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.
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.
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."
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.
Cities tend to favor building stadiums and convention centers over investing in education or human services. It's an understandable but troublesome trend.
They're doing what they can on this challenging issue, but they think it's a problem Washington and state governments should solve.
Thursday, March 31st, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo
Photo: Chris Goldberg | Flickr
Increasing the inventory of housing for lower- and middle-income residents is one very important approach for addressing housing costs in New York and other cities across the country. But such efforts alone will not alleviate the housing affordability problem fully. Nor are they likely to ease the immense anxiety many feel as they ponder, can I afford to live here?
We must expand the conversation on affordable housing and explore additional solutions and approaches that support affordable cities for residents of all incomes. Next Monday, we plan to do just that, during Bold Solutions to Housing Affordability, a free event open to the public.
Our discussion, moderated by WNYC's Brian Lehrer, will include New York City's Commissioner for Housing Preservation and Development Vicki Been, NYU's Steven Pedigo, Director of Creative Cities & Civic Innovation, and New York Community Trust's Patricia Swann, senior program officer for community development.
This event kicks off an effort to better understand: what are the approaches to housing affordability that New York residents are willing to support? While our discussion will be hosted in New York City and focus on solutions for the metro area, like Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plan, we will examine other approaches to housing affordability that have been tried and implemented around the world. We will also explore how issues like transportation, social mobility and opportunity affect housing affordability.
Tuesday, March 29th, 2016 | Tiffani Williams
Too often, our conversation about gender equity fails to consider the ways in which college-level practices can end up reinforcing gaps and inequalities that persist well into women’s working lives. To boost gender equity in workforce representation and compensation, we need a deeper understanding of the ways colleges create and reproduce barriers to equal labor market opportunities.
Historically, women have been underrepresented in education and the workforce for a majority of the last century. However, current trends indicate that trend is shifting.
Women enroll in college, graduate and pursue advanced degrees at higher rates than men. For example, between 2002 and 2012, college enrollment grew from 16.6 million to over 20 million. Much of this growth is attributed to an increasing number of women enrolling in college. The ratio of college graduates that are women versus those that are men is 3 to 2. And when considering women ages 25-34, studies find that women are over 20 percent more likely to complete a college degree and 48 percent more likely to have completed graduate school than men.
Do these numbers tell the entire story of gender equality? Probably not. Labor market outcomes post-graduation reveal interesting differences between men and women and even suggest that large gender gaps still exist.
Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 | Will Friedman, Ph.D.
The presidential primaries have a way of putting the extremes at the center. As the candidates mobilize the small number of partisan donors and activists who determine their fate, the political discourse polarizes even more than usual and leaves behind what little common ground and pragmatism remain in our national politics.
This is, in part, the natural outcome of the problematic design of our electoral system. It is also symptomatic of many troubling trends that are dividing the nation and undermining our ability to solve problems. These include:
- The growing gap between leaders and the public: Public trust in government and many other societal institutions remain near historic lows.
- Increasing partisan polarization in our national politics: Moderates of either party in Congress have disappeared, partisan rhetoric has hardened, and populist movements on the left and right are rising.
- Growing inequality and the hollowing out of the economic middle: Our post-industrial economy is splitting into a small sector of high-wage knowledge occupations and a large one of low-wage and insecure service jobs, as the middle class disappears and inequality deepens.
- The fracture of the news media: This makes it all too easy to reinforce our own views and avoid hearing from those who disagree.
- The stubborn cleavages of racial discrimination, discord and violence: Racism, the most ancient of American failures, continues to challenge each generation.
Monday, March 21st, 2016 | David Schleifer, Ph.D.
Experts have a lot to say about measuring quality in health care. But what qualities matter most to patients like you and me?
What do you think makes for a high-quality doctor? When asked this question, most Americans say they focus on doctor-patient relationships and doctors’ personality, according to a 2014 nationally representative survey from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
But do people think differently about quality when they're faced with a potentially more serious situation such as joint replacement, diabetes or childbirth? People facing such situations may be interested in personality and relationships. However, they may also want to choose doctors and hospitals who are “the best.” But the best at what exactly? And according to whom?
We've seen a lot of progress on ratings systems that measure and communicate the quality of care that doctors and hospitals provide. Organizations like the Leapfrog Group, for example, have for many years reported on hospital quality and safety. They have found that a person on Medicare has a one in four chance of experiencing injury, harm or death when admitted to a hospital.
Several other non-profit organizations, private companies and state governments also now publicly rate the quality of hospitals and physician groups. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently released core quality measures for treatment in seven areas of health care. These measures are designed to improve consumer decision-making and facilitate value-based payment, among other goals.
03.18 Engaging Ideas - 3/18
Friday, March 18th, 2016 | Public Agenda
Every week we curate recent stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.
Ronald Barba writes: President Barack Obama made his inaugural appearance at this year’s SXSW to discuss the importance of utilizing today’s digital tools and technological advancements to greatly improve and support civic engagement. Sitting with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune, the President talked over many topics, including the increasing role of government in streamlining the process for aspiring entrepreneurs, how a private-public partnership between The White House and Silicon Valley is helping to solve our nation’s problems, and even touched upon the civil liberties issues surrounding Apple’s privacy case. More relevant to our election season, though, President Obama called for a better process to engage citizens in the electoral process.
Mediating Political Gridlock (WNYC)
Being a political mediator is no easy gig. Just ask seasoned mediator, Mark Gerzon, president of Mediators Foundation and the author of The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide. He's advised a number of groups, political actors, and corporations on bipartisanship. Listen as Gerzon mediates a conversation between a guns rights enthusiast and an anti-guns skeptic.
The Power of Convening for Social Impact (Standford Social Innovation Review)
Bringing people together in an environment that encourages and facilitates idea exchange is one of the most powerful communications strategies for driving change.
Thursday, March 17th, 2016 | Chloe Rinehart
Photo: Costa Constantinides.
Next week, tens of thousands of New York City residents across 28 neighborhoods will have a voice in improving their community. Starting Saturday, March 26th, residents will go to the voting booths for the city's fifth year of participatory budgeting (PB), a process by which community members have direct decision-making power over local budget decisions.
Voting week is the culmination of many months of hard work, time and collaboration from community volunteers, city and district staff, and community-based organizations. Residents gather at a series of community meetings to present, listen to and collect ideas. Volunteers and city agency staff develop and vet projects. Finally, volunteers design and draft concrete project proposals.
During voting week, NYC residents who live or work in a PB-participating community can choose their preferred projects at a number of different voting stations located throughout their area, including libraries, schools, their council member’s offices and even beer gardens. Residents might also come across a “pop-up” voting table on a busy street corner.
Each voting location has ballots that describe the PB projects proposed for that particular community, with a brief description and cost for each project. Ballots are translated into languages other than English that are typically spoken in the community.
Many NYC residents are eligible to cast their PB vote even if they would not be eligible to vote in municipal elections. Residents as young as 16 (and in some cases 14), residents who were formerly incarcerated, and residents who lack citizenship status are all welcome and encouraged to participate in the vote.
How Research Helped Expand PB in NYC
As we have written previously, PB has expanded exponentially in the U.S. and Canada the past few years. New York City has driven much of that growth, where PB has expanded from 4 participating communities to 28 in 5 years.
The growth and expansion of PB in NYC has not happened in a silo. Research and evaluation led by Alexa Kasdan and Erin Markman of the Community Development Project (CDP) at the Urban Justice Center has played an integral role in development and expansion of PB in NYC.
Tuesday, March 15th, 2016 | Alison Kadlec, Ph.D.
Few issues enjoy the same widespread bipartisan agreement that higher education does, even amidst the unparalleled polarization we are seeing in this year's election season. Regardless of party affiliation or ideological orientation, a vast majority of leaders in this country agree that we need a more educated population and significantly more people with high-quality postsecondary credentials.
Despite the encouraging (and probably short-lived) cross-partisan agreement among policymakers of every stripe, conversations on college campuses—where the real work must be done—are rife with hostile, polarizing and often ideological rhetoric.
03.10 Engaging Ideas - 3/10
Thursday, March 10th, 2016 | Public Agenda
A collection of recent stories and reports that sparked consideration on ways to make progress on divisive issues.
Mark Funkhouser writes: Those who want greater turnout in elections, more successful women and minority candidates, less gerrymandering, less ideological extremism and more pragmatic policymaking have a ready tool: Take the electoral machinery back from the private organizations that have given us the broken system of governance we have now.
The End of American Idealism (The New York Times)
Charles Blow writes: There is palpable discontent in this country among those who feel left out and left behind in the bounty of America’s prosperity. How long can the center hold? How long can the illusion be sustained? How long before we start to call this the post-American idealism era?
The Risk I Will Not Take (Bloomberg View)
Michael Bloomberg writes: “We cannot “make America great again” by turning our backs on the values that made us the world’s greatest nation in the first place. I love our country too much to play a role in electing a candidate who would weaken our unity and darken our future -- and so I will not enter the race for president of the United States. However, nor will I stay silent about the threat that partisan extremism poses to our nation. I am not ready to endorse any candidate, but I will continue urging all voters to reject divisive appeals and demanding that candidates offer intelligent, specific and realistic ideas for bridging divides, solving problems, and giving us the honest and capable government we deserve.”
What's the Answer to Political Polarization in the U.S.? (The Atlantic)
From partisan gerrymandering to exclusionary party primaries, a breakdown of the factors behind our polarized politics, and common proposals to fix it in a Jeopardy-style Q&A.