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The Issue Guide and the Issue Forum: Political Inventions (Connections 2015)

This three-page article, “The Issue Guide and the Issue Forum: Political Inventions”, by Brad Rourke was published in Kettering Foundation‘s annual newsletter, Connections 2015 – Our History: Journeys in KF Research in the fall of 2015.  In the article, Rourke discusses the relationship between Kettering’s research and the National Issues Forums; how the Foundation’s research lead to the creation of NIFI’s issue guides, which were put into practice within the forums. What emerged was a better understanding of how individuals wrestled with their most wicked problems on the community level, and the realization that public deliberation is necessary for true democracy. Below is an excerpt from the article and you can download the full Connections newsletter for free on Kettering’s site here.

KF_Connections 2015From the article…

The way issues typically get presented on a policy level are manifestly different from how citizens see those same issues. Citizens name issues differently, and these re-namings give rise to different options for action—re-framings. For example, citizens may not think about an “achievement gap” that professional educators must address, but may instead worry about why different kids seem to get different results for reasons that don’t seem fair. The latter formulation of the problem is one in which citizens may see themselves having a role. The options for addressing the problem will be different and are likely to contain much more that can be done on the level of community as opposed to institutionally. And so a barber may think to provide haircuts free of charge to children, if they will read aloud while he cuts. A community-level institution thus can be seen as one of the many actors that can productively be involved in the shared enterprise of educating local young people.

Kettering research increasingly shows that citizens see issues in terms of things that are deeply valuable to them and that wicked problems involve tensions The Issue Guide and the Issue Forum: Political Inventions between these things. Evolution has wired humans to seek security, for instance, and has also wired them to seek freedom to act. The more of one that we pursue, the less we have of the other. An effective issue framework will make these tensions clear.

This way of framing issues is sometimes (often) at odds with the way these same issues are framed in policy discourse. It is disruptive. This can pose difficulties when it comes time to demonstrate the value of public deliberation to policymakers. Kettering is experimenting with various ways of doing this as a part of its A Public Voice initiatives, an experiment to see how we might productively involve policymakers in developing issue frameworks that are rooted in public research and conducive to public deliberation.

Another, newer experiment with issue guides is just beginning. NIF issue guides are national in scope and, even though they are intended for use in communities, there can be problems getting community-based traction to hold forums. The facts on the ground or the potential actors may be slightly different. Or there may be other differences between how an issue looks locally and how it might look on a more national basis. We are beginning to experiment with changes in how we present issue guides to make them more easily “customizable” to local communities while at the same time maintaining the aspects that make them useful as self-starters

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2015 issue, edited by Kettering program officer Melinda Gilmore and director of communications David Holwerk, focuses on our yearlong review of Kettering’s research over time.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn.

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Rourke_2015.pdf

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