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The NCDD Board of Directors

Below are the bios for our extraordinary Board of Directors. See our contact page for a staff list and a list of former Board members.

Martín Carcasson, Board Chair

Martín Carcasson, Ph.D., is a professor in the Communication Studies department of Colorado State University, and the founder and director of the CSU Center for Public Deliberation (CPD, www.cpd.colostate.edu). He also serves as a Senior Public Engagement Fellow with Public Agenda and serves on the faculty of the Kettering Foundation’s Centers for Public Life program. His research focuses on deliberative engagement and collaborative problem-solving. The CPD serves as an impartial resource for the Northern Colorado community dedicated to enhancing local democracy through improved public communication, community problem solving, and collaborative decision-making. Dr. Carcasson trains students and community members to serve as impartial facilitators, who then work with local governments, school boards, and community organizations to analyze tough issues and then design, facilitate, and report on innovative public forums on those issues. Connect with Martin.

Simone Talma Flowers

Simone Talma Flowers is the Executive Director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT), whose mission is to cultivate peace and respect through interfaith dialogue, service and celebration. Simone Talma Flowers brings over 26 years of extensive experience in non-profit management.

Simone promotes a culture of high performance, support and collaboration. She advances the mission of the organization by bringing people of diverse faiths, cultures and backgrounds together, to break down the barriers that divide us. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion and believes everyone should have access to opportunities, so they can live up to their fullest potential. Simone has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration from St. Edward’s University.

Jacob Hess

Jacob Hess is the author of 14 peer reviewed articles exploring contrasting health and socio-political narratives and has (co)authored three books: You’re Not  as Crazy as I Thought, But You’re Still WrongOnce Upon a Time… He Wasn’t Feeling It Anymoreand A Third Space: Proposing Another Way Forward in the LGBT/Religious Conservative Impasse (Disagreement Practice, Treasonous Friendship & Trustworthy Rivalry in the Face of Irreconcilable Difference). His work with Phil Neisser at State University of New York has been featured on This American Life and was also recognized by Public Conversations Project (Essential Partners). Jacob enjoys being a part of Living Room Conversations and the Village Square – and is grateful for a chance to serve NCDD, as an organization he has loved for many years. Connect with Jacob.

Betty Knighton

Betty Knighton is the director of the West Virginia Center for Civic Life, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes public dialogue on issues that affect the quality of life in West Virginia. A primary focus of her work has been building a network for civic engagement in the state through collaborative partnerships with educational, civic, faith-based, and governmental organizations. Through the Center, she works with West Virginia communities to develop balanced frameworks for local issues, to convene and moderate community discussions, and to develop processes to move from dialogue to action. Connect with Betty.

Wendy Willis

Wendy Willis is the Executive Director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, a global network of major organizations and leading scholars working in the field of deliberation and public engagement. Wendy is also the Founder and Director of Oregon’s Kitchen Table, a program of the National Policy Consensus Center at Portland State University. Wendy is also a widely published poet and essayist, writing often on issues of public life. She is also the former Executive Director of the City Club of Portland and has served as an Assistant Public Defender for the District of Oregon and law clerk to Chief Justice Wallace P. Carson, Jr. of the Oregon Supreme Court. Wendy graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown Law Center and holds an M.F.A. from Pacific Lutheran University and a B.A. from Willamette University. Her next book, A Long Late Pledge, is due out in September. Connect with Wendy.


Former NCDD Board Members

A huge thank-you to our former Board members, most of whom are still advising NCDD on an informal basis.

Paul Alexander, former Board Chair

Paul Alexander is Director of the Institute on the Common Good at Regis University. The Institute seeks to facilitate effective social change in the community through the promotion of dialogue, deliberation, and communal discernment. The Institute was host to the 2004 NCDD Conference. Paul serves on the board of NCDD as well as several other nonprofits. He has a Ph.D. in community dialogue. Dr. Alexander has worked and traveled extensively in Latin America and elsewhere. In addition, he has facilitated a wide variety of diverse groups in both English and Spanish. He serves on several boards including Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning and the International Multicultural Institute.

John Backman, Former Board Treasurer

For 25 years, John Backman has served as principal of Backman Writing & Communications, which produces written text for a broad range of applications. As a marketing copywriter, he has developed creative approaches and copy in nearly every conceivable medium, with particular strengths in websites, brochures, magazines, and newsletters. His clients have included such distinguished organizations as Aflac, The Coca-Cola Company, the New York Lottery, the Bank of New York, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the State University of New York, and General Electric. Connect with John.

Courtney Breese, Former Board Secretary

Courtney Breese splits her time between her role as NCDD’s Program Director and her role as Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston. MOPC provides more effective forums for conflict resolution, public decision-making and community involvement on contentious public issues, and helps build capacity within public agencies. Courtney is a trained mediator, facilitator, and deliberative dialogue moderator. She has extensive experience with the National Issue Forums (NIF) dialogue model and during her time at MOPC has worked with the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forums Institute on several dialogue initiatives.

Previously she worked for the New England Center for Civic Life, where she helped coordinate, facilitate, and analyze a series of thirty deliberative dialogues across the state of New Hampshire on health care and financial security for AARP’s Divided We Fail Campaign. Courtney was a co-lead of the planning team for the 2010 NCDD Regional Event in Boston, and served as our Conference Manager for NCDD’s 2012 national conference in Seattle before becoming NCDD’s Program Director. Connect with Courtney.

Lucas Cioffi, Former Board Treasurer

Lucas Cioffi graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Having served one year in Baghdad as an infantry officer, he realizes the need for effective dialogue and deliberation in preventing conflict. He is passionate about advanced online deliberative platforms and is co-founder of OnlineTownhalls.com. OnlineTownhalls.com offers organizations, companies, and elected representatives the ability to engage the public in a meaningful way on a large scale.

Susan Stuart Clark

Susan Stuart Clark founded Common Knowledge (www.ckgroup.org) with the mission of exploring and demonstrating more inclusive and innovative approaches to achieving sustainable social change. She works with state and local government agencies, nonprofits, foundations and businesses, often facilitating multi-sector collaboratives.  New insights and possibilities generated by dialogue are the core of the work.  Susan and her colleagues gravitate to projects that that debunk the myth that the public is apathetic, that identify common ground on contentious issues and discover new resources hidden in plain sight in our communities.

Marla Crockett, Former Board Chair

Marla Crockett is a freelance dialogue and deliberation consultant in the Washington, D.C. area. Since 2007, she has worked primarily with the Kettering Foundation of Dayton, Ohio on projects designed to enhance the public’s influence with government officials in formulating policy on the achievement gap in education, health care reform, and the economy. Crockett is currently working with Kettering to brief federal officials on the public’s thinking about economic security.

She came to the dialogue and deliberation field from a career in public broadcasting. At KERA in Dallas, where she worked as a news anchor, producer and news manager from 1985-2006, Crockett became involved in a national reform movement that focused more on the public than candidate “horse races” in political coverage. That work inspired her to develop a talk show based on dialogic principles which ran for nine years–and to integrate these ideas in the newsroom. After leaving public broadcasting and moving to Maryland, Crockett took an online certification course in dialogue and deliberation from Fielding University in Santa Barbara, California.  Connect with Marla.

Martha McCoy

Martha L. McCoy is executive director of Everyday Democracy (formerly the Study Circles Resource Center). She helped take EvDem from a start-up organization to its current strength, with 13 full-time staff, associates across the country, and a network of hundreds of communities. Under McCoy’s leadership, EvDem has become respected as a national organization that excels in helping local communities build their own capacity to organize large-scale, diverse dialogue for problem solving. Under her direction, EvDem is at the leading edge of connecting public dialogue to collective action and democratic governance, and of keeping race and inclusion at the forefront of practices to strengthen democracy.

Ambassador John McDonald

Ambassador John W. McDonald is a lawyer, diplomat, former international civil servant, development expert and peacebuilder, concerned about world social, economic and ethnic problems. He spent twenty years of his career in Western Europe and the Middle East and worked for sixteen years on United Nations economic and social affairs. He is currently Chairman and co-founder of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, in Washington D.C., which focuses on national and inter-national ethnic conflicts. In February, 1992, he was named Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, in Fairfax, Virginia.

Diane Miller, Former Board Secretary

Diane Miller specializes in the design, facilitation and implementation of projects that help diverse groups of people work together to achieve exceptional results. As owner of Civic Collaboration, Diane works with governments, businesses and community groups to address complex community challenges, such as local and regional planning and resource management issues. Diane focuses on process, relationships and outcomes. She is a skilled communicator, process designer and project leader who understands how to bring together the necessary components of a civic change initiative and to help individuals and groups build the capacity for effective action in ways that can be sustained and replicated.

Diane’s background is a unique blend of project management, civic engagement, group process design, and corporate and civic culture change expertise. Before launching her own firm, Diane was assistant director at Envision Central Texas (ECT), a non-profit that helped citizens develop and implement a vision for future growth in Central Texas that would preserve and enhance the region’s quality of life. She designed and executed numerous collaborative, multi-stakeholder projects to raise awareness and mobilize action on regional visioning, community planning and sustainability issues. Connect with Diane.

Leanne Nurse

Leanne Nurse is a program analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Center for Environmental Innovation. She staffs EPA’s public involvement policy and collaborative problem solving initiative, including the new Collaboration Practitioners Network. She served as a community involvement coordinator, a public affairs specialist for water and environmental justice programs, and as liaison to the US Green Group. She is an inaugural fellow of the University of Virginia’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute and is certified by IAP2, the International Association for Public Participation. Prior to government, Leanne worked as an award-winning public and commercial television producer, editor and reporter.

Barbara Simonetti, Former Board Chair

Barbara Simonetti has over 30 years experience, now as an independent consultant, helping social and for profit organizations structure meetings to be highly relevant and open conversations that foster the continuous and effective application of all of our knowledge and creativity to our most pressing questions and challenges. She has extensive experience in developing the capacity of managers and professionals to create, share and use knowledge to meet emerging challenges. Her expertise is in facilitation, training design and delivery, strategy implementation, and building networks and communities of practice. Connect with Barbara.

Najeeba Syeed-Miller

Najeeba is Executive Director of the Western Justice Center Foundation. Previously, Najeeba served as the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center (APADRC), which has provided mediation and conciliation services for the diverse Los Angeles Asian and Pacific Islander community as well as youth based conflict resolution programs for schools. Najeeba has attended over 400 hours of conflict resolution training and mediated a large number of cases, including youth oriented disputes, inter-racial disputes and community based conflicts. She has trained hundreds of people in mediation skills ranging from prosecutors to community leaders. She currently teaches Intercultural Conflict Resolution, a master’s course at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Taylor Willingham

The late Taylor Willingham was a public engagement and change management consultant, and founded Texas Forums. She taught Change Management for the Graduate Library and Information Sciences distance education program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Texas Forums, a program of the LBJ Library and Museum, was launched in 2002 to help give citizens a voice in decisions that affect their lives. Using the National Issues Forums (NIF) model for community conversations, Texas Forums trains people how to engage others in their community in thoughtful conversations about important public issues – issues like health care, immigration and Americans’ Role in the World. Learn more here about donating to the Taylor Willingham Legacy Fund, which is administered by NIF.