Home Press Releases & Statements Major Research, Journalism and Public Engagement Initiative to Focus on Common Ground Solutions During Election Season

Major Research, Journalism and Public Engagement Initiative to Focus on Common Ground Solutions During Election Season

November 13, 2019

First phase of Public Agenda/USA Today’s Election-Year Hidden Common Ground Initiative™ to explore America’s collaborative divide and how it can be bridged


New York City – A self-defeating narrative is taking hold in America of a people who are so profoundly divided that we cannot possibly understand each other, let alone find common ground and work together to achieve common ends. This narrative of a hopelessly divided nation impedes progress on public problems by obscuring areas of genuine agreement across partisan and other lines, a problem that Public Agenda, USA Today and other partners aim to address through our Hidden Common Ground 2020 Initiative.

Between now and Election Day 2020, “HCG” will focus on key election-year issues, including health care, immigration and economic opportunity. For each, Public Agenda will conduct research into the public’s views and values, and USA Today will report on the results and conduct a robust and creative program of editorial commentary.

The first issue we will tackle is Divisiveness and Collaboration in America, which will be kicked off by a research report released in early December.

“Through this first phase of Hidden Common Ground 2020 research, we will explore the ways in which divisiveness, especially political divisiveness, undermines the ability of Americans to talk and work together to address pressing problems,” said Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda. “We want to learn how people experience and think about this issue, how it manifests in their lives and communities, and what they think we ought to do to bridge our ‘collaborative divides.’”

Several new, exciting partners have joined the initiative, including:

  • The National Issues Forum Institute (NIFI) will develop nonpartisan guides on HCG issues that anyone can use, and support solutions-oriented dialogue in communities and on college campuses across the country as well as online.
  • Vote.Org, which will place a voter registration “widget” on all the Initiative’s digital products and platforms to encourage and enable wider participation in the upcoming election.

The Hidden Common Ground project is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundationthe Charles Koch Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. It is also a major research project of the Kettering Foundation.

We anticipate additional project partners and funders to join the Initiative in the coming months, making it an even more powerful vehicle for helping the nation recognize and leverage its common ground even in these contentious times.

Hidden Common Ground 2020: Divisiveness and Collaboration in America will be released Dec. 2.


About Public Agenda

Public Agenda is a nonpartisan research and public engagement organization dedicated to a healthy, just, and effective democracy. We support informed citizens, engaged communities, and responsive public institutions. We also elevate diverse voices, build common ground and foster progress on issues of concern to the American. These include K-12 education, higher education, healthcare, economic opportunity, and democracy. Find Public Agenda online at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at @PublicAgenda.


Founded in 1982, USA TODAY reflects the pulse of the nation, serving as host of the American conversation by delivering high-quality, engaging content through unique visual storytelling across all platforms. A media innovator, USA TODAY reaches nearly 100 million unique visitors each month across digital platforms, with more than 125 million downloads of our award-winning app. USA TODAY also remains the nation’s number one newspaper and is owned by Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE: GCI).

About National Issues Forum Institute

Based in Dayton, Ohio, the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves to promote public deliberation about difficult public issues. Its activities include publishing the issue guides and other materials used by local forum groups, encouraging collaboration among forum sponsors, and sharing information about current activities in the network.

About The Kettering Foundation

The Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Established in 1927 by inventor Charles F. Kettering, the foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that does not make grants but engages in joint research with others. The interpretations and conclusions in this publication represent the views of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation, its directors, or its officers. More information may be found at

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. The Foundation invests in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Its goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which the Foundation believes are essential for a healthy democracy.

About The Charles Koch Foundation

The Charles Koch Foundation supports research, educational programs, and civil discourse to advance an understanding of how people can best live together in peace and prosperity. The Foundation provides grants to support a wide range of inquiry on issues including criminal justice and policing reform, free speech and open inquiry, foreign policy, economic opportunity, and those addressed through its Courageous Collaborations initiative among others.

About The Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Founded in 1940, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund advances social change that contributes to a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world. The RBF’s grantmaking is organized around three themes: Democratic Practice, Peacebuilding, and Sustainable Development. Through its grantmaking, the Fund supports efforts to expand knowledge, clarify values and critical choices, nurture creative expression, and shape public policy.

A Note on The Hidden Common Ground Initiative

The HCG initiative was first launched by Public Agenda in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation in 2018 to explore our nation’s potential for a healthier, more collaborative civic life through in-depth research, communications and public engagement. The aim of the initiative is, first and foremost, to challenge the narrative of a hopelessly divided America by identifying and elevating solutions to tough public issues on which Americans agree across partisan and other divides. In addition, it identifies areas where the public is close to agreement that could be strengthened, and areas where there is significant disagreement that the nation needs to learn to navigate and work through. In 2018, Public Agenda published two HCG reports: Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Incarceration and Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Health Care. This latest phase of our HCG work, in partnership with USA Today and the National Issues Forums, will concentrate on research, innovative journalism and broad-based public engagement on 2020 election year issues.


Vania André, or (212) 686-6610 ext. 127