The three-page, Speed Meeting Activity for Community Addressing Racism, by Everyday Democracy was published October 2014 on ED’s site here. This activity is designed to address racial equity issues, and is especially helpful for those using the Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation discussion guide [by Everyday Democracy].
Participants are given a printout of a clock with four meeting times: at the 3:00, 6:00, 9:00, and 12:00. Each person finds a partner in the room to meet with during each of these times (4 meet ups total). Each time slot has a different question to explore with the partner “scheduled” at that time, and after all four meet ups, there is an overall group debrief at the end. Below is an excerpt from the activity and you can find the entire activity on Everyday Democracy’s site here.
This activity can be used whenever people don’t know each other and need to connect at any phase of the work, and especially in the organizing phase.
Purpose of Activity:
– To get participants comfortable talking in pairs and about race/ethnicity
– To allow participants an opportunity to reflect on their past and present experiences
– To help participants feel more comfortable thinking about their experiences through a racial/ethnic/cultural lens.
This activity was created so that participants could start talking about race and ethnicity in pairs. This activity help participants begin to build relationships. Through answering the 6:00 to 9:00 questions, participants will be able to reflect on their past and present experiences through a racial/ethnic/cultural lens.
Find the entire activity on ED’s site here.
About Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy (formerly called the Study Circles Resource Center) is a project of The Paul J. Aicher Foundation, a private operating foundation dedicated to strengthening deliberative democracy and improving the quality of public life in the United States. Since our founding in 1989, we’ve worked with hundreds of communities across the United States on issues such as: racial equity, poverty reduction and economic development, education reform, early childhood development and building strong neighborhoods. We work with national, regional and state organizations in order to leverage our resources and to expand the reach and impact of civic engagement processes and tools.
Follow on Twitter: @
At their recent event, A Public Voice, NCDD member organization the Kettering Foundation released the interim report on what they have learned from the many deliberative forums they’ve hosted on the topics of health care and economic opportunity in the last year. We encourage you to learn more in the Kettering announcement below, or find the original version on their blog by clicking here.
Interim Report on Health Care and Making Ends Meet Forums Released at A Public Voice 2016 in Washington, DC
On May 5, the Kettering Foundation released an interim report on two series of deliberative forums that used materials prepared by Kettering researchers for the National Issues Forums. The report details the results of forums held in 2015-2016 using the Health Care: How Can We Reduce Costs and Still Get the Care We Need? issue guide and forums held in 2016 using the Making Ends Meet: How Should We Spread Prosperity and Improve Opportunity? issue guide. Forums on both issues will continue through 2016.
At A Public Voice 2016, representatives of NIF and other deliberative democracy groups discussed the concerns that have emerged from forums on heath-care and economic security issues. A panel of elected officials and policymakers responded to that discussion.
The interim report is drawn from the work of NIF members and forum participants. To compile the report, researchers from Kettering and Public Agenda attended forums, talked with forum moderators, reviewed questionnaires filled out by forum participants, and analyzed transcripts of forums.
The interim report can be downloaded here.
You can find the original version of this Kettering Foundation post by visiting www.kettering.org/blogs/apv-2016-interim-report.
Colleagues and I just ran a mini-experiment in which students at two very different universities held online discussions of the same controversial current issues. Before and after each discussion, we surveyed them to ascertain their social networks within their own class. We assumed that a group of people who discuss issues exhibit three layers of network ties that can change over time:
- Social networks: affective ties among the people, defined by friendship or respect.
- Networks of direct address: When person A asks person B a question or endorses B’s view, that creates a tie, and many ties create a network.
- Semantic (or epistemic) networks: Ideas connected by explanations. For instance, if A says that racism causes unequal health outcomes, then A has connected two ideas.
I am interested in tracking the relationships among these networks, because some patterns seem more desirable than others, and it would be useful to recognize the differences. For example, if people who are popular in social networks receive most of the direct addresses and determine the group’s epistemic network, then the discussion looks like a popularity contest. But if a new idea causes people to revise their opinions of whose views should be respected, that is evidence of learning.
Here is a small illustrative finding from the data so far. Below I show the trajectory of two particular students within the Tufts University discussion thread. Both started off as somewhat less central than average in the class’s social network. At the start of the experiment, Tufts 06 was mentioned by three fellow students as a friend or an influencer, and Tufts09 got one mention. (Below I show the percentage of all mentions, to control for differences in the amount of text at each phase.)
In the second discussion, which concerned the social determinants of health, Tufts09 posted the very first comment. She wrote, “the presentation given by Dr. [F.] was one of the best presentations given on social determinants of health that I have seen. … As a woman of black decent, I have taken these discussions and this knowledge very seriously, and I now view life with a completely different perspective. … When talking about the Flint, Michigan water crisis, it was shocking to hear that companies … are often built where the majority of the community is minority and low income. This infuriated me.”
Her comment was explicitly referred to by five other students and set the agenda for the whole discussion thread. When next surveyed, four students counted her as someone who had influenced them, up from one at the pretest. The number of mentions fell, however, to two at the end of the experiment.
It appears, then, that by making a forceful comment to start an online discussion—drawing on her own identity—Tufts09 may have gained social capital for a week or so. On the other hand, she did not need social capital before the second discussion to be influential in it.
Tufts 06 was the first to post in the the third conversation, writing: “As someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression, the topic of mental health stigma is incredibly important to me. In my family, nearly everyone on my mother’s side is on medication for anxiety, depression, OCD, or some combination of the three. We have had three suicides in our family (all before I was born) just because the treatments and attitudes toward mental health were not sufficient at the time those family members were suffering through their diseases.”
She received six mentions in the discussion thread, and in the subsequent survey, six students named her as influential (up from 3 at pretest). Again, she seemed to raise her social capital by making an influential point in the online dialog.
These are just two little anecdotes, and much remains to be explored. For instance: How typical is this kind of trajectory? Even in these two cases, did participation in the online discussion really cause social capital to rise? (The effect could be random or driven by some other factor.) And if these students were influential, was it because of what they argued, how they drew on their personal backgrounds, or simply the fact that they each posted first on the discussion thread?
Perhaps its because I just spent several hours siting outside reading rather than doing the work I more properly ought to be doing, but all I can think of today is a particularly memorable passage from Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Stein, I feel compelled to add, was raised in my hometown of Oakland, California.
It was a very lovely spring day, Gertrude Stein had been going to the opera every night and going also to the opera in the afternoon and had been otherwise engrossed and it was the period of the final examinations, and there was the examination in William James’s course. She sat down with the examination paper before her and she just could not. She wrote at the top of her paper, Dear Professor James, I am so sorry but really I do not feel a bit like an examination paper in philosophy to-day, and left.
The next day she had a postal card from William James saying, Dear Miss Stein, I understand perfectly how you feel I often feel like that myself. And underneath it he gave her work the highest mark in his course.
I’ve been reading Manin’s critical Democratic Deliberation: Why We Should Promote Debate Rather Than Discussion.
At the core of his argument, Manin complains that liberal theorists traditionally conflate “diversity of views” with “conflicting views.” Holding that a necessary and sufficient condition for good deliberation is “that participants in discussion hold diverse views and articulate a variety of perspectives, reflecting the heterogeneity of their experiences and backgrounds.”
To be clear, Manin isn’t suggesting that diversity of thought isn’t critical to deliberation – rather, he argues, it is not sufficient.
“Diversity of views is not a sufficient condition for deliberation because it may fail to bring into contact opposing views,” he writes. “It is the opposition of views and reasons that is necessary for deliberation, not just their diversity.”
There are many ways in which the mere presence of diversity may not result in the articulation of divergent views. Social psychology research has well documented the challenges of confirmation bias, where people “systematically misperceive and misinterpret evidence that is counter to their preexisting belief.” Or even avoid conflicting evidence all together.
To make matters worse, Manin points to research which further finds that “groups process information in a more biased way than individuals do, preferring information that supports their prior dominant belief to an even greater extent than individual people.”
More broadly, diverse experiences and views may not always translate directly into divergent opinions or perspectives on a given topic. Manin asks us to imagine a community facing a very reasonable and rational fear: say, a serial killer is on the loose. Discussing a proposal to expand police powers at this time of crisis, “the variety of perspectives and dispersion of social knowledge among them will ensure that many arguments, each deriving from the particular perspective, experience, or background of the speaker, are heard in support of expanding the prerogatives to the police.”
That is, the diverse reasons may all support the same view.
And finally, in a large heterogenous society, diverse opinions and experience may become polarized as fragmented, separate communities. That is, “a variety of internally homogeneous communities will coexist, each ignoring the views of the others.”
And, of course, there is the deep problem of power. Divergent perspectives will often go unspoken in situations where one group or groups have been systematically oppressed and silenced. Where even explicit invitations to freely share their views are rightly perceived as hollow or out-right disingenuous. This is a dynamic which John Gaventa documents powerfully in his study of poor, white, coal miners in the Appalachian Valley.
The damaging impact of this dynamic cannot be understated, as Gaventa argues, “power serves to create power. Powerlessness serves to re-enforce powerlessness. Power relationships, once established, are self-sustaining.”
Finally, there is the simple social challenge that “encountering disagreement”, as Manin writes, “generates psychic discomfort.” People don’t really like to argue.
(Of note here, there is little cross-cultural consideration in Manin, so while mainstream America’s distaste for argumentative discourse is well documented in numerous places, I’m not sure how broad a claim this properly ought to be.)
The solution to this seems simple: argue more. Take “deliberate and affirmative measures” to ensure lively debate and critical discussion. Don’t just assume that if diverse people are present, diverse voices will be heard. Seek out divergent views and conflicting arguments. If no one else says them – argue for them yourself.
This last point, I think, is particularly critical in looking at deliberation through a power-lens. If you are a position of power you are responsible for ensuring that diverse view be heard. This can mean working to create a safe space where people genuinely feel welcomed to share their views – or it can mean saying the unpopular thing yourself, putting it out there as a valid idea, worthy of further consideration.