Public Agenda is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and public engagement organization headquartered in New York City. We strive to strengthen democracy and expand opportunity for all Americans.
Public Agenda began to take shape in 1975 when social scientist and public opinion research pioneer Daniel Yankelovich and public official and statesman Cyrus Vance decided to do something about a fundamental problem they thought was endangering our democracy: the growing disconnect between governing elites and the general public.
Such disconnects lead to the damaging result that the public’s agenda, the issues people care about most, go unaddressed by their leaders and representatives, or else are addressed in ways that people don’t like and won’t support. And the result of that? People feel unheard and undermined, which describes pretty well our situation today.
Our Unique Contributions
Public Agenda doesn’t claim to offer all the answers to the fundamental challenges facing our democracy, but we do provide powerful and crucial contributions. These stem from:
- our deep understanding, based on decades of research, of how the public comes to terms with complex issues and the things that help them do so;
- our deep understanding, based on decades of experience, of how people engage with their communities in problem solving and the things that help them do so.
- our hard-won reputation for high-quality, nonpartisan, fair-minded work.
We draw on this unique body of knowledge to:
- provide leaders with rich insight into the public’s thinking on important issues, with an emphasis on current and potential common ground on solutions;
- help citizens become more informed and thoughtful as they vote, advocate, volunteer or otherwise work for progress; and,
- support communities, cities and states in developing richer opportunities and pathways for civic engagement and problem solving.
We sum it all up like this:
At Public Agenda, we believe that a strong democracy requires informed citizens, engaged communities, productive public conversations, and policies that reflect the public’s concerns and values. Through nonpartisan research and public engagement, we work to make these essentials a reality while fostering progress on the issues people care about most, particularly those essential to expanding opportunity for all Americans.
Examples of Our Work Through the Years
Historical examples include:
- In 1983, we published “Putting the Work Ethic to Work,” summarized by The New York Times as follows: “Most American workers want to do high-quality work, but their desire to do this is seriously undermined by management practices, according to a three-year study.”
- In 1985, we launched “School Vote,” a public engagement campaign in Philadelphia involving over 100,000 people, which Secretary of Education William Bennett called “an extraordinarily successful way of crossing the barrier between citizens and government.”
- With the publication of such reports as First Things First (1994), Assignment Incomplete (1995) and Kids These Days (1997, included in that year’s Congressional Quarterly Historic Documents), we became an influential force in the nation’s education debates. On the strength of that research, we were asked to prepare special reports for the National Education Summits of 1996, 1998 and 1999.
- The 90s also saw important studies on public attitudes on health care and criminal justice reform, noteworthy for their innovative methodologies that examined how public attitudes changed as people learned and deliberated about diverse solutions.
- In 1997, now-president Will Friedman founded our public engagement department. Early work included the Connecticut Community Conversations Project, involving over 100 communities and tens of thousands of participants, and leading to new school policies and civic initiatives that increased student success; as well as statewide engagement campaigns in Nebraska that helped shape fair, effective, sustainable state policies.
More recently, we have:
- Built a large and varied portfolio on higher education, through which we have worked with national initiatives and in 25 states to improve the prospects of millions of students.
- Developed a robust stream of work on health care cost and quality that elevates the needs of patients and communities and is informing public policy.
- Conducted ground-breaking research that is informing the growth of “participatory budgeting,” among the most important recent innovations in local democracy.
- Supported innovative approaches to sustained public engagement in communities, cities and states on education, health care and environmental resilience.
- Launched a multi-year tracking study, the Yankelovich Democracy Monitor, to explore Americans’ evolving views on solutions to the problems facing our democracy.
- Launched the Hidden Common Ground Initiative™ to challenge the narrative of a hopelessly divided America and better define where Americans agree and disagree on solutions and how best to bridge and navigate the divides.