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Developing Materials for Deliberative Forums

The 36-page guide, Developing Materials for Deliberative Forums, was written by Brad Rourke and published 2014 on the Kettering Foundation site. In the guide, Rourke shares all the elements needed to design an issue guide to better inform participants during deliberation. An issue guide lays out multiple sides of a subject/issue to give participants tools to engage in more informed deliberation, the guide then offers examples of the options, as well as, drawbacks to each one. There is no one perfect way to develop an issue guide; so Rourke provides details on ways to design a guide that is effective at giving participants the information they need to deliberate on the issues at-hand.

Below is an excerpt of the article; it can be downloaded in full at the link on the bottom of this page or find it on Kettering Foundation’s site here.

From the guide…

KF_Developing_MaterialsDeliberation does not require a certain kind of guide, or framework, or language, or facilitator. But, because it can be difficult to face such choices, supporting materials can make it easier. Many community groups, national organizations, and others, including the National Issues Forums (NIF), develop materials meant to help groups deliberate together over difficult public issues. Through its research, the Kettering Foundation has learned about the kinds of materials that can spark this public work. This document explores the important elements involved in going from an initial topic to having a complete issue guide suitable to use in the kinds of deliberative forums that are the hallmark of the NIF.

Deliberative forums are used in different ways, depending on the community and who is involved. Some communities use them to set direction on important local issues. People in other communities may hold forums in order to give citizens the opportunity to think through an important national issue and what they and others might do about it. The results of deliberating together in these ways are sometimes passed on to public officials. Other times public officials personally take part in deliberating with other citizens.

There are many ways to create materials that will support such public deliberation. As long as they are accessible to all kinds of people, allow them to carefully consider options and weigh drawbacks, no one way is necessarily better than another. (more…)

When Relationships Are Not Enough: Reconciling with Genocide

The article, When Relationships Are Not Enough: Reconciling with Genocide, by Dave Joseph was published September 21, 2015 on Public Conversations Project’s blog. In the article, Joseph reflects on his recent trip to Rwanda and the many intense and challenging emotions that arose when paying respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The memorial honors those murdered in the 1994 genocide committed against the Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Joseph explores how such an extreme atrocity can happen and how this affects people to dialogue- what is possible for reconciliation when such profound violence has occurred?

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

From Public Conversations Project…

What relationships make possible
As a dialogue practitioner and trainer, I have seen opponents recognize one another’s humanity, building an improbable bridge across differences in identities, core values and world views. I have witnessed participants listen to understand and for the first time, be able to see things from a new perspective. I have watched people move from a stance of certainty in their own “rightness” to entertaining the possibility that others might not be “wrong,” but might be approaching the issue from very different life experiences and values.

PCP_quoteDialogue holds the possibility of enemies transforming their relationships and finding ways to coexist, even as their differences remain. Dialogue makes possible the development and deepening of relationships, building of trust and mutual understanding that can lay the foundation for connection, coexistence, community, and collaboration. When people see each other as human beings, it becomes much harder to demonize, dehumanize, stereotype or do violence onto one another.

Where relationships were not enough
What I saw in the museum, however, challenged many of these beliefs. Hutus and Tutsis lived together, shared a common language, worshiped together, intermarried and watched their children attend the same schools. But from April through July, 1994, the “protective factor” of relationship did not prevent one of the most horrific genocides of the 20th century. The downing of the President’s plane triggered pre-planned attacks that quickly eliminated any potential opposition to the ethnic cleansing. Approximately 70% of the Tutsi population and 20% of the general population were slaughtered. Neighbor turned against neighbor; people were betrayed and killed by those whom they had previously trusted and with whom they had enjoyed long-standing relationships, friendships and fellowship. (more…)

Leading Organizational & Community Change

Leading Organizational & Community Change (LOCC) is an academic program available through Humboldt State University’s College of eLearning & Extended Education. Participants can take the courses individually to develop professional skills around collaborative decision-making processes; or may complete the five core courses to achieve a Leading Organizational & Community Change certificate.

To learn more about the courses and certificate program, check out the excerpt below or go directly to LOCC’s site here.

From the site…

The Program
Become a notably effective and engaging organizational leader, public official, facilitator, or consultant through practical, inspiring, and skill-based learning in the Certificate Program in Leading Community and Organizational Change.

Grounded in the behavioral and brain sciences, the curriculum is designed build your knowledge and develop your skills so you can work collaboratively and constructively with colleagues, constituents, neighbors, and clients to solve problems, resolve conflicts, build lasting agreements, develop public policy, and plan for the future.

Gain a solid understanding of the foundational and advanced skills of designing, convening, leading, and participating in collaborative planning and decision-making processes in order to strengthen organizations, boards, communities, and democratic institutions. (more…)

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…)