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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 January 2011

Democratic Principles    

We’re face-to-face again with our love-hate relationship with democratic principles. While politicians, pundits and everyday citizens love to extol the value of participatory governance in the United States and around the world, our foreign policy has focused on American ‘interests’ rather than democratic principles. It’s not surprising this week that Egyptian President Mubarak’s administration is under siege…after decades of democratic neglect and dictatorial power. If Tunisia is followed by Egypt in governmental disruption, the old 60s-era ‘domino theory’ of successive governmental takeovers will be a reality…not to Communism as feared then, but to a wide variety of interest groups including Islamic opportunists. It’s too late to be ahead of this trend, friends…but it’s not too late to understand our own values more clearly, so we can reshape our foreign policy in the future…if we actually believe in the democratic principles we espouse.

Everything you read in a blog is over-simplified to a point…but I believe this dilemma between democratic principles and American interests boils down to long-term versus short-term goals. It would be nice to find consistent policy options that serve both long-term and short-term needs, but it’s obviously not as easy as we might hope. Let’s face it…it’s sad and self-defeating, but, in American politics as in American business, short-term needs almost always win over long-term goals. We put up with petty despots in many countries to serve our immediate needs…and never quite get around to balancing off the needs of their people. American interests, of course, are urgent and important…and they take precedence over the long-term needs and human rights of people in other countries. When you’re still the ‘big dog’ in the world…with more economic, military and political power than any other nation…your priorities are the highest! But…in this equation, democratic principles suffer…deeply and often. (more…)

Group Decision Tip: Self-Evident    

In principle, the best decisions are made when the answer is self-evident to everyone. When a group of reasonable people have a shared goal and they freely share information about the current situation and options for achieving that goal, they are very likely to come to a shared conclusion about what to do.

When the decision making process allows all participants to see all the evidence, the right thing to do reveals itself.

Practical Tip: Do not lead a group to a pre-established conclusion but rather provide opportunity and structure to consider and analyze all views. Be open to all possibilities and openly share all relevant information.

If you really want the best decision for the group as a whole, evidence-gathering may take a while: many conversations, several meetings, time for individual processing.

If there is not enough time, decide only as much as you have good information to support. Guessing, gambling, or rushing to judgment often causes more problems later.


Craig FreshleyI’m posting the above Tip because it’s related to Tom’s recent post on Creative Deliberation.

Group Decision Tips are written by Craig Freshley. Please visit to subscribe and for a complete archive of all previously published Group Decision Tips. You can comment on any Tip and view comments of others. Also find handouts, links, and information about workshops. Group Decision Tips™ is the brand name for a specific set of beliefs and practices that help groups create new benefits and move toward peace in an efficient manner. Providing Group Decision Tips to others in any format is strictly prohibited for commercial purposes and/or for any type of compensation but free distribution for non-commercial purposes is encouraged with proper credit to Craig Freshley.

The Citizens’ Toolbox: What’s in Yours?    

NCDD is a proud sponsor of The Citizens’ Toolbox: What’s In Yours? — a conference aimed at connecting students with those engaged in a broad and varied set of experiments and projects in Dialogue and Deliberation and other tenets of civic and democratic life. Join us March 16-19 at Miami University of Ohio in Oxford, Ohio, as we all ask what’s in our own toolboxes, and open those up for each other to explore and engage.

Join us in this opportunity to share and gain skills related to:

  • Dialogue and Deliberation;
  • Campus and Community;
  • Action Plans and Problem Solving, and
  • Practical Application of Skills.

The conference is aimed at connecting students to professionals, academics, and everyday citizens who are eager to gain new tools, build on the ones we have, and use these tools for action. Find out more at

Call for Proposals: We are accepting proposals for poster sessions, workshops, and learning exchanges until Friday, February 4th (honorariums may be available for you!). Learn more and submit yours today!

Early Bird specials- Don’t Delay!
We are offering Early Bird pricing for all conference participants that register before February 11th. Learn more at register at

Ideas for improving the IAP2 certificate program?    

Another thing I’ve been invited to do in Sydney is to attend the 2-day IAP2 Summit 2011, which is focused on improving IAP2′s certificate program in public participation.  About 18 of us will be exploring these questions on February 6th and 7th:

What would a world-class certificate program look like? What will make it the best in the world? What will make it unique to IAP2?

I’d love to hear from some NCDDers who have gone through the certificate program about what worked really well about the training, and what do you think should have been different?

And for those of you who aren’t familiar with the certificate program or haven’t participated yet, I’d love to hear what types of specific content, skills, etc. you feel are the most valuable to cover in a training on engaging the public in policy-making.

Also, who are the very best trainers you have ever worked with?  We’ll be discussing who can/should be approached to develop materials based on their expertise and capacity to deliver.

Other “summitteers” are Lyn Carson, Moira Deslandes, Jan Elliott, Michelle Feenan, Teresa Forest, John Gastil, Janette Hartz-Karp, David Kahane, Lars Kluver, Matt Leighninger, Rodolfo Lewanski, Ron Lubensky, Stephani Roy McCallum, Doug Sarno, Vivien Twyford, Mark Warren, and Kimbra White–so it’s quite the impressive group!

Heading to Sydney for R&P meeting–and welcome your thoughts    

Hi, everyone!  I’m leaving for Sydney, Australia on Monday for an exciting 3-day workshop Lyn Carson at the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy (UWS) is holding–as well as an IAP2 summit I’ll also blog about and 3 days of actual vacation!

The workshop, titled Deliberative Democracy: Connecting Research and Practice, is an “invited workshop for leading researchers and practitioners from Australasia, Europe and North America.”  I believe there will be about 70 attendees, most from Australia but a few coming from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

We will be working together to achieve five workshop outcomes, including “build mutual understanding between researchers and public participation practitioners” and “determine priorities for further research and recommend proposals for funding” (and yes, there is some funding in place).

I wish I could take the whole NCDD network with me to this meeting!  In order to help me do the best job I can representing you, please consider responding here to either of these questions.  I’d really appreciate your suggestions, ideas, and stories!  I’ll also be posting these questions in the NCDD facebook group in the “discussions” section, in case you’re more comfortable participating there.

1.  What are the most recent developments (exciting or disappointing) in deliberative democracy?

2.  What are the most important unanswered / underexplored questions in our field?

Creative Deliberation    

Hello.  New NCDD blogger Tom Atlee here.  I’m founder of and research director for the Co-Intelligence Institute, interested in how high quality D&D can be used to catalyze a wiser democracy and more conscious evolution of humanity’s cultures, social systems, and technologies.  I’ve been collecting, promoting, critiquing and weaving together dozens of diverse processes for two decades, and I’m very interested in their underlying dynamics and mutual synergies.  I live in a co-op house in Eugene Oregon.  I’m happy to share my thoughts about all this with you and I look forward to your comments.

Creative Deliberation

Many (most?) citizen deliberative methods take deliberators through some version of the following steps:

  1. Review briefing materials that summarize arguments for and against the 3-5 main options being discussed in the public debate on the subject, hopefully covering 80-90 percent of the spectrum of opinion.  (Sometimes — as in a Citizen Initiative Review — the deliberators simply evaluate whether or not an existing proposal should be supported.)
  2. Hear expert testimony, get expert answers to questions, and/or cross-examine diverse experts. (Some methods skip some or all of this step.)
  3. Deliberate in the group, weighing the merits and trade-offs of the presented options.  See how much of a consensus can be achieved and, if not, report out the distribution of opinion in the group.

This general approach tends to restrict the considered options to what is already being talked about in mainstream discourse, rather than invoking the creativity of the deliberators to come up with something better than the mainstream options.  In contrast, other methods like brainstorming or Dynamic Facilitation may focus on creativity, but may not take the time to adequately deliberate on the feasibility and potential problems or consequences of what the participants create.  In between these are various half-way approaches such as allowing or encouraging deliberators to mix-and-match aspects of various options to see if they can improve on the mainstream presented options.  Or sometimes deliberators simply revolt and say they want something that isn’t one of the choices they’ve been given.

It seems that a process that is both open and creative and also rigorously deliberative would offer higher quality results than any of the above.  I would love to hear about any citizen deliberative approaches already out there that attempt to do that.  Just to invite imaginative dialogue, I offer the following model as a possible approach.  It would definitely be a multi-day deliberation (involving preferably a random cross-section microcosm of the population), along the lines of citizens juries, consensus conferences, or citizen assemblies, but with some added creative bells and whistles…

  1. Review briefing materials that summarize arguments for and against the 3-5 main options being discussed in the public debate on the subject, hopefully covering 80-90 percent of the spectrum of opinion.
  2. Get diverse expert answers to questions and cross-examine those experts.
  3. Deliberate in the group, weighing the merits and trade-offs of the main options and seeing if there’s consensus on any one of them or a recombination of them, and specifically inviting any other approach that might have more benefits and fewer trade-offs.
  4. Split into web-surfing teams for a couple of hours to see what other hot information or options are available on the web.  (Perhaps make it a challenge: Who can find the best stuff?!!)  Come back together to share what was found.
  5. Repeat deliberation as in (3) but including the new information and options found.  Note any new questions or potential favored options that show up or which the group, itself, wants to create.  Include Dynamic Facilitation here if the conversational energy is hot, to help it move toward an emergent breakthrough.
  6. Consult (perhaps by phone) with experts who can answer any new questions and/or provide input on the feasibility or likely consequences of any new options the group is considering recommending.
  7. Repeat steps 5 &  6 until agreement is reached or a clear set of majority/minority recommendations solidifies.  Whichever happens, articulate clear rationale for the recommendations presented.

Do you have any thoughts on this approach, or on other approaches that combine full-spectrum information, high levels of creativity AND rigorous deliberation among diverse perspectives and options?

“Minds on the Edge” mental health dialogue    

This appeared in my inbox this morning in an email from Linda Frasher Meigs, child and mental health advocate based in Georgetown, Texas…

MINDS ON THE EDGE is expanding the conversation about mental illness online and in the community. Join in encouraging this urgently needed dialogue everywhere from kitchen tables to coffee shops, from town halls to state houses, in libraries and at professional meetings. Answers we need to meet this challenge can only emerge from an informed and robust public conversation, and each of us can provide a critical piece of this civic dialogue.

MINDS ON THE EDGE: Facing Mental Illness is a multi-platform media project that explores severe mental illness in America. The centerpiece of the project is a television program initially aired on PBS stations in October 2009. This video component is part of a national initiative that includes extensive web content with tools for civic engagement, active social media on Facebook and Twitter, and an ambitious strategy to engage citizens, professionals in many fields, and policy makers at all levels of government. The goal is to advance consensus about how to improve the kinds of support and treatment available for people with mental illness. (more…)

Start with a Question    

Craig Freshley My name is Craig Freshley and I’m in Brunswick, Maine. My one-page Group Decision Tips are shared around the world and are all posted for free at: There are about 140 Group Decision Tips available: all one-page pdf’s. They cover all topics relevant to group decision making: communications, conflict, leadership, policy development, facilitation techniques, etc.

Sandy Heierbacher has been a fan of the Tips for years and I have been a fan of NCDD. She invited me to share some of my Tips via this blog.

One of my Group Decision Tips is called Start with a Question. If you want good dialogue and deliberation, no matter what setting, that’s always a good place to start.

Group Decision Tip:  Start with a Question

In principle, when I enter into a discussion with a statement rather than a question I am presuming to already know all the answers. Most conflicts are due to misunderstanding so when my opinion is based on presumption I am probably headed for conflict.

When I begin a discussion with a question I show respect for others, that I want to hear what they have to say. The longer I remain truly open-minded the greater the chances that my opinion is based on complete understanding.

Practical Tip: Even though you might have an opinion forming in your head, hold off expressing it and start with questions instead. Be genuinely open to changing your opinion based on new things you learn. Good questions start with “why”, “how” and “what.” Good questions are open ended. Examples: “Why do you think that? How has it worked well in the past? What do you think is the cause of the problem?”

When I start with a question I am less threatening to others, I am more likely to develop a well-informed opinion, and I increase prospects for avoiding conflict entirely. (more…)

Christian Science Monitor features articles on civility and dialogue    

The Christian Science Monitor put together an excellent issue on civility-related matters, which you can check out at  Definitely worth a look!  Here are the articles featured…

After the Arizona shooting, the civility movement sees tipping point

Calls for unity in response to the Arizona shooting are seen as an opportunity for the civility movement to tackle partisan rancor.

Four ways to kick the partisan habit

How you can do what President Obama has asked the nation to do: move beyond the political blame game to constructive conversation. (A short list of great tips by NCDD member Laura Chasin, founder of the Public Conversations Project)

From vitriol to civility: Should parties sit together at State of the Union?

Sen. Mark Udall is proposing that Democrats and Republicans sit together at President Obama’s State of the Union address as a practical first step toward more civil political discourse.

Arizona shooting: Don’t blame Sarah Palin — get public schools to discuss politics

Ever since Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona Saturday, critics have been pointing fingers at Republicans for their nasty anti-government rhetoric. They have a point. But the real problem is in our public schools, which have left millions of Americans unequipped to engage in rational politics. (more…)

Summary of NCDD survey on race dialogue — and next steps    

Before the holidays, three was a flurry of dozens of messages on the NCDD Discussion list (our main listserv, with 1150 subscribers) on issues of race and racism within a period of a couple of days. Though our listserv can be a great place to discuss practice-related questions and share announcements, it is not a forum for online dialogue on issues like race, climate change, or health care (see the list description and ground rules here).

We can and often do discuss issues related to inclusion in the practice of dialogue and deliberation, but a couple of list subscribers were encouraging people exchange messages about “their own racism.” Our inboxes filled up with responses that ranged from philosophical arguments about the origins of racism, to the importance of discussing broader issues of inclusion and inequity, to pleas to take the discussion off the list (and many more types of responses). I don’t recall anyone responding with details about their own racism.

As list moderator, I decided to set up a short survey to ask subscribers, off the list, to share their thoughts on whether and how we should proceed with a dialogue on racism outside the listserv.

67 subscribers responded to the survey, and the responses are rich and fascinating. The survey results are publicly available here, but I took some time over the holidays to summarize the results and see what themes emerged. That summary is shared below. (more…)

Where Everybody Knows Your Name    

The TV show, Cheers, ran for eleven seasons during the 80s and early 90s with a tagline that made everyone feel good…‘where everybody knows your name.’ A group of unlikely friends went through some good times and some bad times while making us laugh…and these characters became part of our lives, because we knew their names too! Like most really successful TV shows, it captured some important components of society…so the public could inspect and appreciate them in a user-friendly format. In Cheers, the characters discussed all sorts of issues while they laughed, argued and joked together. They became a cohesive and effective community with and for each other. When we seek to accomplish the goal to ‘build a great community…together,’ we need to make sure our community is compact and clearly identified enough to be something like Cheers…a place ‘where everybody knows your name.’

Unfortunately, our country is moving more and more toward being a society of anonymous faces. It seems we know more people just a bit and fewer people really well…thanks to our tech gadgets. This may not seem to be important, but I believe our capacity to work together in community problem-solving is compromised significantly by this shift. Many times, we regard people we don’t know with suspicion and even some fear, especially when they don’t look like us, or speak our language, or worship in our religious tradition. So…it’s probably not a good thing that we’re increasing our ‘Facebook time’ and decreasing our personal ‘face time.’

So…how did we get into this increasingly isolated lifestyle? And…how can we make some changes in our culture to make local, face-to-face conversations more attractive and available, particularly to young people who have little experience in this form of communication?  I’m not just being nostalgic in these questions…our public problems are so complex and inter-connected that they simply cannot be understood or solved without in-depth, personal conversations. Deep and sustainable solutions to these problems can be found…but not quickly, nor easily, nor in isolation. And…the quality of our connections will determine our willingness to do the work required. Healthy, effective and fulfilling connections will, however, require some soul-searching…and some humility. (more…)

Join Richard Dreyfuss on Monday for “It’s Time for a Talk”    

NCDD has been invited by The Dreyfuss Initiative to be a participating sponsor of “It’s Time for a Talk,” a series of unique National Conversations on revitalizing America’s civic culture–the first of which is on MONDAY.  You can participate online on Monday at 1pm Eastern / 10am Pacific by visiting

I encourage NCDDers to participate and help spread the word!  I’m not sure what to expect on Monday, but this may be a good opportunity to share your work with a broader audience.

Here is the latest press release for the project…

Actor Richard Dreyfuss Hosts Bi-Coastal Event to Initiate ‘It’s Time for a Talk’

NEW YORK, Jan. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — A partnership of organizations, led by American activist and Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss, is hosting live simultaneous events on the East and West coasts to open a National Conversation in cyberspace regarding America’s civics crisis on Monday, January 17, 2011. Entitled, “It’s Time for a Talk; The National Conversation on Revitalizing America’s Civic Culture”, the discussion will address the unprecedented anxiety felt by U.S. citizens regarding our nation’s future accompanied by the lack of comprehension surrounding the cultural meaning and heritage of America.

The East coast event will be held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington D.C. from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. The West coast event will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the University of San Diego. Panelists will include Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Romer, John Fund, Diane Ravitch, Richard Shenkman, and Admiral Bruce Boland. The public is encouraged to participate by attending the events in person or logging onto; observers may watch the real-time simulcast covered by C-SPAN.

The two-way discussion open to public participation via Internet will pose the question: “Are you comfortable, confident and at ease, or uncomfortable and uneasy, when you think of the future of the Nation in 30 years?” The organizations that are participating as of this printing are: The American Bar Association, the National PTA, AARP, The Dreyfuss Initiative, The Grauer School, San Diego Rotary and Vote iQ, with endorsements from the National Association of Secondary School Principles, The Girl Scouts of America, and others. (more…)

Statement on violence and civility in the wake of a massacre    

A powerful statement by NCDD member Bruce Mallory, Professor of Education at the University of New Hampshire and Director of New Hampshire Listens…

The violent rampage that took place in Arizona on Saturday is yet one more reminder, if we needed one, that our claim to be a civil society, in which we solve our differences through informed debate rather than random acts of violence, is an ideal that we have not fully achieved.  A civil society, one based on the principles of a pluralistic democracy, creates opportunity for the constructive expression of difference and dissent.  A civil society makes it possible for those with opposing views to engage in informed, respectful deliberation, where the argument is about ideas, not about the people who hold those ideas.  A civil, democratic society places its trust in those it elects to make the hard choices necessary to solve complex problems.  A civil society is one that is based on laws, not on the actions or threats of individuals.

While it seems that the perpetrator of Saturday’s shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and 19 others was in a state of confusion, anger, and perhaps illness, his actions also must be understood in the larger context of American society.  In recent years, we have become not only more divided along political and ideological lines, we seem to have lost to a large degree our commitment to resolving our differences through civil, constructive dialogue.  We have allowed our differences to define who we are, rather than our commonalities.  For some people, this obsession with difference has led to the use of language that is threatening or even violent itself.  When a deranged individual hears calls to use “bullets rather than ballots” or to “take out” or “target” the opposition, or to put those with whom we disagree “in the crosshairs,” then he or she, having already lost touch with reality, takes such advice too literally.  The more this happens, the more our country feels like those undemocratic, uncivil societies where assassinations, tribal conflict, and oppression by the powerful few are the norm.  Certainly we are far from becoming like those places, but we are getting closer, and that should be a source of concern for us all.

The way we use words, the language we use to talk about our differences, are real, and we must hold ourselves responsible for our choice of metaphors.  This is especially true in a society that has chosen to allow virtually anyone to obtain a deadly weapon but not require that he or she demonstrate the ability to use such weapons responsibly.  It is difficult to reconcile our aspirations to be a civil society when we are also one of the most heavily armed.

Can we restore our commitment to civility, to the messy, hard work of resolving our differences through dialogue and deliberation rather than threats and acts of violence? We certainly must try.  We must assure that our homes, schools, places of worship, and community spaces teach and reinforce the use of democratic approaches to address divisive social and political issues.  We must equip our citizens with the tools of conflict resolution, mediation, and deliberation.  We must bridge our differences with words that can shape creative solutions based on consensus.  It will be words, not walls or weapons, that will help us restore a sense of civility and a belief in our capacity to solve our problems in this troubled world.  The horror of the shootings in Arizona should strengthen our resolve to come together, face to face and heart to heart, to listen to each other, to honor our differences and affirm our commonalities, to speak the truth and to hold sacred the meaning of our constitutional democracy.

Tucson tragedy also a media moment for moderate groups    

My friend and colleague Leanne Nurse of the EPA forwarded this interesting article from the Washington Post to me this afternoon… For those who don’t know, Giffords had been an honorary co-chair of Third Way, which supports civil political discourse.

Tucson tragedy ‘a real opportunity’ for nonpartisan groups No Labels, Third Way

By Krissah Thompson
Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011

As the debate over civility in politics continues in the wake of the shooting in Tucson, groups founded to push bipartisanship see an opening: Could this be a moment for the political middle?

Routinely ignored amid heated discussions over immigration and health care, moderate groups on the right and left are hoping their message of comity can finally take hold.

“It’s a real tragedy, but it’s also a real opportunity,” said Mark McKinnon, co-founder of No Labels, a nonpartisan group founded last month. The Republican consultant sees potential to change the hyper-partisan political environment, which he has described as “ on the Left and the Tea Party on the Right.” (more…)

Comments Sought on Final Draft of AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard    

Cross-posted from Beth Offenbacker’s PublicDecisions blog

Many folks have been following the development of the AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard over these last few years.  The final draft of this international standard for stakeholder engagement has been released for review and comment at

According to the project website, the goal of the revision was to move the standard away from being mostly “a CSR process and [to] make it more strategically relevant for engagements across businesses, governments and other organisations. The new AA1000SES needs to provide a mechanism for engagement that can be robust at the global level but flexible enough for local application, that looks beyond process to outcomes and impact evaluation. There is also a need to better link the numerous sustainability initiatives and their understanding of quality stakeholder engagement.”

Comments and feedback are encouraged via email at

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