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Six Simple Changes for Better Public Engagement

NCDD supporting member Jennifer Wilding of Consensus and her team have been working to increase civility in Kansas City, and we love their infographic on what KC residents told them officials can do to improve public engagement. Learn more about Consensus’ Civility Project at www.consensuskc.org/civilityproject/ and in Jennifer’s write-up below the image.


Old Habits for Engaging the Public Make it Harder to Be Civil

Americans have talked a lot about civility the last few years. Along with exploring the way individuals behave, it’s important to pay attention to the processes that are used to engage the public. Outmoded habits are ineffective with a population that increasingly expects to be consulted, and can be disastrous in situations where values are in conflict.

It’s possible to change these habits, though. Specific, relatively simple changes can move people’s behavior from angry to productive. The Civility Project helps inform and advocate for building new habits that increase civility.

Consensus, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that focuses on public engagement, launched The Civility Project out of frustration with the way the 2009 health-care town hall meetings were conducted. Using the public hearing model meant that meetings intended to give people a voice ended up driving them further apart.

The project so far includes awards for people who bring civility to life and a one-day class on building civility into public engagement based on findings from 20 focus groups with local citizens. In addition, Consensus has held public forums co-sponsored by KCPT Public Television, the Congressional Civility Caucus and the Dole Institute.

Consensus held 20 focus groups across metro Kansas City and in Lawrence to talk about civility in public life and how it affects our ability to solve problems. The groups represented the entire political spectrum, but were in perfect harmony when they described what concerns them about our public processes and what would make things better.

Detailed findings are available at www.consensuskc.org/civilityproject, and we have distilled what people want into six simple changes elected officials can make to engage their constituents more productively.

For more information: Jennifer Wilding, jenwilding@consensuskc.org.


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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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  1. Tom Flanagan says:

    Thank you, Jennifer … and Roshan. The Civility Project is a timely initiative. Some subject matter lends itself well to community dialogue while others are problemtic due to pressing deadlines, unrepresentative particpation, and rising complexity. It will be helpful to understand how different dialogue tools serve the different needs. Cheers. tom

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