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04.28 With Dialogue, People's Opinions Can Change and Do Stick

Thursday, April 28th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo




Photo: Olivia Chow via Flickr.

I have a distinct memory of listening to the This American Life segment, "Do Ask, Do Tell." I was cleaning my kitchen, nodding along to the story of how a group of canvassers and researchers found that a simple 20-minute conversation could change someone’s mind about controversial issues like gay marriage and abortion.

In our work, we've often seen how dialogue between people with different perspectives and life experiences often leads to a shift in thinking. It was exciting to hear this phenomenon broadcast on an immensely popular national platform.

I ran over to my computer as soon as the segment was finished and emailed my colleagues, telling them to listen to the episode.

If you followed the story, you know that shortly after the segment aired the study was found to have been falsified.


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04.19 A Lesson in Community Engagement from Austin, Texas

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo




In Austin, Texas, residents are grappling with increasing development. Photo: Ed Schipul via Flickr.

At Public Agenda, we like to practice what we preach. So last week, I attended a neighborhood association meeting in Austin, Texas, where I'm visiting.

The community where I'm staying while I'm here is facing the impending development of property that abuts many neighborhood houses. This development has dominated neighborhood association meeting agendas for the past year. At last week's meeting, community residents had the opportunity to engage with local environmental officials on their questions and concerns.

Community members seem to generally support the idea of the development. They welcome new retail, restaurants and housing to the area. At the same time, they are rightfully worried about the impact the development will have on their property and the neighborhood. In particular, the neighborhood, situated along a creek, struggles with flooding and drainage issues. The traffic is also already something of a nightmare around here, and residents are concerned about the volume of cars that will be added to the road once the development is built.

Last week's meeting showcased many effective principles of public engagement. At the same time, there were a few ways in which the local association could improve their engagement processes, especially when it comes to inclusivity.

I'll start with the pros:


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04.15 Tax Reform: It's Complicated, but Many Americans Want to See Washington Try

Friday, April 15th, 2016 | Chloe Rinehart




Photo: Reynermedia via Flickr.

If you listen to the media or to candidate talking points, you may be under the impression that Americans hate taxes.

It's true that an anti-tax movement has taken root in the past few years, though this movement seems largely peripheral.

Still, the movement makes for a good media story and is supported by unscientific polling data. These polls purport to show how much Americans hate being taxed. Yet in reality, they really just show how much respondents like the IRS when compared with leading presidential candidates, the Pope or Kanye West.

Politicians seem to have largely bought in to this narrative. Republicans propose tax cuts and promise no new taxes. Democrats often propose only slight income tax hikes on wealthier citizens, and have kept many of the Bush-era tax cuts in place.

The result is that the country misses out on an honest, grounded reckoning about how much public money we ought to collect and how we want to spend it. And the public's true voice on the issue is at best ignored and at worst coaxed to extremes.

So, how do Americans really feel about taxes– about how much they pay, about where their tax money goes, about the tax code and about proposed reforms?


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04.15 Engaging Ideas - 4/15

Friday, April 15th, 2016 | Public Agenda





Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


Democracy

Column: How to Fix Politics (The New York Times)

David Brooks writes: Starting just after World War II, America’s community/membership mind-set gave way to an individualistic/autonomy mind-set. The idea was that individuals should be liberated to live as they chose, so long as they didn’t interfere with the rights of others. By 1981, the pollster Daniel Yankelovich noticed the effects: “Throughout most of this century Americans believed that self-denial made sense, sacrificing made sense, obeying the rules made sense, subordinating oneself to the institution made sense. But now doubts have set in, and Americans now believe that the old giving/getting compact needlessly restricts the individual while advancing the power of large institutions … who use the power to enhance their own interests at the expense of the public.”

Opinion: Bipartisanship Isn’t for Wimps, After All (The New York Times)

Arthur C. Brooks writes: There is a Polarization Industrial Complex in American media today, which profits handsomely from the continuing climate of bitterness. Not surprisingly, polarization in the House and Senate is at its highest since the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s.


Engagement

Interactive: Mapping How the Public Gains Information (Democracy Fund)

Understanding the role of local news and public engagement requires a systems-thinking lens that takes into consideration not only the strength of individual news outlets, but also the influence of the local economy, demographics, technological infrastructure, and the policy environment — as well as the agency of citizens to find, interpret, and share the information needed for civic involvement. The Local News & Participation systems map is an open-source tool that welcomes engagement by researchers, media companies, government and nonprofit agencies, funders, and others. Through user involvement, we expect this map to be made more accurate, complete, and practical as a vehicle for improving how the public gains access to information and participates in democracy. We invite you to explore the map and its elements in Kumu. As you do, we hope you will tell us how to better describe and illuminate the dynamics of the Local News & Participation system. Throughout 2016, we will hold webinars and work sessions to involve new perspectives and strengthen this map.

Solutions journalism increases optimism, builds self-efficacy -- and lasts longer, too (Medium)

In the experiment, a sample of 834 U.S. adults saw one of two online news articles, both reporting on the struggles of the working poor. The articles were nearly identical in length and reading level, had the same headline, and contained the same photograph. The only difference between the two was that one version focused on the working poor’s hardships, while the other reported on the hardships and how some organizations were coming to the aid of the working poor. In other words, one version was about a problem, while the other also included information about solutions to the problem.


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04.14 Fixing Politics by Strengthening Networks for Engagement

Thursday, April 14th, 2016 | Matt Leighninger




David Brooks argues that strong community networks are essential for successful politics. Photo: Ryan Johnson via Flickr

As David Brooks pointed out in his column on “How to Fix Politics,” our political system has reached a perilous state of dysfunction and distrust, and it is unlikely that any solutions to this crisis will come from the political parties or their presidential candidates.

Brooks is also right that the partisanship and incivility that plague our politics are not just due to poor manners or bad process skills. They are based in much deeper structural flaws in how leaders and communities engage each other around important issues and resulting strains in the relationship between citizens and government.

Brooks argues that strong community networks are essential for successful politics, and uses a 1981 quote from one of our founders, Daniel Yankelovich, to illustrate how long the weakening of those networks has been going on. “If we’re going to salvage our politics,” Brooks says, we’ll have to “nurture the thick local membership web that politics rests within.”

This kind of argument is often dismissed as a sentimental notion, or a lament over our lack of civic virtue, but it shouldn’t be. There are specific proposals and measures that can accomplish it.

Strengthening networks for engagement should be one of our top public priorities, and there are in fact a number of concrete ways to move forward on it. Much of our work at Public Agenda centers on these challenges, and we are part of a field of other organizations and leaders – from neighborhood organizers to innovative public officials – who have pioneered more productive formats and structures for democratic politics.

There are two kinds of communication that need to be happening for those networks to strengthen and grow. One kind, as Brooks references, is “thick” engagement that is intensive, informed and deliberative. In these kinds of settings, people are able to share their experiences, learn more about public problems, consider a range of solutions or policy options and decide how they want to act.


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04.12 Americans Don't Associate Price with Quality in Health Care

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo



Does your insurance company provide a website or other resource for you to look up health care prices? If so, they're part of a growing trend. More and more government agencies, insurance companies and nonprofit organizations have developed tools to help patients navigate the complicated and often opaque health care price system.

As these resources proliferate, some health care experts worry that, if patients assume price is associated with quality, they'll avoid low-price care. After all, it's only reasonable to believe that price and quality are related. Yet while health care prices vary widely throughout the country, there is no evidence that higher prices are associated with higher quality or better health outcomes.

A new analysis of our 2015 survey data on price transparency provides good news for those troubled experts: most Americans do not associate the price of health care with the quality of that care. The analysis, conducted by Public Agenda's David Schleifer and Carolin Hagelskamp together with Kathryn Phillips of the University of California, San Francisco, was published in the April issue of Health Affairs, a top health policy journal.

In the analysis, we found that a majority of Americans (ranging from 58-71 percent depending on how the questions were framed) do not think health care cost and quality are associated. Fewer than one-quarter (21-24 percent) perceive an association, while 8-16 percent are unsure.


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04.08 Engaging Ideas - 4/8

Friday, April 8th, 2016 | Public Agenda





Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


Democracy

2 political scientists have found a key reason Republicans and Democrats see politics so differently (Vox)

Republicans' distrust of the mainstream media creates an asymmetry in how the parties approach the media. Democrats rely on the mainstream media both to get out their message and to cover events. Republicans generally distrust mainstream outlets and so have set up a parallel ecosystem to get their message out. The result is Republicans rely on a media that is more likely to echo their partisan biases, and Democrats rely on media that does not pick a side and at least claims to be objective and empirical (whether or not it lives up to that promise).


Engagement

No, Wait, Short Conversations Really Can Reduce Prejudice (The Atlantic)

A new study redeems a remarkably successful canvassing approach that was rocked by scientific fraud last year.


K-12 Education

The Testing Bill of Rights (Politico's Morning Education Newsletter)

The Center for American Progress and other groups unveiled a "Testing Bill of Rights" late last month with the goal of collecting 10,000 signatures in a month, but Wednesday CAP announced that it has already collected 11,000 signatures - a third of which stem from New York state, where the opt-out movement is prevalent. The bill of rights is meant to find a middle ground on the issue, denouncing over-testing but advocating that high-quality tests are important for improving instruction and measuring student learning. See the bill here.

Iowa Academic Chief Plays Dual Role (EdWeek)

Jaclyn Zubrzycki writes: In this 1,500-student district between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, there's typically little delay when someone has an idea about how technology might help improve academics. That's because the district's chief academic officer and chief technology officer are one and the same. And that person is Townsley.


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04.07 Bold Solutions to Housing Affordability in NYC

Thursday, April 7th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo



Public Agenda is kicking off new work to elevate the public's voice in housing policy


From left to right: Patricia Swann of The New York Community Trust; WNYC Radio Host, Brian Lehrer; Public Agenda President, Will Friedman; NYC Commissioner for Housing Preservation and Development, Vicki Been; and New York University's Steven Pedigo.

If you live in New York, it's easy to believe the sky is falling when it comes to housing costs. You're not alone: 80 percent of New Yorkers say the high cost of housing is a serious problem in the region.

Still, cities across the world look to New York as they struggle with their own housing needs. As the city's Commissioner for Housing Preservation and Development Vicki Been noted this week, she's received "many requests" for information about Mayor de Blasio's ten-year affordable housing plan from cities looking to meet their affordable housing challenges.

Been spoke at a panel discussion Monday evening on solutions to housing affordability in New York, hosted by Public Agenda and moderated by Brian Lehrer. The panel also included New York Community Trust's Patricia Swann and New York University's Steven Pedigo.

While other cities may look to Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plan for inspiration, Been noted that New York is falling far behind on its housing supply compared to cities of similar density. This shortage, together with other variables that increase housing costs in the city, threatens to erode what the panelists agreed makes New York so great: its intermingling of different types of people. "Economically diverse neighborhoods are healthier neighborhoods," said Been.


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04.05 Building Democratic Skills for City Leaders Through Lessons Learned Post-Katrina

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016 | Nicole Hewitt



City managers have a unique power to shape the future of their municipalities. They are responsible not only for day-to-day administrative operations of their cities, but also for engaging their citizens. In many situations, they essentially run their cities, even more so than the mayor. As cities face opportunities or challenges that drive them to reinvent or rebuild, city managers are crucial liaisons for engaging the public in these efforts.

In February, I delivered a workshop on Democratic Skills for Public Leaders to a group of 50 city and county managers. The workshop was the opening session of the Association for Pennsylvania Municipal Management's Executive Development Conference in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania. We tailored the workshop to the specific needs of city managers, focusing on tools and techniques they can employ to strengthen the participation infrastructure in their cities.

It can be daunting for a city leader to choose the most effective platform to reach their constituents. City leaders have a vast range of civic engagement tools at their disposal, including phone calls, newsletters, email, town hall meetings, social media and many others.

Many participants were incorporating both technological and face-to-face tools to engage their constituents. During the workshop, I focused on how they could most effectively coordinate and combine face-to-face engagement with civic technology as they design engagement processes for their communities.

We first discussed successful cases where innovators used both face-to-face and technological tools to engage citizens, including Portsmouth Listens and Participatory Budgeting. After, the group broke into small groups to design a comprehensive engagement strategy using a combination of engagement methods. To make the exercise feel more real and grounded, we used an exercise based on past engagement work in the U.S. Gulf Coast.


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04.01 Engaging Ideas - 4/1

Friday, April 1st, 2016 | Public Agenda





Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


Democracy

Uninformed Voters Are a Problem. This May Be a Solution. (Governing)

A new award-winning website from two Chicago women aims to better educate voters about downballot races, which people often know little (if anything) about.

Do We Actually Want Higher Youth Voter Turnout? (Stanford Social Innovation Review)

Young people can be more engaged in politics, but major institutions must actually want that to happen. Abby Kiesa and Peter Levine write: "We found that about one quarter of high school teachers of civics and government were leery of teaching about the election in 2012 because they feared backlash from local adults. Better preparation for future teachers and professional development for current teachers would help allay their concerns, and, in turn, help them allay public fears."

What I Learned When an Angry Mob Destroyed My Public Meeting (Metroquest)

When things go wrong in public engagement, they can go spectacularly wrong. The result isn’t just frustration for project leaders. It can spell costly delays, failed or overturned planning efforts, or the loss of public support for politicians and government agencies. Introducing the Fiasco Files – a lighthearted opportunity to look back on those times when things went sideways.


Restoring Opportunity

Should Economic Development Focus on People or Places? (Governing)

Cities tend to favor building stadiums and convention centers over investing in education or human services. It's an understandable but troublesome trend.

How America’s Mayors Are Taking the Lead on Income Inequality (Governing)

They're doing what they can on this challenging issue, but they think it's a problem Washington and state governments should solve.


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