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From Public Policy Institutes to Centers for Public Life: Transforming People and Communities (Connections 2015)

The six-page article, “From Public Policy Institutes to Centers for Public Life: Transforming People and Communities” by Alice Diebel, was published Fall 2015 in Kettering Foundation‘s annual newsletter, Connections 2015 – Our History: Journeys in KF Research.

Diebel shares how Kettering’s research fueled the development of issues guides to be used in the National Issues Forums and ultimately, improve the ways that democracy works. She shares the beginning of the forums as Public Policy Institutes (PPIs) and how they transformed into a new approach, Centers for Public Life. Read more an excerpt from the article below or find it in full on Kettering’s site here.

KF_Connections 2015From the article…

In 2010, we called on four very experienced PPI directors to help us design a new approach to the PPI experience. We were going to work to understand deliberative politics, not just public policy. Martín Carcasson, Betty Knighton, Alberto Olivas, and David Procter joined me and my colleague, Kettering program officer Randy Nielsen, in creating a new design for a research-oriented exchange.

The idea of “research exchange” also reflected a shift for Kettering. Moving from the language of learning that occurs in workshops with a curriculum toward shared learning in exchange among mutually interested parties was a shift the foundation made that paralleled the change in our approach to PPIs. The research exchange creates the space to delve more deeply into the context of democratic, public deliberative politics and to learn along with new organizations beginning to use NIF to plan and design approaches to improve all of the politics and practices in the places in which they work. As a result, the design of the exchanges with new centers continues to change and develop along with the centers

How could we learn more about the challenges of building more democratic communities?

PPI commitments in the past focused primarily on holding forums. Commitments in the centers’ exchanges, however, focused on building relationships for democratic practice and change. Creating an identity as a center with a clear mission is part of the work. Structuring deliberative frameworks and forums involving key publics meant they had to look beyond civic education or individual change and instead work toward addressing difficult problems in real settings.

The first centers for public life cohort started in February 2011, so the experiment with the concept of centers is still quite new. Many of the organizations are young enough that their impacts aren’t as apparent as those with a 20-year history. However, we have a few insights from this short period of time. These insights speak more to the relationship with Kettering in a “learning exchange” than to the direct impacts they are having.

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/Diebel_2015.pdf

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