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09.21 An Amazing Learning Environment for Students and a Great Workplace for Educators

Thursday, September 21st, 2017 | Chloe Rinehart

I was lucky enough to go to a private school for kindergarten through eighth grade, where the educational philosophy was grounded in community, cooperation and collaboration.

When my school was established in the 1970s in Virginia, the founders literally named it the “new” school, because its model challenged the status quo of the educational system at the time. Instead of structuring the administration as top down, with decision-making power concentrated in the hands of the principal, this school envisioned one where teachers, together with parents, shared in decision making.

Instead of teachers working alone in their classrooms, largely isolated from their colleagues, this school envisioned teachers collaborating closely on curriculum, school policies and procedures, and coordinating classroom schedules to allow space for students who were learning about different subjects at varying levels.

What resulted was, in my opinion, an amazing learning environment for students and a great workplace for teachers, many of whom stayed on to work there for a decade or more.

This collaborative structure was “new” back then, but still today, we find ourselves in an educational landscape where K-12 education is largely dominated by the individualistic model. Even while other sectors are valuing and incorporating collaboration more frequently into their work and operations, we don’t see this type of collaboration happening in our schools very often.

However, there is indication that the K-12 system might increasingly consider reforms in this area. A growing body of research shows that when teachers work more collaboratively, student outcomes can improve, teachers can be more satisfied in their jobs and teacher turnover can decrease.

Public Agenda, in partnership with the Spencer Foundation, is supporting this development in K-12 education through the second installment of our In Perspective web resource series. Like our first on charter schools, our Teacher Collaboration site offers materials that can not only lead to a better-informed conversation on an important education issue, but can result in significant and scalable change.

The Guide to Research on teacher collaboration provides a nonpartisan, nonideological and easily digestible summary of key research on teacher collaboration, including studies that are typically accessible only to academics. The Discussion Guide can help teachers and education leaders make decisions on how to work more collaboratively in their own schools and districts. Critical Questions for Superintendents and School Board Members allows for leaders at the school and district level to examine their own teacher collaboration efforts.

Pursuing policies and encouraging dialogues that allow for increased collaboration among teachers, and between educators and school leadership, are alone not going to solve the problems facing our education system. Indeed, key questions about collaboration remain unanswered. But teachers, leaders and school districts can benefit from an environment that allows for greater collaboration, which is ultimately a win for students too.

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09.15 Engaging Ideas - 9/15/2017

Friday, September 15th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


'Amnesty' fight threatens pursuit of immigration deal (The Hill)
A path to citizenship for “Dreamers” is emerging as the biggest sticking point in the negotiations over an immigration bill, one day after President Trump and Democratic leaders seemed close to a deal.

Why now is such a strange era in American political history (Vox)
The juxtaposition of broadly competitive national elections plus broadly non-competitive state elections is really unusual. And really dangerous.


Statistics reveals new, more precise insight into upward mobility between generations (
As political rhetoric containing promises of education, social opportunities and other development for disadvantaged people continues to fill the airwaves, economics researchers have developed state-of-the-art statistical methods that uncover the impact of different aspects of upward mobility (or lack thereof), aside from parental income.

This is what happens when Americans are told about rising inequality (Washington Post)
The sharp growth in economic inequality — and its visibility as an issue in both the 2012 and 2016 American political campaigns — has led to an important debate about how to respond.


Boosting Civic Trust (And Democracy) With A Location-Based Mapping Platform (Forbes)
Local governments need a lot of solid data about their citizens' concerns to make good decisions. For example,  if you're a municipality--or anyone considering, say, a development project--it's kind of important to know how residents living in the affected neighborhoods feel about your plans.

What’s New in Civic Tech: SF Mayor Encourages Cities Nationwide to Apply for Expanded Startup in Residence Program (Government Technology)
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee took to the blogosphere this week with some advice for city governments across the country: Apply for the Startup in Residence (STiR) program, which embeds fledgling technology companies in municipal agencies to help bridge the gap between public service and the private sector.

K-12 Education

Certification rules and tests are keeping would-be teachers of color out of America’s classrooms. Here’s how. (Chalkbeat)
Becoming a certified teacher in America usually means navigating a maze of university classes and certification tests — and paying for them.The goal is a high-quality teaching force, and an array of powerful advocates have been pushing to “raise the bar” further. But the rules likely come with a hefty cost: a less diverse profession.

Where Ed Tech Works — and Fails (Real Clear Education)
Thousands of dollars spent outfitting a classroom with laptops might not improve student grades, while a simple series of text messages could inspire a student to attend college.

Higher Ed/Workforce

Half of US millennials would give up right vote to wipe out their student loans (The Independent)
Half of all millennials in the US would give up their right to vote in order to get rid of their student loan, new research has found.

College textbooks are going the way of Netflix (Quartz)
The new software benefits professors by tracking how far students read, how long they spend on each page, how well they absorb the material—so rather than handing out syllabi to tell students what to read or skim in various books, professors can tweak the software to only include topics of crucial interest.

Health Care

Achieving transparency in healthcare (Modern Healthcare)
Pressure is mounting to make healthcare prices available to patients, but there are significant hurdles to doing so.

I’m the perfect person to price shop for an operation. But the process went terribly (STAT)
Encouraging patients to price shop for their health care is one reason employers are switching to high-deductible plans. The theory is that patients will compare prices across different doctors or hospitals and choose the lower-priced one, thereby saving themselves (and their employer) money. But in order to shop, you need to be able to see what something costs beforehand.

Good Data, Better Value-Based Care Can Boost Population Health (RevCycle Intelligence)
Timely data is key to reducing the costs of a hospital’s most expensive high-risk patients, while value-based contracts sustain the population health management efforts.


09.14 Remembering Dan Yankelovich

Thursday, September 14th, 2017 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Dan Yankelovich, co-founder of Public Agenda, has passed after almost 93 years. His life brimmed with intellectual adventure, real-world accomplishment and service to the nation. A great American, he never stopped working for a better democracy and his seminal contributions mark a way forward beyond the wayward path on which we now find ourselves as a nation.

I have known Dan for almost 25 years and he meant a tremendous amount to me, as he has to all the Public Agenda veterans who had the opportunity to get to know him. I've never met anyone with such penetrating insights into the big problems and patterns of the times and who was so generative of pragmatic and wise ideas and solutions.

A classic example of Dan’s mind at work was his trenchant response to Robert McNamara’s belief that he could quantify success in Vietnam through body counts. Dan dissected this thinking as only he could. “The first step,” he wrote, “is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes.” Then he goes on:

The second step is to disregard that which can't be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily really isn't important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide.

Will Friedman, Daniel Yankelovich, Cyrus Vance Jr.

His many seminal insights have enlightened us on the difference between raw public opinion and wiser public judgment; the stages people go through to achieve the latter; the factors that help or hinder them in doing so; and what all of this means for democracy, public policy, social change, research and leadership.

When visiting him in San Diego, he’d offer something to drink, cookies and a sun hat from a collection that had built up over the years. You’d settle into a chair on the peaceful patio behind his house and ideas would pour forth in his gentle Boston accent, remnant of the poor Dorchester kid he once was. He’d discuss under-appreciated trends, wrong-headed solutions, unseen business opportunities or his latest project (“You’re writing another book?”).

Dan worked steadily, even relentlessly, to put his ideas into practice throughout his highly-productive life. He led numerous landmark studies, authored 13 books, advised presidents and founded or cofounded numerous enterprises. I am proud and humbled that in his last book, Wicked Problems, Workable Solutions, published in 2014, he wrote:

Founding the Public Agenda has come to hold a special meaning for me. [It] is dedicated to making our democracy work better through engaging the public in the truly important issues of the times...To my mind, the Public Agenda is just the kind of institution the nation needs to reboot our democracy.

In that same book he also wrote:

It takes more than just voting to make democracy work. It takes a responsible, thoughtful public voice. All Americans should be conscious of how precious—and fragile—our democracy is. Participating in making it a more just and effective problem-solving institution is a privilege, and ought to be a source of immense personal satisfaction.

It is indeed a privilege to work for a more just and effective democracy, and our own special privilege at Public Agenda to build on Dan's fruitful ideas. For us and so many others it is a sad moment, but also one to celebrate a brilliant life. Then it will be time to get back to work, for there is much to do.


09.14 How do you improve diabetes care? Ask a patient.

Thursday, September 14th, 2017 | Danielle Sang

Diabetes is a major public health problem in America, one that affects nearly 10 percent of the population or about 20 million people. This is one of several reasons Public Agenda chose diabetes, specifically type 2, as one of the three particular care situations to examine in new research that looks at how people think about high-quality care.

Diabetes requires constant care. Self-management and a sustained relationship with a medical professional to monitor symptoms and complications are the ideal standard care procedures. But one has to ask themselves: What are the qualities diabetes care patients look for in their doctor? Do they prioritize certain qualities over others? Are patients receiving the care and information they need to adequately manage their health situation?

We set out to explore these among other questions in our research. When it comes to assessing high-quality care, we found research participants in the diabetes group valued doctors’ interpersonal skills over clinical qualities.

This finding becomes even more relevant when you consider the fact that effective management of diabetes requires sustained care with a medical provider. This may suggest that interpersonal skills from a medical provider is critical to proper diabetes care. Without this, rates of negative health outcomes such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, and eye and nerve damage, can increase. This is especially true for black, Hispanic and lower-income people, who tend to have higher rates of complications.

Along with health costs on patients, diabetes also has a high monetary cost. In 2012, the United States spent $176 billion on diabetes. Given the high costs associated with diabetes care, it’s important to note that our research found 31 percent of participants in the diabetes group were unaware doctors’ prices for care vary, while even more were unsure.

A Health Affairs study on price found patients who chose low-price physicians also gained savings in the long term on other medical services, such as lab tests, and had less annual out-of-pocket spending. With its high financial implications, even for those with employer-sponsored insurance, it may be helpful for diabetes patients to know how much one doctor charges for the same services versus another, in addition to weighing interpersonal qualities. Having knowledge on price variance may also be helpful in controlling costs, especially since our research found that, in the diabetes group, most say high prices are not a sign of better-quality care.

Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 9.3 percent of Americans. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and those with less education are disproportionately affected at a rate of 13 percent. Diabetes affects all demographics and will continue to be an issue if not addressed and managed properly. Due to its chronic nature, self-care and working with a trusted provider are key elements for managing diabetes. As our research has found, while a high price may not be seen by those in the diabetes group as the equivalent of high-quality care, the answer to what is may lie in the hands of physicians. With the ability and knowledge to provide guidance on self-management, by referring patients to supplemental care managers such as lifestyle coaches or Certified Diabetes Educators, and by being a listening ear to medical concerns, health care providers may be the answer, in more ways than one, to improving high-quality care for diabetes patients.

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09.08 Engaging Ideas - 9/8/2017

Friday, September 8th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Immigration reform: Could opposing sides compromise? (The Mercury News)
Santos Aviles, who as a teenager illegally immigrated from El Salvador to the United States, has found it surprising how many conservatives have been open to his suggestions on reforming the country’s tattered immigration laws..

We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy (Vox)
We need partisan conflict to organize politics. Without political parties, there is no meaningful democracy. But we are deep into a self-reinforcing cycle of doom-loop partisanship. We need to think hard about how to escape this trap, before it is too late.


Metro Nashville should embrace participatory budgeting (Tennessean)
Over a year ago, a Nashville resident met with his local councilman, Fabian Bedne of District 31, to share his thoughts about what a democratic-driven budgetary process could look like for the folks in Nashville. This would help address urban issues, ranging from transportation and public safety to affordable housing and beautification projects.

What Technologies Do Cities Use for Citizen Engagement? (Government Technology)
The civic engagement process has come a long way from bulletin boards and town hall meetings. Or rather, it’s added a lot of technology on top of bulletin boards and town hall meetings.


To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now (The Upshot)
In the 35 years between their jobs as janitors, corporations across America have flocked to a new management theory: Focus on core competence and outsource the rest. The approach has made companies more nimble and more productive, and delivered huge profits for shareholders. It has also fueled inequality and helps explain why many working-class Americans are struggling even in an ostensibly healthy economy.

What city bus systems can tell us about race, poverty and us (Washington Post)
For many in Baltimore, buses are woven deep into daily life. And they also tell an important story about the city and its history, rooted in racial and economic divides that have shaped the course of its development over the decades.


Charter Schools Are Losing the Narrative But Winning the Data (New York Magazine)
The most striking thing about the coverage of charter schools is the contrast between the tone of data journalism and narrative journalism.

New York City unveils universal free lunch in time for the first day of school (Chalkbeat)
After years of lobbying from City Council members and school nutrition advocates, New York City will offer free lunch to all public school students regardless of their families’ income — a change the city expects will result in fewer students missing out on lunch.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Preparing the Workers of Today for the Labor Needs of Tomorrow (WNYC)
Starting at 14:45, Alison Kadlec talks about job skills and how community colleges and regional universities are working to address the needs of today's students.

Many L.A. students get to college; only a few finish (Los Angeles Times)
A new study has put an exclamation point on a problem that Los Angeles Unified School District officials already acknowledge: too few of their graduates — about one in four — are earning college degrees.


If prices are kept hidden, consumers can’t take more responsibility for their health care costs (Stat News)
My father had no idea how much my mother’s treatment would cost, how much of it would be covered by insurance, if there were alternative treatments that would be covered, or how we would pay for treatments that weren’t covered. Forget about negotiating — how could he negotiate about something whose price he didn’t know?

As large hospital systems buy up independent medical practices, the cost of health care rises (Marketplace)
Northern California, where Azad works, is the most expensive place in the country to have a baby, according to a study by Castlight Health, a San Francisco-based health benefits platform. One important reason is the kind of consolidation that Azad has witnessed over the past decade. The region is dominated by a few large hospital systems that keep buying up doctor practices

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09.06 Strengthening Collaboration in Districts, Schools and Classrooms

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Part of our monthly "Progress Report" newsletter. To receive the latest email updates from Public Agenda, click here.

If collaboration is in much-too-short supply these days in our public life, in the workplace it is increasingly prized. This has been true for a while, as found in research, including some of our own, that points to the importance of "soft skills" in the modern workplace which enable people to work productively in teams, amplifying their individual knowledge and skills through their interaction with peers.

One workplace where this has been less obviously true is in our schools, dominated by the classic image of the teacher closing the classroom door and getting down to business with her or his students. But even here, interest in the ways that peer collaboration can strengthen practice is growing.

Public Agenda, in partnership with the Spencer Foundation, is proud to be supporting this cutting-edge development in K-12 education through the second installment of our In Perspective web resource series. Like our first on charter schools, our Teacher Collaboration site informs rather than advocates. Just in time for the new school year, it provides teachers and education leaders with new materials that can help foster a more collaborative environment, which can result in many benefits for students and educators alike.

Working in isolation can only be so effective. With support and a solid structure for collaboration in place, a talented team with a shared set of goals can be more innovative and successful. These resources have the potential to help strengthen that type of system in districts, schools and classrooms, and I encourage you to share them with your friends and colleagues.

Many thanks to the educators across the country for all that you do. Here's to a happy and successful new school year.


09.01 Engaging Ideas - 9/1/2017

Friday, September 1st, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Voters Are Strongly Divided Over Media’s Role in Dividing Us (Rasmussen Reports)
Voters admit America is a more divided place these days, and Trump supporters overwhelmingly agree with the president that the media is to blame. But Trump opponents just as strongly disagree.

What Would It Take for Democrats and Republicans to Work Together? (The Atlantic)
Bipartisanship most often occurs in moments when one party has deep internal divisions, or when there are strong political incentives to cooperate.

The political lessons Americans should learn from Hurricane Harvey (Washington Post)
We’ve been hearing for years now that we Americans are fixated on our tribal divisions. We have nothing in common anymore, we’re told. The old civic spirit that once so impressed foreign visitors is gone, eroded by echo chambers and social media navel-gazing and geographic self-selection. We’re Balkanized, incapable of talking to each other, hopelessly sliced and diced according to the dictates of identity politics. Now take a look at those pictures from southeast Texas.


Town halls are in the spotlight, but are they effective in communicating with lawmakers? (Post-Crescent)
Since the 2016 election, town halls hosted by federal lawmakers, or even citizens looking to question their representatives, have provoked angst and anger nationwide. Now, the state of the traditional town hall — one that is open to the public and not by invitation only, scheduled in advance, and willing to take questions on any topic — is at a crossroads, after a particularly antagonistic election and changes in technology and social media

Boulder council hears citizen group's advice for improving public engagement (CityLab)
After meeting more than 30 times between September and May, a citizen advisory group determined that the local government's process of public engagement is broken to the point that a "culture change" is required.


Income Inequality Is Making Rent Even Less Affordable (CityLab)
It’s not news that both income inequality and rents have hit record highs, especially in expensive superstar cities and leading tech hubs. But to what extent do income inequality and rising rents go together?

American Cities Losing the Most Jobs (24/7 Wall St.)
While the United States has experienced years of rapid post-recession economic growth, the recovery has eluded some parts of the country. Approximately 1 in 5 U.S. metro areas lost jobs over the past 12 months, and the number of employed persons has decreased by at least 1% in 25 of the country’s 388 metropolitan areas.


Schools with more students of color are more likely to be shut down — and three other things to know about a big new study (Chalkbeat)
Shutting down schools with low test scores doesn’t help student learning and disproportionately affects students of color, according to one of the largest studies ever of school closures.

How one Chicago high school turned the corner using full-time internships (Hechinger Report)
Real-World Learning gets real: Could the key to school success be spending less time in school?

Higher Education & Workforce Development

The Biggest Misconception About Today’s College Students (New York Times)
You might think the typical college student lives in a state of bliss, spending each day moving among classes, parties and extracurricular activities. But the reality is that an increasingly small population of undergraduates enjoys that kind of life.

Most Americans say K-12 schools have a lot of responsibility in workforce preparation (Pew Research)
As millions of U.S. students start school, and economists and educators grapple with how best to prepare workers for jobs in today’s economy, there is evidence that a majority of Americans look to elementary and secondary schools to provide the building blocks people need for a successful career.


When given the chance, will patients choose cheaper prescription drugs? (Managed Healthcare Executive)
Significant cost savings and changes in drug selection has been linked to reference pricing, which leverages insurer/employer contributions to encourage patients to select cheaper drugs that are as effective as their name-brand counterparts, according to a new study.

Why Patient-Reported Outcomes Data is Key to Healthcare Quality (Health IT Analytics)
Patient-reported outcomes data is at the heart of truly effective value-based care and quality improvement, says the National Quality Forum.

Want Single-Payer? Start Calling It Something Else (Vice)
Progressives are pushing for a new healthcare system. But they need to think about the branding.


08.24 Engaging Ideas - 8/24/2017

Thursday, August 24th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Trump’s demand to build border wall could upend sensitive negotiations on Capitol Hill (Washington Post)
During a campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Trump leveled his latest threat about blocking new government funding if it doesn’t include the $1.6 billion he wants to partially construct a new wall along the Mexico border. Government operations are only funded through Sept. 30, which is the end of the federal fiscal year. If Congress and the White House don’t agree on new funding levels by then, there will be a partial government shutdown. It will close national parks, suspend many government operations and send hundreds of thousands of federal workers — many of them in the Washington area — home without pay on “furlough.”

The Showdown Over How We Define Fringe Views in America (New York Times)
Today in the United States, sweeping majorities of the public say they support fair housing laws and the ideal of integrated schools. Nine in 10 say they would back a black candidate for president from their own party, and the same say they approve of marriage between blacks and whites. That last issue has undergone one of the greatest transformations in polling over the last 50 years. In 1960, just 4 percent of Americans approved.


Violent Crime's Toll on Economic Mobility (CityLab)
A new study shows just how much growing up in a violent neighborhood can harm an individual’s economic prospects later in life.

Can a Decades-Old Immigration Proposal Pass Under Trump? (The Atlantic)
When President Trump publicly backed a bill to curb legal immigration, he placed a decades-old idea—that until now had been largely sidelined—back into the mainstream. Earlier this month, Trump threw his weight behind a modified version of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, a measure first introduced by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue in February that would cut legal immigration to the United States by 50 percent over a decade. “Finally, the reforms in the RAISE Act will help ensure that newcomers to our wonderful country will be assimilated, will succeed, and will achieve the American Dream,” Trump said in an announcement from the White House.


New study deepens nation’s school turnaround mystery, finding little success in Rhode Island (Chalkbeat)
The country’s smallest state tried to accomplish a big task in 2012: improve its struggling schools without firing principals or making other dramatic changes. Instead, Rhode Island gave schools the option to do things like add common planning time for teachers, institute culturally appropriate instruction for students, and expand outreach to families.

City Will Move Sidelined Teachers From Limbo to Classrooms (New York Times)
For a dozen years, hundreds of New York City teachers have been paid despite not having permanent jobs, sidelined in most cases because of disciplinary problems, bad teaching records or because they had worked in poorly performing schools that were closed or where enrollment declined.

Grade Inflation Is Greater in Wealthier Schools, Study Says (Education Week)
Students in suburban public schools and private schools have benefited from grade inflation more than their less-affluent counterparts in urban schools, according to new research. The College Board examined the grade point averages of students who took the SAT between 1998 and 2016. They compared those GPAs for students at private and suburban schools—settings that tend to have larger shares of affluent students—and at urban public schools, which typically enroll more low-income students.

Higher Education

Religious University and 2-Year College (Inside Higher Ed)
A handful of religious institutions across the country are establishing or expanding two-year degree programs to provide a gateway to low-income students or an alternative for students looking for a nonsecular education as they pursue an associate degree. Private two-year colleges are rare, with just about 200 in the country. Even rarer are private universities that offer associate degree programs.

Challenging the ‘Productivity Paradox’ (Inside Higher Ed)
Now, a recent study in The Journal of Higher Education has found that investments in technology do indeed appear to lead to increases in productivity for institutions -- but not for all institutions in the same way.


Not-for-profit providers' rising expenses, dwindling revenue could spur mergers (Modern Healthcare)
Not-for-profit providers saw their annual expenses eclipse annual revenue growth in 2016, which will narrow margins and could spur merger-and-acquisition activity. After several years of cost containment among not-for-profit providers, annual expense growth of 7.2% outpaced annual revenue gains of 6%.

The Right Way to Reform Health Care (Foreign Affairs)
Perhaps no U.S. law has been more passionately opposed by Republicans than the Affordable Care Act. For the past eight years, they have repeatedly pledged to abolish Obamacare, with the House of Representatives voting more than 50 times to repeal it. U.S. President Donald Trump took office promising to do just that. In May, after months of heated negotiations, including two failures to corral votes within their own party, House Republicans managed—barely—to pass their first real replacement, the American Health Care Act.


08.21 How Public Engagement Needs to Evolve, Part 3

Monday, August 21st, 2017 | MATT LEIGHNINGER


How can public engagement evolve in order to meet the challenges and conditions of 2017? My previous post argued for making engagement more social, versatile, convenient and fun. This time, I’ll explore the need to deal with the challenge of scale, so that people can be heard on state and federal issues, not just local ones.

Though we need people weighing in on national problems like the federal budget and global challenges like climate change, engagement remains largely local. Of the thousands of engagement processes conducted each year, the majority occur in cities, towns and neighborhoods. This is especially true of “thick” forms of engagement, in which people spend time in small groups learning, deliberating and planning for action. Thick engagement is productive, but intensive.

Local engagement is more common because these initiatives typically require a diverse, critical mass of participants to succeed, and the number of people required to create this diverse, critical mass is smaller at the local level. You need a sufficiently large web of relationships so that potential participants are approached by people they already know, and you need to give people some assurance that their participation will make an impact. Both things are easier to achieve in communities, towns and neighborhoods.

Twenty years ago, when widespread internet use began to reshape how we organized and thought about engagement, it was tempting to assume that online communication would immediately solve the problem of scale. But while some examples of digital engagement have managed to involve tens of thousands of people, those numbers don’t always seem to matter. When faced with these kinds of situations, Members of Congress usually ask if their constituents are taking part, and whether those people are a small, like-minded group or a large and diverse one.

Being able to show where the participants came from – which political jurisdictions they belong to – might help. But another difficulty is that social media activity is often an extremely “thin” form of engagement; it is fast and easy, but it doesn’t require much thought, research or ongoing commitment from the participant, and it doesn’t always provide opportunities or encouragement for people who want to dig deeper. “Thick engagement doesn’t scale, and thin engagement doesn’t stick,” laments Micah Sifry of Civic Hall.

Some of the newer types of engagement, such as the SMS-enabled discussions I described in the previous post, blend thick and thin in a way that overcomes the limitations of each. Large numbers of people can participate – “Text, Talk, Act” has involved 50,000 so far – but the experience sticks with people enough that they are more likely to take action and remain engaged afterward.

Another approach to scale is to follow the thinking of Thomas Jefferson, who argued that we should “Divide the country into wards,” each of them small enough for successful participation, but sufficiently linked to one another that they could function as a nation. And, suddenly, we may actually have a country of linkable wards: local online networks such as neighborhood email listservs, local Facebook group pages, forums and NextDoor neighborhoods now cover huge swaths of the population. (NextDoor, which is a private, localized social network, now has over 100 users in 40% of all American neighborhoods.)

Local online networks combine the convenience of thin engagement with the potential for thick. People stay involved in these virtual spaces for many reasons: they are convenient, they allow for interaction, they deepen and complement face-to-face relationships, they are adaptable by the participants, and they give people a powerful sense of membership. They also help people solve basic daily challenges: members may talk about what the school board did or what the mayor said, but they also ask questions like “Who knows a good plumber they can recommend?”

By themselves, local online networks will not revitalize democracy or solve the problem of scale. Sometimes the discussion threads become too heated, and the network doesn’t have a good way to facilitate dialogue around a controversial topic. Online networks can also encourage thinly veiled racism, as people contribute concerned posts about “those people” or “those kids” who are hanging out on the corner of the street. And so far, there is no coherent strategy for linking thousands of local networks to make an impact on state, federal or global problems.

So, there seem to be several directions for innovation, several ways that engagement can evolve to address the challenge of scale:

  • Find new strategies of connecting different kinds of engagement opportunities – so that people who click “like” on a Facebook page or sign an online petition find out about a meeting happening in their community or an online network they can join (digital strategist Abhi Nemani calls this the “civic upsell”.
  • Create new ways of helping members of Congress and other decision-makers understand the nature and extent of online engagement among their constituents – and help those people connect with their public officials.
  • Develop new experiments that use SMS-enabled discussion to involve people in state or federal policy questions.
  • Help the organizers and members of local online networks use good engagement practices – like shared ground rules, policies on anonymity and relationships with decision-makers – to make their networks more participatory, effective and connected.
  • Organize processes that invite people from local online networks to deliberate and engage on an issue of state or national importance.

The internet did not by itself solve the problem of how to scale public engagement. It does, however, provide some incredible capabilities that, when combined with some of our other knowledge about how people like to engage, may help make engagement far more viral, prevalent and powerful.

Want to learn more about public engagement strategies? Join us in Chicago on October 19 for our Public Engagement Strategy Workshop to work on revamping and strengthening your engagement efforts. Click here for more information and to register.


08.18 Engaging Ideas - 8/18/2017

Friday, August 18th, 2017 | PUBLIC AGENDA


Understanding a Divided America (PBS)
Following the violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, PBS presents four films that take a closer look at the nation's divide.

The Senate subway: The new epicenter of American democracy? (Washington Post)
It’s a slightly comical transportation system in the bowels of the U.S. Capitol that few Americans know exists: the Senate subway system. Not subway like Metro — but two sets of tracks that carry underground trams ferrying lawmakers from Senate chambers to their office buildings, less than a third of a mile away. And it’s the unlikely backdrop to the tumultuous Capitol Hill legislative goings-on of the past seven months.

My road trip with a Republican: 2 strangers spend 14 hours in a car to talk through America’s political divide (Salon)
To combat the hate I saw on the 2016 campaign trail, I went looking for common ground. Dave signed on for the ride.


OPINION: How I learned that civic engagement isn’t as easy as it should be (Denverite)
I’ve always been an active voter in both national and municipal elections, but it wasn’t until recently that I figured out just how much of the day-to-day decision-making by entities like City Council is open to the public.

Could Innovation in Democratic Participation Shake us Out of Our Civil Disillusionment? (Pacific Standard)
History proves that, when governments listen, citizens reward them both politically and financially.


Children of the 1% are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League school than poor Americans (Business Insider)
"Access to colleges varies greatly by parent income," writes Raj Chetty of Stanford University and four co-authors. "Children whose parents are in the top 1% of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile."

When Families Lead Themselves Out of Poverty (New York Times)
Seventeen years ago, Mauricio Lim Miller, a leader in the field of social services, received a phone call from Jerry Brown, who was the mayor of Oakland, Calif., at the time, that set him on a quest to understand how families really overcome poverty.

5 Figures That Define the Middle Class (Madison News)
The middle class is often thought of as the backbone of the American economy -- and decades ago it was. Today, however, the American middle class has become a shadow of what it once was. A number of changes and challenges, including poor saving habits, stagnant wage growth, and growing income inequality, has altered the shape of middle-class America.

K-12 Education

A New Kind of Classroom: No Grades, No Failing, No Hurry (New York Times)
Moheeb is part of a new program that is challenging the way teachers and students think about academic accomplishments, and his school is one of hundreds that have done away with traditional letter grades inside their classrooms.

How community trauma can harm student learning — and what that might mean for Charlottesville (Chalkbeat)
Among the many consequences of this weekend’s events in Charlottesville: teachers are wondering how the violent displays of racism will affect their students.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Colleges ponder: Are remedial classes the best way to help? (Christian Science Monitor)
Lulu Matute still remembers the sinking sensation she felt when she heard the news. It was the fall of 2012, and Ms. Matute had just taken the placement exam that gauged every prospective college student’s skill in math and English. She had hoped to earn her associate’s degree at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and transfer to a four-year institution within two years. “But based on the layout my counselor gave me, I was going to be there for three and a half, because I was starting at the lowest-level math,” she says.

Work-Force Training in an Anti-College Climate (Inside Higher Ed)
Community colleges stress their role in providing work-force opportunities amid doubts from some working-class people that college won't benefit them or their children.

Health Care

Can Healthcare Price Transparency Tools Cut Costs for Payers? (HealthPayer Intelligence)
Healthcare price transparency tools may only offer savings to payers if insurance companies improve utilization rates.

Diagnosing America's Health Care Mess: Part 3 (Forbes)
Today we will examine the consequences of this outsized growth in health spending: health care spending absorbs an ever-growing fraction of the economy and government spending.

Doctors Coming Around To Single-Payer Healthcare (Forbes)
Citing simplicity, fewer hassles with insurers and more stable coverage for patients, U.S. physicians increasingly support a single-payer healthcare system, new reports indicate.


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