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Widespread errors hinder Obama’s open gov initiative    

NCDD member Cindy Gibson sent me this fascinating article from this afternoon, and I thought those of you following Open Gov would be interested… (more…)

Group Decision Tip: A Way to Talk    

Group Decision Tip iconIn principle, in order for people to avoid conflict there has to be a way for them to talk. When in tension with someone else in my group, rather than talk with them directly, it is easiest to assume a superior position and take steps to prove my righteousness. It is also relatively easy to propose changes to the system in which we both operate: new rules, new policies, new ways of doing things that I think will make the tension go away. But both of these approaches create conflict and/or burden for my group.

Sometimes the barrier to direct communication is of a mechanical nature such as language or physical proximity or connection. But most often the barrier is our own fear about having a hard conversation. We don’t trust ourselves to say the right things or react the right ways. We are afraid that in a one-on-one setting we will lose the battle we are trying to win.

Practical Tip: Don’t view tensions as battles to be won or lost but rather as shared problems to be solved in shared ways. Before doing anything else, seek first to find a way to talk with those who are part of the problem.

If there are mechanical barriers to talking, work to fix them. In today’s world, going to war because one party can’t physically communicate with another is no excuse. If there are personal emotional barriers in the way, work to fix them. You are part of the problem; have a talk with yourself. Creating conflict or requiring your group to consider systemic changes because of your own emotional issues is selfish and inefficient.

And if someone else proposes a way to talk with you about a shared problem, accept the opportunity. Always talk first. Find a way.


Group Decision Tips are written by Craig Freshley. At his website you can access a complete archive of all previously published Tips, comment and view comments of others. Free distribution of Group Decision Tips for non-commercial purposes is encouraged with proper credit to Craig Freshley. Providing Group Decision Tips™ to others for commercial purposes and/or for any type of compensation is strictly prohibited.

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…)

Contribute to a national conversation on economic security    

The following was posted on the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) website here, but I know they would like to see many people from the broader dialogue and deliberation community get involved!

Read about taking part in an NIF national conversation about Economic Security:

The Kettering Foundation, in partnership with the National Issues Forums Institute, is seeking innovative ways to communicate the results of forums to policy makers.  Those of you who convene and moderate forums recognize how valuable they can be to participants and see them as a welcome antidote to polarized political talk. The public thinking that emerges from forums can provide valuable insights to policy makers about the kinds of things the public is ready to act on, and where the public might need further thinking. We also recognize that the results of forums might be more useful to state policy makers if they are analyzed regionally.

This year, we are promoting a national conversation on Economic Security, with national, state and local implications. Five, regional coordinators are working to encourage forums, analyze the results, and share their insights with each region and with Washington, D.C. policy makers at events in the spring, 2011. They are focusing on how ready the public is to act on various aspects of this issue. The Guide to Forums and the Questionnaire are both intended to encourage moderators and participants to emphasize a strong focus on the tensions the public wrestles with, and the tensions where the public has decided. We believe this information is vital to policy makers and to local action.

We need your help. We hope you will:

  • Hold many forums
  • Send in questionnaires promptly
  • Include your zip code and state on the questionnaires (must be received by March 31, 2011)
  • Complete and submit a moderator report along with questionnaires
  • Talk with the regional coordinator (more…)

Rich discussion on best practices for virtual meetings in NCDD LinkedIn group    

Have you joined NCDD’s LinkedIn group yet?  The group has about 800 members, and it’s a great way to stay updated on what’s happening in the field and connect with new people who work in dialogue and deliberation.  We’ve had some rich discussions there as well, like the one on “Groundrules necessary to make the best of virtual meetings” initiated by Martin Pearson about a month ago.

Martin wrote that he was starting to use Skype more for meetings, and asked group members if they have created specific ground rules for their own virtual meetings (like asking people to not to browse the internet while participating in the meeting).  The conversation morphed into a rich discussion on best practices for virtual meetings, with over 30 comments shared.

Group member Geoffrey Morton-Haworth took the time to summarize this excellent conversation, and posted the summary on his site here (you can also download a PDF of the summary).  Definitely worth checking out!

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 [email protected], 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.

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:

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…)

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?

“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…)

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.

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