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National Issues Forums Celebrates 25 Years

Logo for NIF.

I’m a proud member of the board of directors of the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), and I wanted to share this announcement about NIF’s 25th Anniversary with the D&D community…

National Issues Forums, the nonpartisan, nationwide network of locally-sponsored public forums, is celebrating its 25th Anniversary and calling attention to hundreds of organizations and individuals in communities across the nation striving to produce substantive citizen deliberation on tough issues during this exceptionally fierce election season and beyond.

NIF forums are dramatically different from the so-called “town meetings” that either stack the deck or turn into brawling free-for-alls.  In dozens of NIF deliberative forums across America this fall, citizens from all walks of life and political perspectives will come together to seek shared understandings of critical issues and search for common ground for action.

“These are not the quaint ‘town hall gatherings’ of nostalgia,” said William Winter, National Issues Forums Institute Chairman and former Governor of Mississippi.  “NIF is at the center of a modern movement to ensure that systematic, productive deliberation by real people guides our nation’s public discourse.  It is a growing movement of committed individuals and organizations who have witnessed important outcomes resulting from forums and believe that increasing the frequency and prominence of deliberation is a crucial antidote to the ills of today’s vicious partisan politics.”

National Issues Forums is the nonpartisan, informally organized nationwide network of locally sponsored public forums for the consideration of public policy issues.  National Issues Forums Institute is the organization dedicated to supporting the NIF network and the independent organizations holding forums around the country.

The forums are led by trained, neutral moderators, and use issue discussion guides that frame issues by presenting the overall problem and three or four broad approaches to the problem.   Forum participants work through the issue by considering each approach, examining what appeals to them or concerns them, and also what are the costs, consequences, and trade-offs.

Growing out of a 1981 conference of 25 leaders from national and local organizations interested in public policy education, NIF now includes more than 40 Public Policy Institute (PPI) centers across the nation where each year hundreds of citizens receive training in how to conduct public forums in their communities and tap into the network’s resources to help move democracy forward. 

Get In On the Action

NIF-supported forums are taking place throughout the election season and beyond in communities across the nation.  To get updates on where and when, go to: www.nifi.org

Communities decide for themselves the issues they wish to explore through deliberation.  In this 25th Anniversary year, however, National Issues Forums Institute is distributing an issue guide titled “Democracy’s Challenge: Reclaiming the Public’s Role.”  It is designed to help communities figure out just how to address the issue of declining public participation.  Many communities are taking up this topic in 2006, and many others continue to explore other pressing topics throughout the election season such as immigration, America’s role in international affairs, the state of the “American Dream,” energy independence, supporting America’s working families and many more.  Details of recently past and upcoming forums held in communities across the nation are available on the NIF website.

“If we hadn’t had the relationship with National Issues Forums Institutes, which has supported the Center’s work from its inception, we wouldn’t have had the initial funding and credibility we needed in those early years. We probably wouldn’t be here today.” said Joni Doherty of the New England Center for Civic Life, one of dozens of local organizations across the nation presenting National Issues Forums-related programming.  “We have learned so much from NIFI with its many programs and resources. Their support has been truly invaluable.” 

Joel Diemond of the Dutchess Community College in New York, said, “Organizations like National Issues Forums Institute are absolutely essential and have had an enormous effect on how tens of thousands of people look at issues and, through the media coverage of forums, how issues have been addressed.  NIF is part of a larger movement to reclaim democracy and make it real, and it has been a major player in that movement.”

National Issues Forums – A Brief History

The National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), was born in 1981 at a series of conferences held at the Johnson Foundation’s Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin.  The first conference included 25 leaders from national and local organizations interested in public policy education.  This group determined that the organization should exist as a grassroots non-advocacy organization that would address the low level of civic literacy through a common agenda of issues of general concern, presented in local programs of national, regional and local organizations.  NIF is dedicated to increasing citizen understanding of policy issues and provide citizens with opportunities to express and convey informed opinions on the issues to the nation’s decision makers.

Over the past quarter century, NIF has not only supported hundreds, if not thousands, of locally produced forums on a multitude of topics, but has also produced dozens of nonpartisan discussion guides used in a variety of settings to help groups discuss controversial topics productively.  It has also produced numerous reports on both broader topics of the state of deliberative democracy, deliberative processes and best practice, as well as on the results of national deliberative discussions on topics such as immigration, America’s role in the world, and numerous others.

National Issues Forums Institute
c/o The Kettering Foundation
200 Commons Road
Dayton, OH  45459


Claudia Feurey, Public Agenda, 212-686-6610 x35, Claudia@publicagenda.org
Patty Dineen, National Issues Forums Institute, 724-443-1858, dineenp@msn.com

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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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