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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 February 2011

Sending Taylor our love and appreciation    

As many of you know, Taylor Willingham is not doing so well.  Taylor, who is a real shining star in our community, was diagnosed with kidney cancer this past fall. Despite multiples surgeries and various treatments, her recovery is not going well at this point.

Though she’s not up for too many phone calls and visitors, she LOVES getting and reading email messages.  Her good friend Diane Miller tells me she prints them out and re-reads them often.  You can email Taylor directly at , but I want to encourage NCDDers to add a comment to this post with a brief message to Taylor.  I’ll make sure she sees your comments.

I received this sobering message from Taylor today:

My health is deteriorating faster than I expected, but I am fighting to keep my head above water. My goal is to live to see the wildflowers this spring, but this cancer is not going to make it easy on me!

You may certainly let anyone in our network know about my situation. Renal cell carcinoma is not treatable. It can’t be cured. I can only strive to live a few more weeks as pain free as possible. Prayer seems to be a pretty good antidote (in between the morphine and methadone!).

So many things I wanted to do that I will have to leave for others who follow behind. But that is the cycle of life.

If you’ve attended an NCDD conference you probably know Taylor.  She’s a firecracker (that’s the best word I know for Taylor), with boundless energy and enthusiasm for public dialogue work.  You certainly know Taylor if you’re involved with National Issues Forums, as Taylor is an absolute star in the NIF network, having (among other things) co-founded and directed Texas Forums, an initiative of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum.

Taylor has been a wonderfully active member of NCDD, and served as the Secretary of our Board of Directors for the past couple of years.  She was instrumental in planning the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin (she lives near Austin in Salado, TX), and she was a key member of the planning team for the Austin regional NCDD workshop in October 2010 until she learned of her cancer and needed to pull back on some of her many commitments. She also ran a National Issues Forum event for conference participants and locals on the final day of the 2004 NCDD conference in Denver, Colorado.

Even with stage 4 kidney cancer, Taylor is more productive than most of us!  An email from Patty Dineen on the 17th included this update:

Meanwhile, Taylor continues pretty much full speed ahead, working online, teaching her online university course (via computer in her hospital room), to the point that her family and hospital staff conspired to put a time limit on her “connected” activities so she will rest.  She has the support and presence of her husband Terry, her parents, and other family and friends there with her, and her doctors have put together a team to oversee her treatments and care.  I’m not sure who the doctors believe to be leading the team, but I’m pretty sure that it is really Taylor.

If you know Taylor, please take a minute to add a brief note of appreciation and encouragement as a comment below.  I know she’d love to hear from a lot of NCDDers!

Action alert from Campaign for a Stronger Democracy    

How might the proposed federal budget cuts effect the dialogue and deliberation community, and the larger democracy reform movement D&D is a part of?  What can each of us do to fight for the programs we feel are critically important to our democracy — like public media, national service, civic education, and more?

Take a look at the Take Action page on the Campaign for a Stronger Democracy website. Over the coming weeks, CSD (the campaign that morphed out of Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy) will be using their new site to rally support from across the democracy reform community against cuts to the federal budget that threaten our democracy.  NCDD is involved in and supports the Campaign for a Stronger Democracy, and encourage all of you to check out the Action Alert: Hands Off Our Democracy page and consider how you can best respond.

Join us in taking action today!

National Institute for Civil Discourse to open at University of Arizona    

John Cavanaugh and Leanne Nurse alerted me to this news today (this text is from the February 21, 2011 Washington post article by Sari Horwitz)…

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush will serve as honorary chairmen of a new center at the University of Arizona that will focus on civility in political debate. The National Institute for Civil Discourse – a nonpartisan center for debate, research, education and policy about civility in public discourse – will open Monday in Tucson. It was created in the aftermath of the Jan. 8 shootings in the city where six people were killed and 13 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) will serve as honorary co-chairmen. Board members will include former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright; Kenneth M. Duberstein, chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan; Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren; Trey Grayson, director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics; and former congressman Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.).

“This institute is the right people in the right place at the right time,” said Fred DuVal, vice chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents and former co-chairman of Giffords’s finance committee.

The center will be funded with private donations, and $1 million has already been raised, said DuVal, who will head the working board of the institute, which is his brainchild. The institute plans to organize workshops and conferences in Tucson, Washington and elsewhere nationwide, and will bring together leaders from across the political spectrum to develop programs to promote civil discourse.

“Our country needs a setting for political debate that is both frank and civil,” Bush said in a statement.

Clinton said in a statement that the new institute “can elevate the tone of dialogue in our country.” …

See the full article here.

Participatory Budgeting Practices, Places, Games and Resources    

Re-posted by Tom Atlee from

Recently I’ve seen a swirl of information (mostly on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation listserv) about participatory budgeting. Below, you’ll find a sampling of this info, in relatively raw form. I do not know enough to sort it all out, but it looks really fascinating.

Most of this material is about online public budgeting exercises, but some of it also describes the kind of face-to-face, seriously empowered mass-participatory civic budgeting processes developed in Brazil which have spread widely in the last decade or so. (more…)

Wonderful new videos from the Bertelsmann Foundation    

A few days ago, the Bertelsmann Stiftung (Bertelsmann Foundation in the U.S.) added a bunch of new videos to its YouTube channel.  They really are must-see videos for people in our field; they’re very well-made videos (about 4 minutes long each) that feature the finalists in the 2011 Reinhard Mohn Prize.  I can see the videos being used in the classroom, in workshops, as part of presentations to local government, and so much more.

I just added them to my dialogue & deliberation playlists on YouTube, where you can find hundreds of D&D-related videos.

With the 2011 Reinhard Mohn Prize, the Bertelsmann Stiftung wants to bring new momentum to the debate on how democratic systems can be made “future ready” by helping them respond to current and future challenges. As many of you know, the 7 finalists of the Mohn Prize (to be awarded this spring) emerged from an international search to identify innovative, exemplary approaches to strengthening democracy through citizen engagement.

Check out the videos for these finalists:

Votes and hosts needed for Conversation Week 2011    

The next Conversation Week is just around the corner: March 24-31 2011!

In late 2009, Bob and Jacquelyn Pogue were offered the stewardship of Conversation Café by Vicki Robin and Susan Partnow, and the stewardship of Conversation Cafe has been transferred to Community Action Dialogues, which now serves as an umbrella for Conversation Café and Richmond Action Dialogues.

Community Action Dialogues invites you to vote on your favorite questions that have been submitted for Conversation Week. Select up to ten of your favorite questions (download them here) and write their numbers down and email them to by Tuesday, February 22, 2011.  The votes will be tabulated to determine the final Top-10 Conversation Week Questions.

Regarding the importance of selecting questions, it’s helpful to note Einstein’s approach to problem solving. He said that if given one hour to come up with a solution, he would spend 59 minutes figuring out the right question to ask and then it would probably take about a minute after that to solve the problem.

Host a Conversation During Conversation Week

You are also invited to host a conversation during Conversation Week 2011.  Visit for more details.  Let them know if you are holding a Cafe and if you would like your Cafe posted on the Conversation Cafe website. If you any questions about a hosting a cafe, please feel free to email or call Conversation Cafe at:

P.O. Box 276
Crozier, Virginia 23039
(804) 257-0010 (Leave a message and we will reply within a week.)
[email protected]

Stepping Up    

It’s an historic day for Egypt and for the world. But…when Egypt’s President Mubarak ‘stepped down’…we have to wonder who will be ‘stepping up.’ Of course, we’re hoping to see all segments of the Egyptian population to ‘step up’ equally, but this is not likely. It’s not likely, because many will not have equal choice to ‘step up’…and it’s not likely, because many will not see it’s their responsibility to ‘step up.’ There is a great uncertainty today, even in the midst of jubilant celebrations. In Egypt…as in our own troubled political environment…it’s uncertain if more everyday citizens will ‘step up’ as active participants to make our political culture more responsive, more inclusive and more resilient…so, in the end, it is also sustainable. Today…we can all celebrate in these fresh opportunities for the Egyptian people. Tomorrow…it’ll be time to ‘step up’ as participatory government moves from being a dream to being a reality.

These next remarks emerge from the confluence of thoughts about the events of the day, and my two previous blog entries. When a leader ‘steps down’…when a government topples…when government services are ended…a vacuum is created. Others must then continue to ‘step up’ until that vacuum is filled to the point of at least a temporary equilibrium. History is made up of many inter-connected stories of vacuums and equilibriums in power and politics. Unfortunately, most of these stories are dominated by those who already have great power…so a bad situation is replaced by another bad situation. But…in some of these stories, a few unsuspecting people emerge with new ideas that inspire many others…and a momentum of choice leads to a new equilibrium with some completely new structures. When change is afoot…and the best possible outcome is desired…it’s time to have open minds in many conversations at many different levels of society. (more…)

Group Decision Tip: Resentments Have Roots in Expectations    

Group Decision Tip iconIn principle, when we have expectations of others that don’t pan out it often leads to resentment which often brews discontent which often causes conflict. I have heard someone say that expectations are planned resentments.

The surest way to avoid resentment is to not have expectations. When I fall into a victim role it’s helpful to remember that I am rarely a victim of others and often I am a victim of my own expectations.

Practical Tip: As a participant in group decisions, I try hard not to develop false expectations. I expect from people only that they have specifically agreed to, and even then I keep in mind that most people are not capable of doing all that they agree to.

I focus on the good things that my group and the people in it have done, and what they could do, rather than what they should do according to my expectations.


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 in this format with proper credit to Craig Freshley.

The ‘Right-size’ of Government    

All government programs have a basis in human need and community sustainability. From deep within us, the better part of our humanity calls us to care about our neighbors’ well-being so the social fabric that sustains us and enriches us does not tear irreparably. Through years of dilemmas and solutions, an evolving governmental layering has institutionalized our systemic concerns into departments and agencies with huge responsibilities and budgets. It was inevitable that one day we would have to take a closer look at our values and priorities, concerning the reach and depth of governmental obligations. But now…massive budget cuts at all levels of government are making some really gut-wrenching choices essential. Human needs don’t go away just because a government program is cut. Some human problems demand public solutions.

The empathy and compassion of people is astounding! When a family member or neighbor is suffering, ordinary people find the strength, courage and resources to help. As a pastor, I’ve seen amazing acts of kindness and heroic sacrifices for others who find themselves in difficult times. When I was working with natural disaster survivors, I was impressed by their concern and generosity for their neighbors…many times recognizing that the other family’s needs were more critical than their own. Here is the basis for government programs…everyday people do care. Communities have been meeting the human needs of their neighbors for longer than history books can report. (more…)

The Conversational Commons    

The phrase “the commons” refers to domains and resources that belong to or affect the whole of a community.  The “conversational commons” then embraces everything that supports or makes possible the enjoyable and productive conversations of a community — notably including the health and productivity of professions that specialize in serving quality conversation, e.g., conveners and facilitators, mediators and negotiators, diplomats and public engagement professionals, and so on.

A legitimate and important function of professional organizations like the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD), the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), and the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) is (and could be more) the development of the conversational commons — the whole field of activities and resources within which these professionals do their work in service to their communities.

Elements of the conversational commons worthy of our attention include things like the following:

  • Conversational standards, values, and guidelines, such as the Core Principles of Public Engagement
  • Conversational methodologies being known, available and productively used
  • Conversational data, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom — research, databases, know-how, and clear articulations of deep dynamics
  • Capacity for conversation — at the grassroots level, in and among groups and organizations, in officials and leaders, and in communities and societies as a whole
  • Widespread recognition of the value and uses of conversation, including a culture that values it and demands quality dialogue and deliberation wherever it is needed
  • Funding for quality conversations and for research on the subject
  • Cultural qualities that support healthy expressiveness, including respect, listening, emotionality, rationality, and the arts
  • Media that honor, model, encourage, and empower quality conversation, from talk shows to chat rooms to social media to detailed reporting on citizen deliberations and community conversations
  • Conversational traditions, rituals, and institutions — particularly those that improve social capital (especially across cultural divides) and those that shape public decision-making
  • Enough competent people filling necessary conversational “helper roles” like facilitator, mediator, host, etc.
  • Language and other media for exploring shared meaning — and the ability to translate among media or realms of meaning
  • Opportunity times and spaces for conversation — from architectural nooks and free community spaces, to cafes and conferences; from listening booths and online forums to citizen deliberations and stakeholder dialogues; and all the rest…

How often should we be reflecting on questions like these:

  • To what extent are those of us in the conversational professions focused on our own professional development and networking, and to what extent are we focused on working together to create, nurture, and develop the larger social context within which we are all working?
  • To what extent are we seeking funding for our own projects, compared to working together to help major players in the field of philanthropy realize the opportunities and leverage provided by funding conversational efforts?
  • To what extent are we spreading our knowledge at the grassroots so that more and more ordinary citizens know conversational basics and rationales and therefore demand quality conversation in their communities, their work places, and their political lives?
  • How might we invest more time, care, attention, and resources in the development of our conversational commons?
  • What difference would a healthy and expanding conversational commons make in our lives and in the world we live in?

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Seeking Input for the Deliberative Democracy Workshop Today    

NCDD’s director, Sandy Heierbacher, is in Sydney, Australia taking part in a meeting with other leaders in the deliberative democracy community and is seeking input from all of NCDD on the project proposals being introduced…

NCDD's DirectorHello from Sydney, everyone!

Our group of top practitioners, academics and network leaders in deliberative democracy is inviting YOUR input on which of  the proposals that have been emerging here should go forwarded for seed funding.

I’d love to see lots of NCDDers voting on these proposals at .

Don’t wait, though. We’ll be prioritizing these proposals tomorrow morning Sydney time, so  you’ll have until 6pm Eastern time (3pm Pacific) on Friday to get your votes in.  Your input will be used during the decision-making process.  We expect most of these proposals to go forward, but more popular proposals are likely to receive larger amounts of seed funding ($100,000 is available for this).

You can also comment at or by using the Twitter hashtag #delibworkshop

A bit more about the meeting, which I’ve blogged about previously…

This innovative gathering has brought top deliberative democracy practitioners and academics from around the world to Sydney, Australia, to develop projects that move the research agenda forward.  Dr. Lyn Carson of the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy at the University of Western Sydney is the driving force behind the meeting, which is supported by the university and by Australia’s Newdemocracy Foundation. The PrioritySpend voting process was developed by Ron Lubensky.  The meeting design is based on the Deliberative Democracy Consortium’s three “R&P” (research and practice) meetings.


Update from Matt Leighninger: Results of the #delibworkshop voting are now up at Thank you to everyone who took part!

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