NCDD2018 Sheraton Discount Extended to Friday Oct 12th!

Great news! We received word the Sheraton Denver Downtown has extended the deadline for the NCDD2018 discounted room rate until 5:00 pm MST this Friday, October 12th. The 2018 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation (#NCDD2018) is being held at the Sheraton and we’ve negotiated a great rate of $165/night for conference attendees. Located right the on the 16th Street Mall, not only will you be in close proximity to the NCDD2018 magic, but you will be staying right in the heart of downtown Denver.

Here’s a little teaser of what’s to come…

Make sure you book your lodging ASAP as rooms are filling up fast! The discounted rate will be available until 5:00pm MST on Friday. You can learn more about the hotel on their website here, but you must use this link to get the NCDD rate:

Alternatively, you may book by phone by calling Central Reservations at 888-627-8405 and mentioning you are part of the “National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation – NCDD2018” block.

While the official conference kicks off the morning of Friday, November 2nd, we wanted to give attendees a heads up to consider arriving on Wednesday evening or Thursday because we have a full line-up of pre-conference sessions scheduled for Thursday, November 1st. You won’t want to miss these preconference sessions, check them out here!

We recently announced the exciting schedule, over 60 workshops, and line-up for the D&D Showcase happening on Friday evening. The conference will run until Sunday, November 4th around 4pm, so we recommend you stay until Sunday evening or depart Monday, November 5th. Find out more about your transportation options on our NCDD 2018 travel & lodging page.

If you are looking for a roommate at the conference, we encourage folks to use this blog post for coordinating NCDD2018 logistics. Interested to learn more details about the conference – click here.

Can’t wait to see you all in the Mile High City for NCDD2018!

The Insurgent Power of the Commons in the War Against the Imagination

As readers may have noticed, I have not been blogging much in recent months. That's because I've been completing a new book with my colleague Silke Helfrich that has been consuming most of my time. (More about that soon.) Fortunately, only a month or so is left before we finish the manuscript! At that point I expect to resume blogging on a more regular schedule.Thanks for your patience!

In the meantime, I have been getting out and about a bit. On September 29, I delivered a keynote talk at the Prairie Festival in Salina, Kansas, hosted by The Land Institute. The annual festival, now 40 years old, brings together several hundred progressives from around the country concerned about agriculture, food, land, and social change.

The Land Institute, founded by a hero of mine, Wes Jackson, is a leading independent agricultural research center. Its plant breeders and ecologists have an ambitious mission: to develop "an agriculture system that mimics natural systems in order to produce ample food and reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of industrial agriculture."

One of the most impressive achievements of the Land Institute is its development of a perennial wheat called Kernza, which could radically reduce the ecological impact of conventional agriculture. The Institute is also developing a range of other crops using the principles of "perennial polyculture," which relies on complementary, mutually supportive crops in the same field.

The event's main events were held in a large, open barn that felt unusual warm and intimate despite the chilly weather that day. A print version of my remarks are below; a video can be seen here. (My talk starts at the timemark 41:00 and goes through 1:22.)

Thank you, Fred Iutzi and the Land Institute for inviting me to this wonderful festival!   It’s a great honor to be speaking at an event at which so many illustrious thinkers, innovators, and activists have attended in the past. I want to thank the Land Institute for its pathbreaking research and leadership over the years – and give a special thanks to Wes Jackson for his vision, courage, and sheer persistence over so many years.

I’m not a farmer or seed-sharer, and I don’t have a specific role in the farm-to-table world except as a grateful eater. However, I do live in a small, somewhat rural town, Amherst, Massachusetts, a place of maple trees and CSA farms, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, and… a town common.

It is in that capacity that I come before you today, as a commoner. Much more about that shortly, but suffice it to say that the commons, to me, is a vehicle for social and political emancipation. My new book, written with my German colleague Silke Helfrich and due out next year, captures three touchstones of commoning in its title -- Free, Fair & Alive. It’s all about lived experience, not ideology, and more about living systems that emerge from the bottom up than about policies imposed from above.

I want to start with a blunt and perhaps jarring statement, that we are embroiled in a deep and serious war – a war against the imagination. This phrase comes from Beat poet Diane di Prima, who wrote:  

The war that matters is the war against the imagination

all other wars are subsumed in it….

the war is the war for the human imagination

and no one can fight it but you/ & no one can fight it for you

The imagination is not only holy, it is precise

it is not only fierce, it is practical

men die everyday for the lack of it,

it is vast & elegant.

“The ultimate famine,” di Prima warns, “is the starvation of the imagination.”

When an artist-friend shared these lines with me, I realized how profoundly they speak to our times. In today’s world, there seems to be very little room in respectable circles for wide-open dreaming and experimentation, or for stepping off in new directions to explore the unknown. But the realm of the unknown is precisely where we really start to see and live. 

In today’s world there are certain presumptions that serious people aren’t supposed to question, such as the necessity of economic growth and capital accumulation, and the importance of strong consumer demand and expansive private property rights. The more of these we have, the better, we are told.

These dogmas have sucked all the air out of our public life and politics.  Which is one reason that I have come to see the commons as a precious patch of ground -- an important staging area for thinking and living our way past the prevailing orthodoxies. The commons is a space from which an insurgency might be launched – indeed, it IS being launched, if you train your eyes to see it. 

In the next few minutes, I’d like to suggest how the commons paradigm can help us develop a new social and cultural vision, and new strategies for practical change. Paradoxically enough, redirecting our attention away from conventional politics and policy may offer the most promising possibilities for developing a transformational vision.  

We’re surely reaching a point of diminishing returns within the existing system. Real change and regeneration are going to require that we jump the tracks somehow. We need to start imagining different ways of being, doing, and knowing – and we need to invent new institutional structures to support such a paradigm shift.

Beyond the Tragedy of the Commons

Let me first clarify what I mean by the commons – a term that is greatly misunderstood and misused. For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when you mention the word “commons” is tragedy – as in the “tragedy of the commons.” 

That idea was put into circulation by biologist Garrett Hardin in a now-famous essay published by the journal Science in 1968. Hardin said, Imagine a pasture on which farmers can put as many sheep as they want. The result, he said, would inevitably be the over-exploitation of the pasture. No individual farmer would have a “rational” incentive to hold back, and so the sheep would over-graze and ruin the pasture, resulting in the tragedy of the commons.

What a tenacious little smear this has been! Over the past two generations, economists and conservative ideologues have embraced the “tragedy parable” as a powerful way to denigrate the collective management of resources, especially by government. Hardin’s just-so story has also proved useful for celebrating private property rights and, by implication, free markets and government deregulation.

The problem is, Hardin was spinning out a fantasy. It has no empirical basis. He was not describing any actual commons. He was describing an open-access regime – a free-for-all -- in which there is no community, no rules for managing resources, no boundaries around them, no penalties for overuse or free-riding, etc. That’s not a commons. A commons consists of a community plus a shared resource and a set of social agreements, practices, traditions, etc., for governing it.

The scenario Hardin was describing more accurately describes market economics in which everyone is a disconnected individual defined by their “utility-maximizing rationality” and competitiveness, which makes you a sucker to restrain yourself. You might say that Hardin was really describing the tragedy of the market – “Grab what you want and forget about the mess you leave behind.”

The late Professor Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University powerfully rebutted the whole “tragedy of the commons” fable in her landmark 1990 book, Governing the Commons. She won the Nobel Prize in Economics for this work in 2009 – the first woman to win the award. Ostrom and hundreds of scholars explained how countless communities around the world have self-organized themselves to manage natural resources without over-exploiting them – all of this outside of the market and state power.

Why, then, are these systems generally ignored by economists?  Because when you’re studying market transactions as the main event of life, anything that doesn’t involve cash and market exchange isn’t all that interesting.

And yet commons are everywhere. They are the ancient heritage of the human species. The International Land Coalition has estimated that there are over 2.5 billion people in the world whose daily lives today depend upon forests, fisheries, farmland, irrigation water, and wild game managed as commons. It’s the default mode of provisioning through nature! Yet to we moderns, commons remain mostly invisible – or misrepresented as ineffective and marginal.  Doomed to failure.

The huge achievement of Ostrom and her academic colleagues was to provide scholarly validation for the commons as a system of governance and provisioning. Ostrom showed that cooperation is actually economically consequential, something that her colleagues, most of them males, scoffed at.

A Movement of Commoners Arises

Meanwhile, outside of academia, a related story was developing on a parallel track over the past twenty years. A self-replicating movement of commoners was arising to build an empire of their own – an insurgent, diversified network based on the ideas of commoning. Yes, the commons is not so much a noun as a verb.

Commoning is the social process by which people come together, figure out the terms of their peer governance, learn how to devise fair systems, how to deal with rule-breakers, how build a cohesive culture, and so forth. Who are these commoners? They include:

  • farmers, villagers, pastoralists, and fishers who use community systems to manage crops, pastures, irrigation water, trees, wild game, fish….
  • “Localists” who want to restore the self-determination of their communities through community land trusts, CSA farms, alternative currencies and time-banking systems, among other commons.
  • There are Croatians fighting enclosures of their public spaces and coastal lands, and Greeks developing mutual aid systems to fight the neoliberal economic policies that have decimated that nation.
  • There is a rich Francophone network of commoners, and others in Spain, Italy, the UK, and India.
  • A new “municipalism” of urban commons is arising in cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, Seoul, and Bologna to establish commons-based Wi-Fi systems, public spaces, social projects, limits on development, and more.
  • Indigenous peoples are arguably the oldest commoners, fighting to defend their ethnobotanical knowledge and biocultural practices. 
  • A vast network of digital commoners are creating free and open source software….building open-access publishing systems….“platform cooperatives” as alternatives to Uber and Airbnb….wikis and makerspaces and Fab Labs.

Through some form of spontaneous convergence – or rising of a collective unconscious – these various groups are discovering the commons and using it as a lingua franca. While they all traffic in very different resources and in very different circumstances, most of them have a least one thing in common -- a victimization by global markets and capital.

Enclosure and the War Against Imagination

This brings us to the word “enclosure.” It is a word that helps commoners fight the war against the imagination. Enclosure names the great harms that occur when the market/state system privatizes and encloses our common wealth. Enclosure happens when something managed by a social cohort or rooted in an ecosystem is redefined as a market commodity. It is ripped from its context, converted into private property, and sold. Its price becomes its value.

This is an act of radical dispossession – the kind that defined the English enclosure movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which millions of commoners were evicted from their forests and pastures, and forced to migrate to cities and England’s dark satanic mills.

We are now in the midst of a second major enclosure movement. This time, it is using less violent but even more effective weapons of dispossession. These include intellectual property law, digital technologies, Big Data and algorithms, and, as needed, raw state coercion and market power. As in the past, the mission is to seize the common wealth for private profitmaking.

Enclosure happens when the Hunt brothers buy up vast tracts of groundwater in the Midwest, turning priceless repositories of life into speculative commodities to be sold to the highest bidders.

Enclosure happens when biotech and pharmaceutical companies patent genetic information about plants and seeds, and medicines and diseases. One fifth of the human genome is now owned by companies as patents. The German company BASF owns more than 6,000 patents derived from genetic sequences in 862 marine organisms.

Enclosure happens when industrial agriculture converts a living landscape into a vast, quasi-dead vessel of soil to grow monoculture crops. It occurs when the traditional sharing and cultivating of seeds are criminalized – which is happening today.

Enclosure is happening today in Africa and Asia, as sovereign investment funds and hedge funds collude with governments to buy land that have been used for generations by subsistence communities and indigenous tribes. It’s a huge land grab that is displacing millions of people and triggering new migrations to urban shantytowns and future famines: the English enclosure movement revisited.

Amazingly, American politics and economics don’t have a name for the idea of enclosure.  Instead it’s usually called “innovation,” “wealth creation,” and “progress.” The language of the commons helps us debunk these modern-day fairy tales.

The Commons and Place-Based Stewardship

What does all of this talk of the commons have to do with rural America and farming, ecosystems and human well-being?

I’d like to propose that the commons discourse can help us break out of the claustrophobic mindset of contemporary politics and economics, especially as they apply to rural America. The concepts and language of the commons – and scores of real-life projects – can open up new ways of thinking that go beyond the traditional “progress narratives” of growth and “development.”

As the era of climate change descends upon us – as we begin to recognize the fragility and costs of global supply chains for food, energy, and water; as we learn how giant corporations work with government to consolidate market power and squeeze out small players; as we discover how markets tend to flatten the distinctiveness of place and identity, and propagate inequality and division – we are learning what pre-moderns have known for millennia: Place-based stewardship and community self-reliance can offer more ecologically rooted, humane, and satisfying ways to live.

But how can we possibly work for such a vision? One thing is for sure, it won’t come via Washington, D.C., or new trade policies or farm bills, at least not primarily. It will first require some deeper cultural and personal shifts from us – and the development of new sorts of commons-based institutions.

It will require that we wean ourselves away from a mindset that is transactional – which is the essence of capitalist markets and culture, a mindset deeply embedded within each of us – and learn to embrace a mindset that at its core is relational, where we see ourselves as interconnected and interdependent, and can show our vulnerabilities as humans without being taken advantage of.

That’s where I see the commons helping to catalyze a transformation. The language and framing of the commons helps name this different order of life. Evolutionary sciences are showing that the hyper-individualistic story told by conventional economics is an utter fantasy. As E.O. Wilson, David Sloan Wilson, and Martin Nowak (among others) have shown, we are a species that has evolved through cooperation.

We are not free-floating individuals without histories or social ties, untouched by geography or community. In reality, we are all nested-I’s – individuals nested within larger biological webs and within social collectives that profoundly shape us. Land and natural systems are not mere resources as the price-system implies. They are what I call care-wealth.

It’s this relationality that needs to be brought to the foreground. As Thomas Berry put it memorably: “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” This is the ontological shift – the OntoShift – that we need to make as a culture and find ways to enact through projects and express through language.

In a sense, that’s the purpose of the commons. It’s a rediscovered term that is being used to describe some ancient realities. It expresses the spiritual connections of indigenous peoples to the land and the cosmos. The commons is about the land ethic that Aldo Leopold wrote about. It echoes what Rachel Carson said about the subtle interconnectedness of all living things, and what Wendell Berry has so beautifully written about the human satisfactions of working with a landscape.

 A commons is about having responsibilities and entitlements that flow from them; stepping up to long-term stewardship; making up the rules of governance from the bottom up, with an accent on fairness, participation, and inclusiveness; and the inalienability of certain things. Some things just aren’t for sale.

In short, it’s all about relationality!  It is here where a new vision for rural America needs to begin. 

Much has been made about the linkages between rural America and Trump voters – a linkage that I think has been vastly overblown. Trump brilliantly exploits genuine needs, and preys upon fears and desperation. But if we think more deeply about what’s important to us and what makes for quality of life over the long term, the answers won’t be ideological. They must be human, and they must grow their own new legal, economic, and institutional vessels.

The standard wisdom is that farmers, agricultural suppliers, and rural businesses should double-down and try to compete more effectively in integrated global markets. They should get leaner and meaner and smarter, goes the pep talk. They should demand greater government subsidies and new forms of support. This is fair enough, so far as it goes.

But we’ve seen how this approach is fraught with problematic risks. Are we really prepared to accept permanent subordination to the corporate seed, biotech, and chemical giants? Do we really want to build a future based on volatile energy and food prices in an era of Peak Oil and climate change? Can we depend on dwindling supplies of water from elsewhere and owned by someone else, and on the shifting sands of international trade policies and tariffs? 

The Commons and Rural Futures

I’d like to suggest that the a more constructive and secure long-term vision is for communities to become more locally autonomous and self-directed….. to become less dependent on the global and national markets, many of which treat rural America as sites for neocolonial extraction in any case.

The more promising answers lie in greater relocalization and community self-reliance….in decommodifying our daily needs as possible; in working with the land and not abusing it; in sharing infrastructure and collaborations with other commoners; and in mutualizing the benefits that are generated.

This was roughly the strategy that civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer used fifty years ago when she and others purchased 680 acres of Mississippi Delta land and named them “Freedom Farms.” The goal was to provide access to land so that African-Americans could grow their own food cooperatively. “When you’ve got 400 quarts of greens and gumbo soup canned for the winter, nobody can push you around and tell you what to say or do,” she said. 

That is the beauty of commoning. It’s practical. You could say that it draws from the best of all political ideologies: Conservatives like the tendency of commons to promote responsibility. Liberals are pleased with the focus on equality and basic social entitlement. Libertarians like the emphasis on individual initiative. And leftists like the idea of limiting the scope of the market. It’s all about cultivating a mindset of mutual support and building durable systems of relationality.

In the few minutes that remain, I’d like to quickly review some of these cooperative, benefit-sharing, relational approaches.

It seems appropriate to start with the Land Institute’s Kernza wheat and other perennial crops. Could one imagine an agricultural innovation more in sync with natural systems? It absorbs more water than conventional wheat, prevents runoff and erosion, captures more carbon, and provides year-round habitat for wildlife – while of course providing a tasty food for we humans. Kernza has enormous potential for bringing humans into a deeper, more regenerative relationship with the land itself – which will surely enhance the stability of agricultural towns.           

I am thrilled by another commons-in-the-making, the Open Source Seed Initiative. Its basic purpose is to decommodify seeds to make them freely breedable and shareable, under terms set by commoners themselves. Currently, more than 400 varieties of seeds and fifty-one species have become what I would call “relationalized property” – legally shareable seeds that can participate in the gift-economy of nature and yet cannot be privatized.   

Of course, land is another precious resource that has already been enclosed by capital or faces constant threats of enclosure. How can land be made more affordable and accessible, especially for young farmers, and be deployed as an object of stewardship, not simply ruthless market exploitation?

We know that community land trusts are a powerful vehicle for land reform. They are a way for communities to take land off the speculative market and use them for long-term community purposes, such as workforce housing, town improvements, sustainable agriculture, and recreation.

Again: the strategy of decommodify and share. A CLT is a kind of commons because it socializes and collectivizes economic rent, and then invests it back into the community that helps create it. It’s a social organism for regenerating value, through democratic governance and open membership in its classic form.

More recently, the Schumacher Center has been developing an offshoot of community-supported agriculture – community-supported industry. The idea is to use community land trust structures in novel ways to help decommodify land and buildings in a town. They can then be used for all sorts of “import-replacement” enterprises – production, retail, food – that recirculates dollars within the region. 

In terms of re-purposing land, I recently learned about the FaithLands movement. It’s a small but growing movement of churches, monasteries, and other religious bodies offering up their land for community-minded agriculture, ecological restoration, and social justice projects. It turns out that religious organizations own a lot of tax-free land, and so they can potentially act like conservation organizations or land trusts.

A farmer working on church land said: “Our scripture starts with Genesis in the garden and ends with Revelation in a garden in the city—with Jesus in the middle inviting us to a meal. If we’re seeking to transform our food system in a way that’s going to be beneficial not only for ourselves, but for our great grandchildren, how can the church put [its] land into service?”

Simply asking, “What does the land want?” and “How can we feed the hungry?” lets us consider the radical idea of food itself as a commons. Why shouldn’t food be recognized as a basic human need available to all, and not merely as a private, transnational commodity? A famous essay published in 1988 called for returning a vast portion of the Great Plains to native prairie as a “Buffalo Commons.” That never happened, of course, but it did provoke valuable debates that have sparked some actual projects that move in this direction. A dialogue about food commons could have similar effects.

If a larger Commons Sector is going to arise and flourish, however, we will need more than small-scale, one-off projects. We need larger shared infrastructure to take things to the next level. This can open up new opportunities for commoning while thwarting the possibility of business monopolies and proprietary lock-ins, as we see in seed patents, exclusive supply chains, and the like.

I am thrilled to learn of the supply infrastructure created by farmers in the area north of Boston, along the seacoast of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. The Three River Farmers Alliance has brought together a variety of local producers to aggregate and distribute their foods. The shared distribution system helps them escape a dependency on powerful middlemen and build new bonds of trust among themselves. An open source farm-management software platform lets each farm function independently while also letting each opt-in to share knowledge and cooperate with others. This works only because there are shared data protocols managed as a commons.

Or consider the Fresno Commons in Fresno, California, which is reinventing the whole farm-to-table supply chain under the control of a series of community trusts. This is helping farmers, distributors, retailers, and others to mutualize risks and benefits throughout the value-chain. The “profit” doesn’t get siphoned off to investors, but is used to improve wages and working conditions, grow food without pesticides, make food more affordable to low-income people, etc.

These stories point to the critical role that digital network technologies can play in bringing gig-economy efficiencies down to the local level. But this is not just about market efficiencies and automated administration; it’s about building tech-based affordances for new forms of cooperation in today’s world.

Another such platform is called cosmo-local production. This is an emerging production process in which knowledge and design – the light-weight stuff – are co-developed and shared with collaborators around the world via the Internet. Then the heavy, physical tasks of production are done locally, in open source ways -- which is to say, in ways that are inexpensive, modular, locally sourceable, and protected from enclosure. This is the idea behind Farm Hack, a global community of open source designers of all sorts of farm equipment.

Cosmo-local production is also being used to design electronics (Arduino), video animations (Blender Institute), cars (Wikispeed), houses (Wikihouse), and furniture (Open Desk). The same general logic of global collaboration can be seen in the System for Rice Intensification, a global collaboration in which thousands of farmers around the world share their own agronomy innovations with each other, open-source style. It has improved rice yields four- and five-times over without chemicals or GMOs.

I haven’t touched on innovations in local government. Let me just quickly mention the ingenious uses of government procurement to help strengthen the local economy such as the pioneering work led by the Democracy Collaborative in Cleveland and more recently, in Preston, England. In Italy, dozens of cities are developing “public/commons partnerships,” also known as “co-city protocols.” These are systems through which city bureaucracies collaborate with neighborhoods and citizen groups, empowering people to meet their own needs more directly and on their own terms.

Lest I leave the impression that the commons amounts to a bunch of white papers and policy ideas, let me underscore that the commons is about providing convivial spaces for us as whole human beings. A commons can only work by drawing upon our inner lives, sense of purpose, and cultural and spiritual values. It is therefore imperative that artists and cultural organizations play a conspicuous role. They can express insights and feelings that our hyper-cognitive minds cannot. They can express embodied ways of knowing.

I think you can begin to connect the many dots. No single one of them is the answer, but together, they help us to begin to think like a commoner. That’s liberating. That opens up new vistas of possibility. It helps us fight the war against the imagination and give us hope.     

In the 1980s, British Prime Minister Thatcher defended the harsh neoliberal agenda of privatization, deregulation, and fiscal austerity, with a line that was often shortened to its acronym, TINA: “There Is No Alternative!” she would thunder. In truth, as I hope I’ve shown, the more accurate acronym is TAPAS: “There Are Plenty of Alternatives!”

But these alternatives are only available to us if we can learn how to develop a new mindset, cultivate a new language to express our shared vision, and embark upon the hard work of building it out through commoning, project by project. That’s our challenge, which I am grateful to be able to share with this remarkable Prairie Festival! 

Thank you.

Join Our NCDD2018 Sponsorship Superheroes Today!

These leading organizations in the dialogue and deliberation community are generously supporting the 2018 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation.  We are so grateful for their commitment to the conference and this community.  We couldn’t do it without them!

We hope you’ll consider joining them by supporting this important convening and becoming a sponsor of NCDD 2018. Becoming an All-Star Sponsor ($10,000+), Collaborator ($5,000+) Co-Sponsor ($3,000), Partner ($2,000), or Supporter ($1,000) provides you with lots of PR, goodwill, and name recognition. NCDD conference sponsors are traditionally a “who’s who” of leading organizations in our field, and your organization could be among them this year! Learn more of the sponsorship benefits and tiers here. Let us know this week, in order to be printed in our guidebook!

We also launched our NCDD 2018 Scholarship Fund Drive to help those who need some financial assistance in attending the conference, particularly students and young people. We are hoping to raise at least $10,000 for scholarships, if not more, and we can’t do it without you! Whether you can give $5, $500, or beyond – please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Scholarship Fund today!


Our Collaborator (donated $5000) is the Democracy Fund.

Our Co-Sponsors ($3000) are Essential Partners and the Interactivity Foundation.

Our Partners ($2000) are FaciliCase LLC, Jefferson Center and the National Issues Forums Institute.

And our Supporters ($1000) are Common Knowledge, Everyday Democracy, Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration, and the National Civic League.


The Democracy Fund

Democracy FundThe Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation established by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that the American people come first in our democracy. Today, technologies and innovations offer new opportunities for public engagement in a more vibrant democracy — even as serious challenges including hyper-partisanship, money in politics, and struggling media threaten the health of our political system. The Democracy Fund invests in organizations working to ensure that our political system is able to withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people.

Website • Facebook • Twitter


Essential Partners

Essential PartnersEssential Partners (formerly the Public Conversations Project) equips individuals and groups with skills for relationship that keep people connected while naming and claiming their differences. We design courageous conversations on the issues that matter most, and which many people feel ill-equipped to engage. We train facilitators and leaders, offering a skill set that can be adapted to many challenges and settings. We work with our partners in their contexts to build communities that find strength and new possibilities in both their shared concerns and their differences.

Website • Facebook • Twitter • YouTube • Email

The Interactivity Foundation

At the Interactivity Foundation, we’re always asking, “what if…?” We use a small-group discussion process to help people collaboratively explore diverse perspectives and generate alternative possibilities. Our process is divergence seeking, expanding the ways to frame complex topics and expanding the possibilities for approaching those topics. Join with us in any of our three main areas of activity. Our Project Discussions are sustained series of citizen discussions to generate divergent innovative possibilities, with the results forming citizen discussion guides. Our Public Discussions are shorter, exploratory discussion series, often using the possibilities generated by our projects as springboards. Our Education activities focus on training students and others as discussion facilitators in our process, with a special emphasis on developing the vital 21st century skills needed to strengthen our civic infrastructure. We welcome partnerships to extend these activities collaboratively. We are a non-partisan, non-advocacy, non-profit operating foundation.

Website • Twitter • Facebook • Email


Jefferson Center

Jefferson CenterThe Jefferson Center is a Minnesota-based nonpartisan nonprofit that engages Americans directly to solve shared challenges and craft better policy. Their mission is to strengthen democracy by advancing informed, citizen-developed solutions to challenging public issues. They advance the public interest by creating opportunities for in-depth citizen education and deliberation that generates informed, inclusive solutions to today’s toughest problems. Their current work focuses on engaging citizens to shape health policy and healthcare implementation, participatory journalism and local media, climate change and extreme weather planning, and electoral and governance reform.

Website • Facebook • Twitter • Vimeo • Email

National Issues Forums Institute

Based in Dayton, Ohio, the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves to promote public deliberation about difficult public issues. Its activities include publishing the issue guides and other materials used by local forum groups, encouraging collaboration among forum sponsors, and sharing information about current activities in the network. The institute has a distinguished group of 16 directors and officers drawn from such diverse fields like government, journalism, and secondary and higher education. Many NIFI directors also have extensive experience in neighborhood and civic organizations, libraries, and religious organizations.

Website • Facebook • Twitter • Netflix • Email


Common Knowledge

Led by founder Susan Stuart Clark, Common Knowledge specializes in bringing new combinations of people together to listen to and learn from each other. Leading together. We facilitate powerful new connections across sectors, silos, and social divides that generate breakthrough civic participation, employee and community engagement programs. Why? Every project shows that greater inclusion leads to greater innovation.

Website • Facebook • Twitter • YouTube

Everyday Democracy

Everyday Democracy has more than 25 years of experience offering structured dialogues to help communities work together to solve problems and build greater civic involvement. Our process incorporates use of a racial equity lens and other principles, including involving diverse groups of people, especially those who have been marginalized; opportunities for authentic listening and sharing; building capacity in communities; and connecting dialogue and deliberation to action and change. We offer discussion guides in how to use our process on issues such as poverty, police-community relations, racism, education reform and more, and how-to materials and coaching in our process for communities and organizations.  Having seen the power of authentic connection among diverse groups of people, we cultivate community leaders and institutions to champion and carry out this work. We also convene practitioners from various fields to build a common vision of a democracy that works for everyone.

Website • Facebook • Twitter • Email

Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration

mopcMOPC is a research center and the state office for public collaboration serving government agencies and citizens of Massachusetts as a neutral forum for conflict resolution and consensus-building and an administrator of public mediation programs. Established by statute in 1990, MOPC provides effective forums for collaborative planning, problem-solving and public engagement on contentious public issues, and builds capacity within state, regional and municipal government through evidence-based programming and expedited procurement of resources.

Website • Email

National Civic League

The mission of the National Civic League is to advance civic engagement to create equitable, thriving communities. We achieve this by inspiring, supporting and recognizing inclusive approaches to community decision-making. Founded in 1894 by a group of civic leaders that included Theodore Roosevelt and Louis Brandeis, the National Civic League is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. Today, more than ever, the work of the National Civic League is critical to helping create vibrant and healthy communities and a strong democracy.

Website • Facebook • Twitter • Email

Join these distinguished leaders of the dialogue and deliberation field and become a NCDD2018 Sponsor today!

reforms for a broken Supreme Court

In the Republic of A, the highest appeals court may overturn legislation based on the text of an idealistic but short and vague constitution (without further appeal to the legislature), that court consists of just nine justices appointed for life, appointment requires an agreement between the president and the Senate, and those two bodies are separately elected and can belong to different parties. This sounds like … a royal mess.

You’d predict that Supreme Court appointments in this republic would be another form of regular legislative politics, but with higher stakes and less accountability. When one party controlled both the executive branch and the Senate, they would appoint a justice to promote their agenda for the rest of her or his life. When the branches were split, they would be unable to make appointments at all, unless as part of elaborate horse-trades. If the public did not accept these realities, then politicians would attempt to conceal the underlying situation by endorsing justices with appropriate judicial “temperaments” and sterling resumes, trying to avoid discussing the nominees’ positions on issues.

The actual record in the Republic of the USA is a bit more complicated. There have been long periods of rocky confirmations–especially 1800-1870–as well as lulls in that strife.

Note also the waning public confidence in the Supreme Court. Here I show the trend for younger adults separately, because early-adult experiences are formative, and youth have lost a lot of confidence since ca. 2000.

One explanation for the lulls could be a degree of consensus about the issues coming before the court, but that can’t explain why Taft could appoint five conservative justices, and FDR, eight liberals. Throughout that period, there was a bitter debate about the role of government, yet presidents were successful at appointing justices who shared their views.

A different explanation is that our two parties were divided internally on ideological lines from about 1890-1980. Thus any president could almost always assemble a majority by combining his whole party with the faction of the opposition that was aligned with him ideologically. That situation only ended ca. 1990, when the parties polarized in Congress. Note the resulting turbulence since then.

The Supreme Court is not simply a machine for implementing partisan policy preferences. Justices are also guided by legal principles, considerations that arise in the specific cases or controversies that come before them, constitutional texts and interpretations, precedents, deliberations among the Nine, and concern for the institution of the court. They may reach unexpected conclusions.

Yet we see generally different results from justices appointed by Democrats versus Republicans. That means that the Supreme Court represents at least a big dose of legislative politics by other means. The small number of justices, their life terms, and the randomness of who can appoint and confirm new members all raise the stakes and lower our confidence in the fairness of the process.

From this perspective, the familiar list of grievances (Bork, Thomas, Garland, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh) is predictable and only likely to worsen. If we are open to alternatives, we might begin to consider:

  1. Weakening judicial review so that the Court is less likely to be the final arbiter of deeply contested issues. That would be a democratic reform but not a liberal one, and it could be dangerous for minorities of all kinds.
  2. Strengthening advice and consent by developing a norm that the president should choose from a short list acceptable to members of both parties. That reform has a centrist bias that may not be desirable.
  3. Constitutional reform. For instance, imagine that justices hold rotating nine-year terms. Then every year at least one vacancy would arise (more if someone resigned or died). Debates over confirmation would be constant, but the stakes would fall. Each new president could count on four chances at appointments, followed by the referendum of a national reelection campaign. A two-term president with a Senate majority could entirely reshape the court, but her successor could change it back.

[Confirmation data from the Senate. See also: is our constitutional order doomed?are we seeing the fatal flaw of a presidential constitution?,  two perspectives on our political paralysis,  and the changing norms for Supreme Court nominations.]

ENGAGING IDEAS – 10/05/2018


Russia, the internet and "political technologists" - is this the future of democracy? (Open Democracy)
As more revelations emerge about Russian interference in Western democracies, Nick Inman reviews a BBC broadcast that asks if Russia is merely where 21st century ideas of democracy died first. Continue Reading

'Can Democracy Work?' considers the perils and pitfalls of the institution across time (Christian Science Monitor)
Author and academic James Miller examines the idea of democracy in five distinct moments throughout human history, and chronicles how vastly different each iteration has been. Continue Reading

Democracy and the Internet (New York Times)
An expert discusses the continuing battle with tech companies to safeguard our institutions. Continue Reading



Union Membership Narrows the Racial Wealth Gap for Families of Color (Center for American Progress)
The data suggest that nonwhite union members receive a particular boost in their wealth because they see larger increases in pay, benefits, and employment stability than white union members. Continue Reading

Detailed New National Maps Show How Neighborhoods Shape Children for Life (The Upshot)
Some places lift children out of poverty. Others trap them there. Now cities are trying to do something about the difference. Continue Reading

The Most Important Least-Noticed Economic Event of the Decade (The Upshot)
A localized recession in manufacturing-heavy areas can explain a lot of things. Continue Reading


Managing Digital Change: Playing The Long Game For Participatory Democracy (Forbes)
At a time when social platforms are increasingly under scrutiny-censoring "fake news," deciding who has access to their tools for what purpose, determining if and where to draw boundaries around free speech-tech companies are reluctantly playing a role in defining "right" versus "wrong" for billions of people every day. Continue Reading

Promotion Standards and Public Engagement (Inside Higher Education)
A new study examined in Nature says that university guidelines on tenure and promotion still focus on publication metrics, rather than professed values such as public engagement. Continue Reading

What's New in Civic Tech: Long Beach, Calif., Establishes Office of Civic Innovation (Government Technology)
Long Beach, Calif., has established a new office of civic innovation within its city manager's office, according to a press release from the city. Technologists in the office will serve as in-house consultants to other departments, with a goal of co-creating effective approaches to pressing community issues. Continue Reading


11 charter schools get permission to open in New York, bringing the city closer to the legal limit (Chalkbeat)
Nearly a dozen new charter schools have gotten the green light to open in New York in the next three years, bringing the city closer to a looming limit on charters that has advocates fretting. The SUNY Charter Schools Institute, one of two entities able to approve new charter schools for the state, signed off on 11 applications during a meeting in Albany Thursday. All of the schools aim to open in the Bronx or Brooklyn, and while several would be part of existing school networks, others would be the first for their operators. Continue Reading

Working in a group might be the best way to help kids meet individual goals, study says (Hechinger Report)
A new study out by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), a nonprofit research firm, makes the argument that collaborative, group learning might actually serve each student's individual academic needs quite well. Continue Reading

Does Teacher Diversity Matter in Student Learning?

(New York Times)
Research shows that students, especially boys, benefit when teachers share their race or gender. Yet most teachers are white women. Continue Reading

Higher Ed/Workforce

At Elite Colleges, Racial Diversity Requires Affirmative Action (New York Times)
Getting more low-income students into elite colleges like Harvard and Stanford is an important goal. But it can't replace race-based affirmative action. Continue Reading

Boston judge permits lawsuit against Harvard to go forward (Christian Science Monitor)
In a closely watched case that could influence affirmative action practices in college admissions decisions, a federal judge on Friday rejected a motion from Harvard University to rule in its favor. The university faces a lawsuit on the basis of discrimination against Asian-American applicants. The trial is set to begin on Oct. 15. Continue Reading

Education Department will miss deadline on rules affecting students in for-profit colleges (Washington Post)
The Education Department is going to miss a self-imposed deadline to deliver new rules governing how for-profit colleges and universities should deal with their students. But critics of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos say the delay is actually a good thing for students. Continue Reading

Health Care

Congress angles for air ambulance cost transparency (Modern Healthcare)
Last November, a fully insured North Dakotan was dispatched on an 84-mile medical air transport from Langdon, N.D., to Grand Forks. When the charges came in at more than $66,000, out-of-network insurance covered just $16,000.The patient was left with a $50,000 bill balance from Valley Med Flight. Continue Reading

Lawmakers: States need to gather better data about mothers dying in childbirth (Fierce Healthcare)
States are not doing enough to understand what went wrong after mothers die from pregnancy-related complications-a necessary step to figuring out how to stem growing maternal mortality rates in the U.S., experts told lawmakers on Thursday. Continue Reading

New Report Examines Healthcare in the "Amazon Era" (Healthcare Informatics)
Hospital business leaders are open, and even optimistic, about the benefits of innovation from non-traditional healthcare players, such as Amazon and Apple, according to a new report from Captains of Industry, a marketing consultancy. Continue Reading

the regime that may be crumbling

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan would be pleased that Trump has signed a massive tax cut, presided over deregulation, and saved NAFTA by essentially reenacting it after running for president against it. Nevertheless, his worldview and his coalition are inconsistent with their legacy.

The regime that they founded has had the following characteristics:

  1. Political elites widely agree that government programs, especially redistributive welfare programs, are inefficient and counterproductive. It was Bill Clinton who announced “the era of big government is over” and ended the federal welfare guarantee. It was the Socialist President François Mitterand who led France into austerity (“la rigeur“) in 1983. What characterizes this period is not the electoral victory of pro-market parties, but the fact that the opposition also criticizes the welfare state.
  2. Progressive movements channel most of their energy into opening capitalist institutions to women, people of color, and sexual minorities, rather than overturning capitalist institutions. Progress means being able to be who you are at work or in school. That is a broadly libertarian impulse.
  3. Many huge countries liberalize and deregulate their economies, fully entering the competitive global economy. Whether as a result or by coincidence, they see rapid and sustained improvements in human development (education, health, longevity). Of the 135 countries with data, 132 have seen improvements in the Human Development Index since 1970, many to a startling degree.
  4. International flows of capital rapidly increase. So do rates of economic migration, albeit at a slower rate than capital. Developed nations become more diverse as a result of immigration.
  5. Developed nations deindustrialize, with the losses of manufacturing jobs concentrated in certain cities. For example, Detroit’s population falls by more than 50%.
  6. Unions practically vanish. Union density falls from more than 30% of US workers in 1955 to 10% now (6.7% in the private sector).
  7. Many countries get “tough on crime,” expanding the use of prisons.
  8. Some nations that are capitalist and authoritarian become magnets for capital. Of the world’s nine Alpha+ and Alpha++ Global Cities, five are located in authoritarian states: Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Dubai, and Shanghai.
  9. The US and NATO countries spend heavily on the military (with most of the money flowing to defense industries). They are especially prone to intervene in the Persian Gulf, where the oil comes from. We should also acknowledge that the chance of dying in a war during this period is the lowest in human history. One interpretation is that the US and its allies have locked things down in ways that really do reduce violence, albeit also to the advantage of multinational corporations. Terrorism is a feature of this period, but it kills an infinitesimal number of people compared to war.

I believe that most of the trends enumerated above were popular. I am familiar with the Martin Gilens/Benjamin Page argument that the US is an oligarchy–responsive to lobbies, not to ordinary voters. I think that explains why specific bills are blocked even though they are popular. It does not explain a much deeper and broader trend toward a certain kind of global corporate political-economy.

Reagan was elected in a country with a large White majority that was affluent by historical and global standards. A voting majority was suburban, Christian, and bourgeois. To a rough approximation, they got what they voted for. Every indication is that Chinese citizens appreciate the progress generated by their version of a neoliberal regime.

The questions now are: 1) Are people revolting against the current order? How many people? How effectively? 2) What is most likely to replace it? New versions of egalitarianism? Ethnonationalism and authoritarianism? Davos Man strikes back? And 3) How to move forward? It is generally a lot harder to build things up than tear them down, and we don’t just need new governmental policies; we also need new institutions in civil society.

(I see that I’ve addressed the same topic once before, offering a different list: what is the political economy that people are revolting against?)

MetroQuest Online Engagement Tips Webinar on 10/17

In two weeks, NCDD member org MetroQuest will be hosting the webinar, 10 Tips for Successful Online Engagement Every Time; which was co-sponsored by NCDD and the American Planning Association (APA). This free webinar on Wednesday, October 17th will offer best practices for online engagement and share stories from successful engagement efforts. You can read the announcement below or find the original on MetroQuest’s site here.

10 Tips for Successful Online Engagement Every Time

Find out how ENR’s #1 transportation planning agency, an MPO, and County consistently engage 1000’s online!

Wednesday, October 17th
11 am Pacific | 12 pm Mountain | 1 pm Central | 2 pm Eastern (1 hour)
Educational Credit Available (APA AICP CM)
Complimentary (FREE)


Navigating public involvement for your transportation plan doesn’t have to feel like a bad commute. In this webinar, ENR’s #1 transportation design firm, an innovative MPO, and creative County will help you find the shortest route to successful participation every time.

Join Jim Meyer, Senior Planner at AECOM, as he shares proven tips for effective online public involvement by exploring how he engaged 12,000+ citizens on three successful transportation projects. He’ll be joined by public outreach experts Amy Elmore from Pasco County and Johnny Wong from Hillsborough MPO to share their real-world journey to success.

Attend this complimentary 1-hour webinar for 10 proven tips! You’ll learn how to:

  • Engage 1,000s online for all planning projects, large and small
  • Integrate online engagement effectively in your process
  • Promote like a pro using innovative multi-media tactics
  • Collect public input that’s both quantifiable and actionable
  • Reach Environmental Justice communities

The session will culminate with answers to your questions in a live Q&A session with Jim, Amy, Johnny, and Dave Biggs, Chief Engagement Officer at MetroQuest.

Jim Meyer, AICP – Senior Transportation Planner, AECOM
For over 22 years, Jim has provided mobility solutions for state DOTs, MPOs, counties, and communities across the Country. Jim specializes in long range, multimodal transportation plans, having prepared over 30 long range transportation plans. Jim is actively involved in stakeholder and public outreach activities to ensure the plan recommendations reflect the desired community vision.

Amy Elmore, M.S. – Branch Communications Coordinator, Pasco County
Amy specializes in developing communication strategies and overseeing a variety of proactive marketing, communications, and production activities with the goal of promoting Pasco County, Florida. She has over 10 years of experience in social media marketing for small business and government organizations. Amy used her expertise to aid in county-wide social media efforts throughout Hurricane Irma.

Johnny Wong, PhD – Senior Planner, Hillsborough MPO
Johnny manages the performance measurement program and serves as liaison to the Intelligent Transportation Services committee. He served as project manager for the outreach portion of the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan update. It was the first time the LRTP produced a tri-county initiative, requiring extensive coordination with the neighboring counties of Pasco and Pinellas.

You can find the original version of this announcement on MetroQuest’s site at

Florida Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference Arrives Soon!

Good afternoon friends! Another day, another chance to highlight some interesting sessions at FCSS this October. Be sure to register here, and join your colleagues for what will be an excellent weekend! Now, on to some highlights!

page 12018conf

Well, of course we have the Friday night reception and the Saturday and Sunday keynotes, so you will definitely want to check those out! But what about some other interesting sessions?

Saturday Morning, October 20
8:00 AM Session
Mentor Session
Scott Kaplan, Pinellas County Schools

Are you a new or beginning social studies teacher? This session, sponsored by the FCSS Endowment and led by the excellent Scott Kaplan, will connect you with experienced educators and provide valuable insights into teaching social studies in a variety of classrooms.

Concurrent Session 1
Student Curriculum Relevance and Historical Relationships from Past to Present
Glen Wolff, Cypress Bay High School

How can we connect historical topics with present day events? How can we help our kids become critical thinkers and writers about past, present, and future? These sorts of questions will be addressed in this session! 

Civics and the Social Goals of Holocaust Education
Mitchell Bloomer, Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida


Looking for some good standards-based civics lessons featuring Holocaust education content? Then check this session out. See how they can be applied in the classroom, and get some ready to go resources!

Concurrent Session 3
Lessons in Character Education Found in Modern Media Formats
Kelsey Evans, Brian Furgione, and Allison Sheridan, University of Central Florida
This CUFA session considers how PBS programming, and media like it, contribute to the teaching of character education and the ways in which the messages in the media are perceived by families and kids. Certainly sounds like an interesting look at the ways we interpret the meanings behind what we watch and listen to and say.

Concurrent Session 5
The Imperative of Courage and Compassion in Combating the Holocaust
Bozena U. Zaremba, Jan Karski Educational Foundation

I am a huge fan of graphic novels, and this session will share with participants a graphic novel concerning courage and compassion, and the importance of engaging with, not running from, evil. Definitely one to check out. 

Be sure to register here, and join your colleagues for what will be an excellent weekend! 

Submit Application for NCL’s 2019 All-American City Awards

It’s that time again! Applications are now being accepted for the 2019 All-American City Awards until March 5th, 2019. Hosted by the National Civic League, an NCDD partner and conference sponsor, the award will be given to the communities working towards improving health equity through inclusive civic engagement. We encourage you to watch the video from the 2018 awardees with tips on applying and how the award has benefitted their communities. You can read the announcement below and find the original version on NCL’s site here.

Creating Healthy Communities Through Inclusive Civic Engagement

The National Civic League invites you to apply for the All-America City Award – the nation’s most prestigious community award, now in its 70th year.

The AAC Award offers the opportunity for both recognition and reflection. Applications require communities to come together to assess their strengths and challenges. The 2019 All-America City Award is focused on celebrating examples of civic engagement practices that advance health equity in local communities. We are looking for communities that demonstrate inclusive decision-making processes to create better health for all, and particularly for populations currently experiencing poorer health outcomes.

Download the application now and mobilize local groups to work together and display on a national stage the people and projects that make your community a great place to live, work and play.

Details and Dates
Applications on behalf of cities, counties, towns, or tribes are due March 5, 2019. Leaders from local government, schools, nonprofits, community foundations, libraries, chambers of commerce and youth have all led their communities to win the All-America City Award. APPLY NOW!

  • July 2018 – June 2019
    All-America City Promising Practices Webinar Series
  • Nov. 14, 2018
    Letter of Intent due (not required to apply)
  • March 5, 2019
    Application Due
  • April 2019
    Finalists Announced
  • June 21 – 23, 2019
    Awards Competition and Conference

Want to submit a competitive application? Watch the webinar recording below to hear 2018 All-America City winners, Kershaw County, SC and Las Vegas, NV, present on their All-America City journey with tips for applying, the types of projects they submitted and an update on the benefits they have seen from winning the award.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the National Civic League’s site at

defining equity and equality

You can find authoritative explanations of the differences between “equity” and “equality,” but I think the definitions of these words vary, and there is no objectively correct distinction.

However, we can generalize a bit. To say that something is “equal” does not imply a positive value-judgment. Some people are taller than me. That means that our heights are unequal, but it is not an injustice. Nor does making things more equal always improve justice. Procrustes stretched his prisoners who were too short and lopped the feet off those who were too tall to make all their bodies an equal length. That was not an example of justice. “Equal” has a meaning in mathematics (already attested in Chaucer), and when it’s transported to social and ethical contexts, it retains its mathematical flavor of value-neutrality.

It’s true that the word has long been used as a synonym for fairness. Milton:

… till one shall rise
Of proud ambitious heart; who, not content
With fair equality, fraternal state,
Will arrogate dominion undeserved
Over his brethren, and quite dispossess
Concord and law of nature from the earth …

But Milton has to say “fair equality.” Out of context, without such a modifier, inequality may not imply injustice.

In contrast, the word “equity” has a positive valence, whether in the law (a “court of equity”), in ethics, or in social analysis. If something is equitable, to that extent it is fair. The question becomes: What constitutes fairness? Answers vary depending on people’s philosophical beliefs, social roles, and cultures.

Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire.

In this well-known picture, several things are equal (the heights of the boards that make up the fence, the altitude of the ground at all points, the sizes of the three boxes, the height of all the heads in the second picture). Some things are unequal, especially each person’s body height.

Despite its label, the first situation is not equal in every respect. But it is inequitable according to three reasonable standards of fairness: everyone should get what he or she needs, everyone should have equal opportunities, and everyone should be a full participant in the activity. These standards can diverge–or they may not even apply in some circumstances–but here they converge to rule the first situation unfair.

The second situation, meanwhile, illustrates equality in some respects. All the heads are the same distance above the fence; the fence is level. But that picture also illustrates equity because it meets several reasonable standards of fairness.

In this case, giving everyone an equal upward boost is inequitable, because their needs are different. But that is only one way in which equality can diverge from equity. If one person really deserves or merits more than another, then giving both people the same amount would be equal yet would violate equity. If Procrustes came along and violently made these three people the same height, that would be equal but not at all equitable. And if we hacked a portion of the fence away to let the short kid see, that would be equitable among the viewers but perhaps unfair to the owner of the fence. In fact, we only celebrate the solution in the second picture if we think it is fair to be able to watch a game for free from over a fence.

The main point is that “equity” always requires an account of fairness: what fairness demands in the circumstances. Equality, on the other hand, always requires measurement. Sometimes when a given measure is equal, that demonstrates equity, but sometimes it doesn’t.

See also: we are for social justice, but what is it?trends in egalitarianism and sorting out human welfare, equity and mobility.