social capital (social capital across heterogeneous groups) is an act of democracy. Then, when our democratic systems are stressed, we can draw upon that social capital for resilience. If we can see the other side as people, and don’t demonize, dehumanize, and disregard them based on partisan cues, we can stay engaged in democracy with one another.

In the close of his piece, Drutman calls on us to abandon the search for the mythical average citizen and seek an alternative. Since the author fails to articulate an alternative, I offer one here: let us expand our understanding of public participation to include the multitude of civic actions that add value to our democracy.

We can start in the realm of policymaking and politics with deliberative democracy. Well-designed deliberative processes (see the National Issues Forums, citizens juries, and the Citizens’ Initiative Review, among others) give voters a structured container to consult experts, consider tradeoffs, and deliberate the merits, consequences, and underlying values of policy choices. These processes take time, patience, and resources, but it is a worthwhile investment in the health of our democracy.

Let’s also work to build social capital through community work. A bank of social capital can give us the tools and relationships to better consider policy tradeoffs and impacts to our communities in the future. Additionally, an expanded conception of public participation gives voters opportunities to grow into more civically literate people. Not only can they better understand and act on their interests, they will be more likely to consider political problems creatively if they choose to enter representative politics. These kinds of programs are all around us. See Community Oregon, our experiment in building statewide urban-rural social capital in the state of Oregon, as well as other organizations that bring different types of people together to build connections across differences (e.g. Everyday Democracy, The Village Square, and many others).

The mythical citizen is all around us. She sings in a choir, volunteers her time, helps her neighbor with homework, and teaches her grandchild about the branches of government. She is doing democracy in her everyday life. She is serving her fellow citizens. She is our Plan B.

You can find the original version of this Healthy Democracy blog article at: https://healthydemocracy.org/blog/2017/06/13/actually-more-public-participation-can-save-american-democracy/

To respond to this article via the Deliberative Democracy Consortium blog, click here: http://deliberative-democracy.net/2017/06/15/we-invite-you-to-respond/

NCDD Joins Coalition in Launching National Survey on the American Dream

In an era of political divide and confusion, we can learn a lot about what is happening if we slow down and ask people how their thoughts and feelings about the issues that seem to divide us most are changing.

That is why NCDD is proud to announce that we’ve joined a national, nonpartisan coalition that is launching the “What’s Your American Dream?” survey. This survey will ask people across the US to express their values and goals around the issues they see as most vital, and deliver the results to lawmakers. We think that an effort like this can help guide the nation’s leaders – as well as dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement practitioners –  to understand Americans’ goals for this time and then devise the tactics to achieve those goals.

The survey grew out of discussions with former members of Congress and everyday Americans, all frustrated with being out of touch with each other. The coalition rolling out the “What is Your American Dream?” survey – comprised of 25 universities, media outlets, organizations spanning the political spectrum, and spearheaded by the team at TheChisel – has the potential to reach 30 million Americans.

NCDD joined this growing coalition because we believe that the survey is a great tool to help D&D practitioners in our network gain clearer insights on what the people we’re engaging are really thinking and how they’re prioritizing for different issue areas, which will help our field do more impactful work that is responsive to the needs in our communities. That’s why we’re supporting the survey and encouraging our network to participate & share the survey to your own networks!

The seven-week survey is being hosted on TheChisel.com, a unique nonpartisan public discussion platform that encourages people across the US to step beyond political slogans and platforms to share what matters to them, their loved ones, and communities.

Their survey uses elements of public deliberation to help distill Americans’ shared dream in seven important areas: Economy; Social Justice; Liberty and Regulation; Health, Education, and Care; Services; Foreign Affairs; and Governance. One of these themes will be featured each of the seven weeks that the survey is open. Unlike traditional surveys, the American Dream survey allows participants to share their stories with fellow Americans, or even add issues important to them that they think should be part of the conversation. It also features whimsical graphics and game-like navigation, is easy to use and understand, and appeals to all ages – whether they are 18 or 99 year olds.

TheChisel and the coalition will share the survey’s findings with the media and hand-deliver the report to the President, Cabinet, Members of Congress, Supreme Court, and state governors once it’s completed.

The “What’s Your American Dream?” survey launched on May 16 and will be open to the public for free until July 4, 2017, so be sure to participate soon! You can find the survey at www.thechisel.com/americandream. We encourage NCDD members and our broader network to take the survey yourself, share it with your followers, or even consider signing on to the coalition, which already includes other NCDD member orgs!

More about the Coalition
University partners include University of Missouri School of Journalism, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, University of Mary Government and Political Philosophy Department, University of the Pacific Political Science Department.

Other partners include: ALL-IN Campus Democracy Challenge, AllSides, Associated Collegiate Press, Diplomat Books, Future 500, Heartfelt Leadership Institute, Hope Street Group, Independent Voter Network, Inyo County Clerk-Recorder, JGArchitects, Living Room Conversations, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, National Speech and Debate Association, ReConsider Media, The TAI Group, Take Back Our Republic, TheChisel, The Democracy Commitment, The Policy Circle, Wellville, and The Women’s Debate.

More about TheChisel
TheChisel is a nonpartisan website offering citizens a unique platform to engage in a dialogue with experts from both sides of the aisle. It enables citizen voices to be heard over the noise of special interest groups and media spin. On TheChisel’s proprietary discussion platform, every American can engage and help revise public policy proposals related to issues important to America’s future. These proposals are developed by nonpartisan organizations and bipartisan coalitions. With TheChisel’s help, Americans’ views will educate civic leaders and guide their policy-making.

Navigating a Polarized Landscape with Our Nonpartisan Credentials Intact

In the post-2016 election landscape where talk of “threats to democracy” abounds, many organizations focused on deliberative democracy and public engagement, including NCDD, have had to relearn not only how to balance participating in public conversation about issues that didn’t used to seem partisan before, but how to do so while maintaining our nonpartisan stances and not violating our organizational or personal values. It’s not easy, which is why we appreciated NCDD member org Healthy Democracy‘s recent piece that offers solid advice for how to evaluate and maintain our nonpartisan nature in this fraught new environment. We highly recommend you read their piece below or find the original here.


Nonpartisan Hygiene: 6 Tips to Stay Squeaky Clean

We find ourselves in a political moment where significant sectors of the country warn of existential threats to our democracy. This began before the 2016 election, but it has since reached a fever pitch. Signals such as the Economist Intelligence Unit’s recent “downgrade” of the US from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” have added fuel to the fire. At Healthy Democracy, we do not take a position about whether these threats are real or not, though we spend a great deal of time trying to improve our democracy.

Nonpartisan “Positions”

As a nonpartisan organization, we cannot take a position that would turn off members of any political or demographic group. This is because we rely on our reputation as unbiased process experts when working with citizens from across the political spectrum. Additionally, we don’t take positions on issues that might come before a Citizens Initiative Review panel, including the proposals of our peers in the elections reform space.

In some ways, this makes it easy for us to choose the issues on which we take a public position (pretty much nothing), but when “threats to our democracy” come up, and considering our name is Healthy Democracy, what do we do? Do we retweet a statement praising a free press? Or is publicly expressing support for a free press now viewed as a partisan act?

We can make these decisions ad hoc, but we risk inconsistency, or worse: letting our personal perspectives and biases sway our decisions. We realized that Healthy Democracy needed to do some thinking. Some nonpartisan hygiene, if you will, to get our internal activities and the external communication of our work squarely in our nonpartisan ethos.

As a result of our analysis, we humbly share some “nonpartisan hygiene” tips that may come in handy to other organizations in this space, including bipartisan political organizations, nonpartisan think tanks, newsrooms, and professional organizations. Government scientists and policy thinkers may find this helpful, as well. This is written with nonpartisan nonprofits in mind, but please take from it anything that is helpful to your organization’s needs.

What we lose when we’re not scrupulously nonpartisan

There is an idea that floats around nonpartisan and social good organizations that we have “nonpartisan capital” that builds up when an organization is nonpartisan for a long time. The theory goes that we can spend this capital in little bits when it’s worth it, for example when a politician does something particularly egregious, or when a policy is implemented that violates our ethics. I speculate that this thinking is dangerous and flawed. Being nonpartisan is an all-or-nothing proposition when it comes to public perception. This is part of why nonpartisan spaces are precious and scarce.

Additionally, that perceived “nonpartisan capital” should not be mistaken for influence or power. Even if we accept the idea of nonpartisan capital, we cannot reliably mete it out, spending only enough to “make a difference” without trashing our reputation. In fact, we risk throwing away our most precious resource if we view it, incorrectly, as something can be given away in metered chunks.

6 Tips to Stay Squeaky Clean and Effective

1. Reassess your internal and external values. Most nonprofits have a set of values articulated in their strategic plan. These are typically things like transparency, service, and inclusion. Often, these are internal values about how the organization runs itself, or they are a mix of internal and external values. Take transparency, for instance. This is a laudable internal value, and many nonpartisan nonprofits list it among their core values. But if a politician or public figure does something that violates that value, should the organization publicly condemn it? Probably only if transparency is a core external value, such as the fictional nonpartisan group, Americans for Transparent Government.

Do the same exercise with service and inclusion and you can see how this can get tricky if you don’t have a clear sense of your organization’s internal versus external values. Spend some time clarifying internal and external values in a board meeting, retreat, staff meeting, or chat. If you are starting from scratch naming external values, start with your mission and think about what you need to do to keep credibility in your space. Your communications team should be well-apprised of these values, since they are on the front lines of selecting the media with which the organization affiliates and interacts.

2. Shore up your nonpartisan bonafides among your staff, board, and partners. The simplest way to get nonpartisan credibility is to have actual political diversity on your staff, even if you don’t publicly identify your political affiliations. Not only will this increase your organization’s credibility, it will make you better at your work.

If you have trouble attracting staff from one side of political spectrum, examine that! If you can’t easily hire to bring more political diversity onto your staff, consider affiliating with a thoughtful person who brings a different political orientation and is willing to consult now and again. If you have a question about whether a particular activity or position would be viewed as overtly partisan, get their take on it. This can reveal blind spots and save your bacon. And there is really no reason not to have a board that reflects political – and other – diversity.

3. Play out scenarios, both commonplace and extreme. In your retreat, staff meeting, or chat, start with your external values and play out some scenarios that would challenge them. Consider everything from the commonplace (“Should we retweet this?”) to the extreme (“What if we were asked to do our program on a policy that offends our values?”). In our version of this conversation, we asked ourselves whether we would agree to deliver a Citizens’ Initiative Review on a fictional ballot measure. The fictional measure would require members of a particular religious faith to register with the state government. This kind of policy deeply offends our personal values, and would be an “extreme” scenario.

We talked through the pitfalls: would our participation lend legitimacy to an unconscionable policy? Would we run the risk of becoming tainted by affiliating ourselves with the public conversation about the measure? We decided, somewhat to our surprise, that we would do it; we would deliver a citizen review of the measure. But only if we were sure it could be done in a fair and unbiased way, as with every measure we review. The legitimacy question is moot; the measure is already on the fictional ballot. Our participation would simply allow the voters of that state to shine a light on the measure, and that’s a good thing. You really have to believe in your programs in a case like this. Thankfully, we do.

4. Invite external evaluations of partisanship and effectiveness. Be transparent about the results, and make changes in response to critical feedback. Take advantage of university researchers who will fund themselves to research your work! Think of this like ripping off a band-aid. If you get spotless evaluations the first time, great, but you probably won’t. Be transparent about your efforts to improve non-partisanship and you’ll reap greater effectiveness and rewards.

We’re proud that every Citizens’ Initiative Review has been evaluated by independent university researchers, and we owe a great deal our credibility as a deliverer of fair and unbiased processes to those evaluation results. This is worth its weight in gold. If you can’t find a university researcher, at least partner occasionally with an external auditor of your programs to shore up your internal evaluation methods and get a reality check on how well you’re doing.

5. Be uncompromising in your affiliations. Hold partners to a high standard of nonpartisanship and rigor. If your work calls for you to affiliate with partisan groups, seek a balance. Don’t work with anyone who doesn’t evaluate their work, or who misrepresents themselves as nonpartisan when they’re not scrupulously so.

6. Hold the nonpartisan space. Nonpartisan spaces are scarce and valuable. There are many actors in the advocacy space. Let them do their jobs, and let us do ours.

You can find the original version of this Healthy Democracy blog piece at www.healthydemocracy.org/blog/nonpartisan.

Learn from Iceland’s Deliberative Constitutional Change

We want to encourage our NCDD network, especially those in California, to consider registering to attend an intriguing event this June 3 at UC Berkeley called A Congress on Iceland’s Democracy. This international gathering aims to explore new approaches to democracy inspired by the deliberative process that Iceland used to create its new constitution through a mock legislative process, and we’re sure many NCDDers would take a great deal of inspiration from participating.
You can learn more about the gathering in the invitation letter below sent to the NCDD network from our friends at Wilma’s Wish Productions, whose Blueberry Soup documentary on Iceland’s constitutional transformation we previously posted about on the blog, or learn more at www.law.berkeley.edu/iceland.


A Congress on Iceland’s Democracy

We are writing to extend an invitation to an event we believe would interest you. On June 3rd, 2017, we are hosting a citizen’s gathering at the University of California, Berkeley.

This event will translate participatory discussion into concrete action proposals by organizing as a mock legislative body to develop, debate, and decide on proposals for moving forward with Iceland’s constitutional change process. The event’s structure takes inspiration from the 2010 Icelandic National Assembly and Robert’s Rules of Order.

This powerful summit will revolve around discussions on how to address the current political and social climate in the United States, using Iceland’s constitutional reform process as an example. Iceland’s new constitution was written in perhaps the most democratic way possible and we want to model this methodology and learn how it can be applied in communities across the United States and the world. Our goal is to create a non-partisan environment that will foster new approaches to democracy and a shared vocabulary.

Many prominent political figures from Iceland will be in attendance as well as many of the authors of the new constitution. Furthermore, academics, activists, startups, and journalists from all over the United States and Europe are also coming to participate in this “Icelandic National Assembly” style event.

This gathering of citizens has piqued the interest of people from all around the globe – a mass exodus of Icelanders and Europeans are flying in just to sit at these tables because they know real change is possible through dialogic methodologies. We hope this historic gathering will shape the way Americans think about democracy with a focus on the impact that dialogue can have on the democratic process on a local as well as global scale.

This conference aims to achieve exactly what many of you have dedicated your life to – reimagining democracy and the way we converse with one another about tough issues. Your passion for dialogue and democracy in addition to your excellent facilitation skills makes me believe you would be a valuable asset to this event and an excellent voice for others to engage with.

We want a broad range of perspectives present at this event, so we invite you to register to attend this citizens gathering and participate in history as it is being made.

You can learn more about the Congress on Iceland’s Democracy at www.law.berkeley.edu/iceland.

NCDDer Gives TEDx Talk on #BridgingOurDivides

Did you know that NCDD member Mark Gerzon did his own TED Talk recently?

We were proud to see Mark – the Founder and President of NCDD member org, the Mediators Foundation – speak at TEDxVail this past January about the need for our country to deepen the work of #BridgingOurDivides between the partisan left and right blocs. In his talk, he challenges us to take inspiration from the integration of the left and right parts of our own physiology as we consider the importance of going beyond partisanship.

We think Mark’s selection for this prestigious opportunity speaks to the power of the sorts of ideas that drive the work of NCDD. We encourage you to join us in congratulating Mark on the accomplishment, and check out his 11 minute talk below.

NCDD Members Win Big in Bridge Alliance Grant Competition

In case you missed it, we wanted to highlight the fact the a total of nine different NCDD member organizations were awarded grants as part of first round of the Bridge Alliance‘s Collective Impact competition. We think having so many NCDD members win grants in a competition aimed at helping transpartisan groups “to better collaborate on ways to fix political processes on the local, state, and national levels” is a huge testament to the powerful work that our network does. We invite you to join us in congratulating Bring it to the TableDavenport Institute, Essential Partners, Healthy Democracy, Institute for Local GovernmentLiving Room Conversations, National Institute for Civil DiscoursePublic Agenda, Village Square, and all of the other winners!
You can learn more in the Bridge Alliance’s announcement below (we’ve marked the NCDD member orgs with an asterisk) or find the original here.


The Bridge Alliance Collective Impact $500,000 Grant First-Round Projects, March 2017

Recognizing that organizations cannot effectively bridge the broad political divide alone, the Bridge Alliance is awarding up to $1 million in Collective Impact grants in 2017 to enable our member organizations to better collaborate on ways to fix political processes on the local, state and national levels. We are pleased to announce today the awarding of more than $525,000 in inaugural grants, to be shared by two dozen Bridge Alliance member organizations.

These joint projects will help members implement and test innovative approaches in our Alliance’s three core areas: expanding civic engagement and participation; improving governance; and reforming campaign and election processes. The programs are designed to generate tools, ideas and best practices for all Bridge Alliance members to use and to multiply the impact of each group’s work.

Additional grants will be awarded later this year, financed in partnership with Invest American Fund and others.

GOVERNANCE 

  • Improve the workings of state legislatures nationwide bybringingtogether legislators from across the country to study how to talk with others with opposing views and how to reach policy decisions without or with minimum acrimony.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: National Institute for Civil Discourse*; State Legislative Leaders Foundation; National Foundation of Women Legislators.  Grant amount: $50,000 in two phases.

  • Make local government meetings and decision making more effective by distributing a toolkit to make public meetings more productive and guide how people inside and outside of local government perceive and communicate with each other.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Public Agenda*; Cities of Service; Institute of Local Government*. Grant amount: $45,000

CIVIC PARTICIPATION & ENGAGEMENT

  • Help people and groups find opposing forces who are willing to talk and stimulate dialogue between those of differing viewpoints by creating an online “matchmaking site” to help divergent Bridge Association members and others find each other for open conversations on difficult issues.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: AllSides, Living Room Conversations*, Digital Citizen. Grant amount: $65,000

  • Find out if voters can make better-informed decisions on initiatives and referenda, by expanding and testing new Citizen Initiative Review Panels’ voter information guides in a California demonstration project.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Public Agenda*, Davenport Institute*, Healthy Democracy*. Grant amount: $60,000

  • Enable open conversation between leaders and groups with diverging views, with a test project in Utah to train civil discourse facilitators who will lead and teach others how to find common ground for discussion.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Essential Partners*, Living Room Conversations*, Village Square*. Grant amount: $45,000

  • Improve government decision making and civic participation by better informing people of government procedures, successes and roadblocks, by creating, testing and distributing a new series of radio, TV and webcasts.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: AllSides, Living Room Conversations*, Bring it to the Table*, Coffee Party. Grant amount: $38,000

  • >Harness the power of social media to showcase positive acts of governing instead of just the negative, through research, tests and the participation of social media experts and companies

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Civil Politics, Living Room Conversations*, Village Square*. Grant amount: $25,000

  • Create a new model for Americans of different backgrounds and beliefs to come together in face-to-face conversations, with social media tools and guidelines to allow all Bridge Member groups, other organizations, and individuals to organize powerful “circles” and moderated dinners for cross-party dialogue and civil debate.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: 92Y, Village Square*. Grant amount: $90,000 in two phases

CAMPAIGNS AND ELECTIONS

  • Educate voters where new election processes are in place or under consideration, such as open primaries and ranked choice voting.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Fair Vote, Open Primaries, Reconsider Media, Independent Voter Project. Grant amount: $35,000

  • Encourage and enable more people to run for public office, with social and other media outreach to potential candidates and the public at large, to foster a more representative, responsive, and functional government.

Collaborating Bridge Alliance members: Centrist Project, Independent Voting.org, Represent.Us. Grant amount: $60,000

You can find the original version of this Bridge Alliance announcement at http://www.bridgealliance.us/collective_impact1.

Journalists Convene Divide-Bridging Dialogue in Pacific NW

Recently, journalists from The Evergrey undertook an effort that provided an inspiring, real-life example of dialogue work that is #BridgingOurDivides, and we wanted to highlight it for our network. The group brought people from urban, liberal King County, WA together with people from rural, conservative Sherman County, OR to have conversations about politics and their perspectives. Not only did they avoid shouting mathes, but people acutally listened to and learned from each other.
We encourage you to read the excerpt below from the great write up about the trip below from one of the organizers, Mónica Guzmán of The Evergrey, and check out the full version here. You can also learn more by watching the recording of the live chat that The Evergrey hosted to debrief the trip, which you can find here.


Seattleites took a 10-hour road trip to cross a political divide. Here’s what happened

Sherman County, Oregon, sits just south of the Washington border, east of the Cascades. Fewer than 2,000 people live in its 831 square miles. Stand on one of the hills near Moro, the county seat, and you’ll see wheat fields all around – and maybe some tall wind turbines.

Sherman County has very little in common with Seattle and King County. And yet, we’re connected: It’s the nearest county to ours that voted exactly opposite us in the presidential election. While 74 percent of King County voters went for Clinton, 74 percent of Sherman County voters went for Trump.

So on Saturday, about 20 of us King County residents took a 10-hour road trip to pay the people of Sherman County a visit.

We called the trip “Melting Mountains: An Urban-Rural Gathering.” Sandy Macnab, a just-retired Sherman and Wasco County agricultural agent who planned the event with us, came up with the name. It refers to the snowmelt that runs down the mountains dividing the eastern and western parts of our states, nourishing the land below.

We like the metaphor. And though we know we can’t melt the political and cultural “mountains” that divide our two counties in an afternoon – red vs. blue, liberal vs. conservative, rural vs. urban – we figured we might help people take a first step…

We encourage you to read the full version of this piece by Monica Guzman of The Evergrey at www.theevergrey.com/took-10-hour-road-trip-cross-political-divide-heres-happened.

Introducing The Transpartisan Review

In case you missed it in all the commotion of the past month, I want to encourage you to check out an important project launched on Inauguration Day 2017 by a handful of members and friends of NCDD – The Transpartisan Review.  I had the pleasure to join the team behind this new publication a few months ago, lending my skills as designer and editor, and I’d like to share a bit more about it.

Originally introduced to the NCDD community last fall at our NCDD 2016 conferenceThe Transpartisan Review is a new digital journal dedicated to sharing thoughts and insights from the growing transpartisan community.

In its inaugural issue, The Transpartisan Review explores the “transpartisan moment” we find ourselves in after the latest presidential election. Executive editors Lawrence Chickering and James Turner posit that we have reached a turning point in the history of our democracy – a transitional phase – which is offering us an opportunity to replace the “partisanship” splitting our country with a new form of political engagement incorporating the best features of left and right.

Alongside this assessment of the current political climate, this first issue of The Transpartisan Review shares several articles on a variety of topics, including contributions from distinguished NCDD members Joan Blades, Mark Gerzon, and Michael Briand (who also served as managing editor). It examines perspectives from the political side of NCDD’s #BridgingOurDivides campaign with articles contemplating how to be a better neighbor, an alternative approach to foreign policy, and even a different way to look at terrorism – all from a perspective that seeks to go beyond the traditional left-right divide.

Not only are they effective conversation starters, but these features represent the beginning of a dialogue the editors of the journal hope to encourage with and between its readership as we all gather to discuss the impact the new administration will have on the United States and the rest of the world.

You can read the entire issue online or download it for free at the journal’s website, www.transpartisanreview.com, and while you’re there, you can also check out Chickering and Turner’s Transpartisan Notes, a series of short-form articles on current issues viewed through a transpartisan lens.

You can look forward to more critical contributions to the work of bridging our nation’s divides in future issues of The Transpartisan Review and from this great team of NCDDers and transpartisan leaders.

The Reunited States of America

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

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

Reunited_StatesFrom the book…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resource Link: www.markgerzon.com/