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Organizing Study Circles with Young People

The 24-page guide, Organizing Study Circles with Young People, was developed by Everyday Democracy [who used to be known as Study Circles Resource Center] and published in 2003. Oftentimes younger people are excluded from participating in engagement efforts, even though youth have much to offer on making decisions and building community. Study Circles are a style of dialogue process, where a small, diverse group of participants can discuss different points of view; usually with the goal of moving from dialogue to action. The guide gives detailed steps for designing a Study Circles process for young people to come together and dialogue. This process encourages youth to be engaged with a variety of perspectives, to hear and be heard, and ultimately to become more active citizens.

Below is an excerpt from the guide and it can be found in full to download on Everyday Democracy’s site here or at the bottom of this page.

From the guide…

With the growth of study circles as a tool for community dialogue and problem solving, more and more organizers in communities and organizations are reaching out to include young people in study circle programs. This is critical, since young people have a stake in helping our communities work — and they bring unique energy, insights, and assets to public conversations and to solving public problems.

Young people get involved in study circles in many different ways: in schools; as part of community-based or neighborhood programs; in after-school programs or youth organizations; as part of large youth events and conferences, and in other settings where young people spend time. Sometimes young people and adults are together in study circles; sometimes the circles are for youth only. Through this process, young people learn about issues, gain new skills, have a chance to hear and be heard, and find ways to work with others on the issues that are important to them. In short, they have a chance to experience their own potential as active and involved citizens. (more…)

Where Have All the Voters Gone?

The 6-page discussion guide, Where Have All the Voters Gone?, was created by the Maricopa Community Colleges Center for Civic Participation and Arizona State University Pastor Center for Politics & Public Service. It was updated in July 2016 and was adapted from National Issues Forums Institute. This discussion guide provides four approaches to use in deliberation on why voter turnout is currently low and has dramatically gone down since the 1960s, especially among communities of color. With each approach, the guide offers examples and suggestions; and concerns, trade-offs, and consequences. The end of the guide offers closing reflections on how participants’ thinking changed during the discussion and what can be done to remedy the low voter turn out in current US politics.

Below is an abbreviated version of the guide, which can be downloaded in full at the bottom of this page or found on NIFI’s site here.

From the guide…

Many Americans express frustration and concern about poor and decreasing voter turnout rates in local and national elections. Discussion about why citizens aren’t voting tends to focus on voter attitudes toward politicians and politics, and on the implications of a disengaged voting populace for the future of our democracy.

Given these concerns:
What, if anything, should be done to increase voter participation?
What are the key elements of a “healthy democracy”?

The discussion guide gives four options for deliberation: (more…)

Divisive Discourse: The Extreme Rhetoric of Contemporary American Politics

The 258-page book, Divisive Discourse: The Extreme Rhetoric of Contemporary American Politics, by Joseph Zompetti was published January 2015. In the book, he discusses the extreme rhetoric that currently prevails in American political discourse and its subsequent effects on people to disengage and the political environment to become polarized. Zompetti shares insight into this toxic political environment, sheds light on the extreme rhetorical practices performed in US politics, and offers critical thinking skills for people to better participate despite this.

Divisive_discourseBelow is an excerpt from the book and it can be purchased on Amazon here.

From the book…

Divisive Discourse challenges assumptions about political ideology. The book examines the techniques and contents of the divisive discourse that pervades contemporary American political conversation. It teaches us about extreme rhetoric, thus enabling readers to be more critical consumers of information.

The book provides a framework for identifying and interpreting extreme language. Readers learn about rhetorical fallacies and the strategies used by political pundits to manipulate and spin information.

In subsequent chapters the author examines and analyzes how divisive discourse is used in discussions of specific political issues including homosexual rights, gun control, and healthcare.

Divisive Discourse provides insight into how divisive discourse leads to societal fragmentation, and fosters apathy, confusion, animosity, and ignorance. By exposing the rhetoric of division and teaching readers how to confront it, the book reinvigorates the potential to participate in politics and serves as a guide for how to have civil discussions about controversial issues. Divisive Discourse is an ideal teaching tool for anyone interested in contemporary issues and courses in political science, media studies, or rhetoric. (more…)

A Guide to Participatory Budgeting in Schools

The 57-page guide, A Guide to Participatory Budgeting in Schools, was a project of the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) and published in 2016. The guide’s curriculum design was created by Valeria Mogilevich, with project support by Melissa Appleton and Maria Hadden of PBP. This thorough guide gives details for implementing a participatory budgeting process within schools. Participatory budgeting is a process where people decide where to spend a portion of a budget by engaging their community- or in this case- their school, and vote on projects to make final decisions. The guide is rich with process details, helpful hints, plan layouts, and useable worksheets. There are 18 lesson plans and 6 worksheets provided in this guide to get a PB process launched in schools over the course of a semester or school year.PB_in_schools

Sections include:
– Planning
– Idea Collection
– Proposal Development
– Voting
– Implementation and Beyond
– Worksheets

Below is an excerpt from the guide, you can find it in full at the bottom of this page and directly from PBP’s site here.

From the guide…

So, you’re interested in doing Participatory Budgeting in your school. Great! This guide will help you plan it.

Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend a part of a public budget. In this case, the community members are students and the budget is the school budget. Students collect ideas about the school’s needs, develop project proposals, and vote on projects to fund. We know Participatory Budgeting is a mouthful, so we’ll call it PB from now on.

The process was first developed in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. In Porto Alegre, as many as 50,000 people have participated each year to decide as much as 20% of the city budget. Since 1989, PB has spread to over 1,500 cities in Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. In the US and Canada, PB has been used in Toronto, Montreal, Guelph, Chicago, New York City, and Vallejo (California). Most of these PB processes are at the city level, for the municipal budget. PB has also been used, however, for counties, states, housing authorities, schools and school systems, universities, coalitions, and other public agencies. (more…)

Talking to Your Kids This Election

The article, Talking to Your Kids This Election, was written by John Sarrouf and published August 1, 2016 on Public Conversations Project‘s site. In the article, Sarrouf shares a conversation he and his daughter had about her anxieties this election, and showed her the power she had to share her voice and listen to experiences outside her own. While the conversation was held with his 8-year-old, the lessons drawn from it can be shared with young and old alike. Especially within the dialogue and deliberation field, it is our ability to empower people to actively participate by using their voices and hold space to hear each other.

Below is the full article and it can also be found on the Public Conversations Project blog here.

From Public Conversations Project…

The idea that she and I could get on a bus and stand in the street – and that it would make a difference – tapped into something deep inside of her. It gave her some agency in a world that I can only imagine seems totally out of her control. After all, she cannot vote, she cannot write letters to the editor, she cannot donate money to campaigns or to meetings, she cannot even decide what time she goes to bed. She has very little control over her own world. That she might be able, with her own two feet and her small but mighty voice, to walk to the center of the world’s power and say “no” or ask for a “right” captured her imagination. And that is exactly where I want her imagination – thinking about her own power in the world, how to ask for what she cares about, how to use her voice alongside others.

This is the story we as champions of dialogue and courageous conversation can tell our children and our fellow community members. There is a place for you to be heard. Rather than talking about moving to Canada, let’s talk about how the country needs your participation. The country needs your involvement. You can make a difference if you use your voice. Our work is to help it be heard in the halls of power, in PTA meetings, in living rooms, in the challenging but utterly necessary conversations we have with each other about who we want to be together. (more…)

Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth [RJOY]

In 2005, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth [RJOY] was co-created by Fania Davis and members of the Oakland community and government. RJOY works to implement programs within schools, the community and juvenile justice system; beginning with a pilot program at West Oakland middle school in 2007. In the places where restorative justice has been implemented, there has been a noticeable decrease in youth violence, crimes and recidivism; and an increase in victim satisfaction and reconciliation of affected parties.

RJOYRestorative justice provides an alternative to our current retributive justice system, by shifting to bring in all affected parties, addressing the harms done and find ways to heal all affected parties. Our current justice system is designed to answer the questions: “Who did what and how can we punish them?” In contrast, restorative justice asks the questions:

“Who was harmed? What are the needs and responsibilities of all those affected? “How do all affected parties come together to heal?”

Restorative justice has had remarkable success in shifting the way that justice is carried out to better benefit the affected parties and community as a whole. Modern practices of restorative justice have been around for 30+ years, but are grounded in ancient, indigenous justice practices.

To learn more about restorative justice and Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth [RJOY], check out the site here.

From the site… (more…)

A Public Voice That’s Missing [Kettering 2016]

The 16-page report, A Public Voice That’s Missing, by David Mathews was published July 2016 and found on the Kettering Foundation’s site. This report grew from a speech David Mathews gave at the National Conference for Dialogue and Deliberation in 2014. This report discusses the need for more of a public voice presence in civic engagement from both “sides”; from the government or organization to more authentically engage the community and the citizenry to be more active in engage those who make decisions.

A feeling of hope for an increasing public voice is instilled throughout this report because of the rise of organizations dedicated towards working to engage the community via dialogue and deliberation. The public has deeply held values about the shape of their lives and this report proposes that the lack of interest from the public may be more a lack of connections being made by government or organizations from these values to decisions/policy. It is important to lift up these connections and also, working through the conflicts which may arise because of conflicting values. No matter the place, “it is important to know what people feel is valuable, what options they want to consider, what role they think citizens should play, what tensions have to be worked through, whether judgment is being exercised, and if people are ready to move forward in a direction they can ‘live with’.”

Below is an excerpt from the report and you can read the original on KF’s site here.

From the report…


It is no secret that the American people have been unhappy with our political system for some time, and they doubt that the system can reform itself. The public’s loss of confidence in government as well as other major institutions is well documented and widely reported. Worse still, the distrust is mutual. Under these conditions, polarization flourishes. All of this is occurring despite numerous efforts by institutions to engage the public and demonstrate accountability. Many officials aren’t persuaded that what citizens have to say is useful. As one officeholder described the problem: he hears both everything and nothing from the public.

In Washington, as well as in our statehouses, policymaking is usually dominated by three voices. Obviously, one is the voice of elected officials. Another is the voice of special interests, whose number has grown enormously in a relatively short time, as have the issues they represent. The third voice, also quite powerful, comes from professionals who staff our bureaucracies. They speak in an expert voice. There is value in all of these, yet there is little of what I think of as a public voice being heard. (more…)

Why and When Should We Use Public Deliberation?

The five-page article, Why and When Should We Use Public Deliberation?, written by Stephanie Solomon and Julia Abelson, was published 2012 in the Hastings Center Report. In the article, Solomon and Abelson discuss the role of public deliberation in public policy decision-making. Public deliberation is an alternative process to determine public policy and can be a more effective method of creating policy than other familiar methods; depending on the circumstances of the issues, the level of engagement desired, and the needs of the community. Public deliberation can be an effective tool when working with conflicting values; for topics that require not just expert opinions but require the experiential knowledge and back ground that the community can provide; and when there is low trust among the people for public policy process. To explore this, the authors propose the question: why and when should we use public deliberation?

Below is an excerpt from the article and it can be read in full in the resource link at the bottom of this page. 

From the article…

Public deliberation is an approach policy-makers can use to tackle public policy problems that require the consideration of both values and evidence. However, there is much uncertainty about why and when to choose it rather than more familiar approaches, such as public opinion polls or expert panels. With guidance on the why and when of public deliberation, policy-makers can use it appropriately to inform public policy.

To answer the “why” question, we emphasize the importance of matching the method to purpose. Public deliberation is not right for all policy issues. Polls, surveys, and focus groups are appropriate when the aim is to access the “top of mind” or “general attitudes” of the public, and when the issue is one that people think about or have experience with in their everyday lives. In addition, there are purely technical or scientific matters for which experts alone should be consulted, such as determining which flu viruses should be used to make next year’s vaccine.

But for an increasing number of public policy problems, neither of these approaches is adequate. For these issues, public deliberation can contribute to more legitimate policy decisions than other approaches; it can yield recommendations that are more feasible, better framed, more accountable, more inclusive, more just, and more balanced. Public deliberation may also have intrinsic value, increasing public-spiritedness, buy-in, and trust in governing institutions and their decisions, which are also central goals for policy-makers.

The “when” question has two parts: When is a policy question most suited for public deliberation, and when in the policy-making process should the public deliberate? Both questions are important. (more…)

The Truth Telling Project

The Truth Telling Project is a grassroots, community-based truth telling process that is designed to share the stories of Black people in the US and their experiences with police violence; and to address the legacies of racism in the US against Black people. The Truth Telling Project arose after the murder of Michael Brown and the lack of indictment of the police officer in his murder. It is a collaborative effort between “the Peace and Justice Studies Association, The Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Juniata College, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Sophia Project of St.Louis MO and the National Peace Academy”.

The Truth Telling Project developed the The Truth Telling Initiative for Ferguson and Beyond (FTI), to perform community-based hearings of Black peoples’ stories of police violence. The FTI started with an initial panel event Nov 13-14, 2015 in Ferguson, MO; and was recorded to be utilized in living room conversations around the nation. The Truth Telling Project provides support for holding living room conversations called FTI WeFi gatherings- “Watch [parties], Exchange [ideas], Formulate [a plan of action], and Implement [the plan]”; to hear and address the issues of systemic and structural racism against Black people.

To learn more about The Truth Telling Project and the FTI, check out their site here.

From the site…

The information below is excerpted from the Truth Telling Project’s Mandate, the whole document can be read on their site here

In light of the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 and the subsequent findings of the Grand Jury not to indict the officer who shot Mr. Brown, despite witness testimony that his hands were in the raised, “surrender” position, and

In light of the overwhelming number of incidents where unarmed black men, women and children have been assaulted, injured, or killed at the hands of police officers or while in police custody in Ferguson, and

In light of the proliferation of deaths of black men, women and children in the 21st century at the hands of police or while in police custody in the U.S. and

In light of the racist and oppressive nature of Slave Patrols, Fugitive Slave Laws, Jim Crow Laws, Racial Profiling and Stop and Frisk Practices having all served as historical and/or contemporary directives comprising four centuries of police practices violating the lives of black men, women and children in the U.S.:

The Truth Telling Project, on behalf of the citizens of Ferguson, MO calls for the conduct of the Truth Telling Initiative for Ferguson and Beyond (FTI) to allow national and international audiences to listen to first-hand accounts of persons impacted directly and indirectly by police violence in the city of Ferguson and beyond.

The FTI is not for the purpose of exacting revenge or recrimination; additionally, the Truth Telling Project does not endorse violence in any form. The Truth Telling Project supports truth sharing for the purposes of helping all members of society acknowledge the realities and consequences of violence, and work towards the collective healing needed to produce reconciliation. (more…)

Transforming Historical Harms

The 96-page manual, Transforming Historical Harms by David Anderson Hooker and Amy Potter Czajkowski, was uploaded October 2013 on Coming to the Table‘s site. The manual gives a holistic framework to address historical injustices, in a way that engages all participants, and identifies the aftermath and legacies of [generational] trauma. This manual was developed by Coming to the Table and has been a collective effort of Eastern Mennonite University’s (EMU) Center for Justice & Peacebuilding (CJP) and their Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) program. From the STAR program, came the group Coming to the Table, which itself was launched in 2006 when a group of EMU participants gathered to address the historical trauma between descendants of enslaved African-Americans and enslaver European-Americans.

The framework is given through the lens of trauma and provides a holistic approach to transform traumas from historical injustices for healing to occur. In order to be possible, all participants affected must be included and address all the following aspects: “Facing History; Making Connections; Healing Wounds; and Taking Action”.

The manual provides five sections and an appendix:
Section I: Overview, context and using the manual
Section II: The THH Framework
Section III: Practices of the THH Approach
Section IV: Analysis and Process Design
Section V: Tools and Resources for Practicing the THH Approach

Below is an excerpt from the manual, you can find the it in full on Coming to the Table’s site here.

From the manual…

The THH Framework
The Transforming Historical Harms (THH) manual articulates a Framework for addressing the historical harms mentioned above as well as the many others present in societies around the world. The framework looks at historical injustices and their present manifestations through the lens of trauma and identifies the mechanisms for the transmission of historical trauma: legacies and aftermaths. These are the beliefs and structures responsible for transmitting trauma responses and traumagenic circumstances between generations. The framework then offers a comprehensive approach to transforming historical harms through Facing History; Making Connections; Healing Wounds; and Taking Action. Transforming historical harms must occur through the practice of all these dimensions. The order in which they are engaged can be different, but none can be omitted. This approach will be the primary focus of the manual. Finally, the framework includes the levels at which healing needs to occur, which range from the individual to the international level. For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to analysis and interventions at the individual and group levels. (more…)