National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation's

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Our regional NCDD events brought together over 700 people total this October and November. A huge shout-out to all the members of our local planning teams!

Archives for August 2009

Discount for NCDD Members on Sustainable Development (Un)Conference    

On September 25th, a symposium is being held at Pepperdine School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution in Malibu, California, called Taking It Upstream: Collaboration, Consensus Building & Sustainable Development A Green Leadership (Un)Conference. NCDD members are being offered a special affiliate rate of $125.  This rate includes breakfast, lunch and an afternoon reception.

This groundbreaking symposium will provide a highly participatory forum to explore opportunities for using collaboration, consensus building, and other engagement techniques to create more sustainable communities and manage potential land use and environmental disputes.

Who Should Attend?
Green-minded elected officials, agencies, community leaders, planners, architects, developers, engineers, attorneys, mediators, facilitators and other  dialogue & deliberation professionals.

Highlights

  • A Mayors’ Panel
  • Morning Framing Sessions: “The Big Picture,” “Local Perspective,” and “Cutting-Edge Collaborative Techniques”
  • Interactive “Sustainability Roundtables” focusing on: Communities, Transportation, Zoning and Development Controls, Construction & Design, Infrastructure, and Resources
  • Networking Lunch and Afternoon Reception

Learn more at http://law.pepperdine.edu/news-events/events/upstream/

Find similar posts: D&D,member benefits

Town Hall Op-Ed in Manhattan Mercury    

Here’s a good example of an adaptation and elaboration of the NCDD Upgrading the Way We Do Politics article. The following article, prepared by the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University, appeared as a column in The Manhattan Mercury on Sunday, August 23, and it has been submitted to several other papers across Kansas…

Town hall meetings held on healthcare legislation across the country are exploding with emotion, frustration, and conflict.  Citizens are showing up in throngs to protest and shout down their legislators and fellow citizens with whom they disagree.   It seems America has taken yet one more step in degrading another opportunity to talk civilly and thoughtfully with one another about issues so vital to our country’s future.

Part of citizen frustration is understandable as there has been little opportunity for the public to engage and deliberate on the tough choices we are facing in health care reform. The public has a right to be upset with their lack of ability to influence the health care reform options. The “town halls” – where much of the controversy is occurring – conjures up images of townsfolk gathering in some local community building and working together to hash out the latest social and political issue. But unlike this idyllic image of town halls, today’s typical “town hall meeting” is a place where politicians come to promote some policy that’s already well down the road.  These meetings aren’t organized to allow citizens the opportunity to discuss the issue in depth or provide any meaningful input on policy options.  Like public hearings, these town hall meetings tend to largely be gripe sessions, where the most passionate and bold attendees take turns giving three-minute speeches–usually after enduring long speeches from the elected officials at the front of the room.  The real disappointment here is while extreme partisans on both sides find many opportunities to tell us what they think, most citizens lack safe spaces and opportunities to ask honest questions, listen thoughtfully to one another, or explore disagreements on tough policy issues. (more…)

Take Part in a CDC Online Dialogue on the H1N1 Flu Virus Vaccination Program    

The CDC is seeking public input on its H1N1 flu virus vaccination program, and the organizers wanted to extend a special invitation to NCDDers (though to be clear, everyone is welcome to participate!).  The first dialogue begins this Wednesday and the second will begin a week from Monday (Aug 31).

Voice your Opinions:  Public Engagement Dialogue on the H1N1 Vaccination Program

The public is invited to participate in a two-day WebDialogue to give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) input on its voluntary fall vaccination program against the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. Participants will discuss, deliberate, and offer input as the CDC helps state and local health organizations develop the vaccination program. Two identical dialogues are scheduled for August 26-27 and August 31-September 1. A new discussion topic will be introduced at 9am EDT each day. Participants can enter messages at any time during the day and night.

Participants are expected to review background materials about H1N1, thoughtfully discuss values and priorities, and provide input through a survey, poll, and evaluation. (more…)

Holding Better Town Hall Meetings on Healthcare: 3 Articles You Are Welcome to Use    

NCDD members have been sharing insights and tips–on our listservs and in various op-eds, blog posts, and more–on how legislators can engage citizens in ways that are more participatory and more productive than what we’ve seen in the news lately.

In addition to a colorful one-page handout we created for you to print and share with public officials and other leaders in your community, here are three articles we hope you’ll share widely:

1.  My full article (about 2.5 pages long in Word), titled “Upgrading the Way We Do Politics”
This version mentions a number of NCDD members, links to various op-eds, blog posts, etc. that our members have been writing in the past 2 weeks, and includes many ideas that have been shared on our main listserv.  Please consider sharing or linking to this article on your websites, blogs, facebook pages and groups, etc. www.thataway.org/?page_id=1663

A similar version of this article has been posted to the Yes! Magazine website at www.yesmagazine.org/democracy/upgrading-the-way-we-do-politics/ so feel free to link to that page as well.

2.  An abbreviated article (1 page in Word) that lists tips for legislators
This text can be used in letters or hand-outs to your Congresspeople and local public officials.  It’s also a more appropriate length than the full article for letters to the editor. www.thataway.org/?page_id=1659

This article is also available as a great-looking color PDF flyer that’s ready for you to print and share (thanks, Andy!).

3.  An abbreviated article (1 page in Word) that focuses on WHY we’re in the situation we’re in
This text can also be used for letters to the editor. www.thataway.org/?page_id=1661

Please use this text and these ideas freely. We need to get these ideas out there. I’m not concerned about my name being attached to the two shorter articles, but I would prefer you don’t remove the text about NCDD unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Each version lists the following resources as well, which I recommend to anyone interested in engaging the public in healthcare in more meaningful and substantive ways… (more…)

Retooling Democracy (re-posted from John Kamensky’s blog)    

With the blessing of both the author and the blog owner, I am re-posting this excellent piece by my friend Matt Leighninger, director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium. This was originally posted on July 30th, 2009 on The Presidential Transition, a worth-knowing-about blog run by John Kamensky of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Matt’s post provides an overview of the state of play (and somewhat of a list of must-read materials) in the field of deliberative democracy.

The Obama Administration will soon release the Open Government Directive (OGD), the president’s plan for making the federal government more responsive, participatory, and effective. The directive will be the first significant federal attempt in decades to answer a very interesting question: How should we improve American democracy?

The OGD should be an important step forward, but this is not a challenge the administration can meet by itself (a fact that federal officials, following the style of their boss, are happy to acknowledge: they need and expect our help).  Luckily, there are a number of documents, from academic studies on governance to how-to civic engagement guides, which provide essential, practical advice on this question: they are must-reads for any democracy reformer.

Learning from the Locals.  One reason we have so much information is that this question of how to improve democracy is already a hot topic at the local level. For the last fifteen years, local leaders have been dealing with a dramatic shift in citizen attitudes and capacities. This transformation has caused new tensions between residents and elected officials, produced new public actors and problem-solvers, and inspired a new generation of civic experiments. The limitations of the traditional, ‘child-parent’ relationship between citizens and government are becoming more obvious, and we are struggling to establish more productive ‘adult-adult’ forms of governance. (For a brief, humorous video describing this transition, click here). (more…)

Members of the D&D Community Respond to Health Care Town Halls on Blogs, Radio Programs & More    

Here is a compilation of some of the best thinking and writing that has come out of our field in the past couple of weeks in response to the volatile town hall meetings on health care being held across the country. Please add a comment if you notice we’ve missed something important!

Upgrading the Way We Do Politics: Article by Sandy Heierbacher

Based on many of the items listed below (especially the recent conversation on this topic on the NCDD listserv), NCDD has put together three articles that we encourage you to share widely–on your websites and blogs, with your legislators, in your local papers and community newsletters, etc.  The articles focus on how legislators can engage citizens in ways that are more participatory and more productive than what we’ve seen in the news lately.

The full article, at www.thataway.org/?page_id=1663, is meant for sharing on the web. A similar version of this article has been posted to the Yes! Magazine website at www.yesmagazine.org/democracy/upgrading-the-way-we-do-politics/ so feel free to link to that page as well.

A one-page article focused on tips for legislators, at www.thataway.org/?page_id=1659, and the one-page article focused on why we’re in the situation we’re in, at www.thataway.org/?page_id=1661, are both great for sharing with Congressmembers or for submitting as letters to the editor of your local papers. Please use this text and these ideas however is useful to you, though we prefer if you preserve the text about NCDD and the list of resources. Also feel free to print out and share the great-looking one-page color PDF flyer we created.

Here are a couple of good examples of adaptations/expansions of these NCDD articles…

  • Op-ed in Manhattan Mercury prepared by the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University (Sunday, August 23)

Invitation to an August 24th Health Care Forum in DC

View the invitation from NCDD member Alexander Moll, to a “Health Care Reform Public Discussion” on Monday, August 24 at 6:00 pm at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. This deliberative event is sponsored by National Issues Forums and the Kettering Foundation. Alex posted the event to NCDD’s Facebook group, so you can sign up to attend there, or email Alex at .

Violence and Incivility at Town Hall Meetings on Health Care… What Can the D&D Community Do?: A discussion on the main NCDD listserv

We’re been having a particularly active and rich conversation on the main NCDD listserv about the violence and mayhem at town hall meetings on health care legislation, and what our community of practice can/should do to help ensure future political events are more democratic and productive.  A lot of thoughtful posts have been added by leaders in our field like Pete Peterson, Barnett Pearce, Kenoli Oleari, John Godec and a number of others.  You can view the listserv’s archives and/or subscribe here. You can also subscribe to the list by sending a blank message to . You can also look over my initial message that started the conversation.

Tips for legislators dealing with high emotion and coordinated anger: August 8th NCDD listserv post by Martin Carcasson

Martin Carcasson (Director of Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation) submitted made a thoughtful contribution to the NCDD listserv conversation that included some particularly helpful insights and ideas for legislators in situations of high public emotion. I posted it to the NCDD blog here. (Note: you can view the listserv’s archives and/or subscribe here.)

Astroturf Protestors and Fake Town Halls: August 28th article by Pete Peterson on Fox & Hounds Daily

This is a great article by Pete Peterson, the executive director of Common Sense California and a lecturer on state and local policy at Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy. Here’s an excerpt:

Even though most of us have never participated in such an event, the name [town hall meeting] still conjures thoughts of a participatory process, where, if participants are not able to make an actual decision, they can at least offer opinions on an issue that will be honestly considered. While there have been organized disruptions at many of these health care gatherings, reports from many of them indicate that things turned ugly once participants learned that they were there solely to be “informed” about the health care proposals – not to participate in a real debate. Listen closely to the comments by Congressional leaders (and, recently, the President), and you hear the words of people who come to these meetings with the understanding that they are there to teach attendees the benefits of their reform plans.

View the full article.

“Are disrupted town hall meetings an evolutionary opportunity?”: August 10th post on Tom Atlee’s Blog

This long post by Tom Altee — Founder of the Co-Intelligence Institute and a leading thinker and activist in our field — includes links to videos and articles on disrupted town halls and a great synthesis of many of the themes brought up in the NCDD listserv discussion. Tom also weaves this into his interest in evolutionary activism, saying “What excites me is the fact that a potentially influential group [NCDDers] moved beyond ignoring or suppressing energies and perspectives they didn’t like and took the opportunity to explore responses to a crisis that might shift the whole system, from the ways people interact to the ways whole societies pursue more wholesome visions.” View the post.

“Town Halls by Invitation”: Op-Ed in the August 16th New York Times by Jim Fishkin

Jim Fishkin’s op-ed on holding deliberative polls as an alternative to the modern town hall meeting structure was published in the Sunday, August 16th issue of the New York Times. Here’s a quote from the article: “There is a way of organizing town halls that would offer lawmakers representative and informed feedback about their constituents’ major concerns: a deliberative poll. Whereas ordinary polls represent the public’s surface impression of sound bites and headlines, deliberative polls bring together a scientifically selected microcosm of a lawmaker’s constituents under conditions conducive to thinking about issues. In effect, an entire Congressional district really can be put in one room.”  NCDD member Jim Fishkin is the author of the new book “When the People Speak,” director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford, and creator of the Deliberative Poll. View the article.

Audio recording of Martin Carcasson and Peter Levine on WHYY-FM Radio Times program

On Thursday, August 13th, Martin Carcasson and Peter Levine were guests on “Radio Times” with Marty Moss-Coane. That’s a call-in program of WHYY-FM in Pennsylania. The MP3 file is here, and you can listen to the program online. On his blog post about the program, Peter said “I think we agreed that the protesters are exercising free speech, expressing views that belong in the political debate, and should be treated respectfully as citizens (not as robots operated remotely by special interests). On the other hand, a format for discussion that encourages angry individual speeches is pretty alienating for most citizens and is a poor source of information or enlightenment. We could do better–although both Martin and I noted that the political and media environment work against deliberative politics; and even good forums might be vulnerable to hostile takeovers.”

Must mention that at the end of the program Martin told a caller whose local school district is in conflict with community members, “If you go to ncdd.org, which is the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, it’s the umbrella group of just all the people that are doing this work.  If you post to the NCDD website or listserv and say ‘Hey – I’m having this problem and I need some help,’ you’ll probably get help, because you’ll find people that have the expertise and have the passion to try to spark better conversations and help communities solve problems.”  Thanks, Martin!

“When Town Halls Go Viral, There’s Sickness in the Air”: Article in the August 15th Washington Post

This article by Washington Post staff writer Philip Kennicott quotes de Tocqueville and discusses how today’s town hall meetings are world’s apart from New England Town Meetings as Normal Rockwell depicted them. The article mentions NCDD organizational member AmericaSpeaks and quotes AmericaSpeaks president Carolyn Lukensmeyer as saying that what she’s seeing today are “faux town hall meetings that aren’t anything about deliberation. . . . People are coming in advocating the answer, they’re not coming in to learn anything about the options.” View the article.

Better Health Care Depends on a Stronger Democracy: An August 13th Statement from the Groups Behind SOND2

On August 13th, Everyday Democracy, AmericaSpeaks, Demos, and Professor Archon Fung of Harvard’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation (the groups behind the Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy 2 meeting I recently blogged about here), released a joint statement.  The statement concludes with “When laws and policies result from narrow partisan victories, they easily topple when political winds shift. But when they are rooted in broad public deliberation and participation, they are far more likely to grow strong and true in the decades to come. There is no better time for all of us to raise our voices and actions in support of what our democracy can be. Not only meaningful health care reform, but the health of our democracy is at stake.” View the statement.

Suggested Guidelines to Improve Town Hall Meetings: August 18th post on David Campt’s blog

NCDD member David Campt, a.k.a. The RaceDoctor, added a post to his blog, The RaceDoctor Speaks!, which lays out an experimental strategy for public officials to maximize the chance that the health care town halls embody at least a minimal level of order and civility. The core idea is to provide a structure that calls upon a basic sense of order, but also effectively responses to the reality that many people who attend the meetings are motivated by a chance to vent frustrations about the current health care plan. View the post.

Town Hall Democracy: September 16th post on Noelle McAfee’s GonePublic blog

Noelle McAfee posted to her blog, GonePublic, yesterday about the need for more deliberative town halls. Noelle, a professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, concludes her post with:

We need to find ways to start deliberating together, to ask ourselves, what should we do and what are we willing to give up to get what we want. We need to think about the myriad consequences and effects of various courses of action. There are people trying to do this, including folks with the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation and with the National Issues Forums.  Be we need more spaces for deliberation, especially online.

View Town Hall Democracy on Noelle’s site, or read over the re-post at www.thataway.org/?p=1644.

“Why have town hall meetings at all?”: August 12th post on Peter Levine’s Blog

Here’s a quote from Peter’s post: “On one hand, there is no good reason to hold the kind of ‘town meetings’ we are used to. That phrase invokes the old New England deliberative forums in which citizens come together to make collective decisions. The reality, however, is a public hearing with a small group of self-selected activists who ask questions one by one. That format is easy to manipulate and likely to turn unpleasant; it rewards strategic behavior rather than authentic dialog; and it reinforces a sense that the politician and citizens are profoundly different. (The politician has responsibility but cannot be trusted; citizens have no power but only a right to express individual opinions.)”  View the post.

“How should you respond to the noisy health reform critics?”: August 11th post by Larry Susskind

Larry Susskind’s August 11th post on his blog, The Consensus Building Approach, includes some practical advice that Congresspeople can easily follow for town hall meetings they’re holding now, based on decades of experience facilitating public dialogue in politically charged situations.

“Letting the People In”: August 12th Article on the American Prospect site

Mark Schmitt, Executive Editor of liberal magazine The American Prospect, posted an article on TAP’s website on the 12th titled Letting the People In: People want their voices heard in the making of policy. But how do politicians figure out which ones to listen to? Although Mark is not a member of NCDD, he attended the recent Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy 2 event I blogged about here. Mark suggests, “For those legislators who really want to understand public opinion on health care and other issues, who want their constituents to be engaged and informed, the solution may lie in creating some new structures for democratic engagement, not the friends-only town hall meetings of the Bush years, but structured meetings in which participants are asked to engage with each other as well as the podium, and to deliberate about questions that are framed in advance.”

Last Day to Complete Open Gov’t Dialogue Survey!    

Today is the last official day to respond to the Open Government Dialogue survey that’s up at www.tiny.cc/jr76x

Over a dozen leading organizations in public engagement and transparency (NCDD, IAP2, the League of Women Voters, AmericaSpeaks, OMB Watch, etc.) are collaboratively conducting a survey of people/groups who participated in any of the three stages of the recent Open Government Dialogue (the one that’s feeding into the Open Govt Directive on transparency, participation and collaboration).  We’ll be providing White House officials with feedback and recommendations on this online dialogue and drafting process based in large part on the results of the online survey posted at www.tiny.cc/jr76x , and we’d love your participation!

The White House is looking to US for ideas and feedback to improve their future engagement efforts, so if you participated in any part of the OGD process (or even just watched the process without actively participating), we’d love it if you completed the survey.  Please also feel free to share this announcement with your own networks.

RFP from Kellogg Foundation for Community-Based Racial Healing Efforts    

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has announced a new grant opportunity as part of its commitment to becoming an effective, anti-racist organization that promotes racial equity.

This grant opportunity seeks to strengthen and bolster community-based approaches for racial healing and equity efforts targeting vulnerable and marginalized children. The foundation defines racial healing as “group efforts to acknowledge the wrongs and group suffering of the past while trying to address the cumulative and current consequences of the past injustices.”

The foundation seeks proposals from community-based organizations that foster racial healing. To be considered for funding, the organization must be working to promote racial healing within and between racial and ethnic groups within specific geographic areas. National programs that have projects within local communities may also be considered.

To be eligible to receive a grant, applicants must be public entities or nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations that demonstrate the fiscal capacity to manage the funds. The Kellogg Foundation anticipates awarding grants of up to $400,000 each. The complete Request for Proposals, including examples of eligible projects, is available at the Kellogg Foundation website at www.wkkf.org/RacialHealingRFP.  Proposals must be submitted online no later than September 30, 2009.

Applications Being Accepted for Georgetown U’s M.A. Program in Conflict Resolution    

Amanda Ruthven asked us to let NCDDers know that Georgetown University’s M.A. program in Conflict Resolution is accepting applications for the 2010-2001 academic year.  Applications are due January 15, 2010.

Georgetown University’s two-year M.A. program in Conflict Resolution is a multidisciplinary course of study that combines world class research and practice. Core courses are offered in the Government Department, Psychology Department, and the McDonough School of Business. Electives may be taken across graduate programs on campus, including Georgetown’s international relations programs which are ranked #1 in America by Foreign Policy magazine.

Graduates of the program are represented in a variety of government agencies and NGOs throughout the world and are prepared to pursue doctoral studies.  Learn more at http://conflictresolution.georgetown.edu or email .

Larry Susskind’s Advice for Officials Holding Town Hall Meetings on Health Care Reform    

Below is part of Larry Susskind’s most recent post on his blog, The Consensus Building Approach. Larry provides some practical advice Congresspeople can easily follow for town hall meetings they’re holding now, based on decades of experience facilitating public dialogue in politically charged situations:

1. Begin by saying that you want to hear what the audience has to say. Ask 5 volunteers to come up on the stage to ask whatever questions or make whatever statements they think are important. Invite them up. Make it clear that you don’t know any of these people and you are just trying to find out what people who bothered to come to the town hall meeting have to say. Pick five who raise their hands and appear to represent different age or other groups. Let them speak. Tell them that the ground rule is that each person has the mike for no more than five minutes. Invite them to sit on the stage with you. (Make sure someone is controlling the mike and make it clear that it will be shut off after five minutes.) Don’t try to respond to each statement. Just listen.

2. Then, after those five have spoken and gone back to the audience. Ask for 3 more people who have different points they want to make that don’t repeat what has already been said. Again, choose three from those who indicate a desire to speak. Invite them up. Same ground rule. Let them speak. Don’t respond to each person. (more…)

You’re Invited: DC Health Care Forum on August 24th    

Here’s an invitation from NCDD member Alexander Moll, to a “Health Care Reform Public Discussion” on Monday, August 24 at 6:00pm at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. This deliberative event is sponsored by National Issues Forums and the Kettering Foundation. Alex posted the event to NCDD’s Facebook group, so you can sign up to attend there, or email Alex at .

The U.S. Congress and the President have been in daily debates about health care reform. The Washington daily newspapers continually describe an unfolding drama with the clock ticking for the President to deliver the promise of health care reform. Congress will vote in September, but before they do, citizens across the country have a duty to inform their representatives of any overlooked provisions or concerns. On August 24th, DC, MD, and VA residents in roundtable discussions will now have an opportunity to do just that. (more…)

Dealing With High Emotion and ‘Staged Anger’: Tips for Legislators    

We’re in the midst of a great conversation on the main NCDD listserv about the violence and mayhem at town hall meetings on health care legislation, and what our community of practice can/should do to help ensure future political events are more democratic and productive.  A lot of thoughtful posts have been added by people you may have heard of like Pete Peterson, Barnett Pearce, Kenoli Oleari, John Godec and a number of others.  Here’s the latest post, from Martin Carcasson, Director of Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation, which I think includes some particularly helpful insights and ideas for legislators in situations of high public emotion. (Note: you can view the listserv’s archives and/or subscribe here.)

Great discussion that I’ll try to add to here. A few things come to mind, many of them cautions.

Most importantly, we must be clear that this is a different sort of conflict or emotion we are dealing with here. This isn’t just some participants in a process that are angry, these are participants that are mobilizing specifically to disrupt the process and make it send a completely different message. In terms of analyzing the conflict, this form of conflict seems almost outside of the topic of the forums. They aren’t necessarily trying to get their point of view across, they are trying to attack the legitimacy of the process (and host) itself and send a broader message. So the typical facilitator interventions to deal with conflict—such as letting them vent, paraphrasing, reframing it and shifting to a deeper level, exploring  the underlying values, getting others involved, etc.—won’t work here. I’m not sure having strict ground rules would work well either, because they are specifically mobilizing to either take advantage of ground rules, or to disregard them.  Part of me feels any facilitator attempts to try to manage them will backfire. Trying to kick these people out of meeting will only serve to support their cause, and could lead to violence. And if the town meeting is sponsored by a U.S. representative or senator, the free speech implications are rather high to not allowing them to speak.

I am also somewhat wary of an impartial community resource trying to host these for legislators, unless they can get multiple, bi-partisan legislators to come together (which would be a great symbolic gesture in itself). If my organization, which works hard to cultivate its impartiality, hosted a town hall meeting for a Democratic or Republican legislator, especially in these polarized times, I would have to be very careful in how I frame my work there. I could easily get my organization caught up in the partisanship, and that would cause significant damage to my capacity to serve my community in other endeavors. All in all, I guess we are caught in high risk/high reward situations. If we can help and really pull it off, wonderful, but it will be a high bar, and we know the media will focus on the conflict if there is any, so I just suggest, channeling Hill Street Blues for a second, that we all “be careful out there.”

So I’ve rambled a bit about cautions, but what can we do? If I was asked to help plan a meeting for a legislator right now, here are some of the things I would think about/suggest.

Like many others have mentioned on here, part of it is to plan early and be clear about the purpose/goals for the event. One of my biggest process suggestions would be to avoid big crowds by splitting the people up as much as possible. Don’t give people a microphone in front of a big crowd and cameras. That is what they seek, and what these poorly designed town halls deliver. These legislators need to get creative, and get some help, so their “town hall” meetings can be small group discussions that capture the information in some way that still informs the legislator. (more…)

Public Input Sought on How to Bring Broadband to All Americans    

I received this announcement today from both Beth Noveck and Greg Nelson…  Please share widely!

Kudos to the FCC for finding innovative ways to engage the public in an on-going dialogue about a National Broadband Plan to bring broadband to all Americans.  I attended this morning’s opening workshop – the first of more than 20 such workshops at the FCC.  If you weren’t there live, you could have watched it on the web or participated in Second Life.  And if you missed it, you can join in the Open Government Broadband Brainstorm at http://fcc-opengov.ideascale.com/ where the FCC is seeking examples from you and your communities about how broadband is being used to achieve a host of national priorities.

Today’s opening workshop was on open government and civic engagement.  The FCC and the Administration want your ideas on innovative ways to use broadband to more effectively interact with the government on issues you care about.  And if you have broadband examples you can share on education, energy, healthcare, or in areas not thought of before, the Broadband Brainstorm has a place to suggest broadband examples on all these topics.  You can discuss the examples that are submitted and vote on the best ones which will then rise to the top. It should be fun to watch, participate, and learn as the brainstorm stays open and develops throughout the course of the workshops.

Violence and Incivility at Town Hall Meetings on Health Care… What Can the D&D Community Do?    

We’ve been having a rich discussion today about this on the main NCDD listserv (subscribe by sending a blank message to ), and I wanted to post my initial message to the blog as well…

David Campt sent me a message yesterday with a link to a Huffington Post news story about how labor unions are organizing so their members can take on conservative Tea Party protesters and others planning to protest all of the town halls and other events on health insurance reform going on during the congressional recess.

A memo from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney states “The principal battleground in the campaign will be town hall meetings and other gatherings with members of Congress in their home districts,” reads the memo. “We want your help to organize major union participation to counter the right-wing ‘Tea-Party Patriots’ who will try to disrupt those meetings, as they’ve been trying to do to meetings for the last month.”

A follow-up memo from AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka accuses conservatives groups of being corporate-funded, and says “These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate….  Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents — not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction.”

The Huffington Post article noted that “A showdown between unions and grassroots conservative organizations could make for an August full of fireworks, with even more dysfunctional town hall meetings.

David asked me if it would “make sense for NCDD to try to position itself as a process expert to try to turn these events into something other than a chance for an explosive physical confrontation? I am not exactly sure how to do that, but this looks like a very ugly set of conditions being set in motion.”

NCDD Board member Leanne Nurse (EPA) then emailed me this morning with a link to this news piece on the Fox News website, which described how town hall meeting on health care reform held yesterday in a Tampa, Florida suburb erupted into shouting and violence as angry opponents clashed with event organizers.  She was wondering if any NCDD members had more information about what happened in Tampa.

There is a lot more to this story – including spin from both the Left and the Right and a lack of substantial information being presented to the public via the media (and now that town halls are becoming violent, the media will focus even more on the violence and not the substance of the issue).  It all adds up to democracy at its worst, which makes me wonder what our role is in all of this.

I’d like to know, first of all, if any of you are planning health care events involving people from all sides of the political spectrum?  Are you organizing forums that allow people to talk about the proposed bill in any depth?  Are any of you holding events that are open to the public and could potentially be well-attended?

If so, let’s share information about those events on the listserv. I’ll share what any events sent to the listserv on the NCDD site, on Facebook and Twitter, etc. to get the word out a little more that alternative, more democratically designed events are being planned.

If your efforts produce new stories we can use about how anger and dissension was diffused because all sides sat down together and were able to talk to each other civilly, I think we have the potential for getting some real PR for quality public engagement work.

Of course, if people are worked up into a frenzy before they get to an event, it may be near impossible to even get people to sit down and start talking to each other.  Have any of you experienced this in your work before?  How have you handled it?

What else do you folks think “we” should do, as a community of practice?  What’s possible and do-able in this short timeframe?  What can we do to better react to situations like this one in the future?  This is a scary situation for our democracy, but our community has so much to offer.

11 Draft Items for a Democracy Agenda from SOND2    

About 90 people came together in DC Sunday through Tuesday for “Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy 2” — a working session organized by AmericaSpeaks, Demos, Everyday Democracy and Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Invited guests were leaders in electoral reform, public deliberation, community organizing, and collaborative governance, and we were joined at different times during the meeting by a number of members of the Obama administration. (Click here for background materials, confirmed participants, meeting agenda, etc.)

I shared insights and questions from the event on my Facebook wall so people who were not in attendance could join in the conversation.  I am happy with how that “Facebook experiment” went, as dozens of interesting comments were added to my posts and some good mini-discussions took place.  A lot of people added comments and posts just thanking me for posting about the event, so I think many more were watching.  Andy took the time to paste the comments into several blog posts below if you’re curious and not a Facebooker.

I’ll post a link to the report from SOND2 when it’s available, but here are the headlines of what was presented to administration officials on Tuesday afternoon as the 11 DRAFT Democracy Agenda Items (props to my friend John Godec of IAP2 for these notes!):

1. Draft Statement of Principles (The preamble which will likely carry the definitions, values and ethics we talked about)
2. Democracy Skill Agenda (How to transfer knowledge and ability to do this work)
3. Health of Democracy Report (The state of this imperfect union)
4. National Demonstration Projects (To show the real world value of what we propose)
5. Recognize and Support Engagement by Disenfranchised Communities (To ensure full inclusion)
6. Institutionalize Participatory and Collaborative Governance (Embed it in federal, state and local institutions)
7. Ensure Adequate Resources for Public Engagement (Paying for it)
8. Adopt and Electoral Reform Agenda (Self explanatory — more later)
9. Feedback on Consultation Efforts (Evaluation)
10. Mechanism for Sustaining Leadership (Ensuring that this doesn’t disappear in four years)
11. International Exchange (Learning from our global colleagues)

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