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Reaching Out Across the Red-Blue Divide, One Person at a Time

The four-page conversation guide, Reaching Out Across the Red-Blue Divide, One Person at a Time (2009), was written by Maggie Herzig from Public Conversations Project. This useful guide provides a framework for navigating highly polarized conversations and includes several starter questions to help keep the dialogue open. Read the intro to the guide or download the PDF below.

From the guidePCP_red blue divide flag

What this guide offers
This guide offers a step-by-step approach to inviting one other person—someone whose perspectives differ from your own—into a conversation in which • you both agree to set aside the desire to persuade the other and instead focus on developing a better understanding of each other’s perspectives, and the hopes, fears and values that underlie those perspectives; • you both agree to pursue understanding and to avoid the pattern of attack and defend; • you both choose to address questions designed to open up new possibilities for moving beyond stale stereotypes and limiting assumptions.

Why bother to reach across the divide?
Many people have at least one important relationship that has been frayed by painful conversations about political differences or constrained due to fear of divisiveness. What alternatives are there? You can let media pundits and campaign strategists tell you that polarization is inevitable and hopeless. Or you can consider taking a collaborative journey with someone who is important to you, neither paralyzed with fear of the rough waters, nor unprepared for predictable strong currents. You and your conversational partner will be best prepared if you bring 1) shared hopes for the experience, 2) the intention to work as a team, and 3) a good map that has guided others on similar journeys. We hope this guide will help prepare you to speak about your passions and concerns in ways that can be heard, and to hear others’ concerns and passions with new empathy and understanding—even if you continue to disagree.

Are you ready?
Are you emotionally ready to resist the strong pull toward polarization? What’s at the heart of your desire to reach out to the person you have in mind? Is pursuing mutual understanding enough, or are you likely to feel satisfied only if you can persuade them to concede certain points? What do you know about yourself and the contexts in which you are able—or not so able—to listen without interrupting and to speak with care? Are you open to the possibility—and could you gracefully accept—that the other person might decline your invitation?

Are the conditions right?
Do you have a conversational partner in mind who you believe will make the same kind of effort you are prepared to make? Is there something about your relationship that will motivate both of you to approach the conversation with a positive spirit? Will you have a chance to propose a dialogue in ways that don’t rush or pressure the other person? Will you be able to invite him or her to thoughtfully consider not only the invitation but the specific ideas offered here— ideas that you might together modify? Can you find a time to talk that is private and free from distraction?

If you decide to go forward, take it one step at a time. 


Effective Public Engagement through Strategic Communication (ILG)

The five-page tip sheet from Institute of Local Government, Effective Public Engagement through Strategic Communication (2015), is a tool to provide guidelines for effectively engaging the public. View the guide below and download the PDF here.

From ILG…

Strategic communication is an essential tool for effective public engagement. This tip sheet offers advice on communication strategies before, during and after the agency’s public engagement effort.


I. Before the Agency Begins a Public Engagement Effort:
Understand the Audiences

In order to effectively communicate about a public process or program, the starting point is to understand who the agency seeks to engage.

  • Identify key audiences and stakeholders. What are their interests? How do they connect to the project or policy?
  • Identify the community values, commonly held principles or valued qualities, such as personal safety, freedom or fairness. Understanding this can help you craft your message.
  • Ask stakeholders about their preferences regarding communication. What communications channels work best for them? Getting this perspective during planning both enhances understanding of these key audiences and creates a valuable communication channel for further engagement.
  • Understand connections and relationships among audiences and individuals. Who are their trusted advisors? How willing are these influencers to act? Understanding these dynamics can help the agency broaden the impact of its engagement effort.

With the above information in mind, the agency can identify and prioritize communication channels that align with the needs, opportunities and resources of both the project or policy and the audiences that the agency seeks to engage.

Consider Both the Message and the Messenger (more…)

Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation

The 288-page book, Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation, published September 2015, discusses youth civic engagement in the US and how youth can be more civically engaged.

About the book… Changemakers_cover

Youth volunteerism and civic engagement has changed in America. While the numbers of young people who volunteer have risen substantially, recent studies show that very few find meaning and purpose through serving their communities. For many, volunteerism has become just another school requirement that bolsters a good college resume.

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell suggests that in order for democracy to flourish, we must reverse these trends. Through real stories from civically-engaged youth, Tomorrow’s Change Makers illustrates the types of relationships and experiences that propel today’s young people to work toward the betterment of society. These narratives, combined with research in child and adolescent development, show why meaningful service should be at the heart of educating and raising American children. Introducing The Compass Advantage framework for understanding and applying core principles of positive youth development, Price-Mitchell demonstrates how families, schools, and communities not only play vital roles in raising tomorrow’s citizens, but also foster the conditions that help youth chart their own self-fulfilling pathways through life.

Each and every day, families, schools, and communities play important roles in raising compassionate young citizens. But how does this happen? How do we support young people to become their best selves in a global society?

Tomorrow’s Change Makers links the latest research on civic engagement with positive youth development, and provides practical, research-based advice on how to:

• Help young people transform volunteering, service learning, and civic engagement experiences beyond a requirement for college resumes to value-defining opportunities for personal growth and citizenship development.

• Utilize effective mentoring, coaching, and parenting practices that help young people believe in themselves and their abilities to improve the world.

• Cultivate eight core abilities that support youth development and engaged citizenship, helping children chart meaningful pathways through life and fulfilling roles in democracy and civil society.

• Encourage challenging and meaningful volunteering and service learning opportunities for every child, based on their unique strengths and interests.

For everyone who cares about the future of democracy and the wellbeing of generations to come, this book shows how families, schools, and communities play critical roles in raising and mentoring tomorrow’s citizens. Through powerful voices of passion-filled American youth, you learn about the relationships, experiences, and challenges that shaped their young lives of service, civic engagement, and commitment to causes bigger than themselves.

“Marilyn’s research study, based on interviews with highly engaged youth, is a scholarly, insightful, and impressive contribution to the field of civic engagement.” – Peter Levine, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, Tufts University Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service

More about Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD
She is a developmental psychologist and fellow at the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University where she studies how young people become caring family members, innovative workers, ethical leaders, and engaged citizens in an increasingly complex society. To learn more: www.mpricemitchell.com or read her blog: www.rootsofaction.com.

Resource Link: www.amazon.com/Tomorrows-Change-Makers-Reclaiming-Citizenship/dp/0996585109/

Global Outreach in Local Communities…Bringing Worlds Together One Tip at a Time

The online guide, Global Outreach in Local Communities…Bringing Worlds Together One Tip at a Time (2015), is a collaborative effort from across sectors that began out of the Diversity Outreach Workshops in Multnomah County, Oregon. You can read the preface below and access the guide online here.

More about the guide…Global_Outreach_Local_Communities

The volunteer Multnomah County Citizen Involvement Committee (CIC) with staff support from the Office of Citizen Involvement (OCI) began the Diversity Outreach Workshops in 2008. The CIC’s mission is to increase engagement and input by the public into county policy decision-making. The workshops seek to improve the strategies and tools that county staff and volunteers use to conduct outreach to diverse communities by inviting those doing the work to share their best practices and lessons learned. This, in turn, enhances public engagement and input while broadening the community perspectives guiding policy decisions.

Over the years, the workshops have grown to include attendees from several government entities, non-profit organizations, and the public at large. During the workshops, as many as three organizations that have worked extensively with a variety of diverse communities present their “nuts and bolts” outreach tips and insights. They typically cover:

• How they evaluate and improve the effectiveness of the organization.
• How they discover and adopt new strategies for earning greater public trust.
• What has and hasn’t worked when conducting outreach. (more…)

7 Tips For Facilitating Discussions On Community-Police Relations

The article from Everyday Democracy, 7 Tips For Facilitating Discussions On Community-Police Relations, offers seven guidelines for creating a more comfortable space when facilitating dialogue between the community and police. Below are the seven tips and on Everyday Democracy’s site, you can find the full tip guidelines with examples. Check out it on their site here.

From Everyday Democracy’s site…

Having conversations about community-police relations can sometimes be uncomfortable. To help dialogue participants feel at ease, facilitators should come prepared to explain certain points at the beginning of the discussion and examine their own biases as well.

Here are seven tips to help facilitators of conversations about community-police relations to help you have a successful, trust-building dialogue:

  1. Address the issue of race/racism at the beginning
  2. Explain racial overtones in the discussion guide
  3. Acknowledge the differences in authority/generation gap among dialogue participants
  4. Provide an informational sheet for dialogue participants
  5. Explain why officer are in uniform- or allow officers themselves to explain
  6. Stress confidentiality
  7. Be aware of bias

These are just the basic guidelines, the more robust version can be found on Everyday Democracy’s site. Highly recommended to check it out here (more…)

Leading Great Meetings: How to Structure Yours For Success

The 230-page book, Leading Great Meetings: How to Structure Yours for Success, by Dr. Richard Lent was published June 2015. This book discusses how providing structure to meetings can help to create more productive meetings and offers 32 tools to conduct better meetings.

More about the book…

Leading_Great_MeetingsRecent advances in helping groups talk together to provide new ways to run effective meetings naturally…a structural approach. All meetings come with structures that affect how we behave in them. Structure includes how leaders frame a task, include different views, support dialogue, manage time, and reach decisions. In most meetings, this structure goes unconsidered and unseen, but it still has a powerful impact.

Leading Great Meetings: How to Structure Yours for Success, is designed to help leaders use structure to create more productive meetings. It provides 12 choices and 32 tools to plan and conduct a wide range of meetings from team meetings to board meetings. You can select from the choices and tools, the ones relevant to your situation. There also are stories, examples, even “blueprints,” so you can see how a structural approach works in action.

To see structure at work, consider the number of participants in a recent meeting. If there were more than 7 or 8 participants, then the chances are very good that some participants did not stay engaged. This is the effect of the structures in place when larger groups try to hold one conversation. Fortunately, there are simple processes (“tools”) that you can use to keep all engaged. This book shows you how. Other structures include how the task is framed, who attends, hierarchy, room arrangements, approach to discussions and decisions and many more. (more…)

Mental Illness in America: How Do We Address a Growing Problem? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The 13-page issue guide from National Issues Forums, Mental Illness in America: How Do We Address a Growing Problem?, was published November 2014. The issue guide gives three options for discussion on how mental illness can better be addressed in the US. Below is an excerpt from the guide and it can be downloaded from NIFI’s site here.NIFI_Mental Illness

From the guide…

Many Americans share a sense that something is wrong when it comes to treatment of mental illness. More and more of us are taking medications for depression and other disorders. Meanwhile, dangerous illnesses are going undetected and untreated. What can be done to keep us safer and healthier?

One in five Americans will have mental health problems in any given year. Unaddressed mental illness hurts individuals and their families and results in lost productivity. In rare cases, it can result in violence.

This issue guide presents a framework that asks: How can we reduce the impact of mental illness in America?

The issue guide presents three options for consideration: (more…)

A Conversation on the Nature of Leadership

A Conversation on the Nature of Leadership, was published on the Kettering Foundation blog in December 2014 and is the transcribed conversation with Jack Becker, Tina Nabatchi, Martín Carcasson, and Jeffrey Nielson.  The conversation between the four discusses the nature of leadership, what are some of the roles of a leader and what it takes to be a successful leader. Read the full conversation below or check out the original on Kettering’s blog here.

From Kettering…

As a topic of inquiry and self-help, leadership has been covered from many angles and by many disciplines. To learn more about leadership, former Kettering Foundation research assistant, Jack Becker, sat down at a recent Kettering Foundation research exchange with Tina Nabatchi, Martín Carcasson, and Jeffrey Nielson. All three have written either directly or peripherally on leadership. Their conversation spans the nature of leadership, ideas for reform, claims to new thinking, and how we can better manage demands for high-functioning leaders and organizations.

JACK: You’ve each written on leadership in different ways: for Tina, part of your work has been thinking about how leadership is driving collaboration. And for Martín, much of your work has made the case for how the Center for Public Deliberation and similar centers can lead in improving public discourse. Jeff, you have written extensively on leadership, most recently on how we can and should deconstruct our dominant approach to how we understand the topic.

JEFF: Yes, my recent work is on deconstructing the supermeme of leadership. It was inspired in part by David Bohm’s book, On Dialogue(1996). I recall this line where he says, and I’m paraphrasing, all of society is pious to the belief we can’t function without leaders. Well, maybe we can. That was the moment when I began to think about why we think we need leaders, what dynamic leaders and leadership creates, and what would it be like to not have leaders. How would we manage ourselves?

What I challenge in my work is this idea that we have to have leader-based organizations and communities. That the only way to manage ourselves is to appoint a rank-based leader and allow someone to monopolize information, control decision making, and tell us what to do. It’s that kind of leadership model that I’m challenging.

TINA: When I think about leadership, and especially in the leader’s role in driving collaboration, I see multiple roles leaders can be playing. We have to expand our thinking beyond this “great-man” theory of one person in charge, directing and ordering. We have to think about cultivating and empowering people to take on different aspects of work at different times. And as things are in any collaborative and participatory process, the needs of the group and the needs of the moment will change. And we need to be able to empower people to be able to step up and move forward.

JEFF: That’s exactly what I’m working to create. And my thought is, that whenever we use the word leadership, we immediately create a division of persons—we have leaders and followers. And we automatically have a division of power. Regardless of your good intentions, this is going to inhibit and impede the process of that initiative and effort. When we use the language of leadership we are immediately defining someone as having power and someone as not having power. And that relationship is quite inevitably of unequal power, and you can’t have collaboration with relationships of unequal power.

TINA: I would tend to agree with that, but I would say, for example, that if I have the skills to do data analysis and you don’t, well then you would follow my lead. Whereas if you have skills in community organizing and I don’t, I would follow your lead. I do think that leader-follower dynamic still exists. There is a power dynamic that still exists, and we are never going to eliminate that. Instead, what’s important is accepting that people have power and skills in some areas and not in others.

JEFF: Certainly I’m not saying we should get away from the professional roles of doctors or accountants or lawyers. We all have professional skills and occupations. But in terms of how we manage the strategy, the tactics, the operations, the resources, and the people themselves, that should be in a leaderless way. So if you have greater skills in a particular area, you take on the stewardship of a certain area in an organization or community. I call that using rotational stewardship positions. But as soon as we call someone a leader we’ve set up a dichotomy that creates unethical outcomes.

MARTÍN: A lot of the work of the center is focused on helping coalitions and organizations think about the tension between the top-down versus the bottom-up components of leadership. For example, we are working with United Way to help them manage that tension. A lot of the nonprofit organizations they work with are bottom-up, meaning more grassroots, but with all the collective impact stuff there’s recognition that there’s not enough money and perhaps too many bottom-up organizations recreating the wheel and siloing themselves, leading to a loss of efficiency.

We are finding there is a realization that we need top-down and bottom-up forms, and we need the strengths of both. Part of what I’m doing is helping organizations think through what happens when top-down works well and what happens when bottom-up works well. I think a good leader recognizes this and thinks through how to manage that tension.

JACK: So in your work, Jeff, are there specific terms, such as rotational stewardship, that you have adopted?

JEFF: I contrast rank-based organizations and communities with what I call peer-based. Every community and organization has to be managed. The rank-based management vehicles use permanent leadership positions arranged hierarchically. So what I’m trying to create are peer-based communities where in place of leadership positions you have peer councils, in place of fixed job assignments you have rotational stewardship positions, and in place of hierarchy you have mentoring. That is the different management model that replaces leadership as many people imagine it.

JACK: How much of the change that’s needed is institutional and organizational, and how much is cultural?

JEFF: If you decide you’re going to become peer-based and you don’t make systemic changes in your decision-making processes, the change will fail. Cultural, social, organizational and individual mindset changes will be needed.

JACK: Are there places in the world where peer-based is the norm?

JEFF: For the vast majority of human existence that’s how humans operated in hunter-gatherer societies. Kettering has done some work of its own examining the history of some forms of collaboration. It has a deep history in humanity. It’s only been since the Neolithic revolution and the emergence of settled and village-based life that we’ve had rank-based, leader-based communities, and that’s only been for around 10,000 years. So for 60,000 years we were peer-based. We have it in our genetic abilities. We just have to change the environment from which we collaborate.

MARTÍN: So from that argument, which I think is not unreasonable at all, humans are naturally more collaborative and deliberative. But when I look at all the brain science now around cognitive dissonance and selective listening, I can make the argument that we are inherently anti-deliberative, and we want things to be simplistic.

JEFF: We are actually both. We have the cognitive capacity to be peer-based or rank-based. And so what it depends on is our environment. Right now, rank-based propensities flourish.

JACK: Tina, in public administration we are clearly rank-based and hierarchical. This is especially true at the federal level. What do you think are the prospects for new leadership thinking within public administration?

TINA: I think some hierarchy is actually necessary when you have large organizations that are trying to accomplish huge tasks, such as in a large government agency. There has got to be some kind of systemic order given. And right now that’s given through hierarchy. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. What I do see changing that relates to leadership are the ways people are working with each other across boundaries, across sectors, across organizations, and across jurisdictions, and recognizing who’s bringing what to the table and validating and accepting those skills and abilities over known personal skills and abilities, stepping up when they have what it takes to step up, and then stepping back when they need to let others lead. And I think it’s got to be this kind of give-and-take leadership among different people that leads to a new era of collaboration. I don’t have as many challenges with leadership in name or practice. I think leaders are necessary.

MARTÍN: In our training we talk about the idea of a facilitator. Facilitators do lots of things; I think it’s the same idea with a leader. Sometimes the facilitator needs to be very top-down, perhaps we have a crisis or don’t have much time; in a sense, our best shot is having a benevolent dictator. Sometimes a leader is going to be a much more facilitative leader. So I think having leadership skills doesn’t mean you are this one kind of leader, but instead you need to have this broad skill set and then depending on the situation you need to be able to apply the right skill.

TINA: I think that’s right, and there’s this whole emerging literature on situational leadership that looks at the importance of understanding which particular lens needs to be applied to a particular situation. The best leaders are the ones that are able to see and react to the situation.

Tina Nabatchi, PhD, is an associate professor of public administration and international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. Though her scholarship is varied, the unifying theme is one of democratic governance in public administration. Her work has been featured in numerous venues, and she has two forthcoming books. Follow on Twitter: @nabatchi

Martín Carcasson, PhD, is an associate professor of communication studies at Colorado State University and the founder and director of the CSU Center for Public Deliberation (CPD). The CPD serves as an impartial resource for the community, dedicated to enhancing local democracy in Northern Colorado through improved public communication, community problem solving, and collaborative decision making. Follow on Twitter: @mcarcasson

Jeffrey Nielsen, PhD, is an adjunct instructor of philosophy at Westminster College, a program coordinator for the Utah Democracy Project at Utah Valley University, a blogger, founder of Literary Suite Publishing, consultant, and author of two books, most recently being, Deconstructing the SUPERMEME of Leadership: A Brief Invitation to Creating Peer-Based Communities & Leaderless Organizations (2014).

Jack Becker is a former Kettering Foundation research assistant. He currently works for Denver Public Schools Office of Family and Community Engagement. He can be reached at jackabecker@gmail.com. Follow on Twitter: @jackabecker

About Kettering Foundation
The 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. Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn.

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/blogs/conversation-nature-leadership

Evaluating Participatory Budgeting Toolkit

Public Agenda (PA), in collaboration with the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), created the 29-page Evaluating Participatory Budgeting (PB) Toolkit in September 2015. The toolkit has 15 metrics to support the evaluation of a specific PB site and use the data to inform the larger movement. Read more in the article below or directly from Public Agenda’s site here.

From Public Agenda…

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget.

Evaluation is a critical component of any PB effort. Systematic and formal evaluation can help people who introduce, implement, participate in or otherwise have a stake in PB understand how participatory budgeting is growing, what its reach is, and how it’s impacting the community and beyond.

We developed the Evaluating Participatory Budgeting Toolkit for people interested in evaluating existing PB efforts in their communities. It is meant to encourage and support common research goals across PB sites and meaningfully inform local and national discussions about PB in the U.S. and Canada.

Anyone involved in public engagement or participation efforts other than participatory budgeting may also be interested in reviewing the toolkit for research and evaluation ideas.

Click here to fill out a form and download the toolkit.

The toolkit includes:

  • 15 Key Metrics for Evaluating Participatory Budgeting: 15 indicators (“metrics”) that capture important elements of each community-based PB process and the PB movement in North America overall
  • Key PB Metrics Research Instruments: A set of Research Instruments (all customizable) to support local evaluation and facilitate the collection of data that address the key PB metrics:
    1. Idea Collection Participant Survey Template
    2. Voter Survey Template
    3. Questionnaire for Evaluators and Implementers
  • Introduction to the Instruments and Evaluation Timeline: An introduction to the above instruments, which also includes a timeline for how evaluation can fit into PB roll-out

New to PB and looking to introduce it to your community? You should start here instead! Once your PB effort is under way, come back to this page for tools to evaluate how you’re doing.

Click here to read more about Public Agenda’s work with participatory budgeting.

To develop the 15 PB metrics, the North American Research Board, Public Agenda (PA) and the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) drew on previous evaluations of PB in the U.S. and around the world, the academic literature on PB as a democratic innovation and the experience of local evaluators in the U.S. and Canada. To create the research instruments, Public Agenda and PBP adapted surveys originally developed and used by local evaluators in various PB sites across North America.


The Social Justice Phrase Guide

The Social Justice Phrase Guide is two-page guide created by Advancement Project, in collaboration with The Opportunity Agenda. This guide puts forth five guidelines for conscientious communication, that give examples of alternative phrases and metaphors to replace out-dated ones that are offensive and/or discriminatory. View the guide below or download it here.

From Advancement Project…

Advancing a social justice agenda starts with being smart and deliberate in how we frame our discourse. The Social Justice Phrase Guide is your go-to tool to craft inclusive messages. Whether developing language for your organization, communicating through media platforms or engaging in personal discussions, follow these guidelines to successfully communicate across communities. A collaboration of Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization, and The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication lab, download the printable pamphlet here.

The guide… (more…)