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10.18 Deliberative Democracy and Change Management

Thursday, October 18th, 2012 | Will Friedman, Ph.D. and Alison Kadlec

Every two years, during the conference for the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, practitioners, researchers and advocates of participatory problem solving gather to share new ideas, explore challenges, and learn from each other, all to improve our practice and efforts in our respective fields. At this year's conference, in Seattle on October 12th through the 14th, we had the pleasure of presenting some of Public Agenda's ideas-in-progress to a large and lively group.

During our session, “Deliberative Democracy and Change Management,” we explored the intersection of these two domains. Both deliberative democracy and change management are designed to help people more thoughtfully navigate complex conditions—solving problems and negotiating change—and forge a better path forward.

We believe that each field has something to offer to and learn from the other. Our purpose in the NCDD session was to explore these possibilities and articulate how our work is being enriched by an investigation of the intersections and divergences between the two fields.

At the most basic level, deliberation is what should occur before a decision has been made and change management is what needs to occur after. This formula, however, only scratches the surface of how the two fields can enrich each other, and as yet there is a dearth of shared knowledge between them.

Deliberative democracy posits that anyone directly affected by an issue—be it, for example, patients, when it comes to health care cost control, or community residents, when it comes to transportation needs—deserves high-quality and meaningful opportunities to learn about and participate in charting a course forward on the issues that affect them. In practice, this work involves people talking together in authentic dialogue and deliberation, usually with facilitators and nonpartisan materials. When done well, deliberative democracy produces better and more sustainable solutions to our most difficult shared problems.

But even well-conceived decisions, derived from authentic dialogue and deliberation, do not implement themselves magically. Deliberation by itself doesn’t result in a map that tells us how to get from making a decision to taking action on that decision. This is where change management, along with the related offshoots of implementation science and improvement science, offer insights and practices that we find exciting and useful.


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10.04 Creating a Better Conversation About the American Dream

Thursday, October 4th, 2012 | Megan Rose Donovan

Candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spoke a lot during the first presidential debate about opportunity, the middle class and dreams. There has been quite a bit of talk this election season about these themes and about the American Dream specifically—who wants it? Whose responsibility is it to help citizens attain it? We, along with the GALEWiLL Center for Opportunity & Progress, have been exploring the public's thinking on the American Dream over the past year, and some of what we found may surprise you.

While campaign rhetoric and media reports often center on a divided electorate, we found a strong consensus of opinion-- across gender, income, race and political lines—on what is "absolutely essential" in achieving the American Dream.

Regardless of political affiliation, the vast majority of our 2000 respondents said that a strong work ethic, values, and a good education were the top three factors contributing to people's ability to achieve the American Dream:


  • Almost 9 in 10 respondents say that a strong work ethic is "absolutely essential" to achieving the Dream (86 percent of Democrats say this; 91 percent of Republicans).
  • Eighty percent identify parents or other adults who teach honesty, responsibility and persistence as "absolutely essential." (83 percent of Democrats say this; 85 percent of Republicans).
  • Seventy-seven percent identify good schools and teachers that ensure that every child has a fair chance to get a good education as "absolutely essential." (89 percent of Democrats say this; 68 percent of Republicans).


On Monday, during an event at the National Press Club, Public Agenda President Will Friedman and Director of Research Carolin Hagelskamp, along with GALEWiLL Center Executive Director Bob McKinnon, presented the survey, which is part of The Invisible Dream: Creating a New Conversation about the American Dream and What It Takes to Achieve It. Following the presentation, a panel moderated by Juan Williams at the National Press Club dug deeper into the results. The panelists included Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post and Hedrick Smith, author of Who Stole the American Dream?

While Americans seem to agree on the foundation of the American Dream, it seems as though questions we've seen raised during the campaign—questions over the role of government and the quality of our nation's work ethic—also seem to extend into the American electorate. The findings suggest a stark divide in opinion on the level of government support for those pursuing their idea of the American Dream.


  • Forty-two percent of respondents agreed that "achieving the Dream is mainly something people do for themselves—what government and communities do doesn't matter."
  • Thirty-nine percent agreed with the statement "it's crucial for the government and communities to take steps so every child has a fair chance at the American Dream."
  • Nineteen percent said neither statement reflected their views.


During the panel, Sawhill reconciled the public’s divided view of government assistance in pursuit of the American Dream by eliminating an either/or solution. “You need both. You need to work hard and you need to have values, but we don't live in a Horatio Alger society. Having a helping hand from the government should be part of the equation as well," she said.


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09.05 Health Care Reform: Weighing our Choices

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012 | Megan Rose Donovan

We still have many difficult challenges to face when it comes to health care in this country, and a new, nonpartisan resource from Public Agenda helps citizens rise to the challenge.

The U.S. spent nearly 20 percent of its GDP on health care last year, almost twice the amount spent by 30+ other countries, even as instances throughout the country have illustrated that higher costs do not necessarily translate into better quality. Even after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is fully enacted, up to 30 million individuals will still be without coverage.

These questions of cost, accessibility and quality make the American health care system an incredibly complex problem with no easy solution. Meanwhile, neither presidential candidate has acknowledged the tradeoffs inherent in his health care reform plan.

"Health Care: A Citizens' Solutions Guide," provides voters with a firm understanding of the tradeoffs in order to create a more rational dialogue about health care reform. The guide helps citizens confront the reality of the situation, overcome wishful thinking, and thoughtfully choose the candidate that best reflects their values.

The release of this new voter guide includes an accompanying infographic, which you can download and print here.

It's clear that we still have a lot of hard decisions to make when it comes to fixing our nation's health care system:


  • Employer contributions to health care have doubled in the last decade.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans reported serious financial problems due to family medical bills in 2010.
  • Medicare enrollment will balloon from 47 million to 85 million in the next 25 years.


Going far beyond typical voter guides, "Health Care: A Citizens' Solutions Guide" not only helps citizens navigate the complex issues underlying our confusing health care system, it also carefully analyzes three legitimate policy approaches, along with arguments for and against each. This evenhanded analysis empowers voters to carefully weigh the consequences they're willing to accept and approach Election Day having properly examined our health care options.

Are you concerned about the nation’s health care future? We invite you to take some time to absorb a few aspects of the issue in the infographic to the left and share it with others. Let us know what you think. Join the conversation and tweet us at @PublicAgenda.

Download the PDF Version of the Infographic

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08.30 Shaping Our Future: A National Dialogue on the Future of Higher Education

Thursday, August 30th, 2012 | Allison Rizzolo

There's no question that the U.S. is at a crossroads when it comes to the future of higher education, and we've written about, studied and visualized the challenges many times already. Overcoming these challenges could help strengthen our nation's democracy, contributing to America's culture, economy and civic participation.

But to determine the best way to tackle these challenges—overwhelming student debt, poor completion rates, threats to our leadership in science and technology, dismal civic education—we can't restrict the conversation to just leaders in education, politics and business. Everyday citizens—students, faculty, community members and others, including you—have a lot of important input. And it’s crucial for all of us to consider the choices and trade-offs we face in creating the kind of higher education system we want.

To this end, a new initiative from National Issues Forums and the American Commonwealth Partnership aims to bring citizens to the table to discuss how higher education can help us create the society we want.

"Shaping Our Future," launching next week, is a year-long national dialogue on the future of higher education. The initiative, which grew out of an earlier examination about the role of education in democracy, aims to give more Americans the chance to consider the challenges and choices we face in higher education, as well as the distinctive role they play in helping the country advance economically and socially.

The initiative kicks at 9 a.m. ET on September 4th, with a discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, featuring, among others:


  • Martha Kanter, U.S. Under Secretary of Education;
  • Muriel Howard, President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities;
  • Bernie Ronan, chair, The Democracy Commitment;
  • Kaylesh Ramu, president, Student Government Association, University of Maryland Baltimore County.


The discussion will be livestreamed, and you can watch it here.

Following the launch, in hundreds of communities around the nation, students, faculty and other citizens will come together over the following year to weigh different approaches to our higher education problems and seek common ground for action. Carleton College, Florida A & M, Franklin Pierce, Morehouse College, San Diego State University and the University of California at San Diego, Spelman College, The Citadel, and the University of New Mexico are just a few of the institutions that will be hosting these conversations.

The forums will explore questions such as how higher education can best work to ensure a highly skilled workforce to maintain the nation’s economic strength and competitiveness; promote equity by providing opportunities for all Americans; strengthen values such as responsibility, integrity, and respect for others; and develop skills to seek common ground or work through differences in a civil manner.

A citizen’s discussion guide, video discussion starter, moderator’s guide and other materials can be downloaded free of charge at the National Issues Forums website. Anyone interested in convening a forum should contact NIF president Bill Muse at bmuse@nifi.org or Harry Boyte, the national coordinator for ACP at boyte001@umn.edu.

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07.20 #EDFIX: Amplifying Teacher Voice on Education Reform

Friday, July 20th, 2012 | Allison Rizzolo

Far too often, even the most well-intentioned education policies fall short due to a lack of consideration for the views of teachers. Last Thursday, a new platform launched to help amplify teacher voice in education reform. #EdFix, a Twitter-hosted chat, aims to provide a space for teachers to talk about how they can help fix the education system and play a role in addressing the many sticky issues involved in doing so.

Public Agenda has worked to bring teachers (and lots of other stakeholders) to the table on K-12 education issues for decades. Our most recent effort, Everyone at the Table, a collaboration with American Institutes for Research, houses free resources designed specifically to engage teachers on teacher evaluation.

The absence of teacher voice is especially acute in evaluation reform, and we have seen the fall-out in districts across the country, where top-down evaluation plans have faltered due to unrealistic expectations or elements that are ineffectual or even controversial.

In our effort to get teachers to the table on evaluation reform, the kick-off chat for #EdFix focused on the issue. Darren Burris, Boston-based teacher and facilitator for the chat, asked the participating teacher Tweeters to share what worked in their particular evaluation plans and what didn’t, as well as what they wanted to be evaluated on and who they thought should do the evaluation.


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07.19 Are We Ready To Face Our Energy Choices? (Infographic)

Thursday, July 19th, 2012 | Megan Rose Donovan

World energy demand is projected to jump nearly 40% over the next 20 years. How will we meet the need?

Americans know the energy situation is serious, but a gap in understanding our energy options has created a challenge in decision-making. In 2009, a Public Agenda survey found nearly 4 in 10 Americans could not name a fossil fuel and nearly half could not name a renewable energy source.

Regardless of what we know or don’t know, Americans are anxious about our energy situation. Recent public opinion research suggests that about 90 percent are worried about gas prices and half think the U.S. will face a critical energy shortage in the next 5 years.

The good news is that the public doesn’t need to become experts on the matter in order to make informed decisions, though it is important to understand and weigh the tradeoffs.

Public Agenda has released “Energy: A Citizens’ Solutions Guide” to serve as an unbiased resource on the choices we must make in order to build effective energy policies. It provides essential facts about energy with generous consideration for three complex and intertwined elements: cost, energy security and environmental impact.

Are you concerned about the nation’s energy future? Are you ready to make your decision? We invite you to take some time to absorb a few aspects of the issue in the infographic to the left and share it with others.

Let us know what you think. Join the conversation and tweet us at @PublicAgenda.

Download the PDF Version of the Infographic

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07.05 Confronting the Challenges on Health Care

Thursday, July 5th, 2012 | Allison Rizzolo

Whatever side of the health care debate you're on, whether you agree with last week's Supreme Court ruling or not, and for whatever reason, it's hard to argue that our nation's status quo on health care was acceptable, either fiscally or socially. While the Affordable Care Act has been ruled constitutional, it remains unclear whether it will be able to successfully address the numerous challenges that our health care system still faces—challenges of cost, access and quality.

We can't let the Supreme Court ruling cloud the fact that we as a nation still need to have important conversations and make important decisions about health care. As Robert Frank recently opined in the Times, now that we’re on the other side of the court case, there is still a great deal of work to do as health care policy continues to “evolve.”

Among all of the ebbs and flows of the health care debate, and as the issue becomes more and more politicized in the media and within the Beltway, it's more urgent than ever that we have a real national dialogue about the values that we think our health care policies should reflect and how, practically speaking, we are going to make the system effective and sustainable.

How do we lower the cost of health care to our nation's citizens while simultaneously increasing access and assuring the quality of that care for all? That’s a hard circle to square, and we’ll have to negotiate many choices along the way. What tradeoffs will we need to confront and accept as we make those choices? Certainly there will be many as we seek to improve the system within the context of an aging population, a changing landscape of work and employment, unsustainable inflation of healthcare costs and unprecedented fiscal challenges.

Each election season, Public Agenda seeks to provide citizens with nonpartisan resources to help them examine the pros, cons and tradeoffs regarding the solutions to our nation's most pressing problems. We are currently hard at work putting together a Citizens' Solutions Guide on health care in time for this election cycle. It will be ready in mid-August, but until then, check out 2008's health care guide. Let us know: what would help you better understand where the candidates stand on health care and make the judgments you need to make as you head to the polls?

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06.28 From PDF 2012: The Internet as a Space to Transcend the Left/Right Divide

Thursday, June 28th, 2012 | Allison Rizzolo

Photo credit: Esty Stein for Personal Democracy Forum. Creative Commons License w/Attribution, Share-AlikeDuring the recent debate around the SOPA and PIPA legislation, the Internet became a topic that both left and right rallied around, united in their shared cause to defeat the legislation. It was a highly unusual, especially in these polarized times, degree of agreement between the two often contentious sides, and led many to wonder about the broader question: Whatever one’s views on SOPA and PIPA, can the Internet itself, not as a topic but as a vibrant democratic space with a level playing field, create a lasting coalition between Republicans and Democrats? Or, at the very least, can it provide us with an arena that allows us to break out of a dichotomous mode of thinking in our politics?

Exploring the intersection of technology and the Internet with democracy and citizenship is central to the mission of Personal Democracy Media. During 2012's Personal Democracy Forum, the organization's annual conference, which took place this year in New York City in early June, leaders from fields including technology, digital media and strategy, journalism, and civic and public engagement convened to explore the power of the Internet in democratic decision making.

Many times in our work we've seen effective engagement help people break through deeply held ideological divisions to find common ground on shared values. The Internet is clearly playing an increasingly central role in politics, citizen engagement and the democratic process in general, but can it also become a facilitation space where the right and left can find common ground and coalesce?

During a breakout discussion session called "The Future of the Left-Right Internet Coalition," conference panelists delved into this question with optimism, regarding the Internet as a sort of sandbox where thoughtful deliberation and innovation can happen and where we can better engage people who typically have low levels of political participation.

"The Internet is a blessing to small-d democratic processes," said David Segal, a former Democratic legislator in Rhode Island and a central figure, with co-panelist Patrick Ruffini, in the fight against SOPA and PIPA.

Ruffini, a Republican, echoed the sentiment of his ally in the anti-PIPA movement, saying that the Internet provides a place where problems can be solved in collaborative and innovative ways, outside of the political system, because that system, as it exists, is ill-equipped for this sort of problem solving.

The Internet provides new opportunities for citizens to collaborate in the democratic decision-making process, and we have explored such opportunities in the past. But the Internet certainly changes fast—what are your favorite ways to incorporate digital technology and the Internet in collaborative decision making? Tweet us with your thoughts and ideas at @PublicAgenda, with the hashtag #techengage. Let's explore together how technology and engagement can intersect to improve our nation's political process.

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06.27 The Completion Crisis: What Students Have to Say (Infographic)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012 | Allison Rizzolo

We've all heard and read the stats: Only 4 in 10 young Americans earn a higher education credential by the time they are 35. Add to that our unsustainable student debt situation, and higher education in this country just looks bleaker and bleaker.

In the last month alone, headlines from The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Atlantic have highlighted our nation's higher education crisis.

These same articles also sought out the view of students, citing Public Agenda's seminal 2009 report, "With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them," which remains a rare source illuminating students' attitudes on higher education.

Among the statistics these articles cite:


  • Half of college dropouts said work was a major factor in their decision. (Public Agenda, 2009)
  • Just about three out of every ten dropouts left with student loans. (Public Agenda, 2009)

But students don't just talk about the problem; they offer solutions - and we should listen to what they have to say.

Public Agenda has spoken to many of our nation's young adults, both those who graduated (we call them completers) and those who either didn't attend or failed to complete (non-completers), about what would help them overcome barriers to completion. We compiled their voices in an infographic, to start a conversation about solutions to our nation's higher education challenges.

What do you think about what students have to say? Can we incorporate the voice of every stakeholder to end the college completion crisis? Join the conversation: tweet us at @PublicAgenda with your thoughts.

If you would like a printable version of this infographic, you can download a PDF of it here.

View the Infographic

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06.21 Real Discussions with Real People: A Conversation about Job Creation

Thursday, June 21st, 2012 | Allison Rizzolo

During the economic downturn, 450,000 residents of the New York / New Jersey / Connecticut region lost their jobs. While that's a lot of people out of work, we were still better off than most of the nation. As a region, what strengths can we leverage and how can we collaborate - as citizens, business leaders, students or community members - to support job creation in the tri-state area? And what choices, challenges and tradeoffs will we have to weigh in doing so?

Last month, during "The Jobs Crisis: From Arguments to Solutions," Public Agenda gathered with a group of local stakeholders - from entrepreneurs to retirees, from college presidents to students - to weigh in on our region's priorities and discuss how we can best collaborate and invest our resources to create jobs.

We were also joined by a pair of experts - Chris Jones from the Regional Plan Association, an expert in regional job creation, and Public Agenda's Jean Johnson, an expert on what the jobs crisis means to the public and the author of Where Did the Jobs Go?

While we weren't intending to solve the region's job problem in the space of an hour and a half, we hoped to help participants elaborate on their own thinking. Our public engagement team facilitated table dialogues on one facet of the situation: how to prioritize investments in both human and physical infrastructure - education, transportation, child care and housing - as it relates to job creation.

All of the evening's participants agreed that education - both K-12 and higher ed - was the most important investment that the region can and must make: If you don't have an educated workforce, everything else falls apart, was one table's takeaway. Participants also considered all four choices as both important and interconnected and recognized that the concern of how to pay for this investment looms large. All in all, participants viewed their investment prioritization with a good deal of nuance, and the event provided a means for authentic deliberation around an important issue, instead of just an artificial debate.

We hope, through events such as this one, we can open up the conversation around critical yet divisive issues to embrace a broader level of thinking that transcends a politically polarized and unproductive debate. If you are in the New York region and interested in participating in an event like this in the future, let us know!

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