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Update from Taylor Willingham on Forums in Texas

Here’s an update from Kettering’s Friday Letter written by Taylor Willingham (taylor@austin-pacific.com), an NCDD member who’s doing incredible work in Texas. Taylor, a longtime National Issues Forum activist had this to say about her recent work:

I’m way behind on reporting the activities of Texas Forums, but that’s only because we’ve been so busy! On March 27, Texas Forums moderators convened three simultaneous forums on race relations. These forums followed a two-day Civil Rights symposium organized by Dr. Ed Dorn, Dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Kettering Board Member. We conducted these forums in partnership with Future Forum, an organization founded by Catherine Robb, LBJ’s granddaughter and my office mate at the LBJ Library…..

Each group tackled one of the approaches, deliberated for 45 minutes and then we collected the aspirations and concerns of each of the groups. We asked them to identify concrete ways that they would know we were making progress. A core group of ad hoc planners took the results of these forums and concluded that the most strategic role that the LBJ Library and Texas Forums could play would be to convene the various dialogue groups that are committed to resolving the racial tensions in Austin. (Sadly, they are not talking to each other!)

The City Manager and the Mayor and Council asked us to convene forums for 300 city employees and we countered with an offer to conduct PPI-style training for 20-40 City Department managers who will then moderate NIF forums for 300 employees on Race Relations. We have named this project Austin.Listen and Robyn Emerson, a fabulous “connector,” is managing this initiative for Texas Forums and the LBJ Library. Our planning partners include a member of the National Coalition Building Institute (http://www.ncbi.org/), a history professor from Huston-Tillotson, a historically Black College, who will be incorporating the NIF deliberations into her fall course on Civil Rights who will assign her students to conduct research on this project, and the Executive Director of the Austin Area Urban League who is good friends with Margaret Carter, the NIF national faculty who taught my homeroom at UC Davis in 1991 and was a powerful influence in my current involvement in NIF!

We also provided volunteer moderators to facilitate forums on Medicare for 100 participants in a two-day symposium cosponsored by the Center for Health and Social Policy (CHASP) and the LBJ Library. Dr. Betty Sue Flowers and I developed a framework based on the research of Pam Herd, a recent doctoral graduate of the University of Michigan and an incoming faculty for the LBJ School. Our partner from CHASP is Kenneth Apfel, the former Commissioner for Social Security and Legislative Director for Senator Bill Bradley. Ken videotaped a compelling argument for the importance of deliberative forums in crafting national policy that I have sent to (KF Program Officer) Ken Brown to use in building the case for deliberative forums and the link to policy makers. His comments truly inspired those of us who believe that the results of our forums can provide a particular perspective that policy makers don’t get through opinion polls or traditional town hall (gripe?!) sessions. Fourteen volunteers from the Texas Forums network served as moderators and reporters on the forums. Sue Ann Andrews, who has visited Kettering as a participant in the “new PPI research projects,” is working with me to consolidate our findings into a report that CHASP will present to policy-makers in Washington. Not surprisingly, our symposium in 2005 will focus on Social Security. We have the benefit of Ken’s expertise and will seek funding to frame this issue in the spirit of National Issues Forums, engaging our cadre of trained moderators in citizen research.

These are just two of a dozen projects currently underway in Texas. We just held our annual celebration so I’ll have much more to report next week. Coming soon is a report on the formation of our advisory board, an agenda of the Public Scholarship research projects we are undertaking with the UT Center for Professional Development and Community Engagement, our plans for Texas Forums Civic scholars (connecting non-academic community members with scholarship or participatory action research projects supported by the vast resources of the University), our connection with local groups such as Austin Voices (engaging youth in conducting deliberative forums on education) and Envision Central Texas to convene forums to craft a regional plan for transportation and land use, and our three-year partnership with the Texas Health Policy Institute (operating in partnership with the Governor’s office) to develop a shared vision of health care in Texas.

Tired in Texas,


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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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