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Education in a Rapidly Changing Democracy

Education in a Rapidly Changing Democracy: Strengthening Civic Education for Citizens of All Ages is an article by Matt Leighninger and Peter Levine, published in the October 2008 issue of The School Administrator.

Below is the article’s abstract.

The shifting relationship between citizens and government has special implications for public schools. How schools approach civic education isn’t just a matter of course content–it is wrapped up in how teachers and administrators view their role in the larger community. This article describes ways in which both civic education for young people and involvement opportunities for all citizens can be strengthened. By strengthening the connection between students as citizens and adults as citizens, educators might transform the role of schools in local democracy.

To read the full article, go to http://www.aasa.org/SchoolAdministratorArticle.aspx?id=4750.

The Recent Evolution of Democracy

“The Recent Evolution of Democracy” is an article by Matt Leighninger, published in the Spring 2005 issue of the National Civic Review. The article discusses the increasingly large role of citizens in public decision-making in recent years, a condition which has set the stage for the development of democratic governance. To learn more about this article, go to http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ncr.79/abstract.

The Seven Deadly Citizens: Moving From Civic Stereotypes to Well-Rounded Citizenship

“The Seven Deadly Citizens: Moving From Civic Stereotypes to Well-Rounded Citizenship” is an article written by Matt Leighninger and released in the November 2004 issue of The Good Society, a journal published by the Committee for the Political Economy of the Good Society (PEGS) and Penn State University Press.

Below is an excerpt from the publication. More information about the article can be found here.

American democracy seems to be going through a painful transition process. The symptoms of this shift include declining voter turnout, increasing mistrust of government, and contentious public meetings. Decisions over land use and the siting of public facilities are increasingly mired in lawsuits and “not in my backyard” arguments. Scandals involving the police, and other conflicts between residents and public employees, have become more common and more destructive.

These are not the death throes of democracy; our political system has been through many transitions, and it will continue to evolve as new crises and new conditions arise. The signs of the current shift can now be seen at the local level, where many community leaders are reaching out to citizens, trying to involve them in specific aspects of the political process. Civic experts at foundations and universities are encouraging these efforts by presenting visions of a revitalized American democracy, in which citizens and government have a more constructive relationship than they do today.

Many of these visions and initiatives fail because they do not provide holistic, realistic roles for citizens to play. They rely on one motivation for people to participate — one of seven limited definitions of citizenship — rather than providing different incentives which will appeal to different kinds of people. So citizen involvement efforts often falter because they are conducted on a piecemeal basis, and visions of a revitalized democracy seem utopian because they are based on far-fetched notions of what people are willing to do.

From The Good Society (2004) Vol. 13, Issue 2. Online at http://museweb01-pub.library.uq.edu.au/journals/good_society/summary/v013/13.2leighninger.html.

Open Space Technology: New Stories from the Field

“New Stories from the Field” is a collection of case studies on the application of Open Space Technology (OST) from around the world. The document was compiled and edited Holger Nauheimer, author of the Change Management Toolbook, in 2005. Nauheimer collected a case studies and reports from the field published by Open Space practitioners in the OST mailing list or elsewhere. They demonstrate the spectrum of cultural, thematic and organizational settings in which OST is applied – and the passion and creativity with which the facilitators have approached their task. These are stories from all continents about how to motivate a high-performance staff in an Israeli technology company, how to mitigate the traumas of war in Chechnia, how to plan for social housing scheme in Canada, how to organize a district plan in Northern Mozambique, how to give 1700 street kids in Bogotá hope for their future, how to network for multi-cultural adult education in South-Eastern Europe, and many more. (more…)

Op-Ed by Mica Stark for Seacoast

This initiative was part of the “Democracy Communications Network,” a 2007-2009 project that encouraged leaders in deliberative democracy to periodically write op-eds and blog posts as part of larger, collaborative media campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of quality public engagement.  Use the “Democracy Communications Network” tag to see the articles written in association with this project.

Published in the Portsmouth Herald on Sunday, December 14, 2008. Viewable at Seacoast Online at www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20081214-OPINION-812140316.

Tapping citizen input: Setting priorities, solving problems

December 14, 2008

The writer is the outreach and engagement director for the Carsey Institute and the Democracy Imperative at the University of New Hampshire. He is a former resident of Portsmouth and helped to start Portsmouth Listens.

By Mica Stark

The 2008 presidential election engaged record numbers of citizens in the democratic process. A record number of people voted across the country (more than 125 million) and in New Hampshire (more than 719,000) on Election Day. Throughout the election, polls found that voters were paying a lot of attention to the candidates and the campaign. Both campaigns, but particularly the Obama campaign, attracted record numbers of donors and active volunteers. In short, Americans were hyper-engaged in the election and this is good news for the health of our democracy.

President-elect Barack Obama will start his presidency facing historic challenges on many fronts. However, I think one of the largest challenges and opportunities he faces in the short and long term is how to involve and engage citizens with government in solving our collective problems. Historically, after Election Day, most citizens are left on the sidelines as spectators with little opportunity to shape the decisions being made on their behalf. Public Agenda’s president Ruth Wooden remarked after the election, “The problems we face as a nation are great, and we cannot afford to leave citizens out of solving them. The hugely effective grassroots organizing that took place during the election season ought to be mobilized to keep Americans engaged and learning. The vast majority of Americans would be happy to hear the message: ‘The election may be over, but your job as citizen isn’t done yet.'” I couldn’t agree more.

What might this look like? Fortunately, several national democracy building organizations have been working together on ways that the next administration can effectively engage citizens and strengthen democracy. Everyday Democracy, Demos and AmericaSpeaks recently released their recommendations in a new report, “An Agenda for Strengthening America’s Democracy.” They advocate for three broad efforts: establish a White House Office on Civic Engagement that works to increase collaboration among federal agencies and trains staff about the values and methods of public participation and collaborative government; convene national discussions to provide citizens with a voice in the policymaking process; and adopt policy reforms for increasing local participation in public life and eliminate obstacles to public engagement.

The 2008 Civic Health Index found that 80 percent of survey respondents support the idea of organized national discussions on critical issues and requiring Congress to incorporate the findings of the discussion. To be clear, national discussions would be highly organized and would require citizens’ investment of time. The discussions would provide policymakers with an independent, nonpartisan means of assessing the informed opinions and collective priorities of the American people; help public officials and the nation get past instinctive and adversarial positions on difficult questions and find pragmatic solutions to complex problems; and forge a stronger link between Americans and their government, while providing policy makers with positions that command wide public support.

Serious, integrated public engagement and deliberation efforts should not only be pursued by Obama, but they should also be pursued here in New Hampshire by Gov. John Lynch and state lawmakers. There are many good examples of organized citizen deliberations at the local level in New Hampshire. Portsmouth Listens has developed a strong partnership with the City Council and local citizens. In fact, Portsmouth Listens is often used by leading democracy organizations as one of the best examples of imbedded citizen engagement. And dozens and dozens of communities now have local energy committees that are working in concert with local public officials to address serious energy issues.

At the state level, we are in need of organized, statewide discussions on the major issues facing the state. The most pressing public policy issue facing New Hampshire is the state’s budget deficit and the slumping economy. Beyond needing to address the deficit in the current budget, the projected budget deficit in the coming years is an even larger problem. In Charlie Arlinghaus’ Union Leader column from Nov. 26, he wrote, “The legislative session will see many arguments and debates over raising taxes, cutting spending, finding new revenue sources, and changing the budget process.” This is true. There will be many ‘arguments’ about what to do about the budget, but how organized will it be and will citizens be involved in an organized fashion?

We have yet to have a serious, well-organized statewide deliberation to talk about what New Hampshire residents want and expect from our state government. There have been and are numerous efforts by interest groups to advocate for particular budget and tax positions. However, there has not been a serious, study-circle type deliberation that gets citizens’ thoughts for state spending, priorities and revenue.

It is high time that our state’s political, business and civic leaders — from all parties — work together to design a substantive deliberation process that engages hundreds of Granite Staters in the difficult task of setting budget priorities and how we are going to pay for those priorities. There are many proven and well-established processes to effectively engage citizens and public officials in this type of deliberation. Obama, Lynch and our other elected officials cannot and will not solve our problems alone. New Hampshire citizens and the American people need to be tapped to work with government, the private sector and the nonprofit sector to solve our collective problems.

DCN Topic 4: Strengthening the Relationship Between Citizens and Government

This was the fourth topic of the “Democracy Communications Network,” a 2007-2009 project that encouraged leaders in deliberative democracy to periodically write op-eds and blog posts as part of larger, collaborative media campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of quality public engagement.  Use the “Democracy Communications Network” tag to see the articles  written in association with this project.

In the aftermath of an historic election, the Obama Administration is poised to move from a new and more democratic style of campaigning to a new and more democratic mode of governing. Already, an ambitious attempt to involve large numbers of citizens in the health care policy debate has been launched through the change.gov website (see http://change.gov/page/s/hcdiscussion).

NOW IS THE TIME for all of us who have expertise and experience in this area to make our voices heard. We urge you to join us in writing op-eds on this topic, giving your best ideas and drawing on the best examples of democratic governance that you know about. There are many possible questions and angles:

  • How should the new administration address the challenges and opportunities of democratic governance in the 21st Century?
  • Is the health care initiative a good step forward? (How might it be improved?)
  • Is the Agenda for Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy a promising set of proposals?

More ideas and talking points are outlined below.

We encourage you to…

  1. Write an op-ed (or blog post) on this topic, giving your best ideas and drawing on the best examples of democratic governance that you know about. Feel free to use the ideas/talking points/fodder below, and our tips for writing op-eds.
  2. Submit your op-ed to your local papers, or get it posted to some blogs.
  3. Email your piece to Sandy Heierbacher at sandy@thataway.org so we can track what’s been submitted and published, and add it to the website.
  4. Also submit your piece on the Change.org transition website.

And if you’ve already written something along these lines and you’d like to see it posted here, send it on over!

If enough articles are written, we also hope to literally “hand them over” to our contacts on transition team, with a brief summary letter.

Op-Eds written/published so far…

A few ideas and talking points…

Use the comment field below to submit your own ideas for talking points!

Obama Quotes

  • “I will open the doors of government and ask you to be involved in your own democracy again.”
  • “This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”
  • “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Talking Points

“Public engagement” or “citizen engagement” is more than just getting people to vote and to volunteer in their communities. Government must also engage citizens in the policy decisions that affect their lives.

Our nation is at a unique point in its history. We face great, unprecedented challenges, but we also have remarkable opportunities for change. Now is the time to come together to advance the ideals that we all share.

There are many meaningful and exciting ways the new administration can build on the citizen engagement it began in the election campaign and carry it into governance.

A new civic engagement agenda signals a new way of governing.

Now is the time to broaden and deepen federal agencies’ commitment to public engagement. Federal agencies and officials should reach out to citizens and include them in policy making, strategy development, and service delivery.  This is not only important to the health of our democracy; it strengthens our country’s capacity to solve important public problems. Greater engagement and inclusion will improve decisions, reduce the risk of political gridlock on difficult questions, and increase the legitimacy of government action.

A healthy democracy needs the capacity to involve its citizens in key decisions. Government cannot be left to leaders, experts, and pundits with the public only weighing in on election day. People from all walks of life should be encouraged to wrestle with tough questions, seek common ground, and develop and articulate their views. Policymakers should see themselves as part of this larger process, not as a world unto themselves.

The government must build an infrastructure of participation that provides a voice for everyone in the policy making process.  True democracy requires ensuring that the voices of the powerful are not unduly elevated. Public, open and participatory processes are essential. We envision an America that practices people-centered governance.  One that actively seeks and genuinely values everyone’s participation.

Talking Points on the Idea of National Dialogues…

The new Administration should call for regular national discussions on the issues of highest public concern, like foreign policy, energy, taxes, health care, and jobs. Every citizen should have a seat at the table. National discussions could be another one of the signature initiatives of a new civic engagement agenda that signals a new way of governing.

More than 80 percent of the respondents in a recent survey expressed support for the idea of organized national discussions on critical issues. The sentiment was bipartisan: 60 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats described themselves as “strongly” in favor of the idea.

National discussions would:

  • Provide policy makers with an independent, non-partisan means of assessing the informed opinions and collective priorities of the American people
  • Help public officials – and the nation – get past instinctive (and often adversarial) positions on difficult questions
  • Dilute the influence of special interests and build political will for policymakers to act in the common good
  • Stimulate local and regional action on national problems by public agencies, private businesses, nonprofits and citizens themselves
  • Forge a stronger link between Americans and their government, while providing policy makers with positions that command wide public support

Initiatives You May Want to Promote or Mention…

The Agenda for Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy

The Agenda, posted at www.americaspeaks.org/StrengtheningDemocracyAgenda, recommendations (among other things) establishing a White House Office of Civic Engagement, a call for regular national discussions, and a unique set of policy reforms to increase participation in public life. The Agenda was developed by a diverse group of 49 thinkers, advocates, and academics who came together from across the fields of electoral reform, deliberative democracy and community development. The three convening organizations were AmericaSpeaks, Everyday Democracy and Dēmos: A Network for Ideas.

The Transpartisan Alliance’s American Citizens Summit

In Denver, Colorado this February, the first-ever American Citizens’ Summit seeks to catalyze a nationwide, transpartisan partnership among citizens, organizations and businesses seeking to empower grassroots solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges. Learn more at www.transpartisan.net.

Various Offices and Departments People are Calling For

There are many other initiatives out there you may want to mention in your op-eds. Many are being kept fairly private, but you may want to support the Peace Alliance’s ongoing campaign to establish a U.S. Department of Peace. You may want to write about Search for Common Ground and Rob Fersh’s idea of a U.S. Consensus Council. Tom Atlee of the Co-Intelligence Institute has called for a Department of Democracy, with offices such as an Office of Democratic Culture and an Office of Public Participation and Citizen Engagement, and that may be something you’d like to mention.

Report from NCDD 2008: Action & Policy Change Challenge

At the 2008 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation, we focused on 5 challenges identified by participants at our past conferences as being vitally important for our field to address. This is one in a series of five posts featuring the final reports from our “challenge leaders.”

Action & Change Challenge: Strengthening the relationship between D&D and action and policy change.

How can we increase the likelihood that D&D engagement streams of “exploration,” “conflict transformation,” and “collaborative action” will result in community action? How can we increase the likelihood that the “decision making” engagement stream will result in policy change? What can we learn from promising D&D efforts that did not result in the action or policy change desired?

Challenge Leader:
Phil Mitchell, Director of the Greater Seattle Climate Dialogues

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Report on the Action & Policy Challenge:

We are here to make the world a better place. Sometimes good process in itself is enough. Usually it is not. Usually good process must contest for power in places where power does not give up without a fight, ie., everywhere. What can we do to maximize the chance that our processes will bear fruit in terms of desired action and policy outcomes?

(more…)

Session Materials from NCDD 2008

Please note: We are providing the following material in the format provided to us by the session leader. Most of the materials are MSOffice documents.

Materials from the Pre-Conference Trainings

Deliberative Democracy and Higher Education: A Workshop on Innovative Democratic Education and Leadership

Practicing What We Preach, presentation by Bruce Mallory [download file]
Venues for Democratic Leadership and Decision Making [download file]
Venues for Teaching and Learning Deliberative Democracy [download file]

Materials from the Concurrent Workshops

Attracting Conservative Citizens to Dialogue Events:
Liberal-Conservative Campus Dialogue & Mormon-Evangelical Interfaith Initiatives

Slide Presentation [download file]
Summary [download file]

Exploring How our Work in D&D Contributes to Social Change
Overview [download file]
D&D Handbook promo [download file]

University and College Centers as Platforms for Deliberative Democracy
Handout 1 [download file]
Handout 2 [download file]

How to Teach a Course on Deliberation
Presentation [download file]

Compassionate Listening: D&D from the Inside Out
The Five Practices of Compassionate Listening [download file]

Beyond the Tools: Applying D&D Principles to Online Engagement
Handout [download file]

Tools for Dealing with Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and Paradox: Reflective Methods for Group Development
Handout [download file]

How Can WE Revitalize Democracy with D&D? – Part 2
Notes from Workshop [download file]

Additional Materials

Closing Remarks by Harold H. Saunders, Chairman and President of the International Institute of Sustained Dialogue [download file]

November 5th Coalition

The November 5th Coalition was a collaborative initiative dedicated to using the 2008 presidential election as an opportunity to foster deliberation about how we can collectively mobilize the energies and talents of ordinary citizens to address our challenges. Those involved believed the campaign could be a watershed, where citizens reclaim their standing as partners of a government that is truly “of, by, and for the people.” The Coalition was named for the day after the election, when we hoped a new chapter in our civic work would begin – a partnership between voters and elected officials.

Sandy Heierbacher of NCDD was involved in this initiative, as was Harry Boyte of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Peter Levine of CIRCLE of the University of Maryland, Cynthia Gibson and others affiliated with the Case Foundation, Will Friedman and others at Public Agenda, and more (listed below).

This resource remains as an archive. (more…)

Success Is What Counts: A Community Conversation to Help All Community College Students Achieve Choicework guide

Community colleges are often faced with the challenge of helping students who are struggling to overcome the many difficulties they often face. This 2008 Public Agenda Choicework guide explores the question: How can the college and the community work together to close achievement gaps and help all students succeed?

Based on decades of research and experience concerning how average citizens think and talk about issues, Public Agenda’s Choicework Discussion Starters are designed to help groups and communities talk productively about public problems. Public Agenda’s Choicework guides and Discussion Starters outline several different approaches to solving specific public policy problems, along with the pros, cons and trade-offs of each choice. They use everyday language, not professional jargon, and focus on the kinds of concerns and values that non-experts can readily understand.

Resource Link: http://www.publicagenda.org/files/pdf/ATD_Success.pdf

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