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Will powerful conversations solve state and local budget crises?    

What would happen if professional organizers and facilitators of dialogue and deliberation decisively and publicly demonstrated their capacity to help cities and states solve their biggest problem — collapsing budgets — and then broadly promoted that fact?

What’s the crisis?  States, cities and towns across the United States are collapsing under mountains of debt.  The mortgage crisis crashed property taxes, the primary source of revenue for cities.  Cities are cutting off services from education to police to road repair. Comparable crises are hitting state governments, some of whom are selling off public properties, utilities and service institutions, resulting in a major privatization of the commons.  Some states and cities are contemplating bankruptcy, thereby scaring off bond investors.  See these articles for fascinating and troubling information on all this.

Advocates and practitioners of processes like Study Circles, Future Search, Dynamic Facilitation, Open Space Technology, and many other approaches have proclaimed the power of whole-system conversations, citizen engagement and stakeholder dialogues to solve the problems of communities.  Shouldn’t the power of such conversations be seriously considered by every legislature and administration? Shouldn’t the dialogue-and-deliberation approach be in the news as much as problematic solutions like staff layoffs, union-busting, bankruptcy, and increasing elementary school classroom size to 60 students?

The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, the International Association for Public Participation, the International Association of Facilitators, and the many networks of practitioners would clearly benefit from greater demand for powerful facilitated conversations. Clearly, the budget crisis is an opportunity of epic proportions.  But how might it be engaged? (more…)

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!

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?

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…)

Higher ed’s role in civic engagement - do you have a suggestion for U.S. Dept of Ed?    

I’m heading down to DC for a small meeting of civic leaders at the Department of Education run by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).  We’ll be helping advice the U.S. Department of Education on how to increase higher education’s leadership in promoting civic learning and democratic engagement.  Very exciting!

If this topic interests you, be sure to look over the articles in the recent Journal for Public Deliberation issue on deliberative democracy and higher ed posted at — especially Nancy Thomas’ article Why It Is Imperative To Strengthen American Democracy Through Study, Dialogue and Change In Higher Education.

If you’re doing some exciting work in the higher ed realm that you don’t think the leaders of organizations like AAC&U, National Council for the Social Studies, Campus Compact, Everyday Democracy, etc. are aware of, feel free to send me an email ([email protected]) or facebook message about what you’re doing and why you think it’s relevant for an action plan for federal policy for a stronger role in democratic engagement for colleges and universities.

Two articles on dialogue and civic involvement in USA Today    

Thanks to Bill Potapchuk for alerting the NCDD listserv about this tonight!

Community involvement important across demographic lines

By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY, December 8, 2010

This article (and video) in USA Today features our friends at the National League of Cities, Connecting with the Community in Longmont, CO, and Portsmouth Listens in Portsmouth, N.H.

Citizen involvement helps build sense of community

By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY, December 8, 2010

This article mentions Portsmouth Listens as well, talks about participatory budgeting and mentions the Knight Foundation’s “Soul of the Community” study.  Here’s an excerpt:

In Portsmouth, N.H., the 12-year-old Portsmouth Listens program involves citizens in key decisions  relocating or renovating a historic middle school  by forming “study circles” that have attracted hundreds of residents in the city of about 20,000.

“In a public hearing, people get up and they speak for three minutes, they have their say, but there’s not a lot of interaction between them and City Council,” says Jim Noucas, 58, a lawyer and co-chair of Portsmouth Listens. “Here, they work together three to four weeks at a time and then give recommendations. It’s important for citizens to share responsibility not only for what they want but what’s good for everybody.”

Does the White House need a democracy strategy?    

Will the Obama Administration develop a democracy reform strategy that employs the democratic principles evident in the 2008 campaign? “We were so focused on getting things done that we forgot to change how we get things done,” said the president after the 2010 midterms. “A Vital Moment,” my white paper for the Bertelsmann Foundation, describes the muddled state of the Administration’s thinking about citizenship, and suggests some potential directions for the democracy reform movement.

‘Build a Great Community…Together’…But How?    

It’s not enough to just survive! That’s why this simple mission statement for communities is so powerful…and why it can become a pervasive public engagement effort in many places across the country: ‘Build a great community…together’ (BAGCT). It’s a bold statement…open-ended enough to be meaningful in many unique settings, yet action-oriented and totally inclusive. BAGCT can be the focus of projects by city and county governments, non-profit coalitions, dialogue and deliberation practitioners, community organizers, religious organizations, foundations and ad hoc neighborhood organizations. Let’s decide first that we will actively shape our circumstances…rather than passively let our circumstances shape us.

Click on the “more” link to read this full post by new NCDD blogger Craig Paterson. (more…)

Yes, Public Engagement Works!    

The following post is from brand new NCDD blogger Craig Paterson of the California National Issues Forums Network…

No one wants to waste time, energy or enthusiasm. So…when it comes to inviting people to get engaged in a public conversation about one of our important issues, there is a normal and healthy skepticism. The problem we in the public engagement and deliberation community have is this: we haven’t prepared an answer to this most logical question. How can we know public engagement and deliberation works? This is one of our most troublesome barriers in gathering people for community conversations. Yes, public engagement works…but to see this you have to look in the right place.

This topic came up again during a workshop at the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, OH. “It’s difficult to document the effectiveness of deliberation.” As a result of a serendipity blending of learning events recently, my immediate response was “I don’t believe it is difficult…you just need to look local, rather than national.”

By the very nature of National Issues Forums (NIF), they’ve focused on thorny, systemic dilemmas that have consequences across the country. Data on deliberation on these issues then has been gathered without regard to locally unique conditions…after all, these topics most times were seen to require federal legislation for resolution to be found. But local NIF practitioners soon found this deliberative methodology to be applicable in their own communities, counties and sometimes states. In these situations, NIF-style deliberation proved itself to be visibly effective. (more…)

IJP2 folded into JPD    

More big news from IAP2…

IAP2′s International Journal for Public Participation (IJP2) has “joined” the DDC’s Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD).

The post “IAP2 Joins Journal of Public Deliberation” is online at Carson is the essay editor and the main contacts (co-editors) for the JPD are David Procter and Timothy Steffensmeier of Kansas State University’s Institute for Civic Discousrse and Democracy. Carson, David and Timothy are all NCDD members, so you can click on their names to learn more about them in the NCDD members network.

Journal seeks submissions on special issue on intergroup dialogue    

Ximena Zúñiga sent this announcement to the NCDD Discussion list today…

I wanted to remind you about our special themed issue for Equity & Excellence Education: Intergroup Dialogue: Engaging Difference, Social  Identities, and Social Justice.

SUBMISSIONS ARE DUE NOVEMBER 1ST. You can find the call for submissions pasted below.

We are looking to reach a wide audience.  I would appreciate you forwarding this call to to colleagues who may be interested, and relevant list-serves and networks.

- Ximena Zúñiga (Gretchen Lopez and Kristie Ford) (more…)

Kansas State Univ’s ICDD adopts Journal for Public Deliberation    

In an article released today, Journal for Public Deliberation editor Ted Becker announced that he is leaving the post of Coordinating Editor of the Journal, which will now be housed at Kansas State University’s Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy (ICDD). The new editors of the 7-year journal (both NCDD members) are Drs. Tim Steffensmeier and David Procter of Kansas State University. They are both professors, administrators and authors in the Communications Studies Department at KSU and they will serve as the new Coordinating Editors.

The article also talks about plans to JPD to put more of an emphasis on the teaching of public deliberation in various fields in higher education. Read Ted’s full article, titled An Innovation for JPD and a Transition: The Profession and a Confession of an Editor at

What Does It Take to Have a Civil Conversation These Days?    

I wanted to share this great article posted on the Huffington Post this afternoon. The article is by Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Founder of America Speaks (an organizational member of NCDD).  Check it out at HuffPo, or read on…

What Does It Take to Have a Civil Conversation These Days?

Carolyn Lukensmeyer, July 23, 2010

On Tuesday, America Speaks will release a report on the results of our June 26 National Town Meeting on the nation’s fiscal future. The report will provide additional insight into what a diverse group of 3,500 Americans had to say when they sat down with one another for seven hours to talk about the federal budget.

Above and beyond the conclusions reached by people in the national discussion, what really stands out to me is the tone and quality of what took place.

Based on watching the news these days, it would be safe to predict that fights would break out if you sat thousands of people together from across the political spectrum and asked them to talk about sensitive political questions. Instead, we saw that people had the courage to sit down with one another and really listen to each other. There was plenty of disagreement, but the disagreements tended to be civil and respectful.

MaryEllen, a participant from Albuquerque, wrote:

It was so refreshing to have civil discourse among people of different ages, persuasions, and backgrounds. Congress could learn a lot from our experience. The tone of our discussions was polite, respectful, and everyone contributed. (more…)

NCDD resources are back online (all 2,392 of them!)    

I wanted to let everyone know that the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation’s resource database is back up and running (yay!) at (on the NCDD site, you can click on “resources” at the top of any page to get to the Resource Center).

The Resource Center describes and categorizes close to 2,400 resources — including many dialogue guides, D&D methods, online tools, case studies, videos, higher ed programs, articles, NCDD publications, and more.  It’s up on the new site (we’re transitioning from to so you can see the new, simpler, cleaner site design while you’re at it.

One of our summer interns, Allyson Gasdaska, has been updating the Resource Center with resources we announced on the NCDD blog while our old Learning Exchange was down.  She and our other summer intern, Cait Kershner, will be doing all kinds of other work in the Resource Center, but we could really use some volunteer help as well.  We need to check all existing resources, updating broken links and adding appropriate categories and tags.  And we need to add new resources that came out during the hiatus.  Let me know if you’re interested in helping out with this project!

Also, when you look over the main page of the Resource Center, you’ll see that the right sidebar includes some things to help you find and navigate resources:

  • A list of Meta-Resources (like our helpful Glossary and beginner’s pages)
  • Advanced Search, which allows you to look for resources in specific categories and tags (search for your name and make sure YOUR work is listed!)
  • Categories, which show how many resources we have in each (54 journals & newsletters, for ex)
  • Newest Resources (most recently added)
  • Tag Cloud (which will be more and more useful as we add tags to more of the resources)

Please check out the Resource Center and let me know what you think (and whether you’d like to help update and add resources).  And feel free to add the RSS feed, which is, to your RSS readers, facebook walls, linkedin accounts, etc!

Whose Voice Matters Most?    

NCDD member Jeffrey Abelson gave us permission to share his article here on the NCDD blog.  It was featured on the Huffingting Post here, and on Jeffrey’s Song of a Citizen blog. On the NCDD Discussion list, we’ve been discussing the heck out of the recent AmericaSpeaks national discussion on the federal debt (and the surrounding controversy), but we haven’t posted much to the blog about it.  Jeffrey’s article is a good summary and a good example of how people in our field can respond…

All serious citizens claim to revere Thomas Jefferson. It might be worth noting how deeply rooted were his convictions and faith in the people’s ability to govern themselves. A faith justified by what he saw in the common sense of the common man, and a faith in the power of reason to regulate human affairs.

Cut to June 2010, and the odd outburst of anti-self-governance sentiment by some of America’s popular thinkers on the left — each trying to outdo the next in excoriating AmericaSpeaks, and the national town meeting they recently held. Since that event (like all citizen deliberation events) was the kind of grass roots democracy-building exercise that one would expect to be trumpeted from the heights of liberalism, one must ask: What’s going on here?

On the surface, the criticism was directed at perceived bias in the study guides prepared for the event (though also sprinkled with baseless assertions about AmericaSpeaks as an organization) — charges nicely rebutted by Harvard’s Archon Fung. But beneath the surface, there seems to lurk a sense that The People can’t be trusted to think for themselves about the priorities of our national budget, or the direction of our country. And I fear that view is not limited to critics of AmericaSpeaks, but is shared by many on the left. (more…)

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