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The work of AmericaSpeaks began with a clear and compelling vision: to reinvigorate American Democracy by engaging citizens in the public decision-making that most impacts their lives. For nearly two decades, AmericaSpeaks brought this vision to life and, in so doing, made a lasting contribution to the field. Through 150 projects that engaged more than 180,000 people and touched thousands more, AmericaSpeaks repeatedly broke new ground and achieved real results across the U.S. and around the world.

AmericaSpeaks closed its doors in January 2014. In a final blog post, AmericaSpeaks president Steve Brigham wrote:

AmericaSpeaks has an unparalleled record of organizing more than 100 major citizen deliberations in all 50 states. Because of this remarkable history that we’ve had, it makes me very sad to share today that after 19 years of working as an independent, national, nonprofit organization–sustained exclusively by grants and contracts–AmericaSpeaks will close its doors today.

AmericaSpeaks has operated without an endowment or a large institutional home and has always been able to raise funds, conduct projects, and sustain our infrastructure, even during some challenging times. Unfortunately, we have experienced a series of annual deficits due to a dramatic contraction in grant and contract revenue during the Great Recession. These circumstances ultimately forced us to make a very difficult decision to close our doors and cease operations.

Notably, one of AmericaSpeaks’ final projects as a 501(c)3 has been its contribution to a national deliberation on mental health this year that has been a collaboration with the National Institute for Civil Discourse, the National Issues Forums Institute, Everyday Democracy, the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This has been a watershed moment of cooperation and growth for the field of public deliberation.

AmericaSpeaks’ founder and first president, Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, is currently the executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a position she took on in June 2012.

More About AmericaSpeaks

(From the AmericaSpeaks’ About section)

AmericaSpeaks’ mission is to reinvigorate American Democracy by engaging citizens in the public decision-making that most impacts their lives.

Since our founding in 1995 by Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, AmericaSpeaks has given citizens an authentic voice in local, regional and national decision-making on the most challenging public issues of the day. We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

Our vision is that the public’s business will be conducted differently – that by developing a rich national infrastructure for democratic deliberation, we can provide the public with a real voice in our nation’s governance.

Through our innovative deliberative tools such as our 21st Century Town Meeting®, more than 160,000 people across the country and around the world have had an impact on their communities. These tools give citizens an opportunity to have a strong voice in public decision-making within the increasingly short timeframes required of decision-makers. As a result, citizens can impact decisions and those in leadership positions can make more informed, lasting decisions.

Principles of Our Approach

For over 15 years, AmericaSpeaks has convened large-scale initiatives to engage citizens and leaders on some of the most difficult and important policy issues. Our work has demonstrated that average citizens do have the ability to understand complex policy issues, make reasonable judgments about how to resolve them and commit to supporting the solution.

The success of AmericaSpeaks’ work can be ascribed to a set of core principles that underlie all of our activities and set us apart from other approaches:

  • Diverse Representation: AmericaSpeaks is committed to ensuring that the rich diversity of the community is well represented in the process. We will tailor a strategy in collaboration with our local partners, to recruit participants and reach our established targets.
  • Informed Participation: AmericaSpeaks will work with local partners to provide participants with accessible materials that frame the issues involved and provide a baseline of data upon which participants may begin their discussions. This framing process may involve identifying a series of “tough choices” that must be made by the public in order to address the area’s challenges.
  • Facilitated Deliberation: Every person who participates in an AmericaSpeaks town meeting plays an active role in the deliberations. Every voice is heard and no ideas are lost. The AmericaSpeaksteam will recruit and train skilled table facilitators to ensure high quality dialogue.
  • Clear Priorities: AmericaSpeaks’ town meetings foster consensus among participants and identify shared priorities. Our use of technology will support participants in identifying community-wide priorities out of a true discussion. As themes emerge from the discussions, they will be reported back to the group on large screens and voted on using keypads.
  • Link to Action: AmericaSpeaks designs our citizen engagement initiatives to create the conditions needed to produce meaningful action and change. The AmericaSpeaks team will craft the scale, composition and design of the citizen engagement strategy to build credibility with policy makers, the media, key stakeholders and the public as a whole.

Learn more about AmericaSpeak’s commitment to neutrality, the history of the organization, our staff,employment opportunities and internships, and read some fast facts about the organization.

A National Infrastructure

We are leading the development of a national infrastructure for democratic deliberation that institutionalizes the links between decision-makers and citizens in determining public policy. With a national infrastructure in place, public discussions could be organized quickly to generate citizen input on the important issues we face as a nation.

To make this national infrastructure a reality, we are:

  • Developing partnerships with other organizations to create coordinating institutions
  • Increasing elected officials’ knowledge of and commitment to public discussions
  • Recruiting and training a national network of volunteer facilitators
  • Developing public outreach processes to ensure diverse and representative participation
  • Developing appropriate technologies and approaches to facilitate effective dialogue.

An International Presence

AmericaSpeaks is lucky to work not only in the United States, but throughout the world. The international arm of the organization is called Global Voices and it has brought the AmericaSpeaks model to countries around the world. Global Voices has worked with a variety of organizations, including the World Economic Forum, The City of Port Phillip, Australia, and the Open Government Partnership. More information about these projects can be found in our International Projects section.

Resource Link: www.americaspeaks.org

See AmericaSpeaks’ Legacy Document (2014): http://ncdd.org/rc/wp-content/uploads/AmericaSpeaks_Legacy.pdf

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