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/