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12.15 Making Health Savings Accounts Work

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

One of the health care policies that President-Elect Trump has advocated is an expansion of Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs. Research suggests that HSAs, as they currently exist, primarily benefit wealthier and healthier individuals. What would it take for HSAs to be more equitable, effective and efficient? Over on the Health Affairs blog, our friend Kathryn Philips of the University of California, San Francisco, explores this question.

Kathryn notes that consumer-oriented reforms—like HSAs, health care price transparency and others—have an important role in improving our health care system. There are demonstrated benefits of HSAs. However, these benefits are not applied equally across the public. In particular, low-income individuals are least likely to benefit from HSAs.

Moreover, Kathryn notes an “often neglected aspect of HSAs”:

[T]hey require an educated and savvy consumer who can devote a great deal of time and effort to understanding their plan and shopping for care. I can speak to this from my own experience. I wanted to “practice what I preach” and thus enrolled in a high-deductible health plan coupled with a HSA. How can I shop for care when providers can’t tell me what the price is or they tell me that care is “free” simply because I don’t pay a co-pay up-front? How can I choose between services and providers when I don’t have enough information to do so? How can I navigate through multiple, often contradictory and unlinked websites — one for the health plan, one for carve-out benefits, and one for my HSA? And how can I even remember when to pay for care using my HSA debit card versus asking the provider to bill the plan? In sum, does my HSA cause me to shop more for care? Yes. Does it enhance my pocketbook? Sometimes. Does it improve my health? I’m not sure.

Kathryn also draws upon the study we published together in Health Affairs last spring, noting that the use of behavioral economics can create more effective policies.

Read Kathryn’s full post over at Health Affairs. And click here for more on our work regarding consumer-oriented health reform.

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12.13 Can Participatory Budgeting Help Improve Democracy?

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

Americans are frustrated by the state of our democracy. Meanwhile, the relationship between leaders and the public continues to erode. This dynamic isn’t new.

Trust in government has been decreasing for years. Both the public and elected officials have expressed irritation with current and common models of democratic engagement. But this past year, the frustration seems to have reached a crescendo.

At Public Agenda, we’re a bunch of optimists. We believe that democracy CAN work for everyone, and that better models of public engagement are key to this mission. Better public engagement can improve the relationship between leaders and the public. Good engagement strategies also provide everyone with an opportunity to consider differing views. That way, just as engagement can ensure that everyone has a voice in the decisions that affect them, it can also ensure that those voices are productive and meaningful.

One of the fastest-growing forms of public engagement in the U.S. is participatory budgeting, a process that gives residents direct decision-making power in local budgets. Sixty-one communities in the U.S. and Canada used participatory budgeting, or PB, in 2015-16. This is an increase of 33 percent over the previous year.

PB has yielded impressive results in Brazil, where it started in the 1980s. There, it's helped rebuild relationships between elected officials and residents, engaged more people from disenfranchised communities in civic life, reduced corruption and improved the social well-being of a wide range of citizens. Can PB have similar results here?

It may be too soon to tell: PB is relatively new in the U.S. and Canada, where it started in 2009 and 2002 respectively. But in an effort to begin to answer that question, we’ve been serving as an independent evaluator of PB in the U.S. and Canada. We’ve created guidelines and tools for measuring impact, communicated the short-term outcomes of PB across the U.S. and Canada, and studied PB’s potential for generating social change.

We released our most recent contributions this week: a set of resources reporting on outcomes of PB in 2015-16, a white paper examining PB’s potential for reducing inequality and a white paper looking at the role of deliberation in PB. Here’s more info, along with links to each resource:

A Process of Growth: The Expansion of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2015-16: For the second year in a row, we collected data from communities around the U.S. and Canada to tell the story of PB, understand how different communities are using it in different ways and get an idea of short-term outcomes we're already seeing. The report includes recommendations from people leading and evaluating PB on the ground, to help others diversify participation, advocate for PB from the grassroots level and incorporate technology in an equitable way.

Brazil Has Reduced Inequality, Incrementally - Can We Do the Same?: PB in the U.S. and Canada differs in many ways from PB in Brazil. Matt Leighninger explores these differences in this white paper, explaining how they may affect PB's impact in North America. He also provides a series of practical recommendations for practitioners and policymakers to strengthen PB's ability to reduce inequality.

Power to the People! (And Settings for Using It Wisely?): PB employs both direct and deliberative democracy. As the Brexit vote has demonstrated, direct democracy doesn't always lead to smarter, broadly supported policy decisions. This white paper examines the extent to which PB employs deliberative principles and processes, explores the challenges in making PB more deliberative and provides recommendations for public officials and practitioners looking to improve their PB processes.

The Kettering Foundation served as a collaborator for this work. "A Process of Growth" was also supported by the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation.

If you’re interested in more information regarding our work with participatory budgeting, or you’d like to check out other resources, including a toolkit for evaluators and a report regarding public officials’ views toward PB, please visit our PB project page.


12.09 Engaging Ideas - 12/9

Friday, December 9th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: The economic expectations of a divided country. School Choice 101. Adult students talk about college payoff, and a report on cost-saving competency-based education. The benefits of choosing a doctor with low office visit prices.


Is Democracy Doomed? We've Been Here Before. (Real Clear Politics)
We need not assume the worst based on one academic study. And there are plenty of institutional obstacles to Trump’s worst impulses. But we can’t necessarily wait for a Pearl Harbor to galvanize America. If we care about our democracy, we must tend to it every day, and speak out against any threats that may arise.

Getting Voters to Focus on the Things They Actually Know About (Governing)
National elections are flashier, but voters are often far more knowledgeable about local issues. We need to get them more engaged.

Despair and Hope in Trump’s America (The Atlantic)
From James Fallows: Americans are optimistic about the communities they live in—but not their nation. Why?


Americans Expect Economic Improvement in a Deeply Divided Country (The Atlantic)
A new poll reveals some optimism about the post-election economy along with doubts that Donald Trump can bring the country together.

Automation is inevitable. Here's how to make sure we create jobs, not just destroy them. (Vox)
When society invents a new technology that makes workers more efficient, it has two options: It can employ the same number of workers and produce more goods and services, or it can employ fewer workers to produce the same number of goods and services. Jargon-filled media coverage makes this hard to see, but the Federal Reserve plays a central role in this decision. When the Fed pumps more money into the economy, people spend more and create more jobs. If the Fed fails to supply enough cash, then faster technological progress can lead to faster job losses — something we might be experiencing right now.

American Dream collapsing for young adults, study says, as odds plunge that children will earn more than their parents (Wonkblog)
Rising income inequality has eroded the ability for American children to grow up to earn more than their parents, according to groundbreaking new research from a superstar team of economists that carries deep implications for President-elect Donald Trump's policy agenda.

K-12 Educatgion

School Choice 101: What It Is, How It Works And Does It Work? (NPR)
President-elect Donald J. Trump said on the campaign trail that school choice is "the new civil rights issue of our time." But talk of school choice is, at best, confusing.

Pay for Success' Funding Model Focus of Policy Toolkit (EdWeek)
As policymakers start to embrace these funding models for early childhood education, how should they make sure they're investing in quality programs? What are the appropriate results to measure, and how should the programs be evaluated?  The Urban Institute released a pay for success toolkit Wednesday to help answer those questions.  See the toolkit here.

Despite Frequent Screen Time, Parents See Selves as Good Examples (EdWeek)
The study, "The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens 2016," aims to analyze how parents contribute to the teen and "tween" media use landscape. Key findings from the study, based upon almost 1,800 parent responses: Parents spend an average of 9 hours and 22 minutes per day on screen time (1:39 for work purposes, and 7:43 for personal purposes.) White parents, better educated parents and higher wage-earners reported spending the least time in front of screens. Seventy-eight percent of parents believe they do a good job of modeling appropriate media use to their children. Mothers are slightly more likely to hold this belief than fathers.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Older Americans Went Back to School During the Recession. Did It Pay Off? (FiveThirtyEight)
Selinger said that he doesn’t regret his decision, and it eventually began to pay off. After earning his CNA, he took science prerequisites and applied to nursing school for an associate degree. His income doubled when he completed it in May 2013, at age 48. With additional promotions and overtime pay, he now earns more than $60,000 a year — but he’s gone as far as he can with an associate degree. This spring, he began taking classes toward his second bachelor’s.

Touted as the Next Big Solution, Competency Ed Programs That Stress Skills Aren't Always a 'Quick Moneymaker,' Study Says (The Hechinger Report)
rpk Group's research report, “Competency-Based Education: A Study of Four New Models and Their Implications for Bending the Higher Education Cost Curve,” demonstrates the opportunity competency ed offers for higher education to break away from traditional, higher-cost instruction models that have proven resistant to change.

Labor Market Outcomes and Postsecondary Accountability: Are Imperfect Metrics Better Than None? (National Bureau of Economic Research)
Findings suggest a cautious approach: while a mix of feasible labor market metrics may be better than none, reliance on a single metric, especially if measured very early, may undermine policymakers’ ongoing efforts to accurately quantify institutional performance.

Career Clusters: Forecasting Demand for High School through College Jobs (Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce)
The report, Career Clusters: Forecasting Demand for High School through College Jobs, examines the most promising opportunity for job seekers of varying education levels. Using forecasts, Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce has identified the most promising clusters for job seekers with a high school diploma or less, middle skills such as a certificate or Associate’s degree, and those with Bachelor’s degrees or better.

Health Care

Health Spending Went Up Last Year Because More People Were Getting Care, Report Says (LA Times)
While such surges in health spending have traditionally worried economists and policymakers, the 2015 increase is somewhat different, the new report from independent actuaries at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests. In the past, mounting prices for hospital stays, doctor’s visits and other medical goods and services were largely responsible for skyrocketing health spending. But the new report indicates that the latest increase – which tracks with a similar uptick in 2014 – was fueled by increased use of healthcare, likely caused by the health law, often called Obamacare.

Crossing State Lines Is No Easy Jaunt For Insurers And Local Regulators (WSJ)
As Republicans gear up to overhaul the federal health law, they face pushback from a couple unexpected corners over one of their goals: Giving health insurers greater ability to sell policies to consumers across state lines. Republicans for some time have billed interstate sales of insurance as a way to heighten competition and lower costs. It is one of the few specific health initiatives displayed on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition website. Still, the GOP is drawing some opposition from state insurance regulators—many of them Republican—and insurance-industry officials, who question how such a plan would work, given that many aspects of insurance are regulated differently by each state. “That sounds like a silver bullet to solve a major problem, and there are no silver bullets,” said Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon. “There are no simple answers.”

Incremental Fixes Won’t Save the U.S. Health Care System (Harvard Business Review)
We need to take bold action to correct our health system’s current trajectory. Incremental shifts, the approach to date, simply won’t address the real challenge confronting the U.S. health care system — that is, a disjointed care delivery system that results in inefficiency, overspending, lack of consumer accountability, and a sub-par experience all across health care. Instead, we need to adopt policies that result in significant discomfort for the laggards and outsized rewards for the leaders.

Patients who choose doctors with low office visit prices save hundreds of dollars per year on overall health care costs (Harvard Medical School)
Patients who choose primary care doctors with low office visit prices can rack up considerable savings on overall health care costs according to new research from Harvard Medical School. The report, published Dec. 5 in the December issue of the journal Health Affairs, suggests that office visit costs may be a reliable indicator of what a patient will pay for a wide range of services and procedures.


12.08 Skill Up in 2017 at an Engagement Strategy Workshop

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 | Megan Rose Donovan

The new year is seen as a time to reflect on the past and set goals for the future. In that spirit of self-improvement, we’re on a mission to improve public engagement efforts from coast to coast and the many places in between.

Matt Leighninger and Nicole Cabral will be on the road next year for a number of projects to that end. One project is to deliver full-day, intensive workshops focused on developing leadership skills for stronger engagement in communities. These workshops are especially relevant for city and town managers and other public officials looking to learn about the strengths and limitations of public engagement today.

A workshop we held in Boston in June included elected and aspirant officials, city planners, public engagement professionals, an academic and a democracy activist. As we saw during this workshop, these professionals share many common engagement challenges, from the “usual suspects” who dominate most meetings to the narrow channels of communication exemplified by 2 minutes at a microphone.

In February, Matt and Nicole will host a Public Engagement Strategy Workshop in Silver Spring, Maryland in collaboration with Montgomery County Silver Spring Regional Area. Some details are included below and

Date: Monday, February 6, 2017
Time: 9:00am - 4:30pm
Location: Silver Spring Regional Center, One Veterans Place, Silver Spring, MD 20910
UPDATED: Cost: $250 (by January 9, 2017) or $350 (after January 9, 2017)

A point we should highlight is that the early bird rate ends at the end of this year, on Dec 31st, so commiting to your professional development goals early will get you a $100 discount! NOTE: The early bird rate has been extended to Monday, January 9th. pracownicy z Ukrainy

Do you know anyone in the Silver Spring, MD or Washington, DC, area? Please share this workshop with colleagues and friends here:

Please do reach out with any questions about this workshop or on how to bring one to your community by emailing You can also keep abreast of public engagement developments by


12.06 Voting, Division and Higher Education

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 | Erin Knepler

The 2016 presidential election cemented a long-perceived trend: our great country is becoming increasingly divisive. Moreover, election results indicate that ideological divisions are largely linked to educational attainment.

Meanwhile, this fall, we witnessed two pieces of conventional wisdom regarding higher education get turned on their heads by the American public. While having a college degree has long been associated with voter participation, this election seems to have interrupted longstanding historical trends. And, while experts and policymakers link college attainment to success in the workforce, Americans told us they no longer perceive this to be true.

Higher Education and Civic Engagement

Traditionally, a person with a college education has a higher likelihood to vote. The 2016 presidential election, however, flipped that historical trend on its head. According to 2016 exit poll data collected by Edison Research, there was an uptick in white male voters with less than a bachelor’s degree – that is, voters who possessed a high school degree, some college or an associate degree.

In order to better understand historical voting trends, I examined Census data collected on reported voting and registration, by age, sex and educational attainment from the past last seven election cycles (i.e., 2012, 2008, 2004, 2000, 1996, 1992, and 1988). The table below details the aggregated reported voting rate. It shows that those with lower levels of formal education have consistently lower voting rates.

While the 2016 voter turnout data is continuing to trickle in over the next few weeks and months, it is becoming clear that education levels did impact this election. I’ve been closely following my favorite data wonk, Nate Silver, and his recent blogs on FiveThirtyEight about the election. Recently, Silver did a full analysis of all 981 U.S. counties with 50,000 or more people and sorted it by the share of the population that had completed at least a four-year college degree. He found that, “it appears as though educational levels are the critical factor in predicting shifts in the vote between 2012 and 2016.” This analysis tells me that our old belief that individuals with a college degree are more likely to vote doesn’t match reality. Other groups are voting at higher rates now too.

Higher Education and Job Attainment

Another thing we often hear from leaders is that college education is important to getting a good job. I still believe this is true, but in recent public opinion research we conducted, supported by The Kresge Foundation, we found that Americans' attitudes toward higher education have shifted in the years since the Great Recession.

Before 2009, increasing numbers of Americans said that a college education is necessary for success in today's working world. But in our 2016 research, just 42 percent of Americans say a college degree is necessary. That’s 13 percentage points lower than what we saw in 2009. We saw pessimism toward higher education grow in other ways as well. For example, nearly half of Americans – 46 percent – say a college education is a questionable investment because of high student loans and limited job opportunities.

Now is a time of great change and turmoil, so we’re not quite sure what it means that these two pieces of conventional wisdom have been flipped.

What we do know is that there’s a huge divide in our country. Given this division seems linked with educational attainment, higher education will remain an important issue. While we all don’t need to see eye to eye, we do need to work together. To do so, we need more dialogue. We need to not only elevate a diversity of voices, but we also need to listen and really hear each other in order to forge common ground. Pubic Agenda and other organizations have a role in helping us improve dialogue and collaboration among leaders and communities.


12.02 Engaging Ideas - 12/2

Friday, December 2nd, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: The internet’s role in democracy and librarian’s role in navigating information online. Is college worth it? Recent grads share their experience. And what a data point says about the future of the Affordable Care Act.


Maybe the Internet Isn’t a Fantastic Tool for Democracy After All (New York Magazine)
The recent panicked focus on fixing the “fake news” problem itself seems inadequate, reliant on the belief that merely by ensuring that hoaxes and lies are unable to circulate on social networks, we can return to civil public discourse. That misinformation plagues our politics is a symptom of a larger, more existential problem: The tech industry has disrupted the public sphere and has shown neither the interest nor the ability to reconstruct it. No matter what Facebook might believe, there is no turnkey algorithmic solution that will ensure a perfect civic network. It will always be possible for people who take advantage of networks’ “dumb” nature — their inability to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate traffic — to flood them with junk.

Community Engagement

Arena To Skip Participatory Budgeting Next Year, Citing Lack Of Interest (DNAInfo)
Ald. John Arena (45th) will skip out on participatory budgeting for 2017, using the year to work through a backlog of planned projects and strategize how to attract more constituents to the process, according to his staff. Just 279 residents voted on how to spend the ward's $1.3 million discretionary budget in May, marking its weakest turnout since Arena rolled out the process in 2013. "Participatory budgeting works best when people actually participate," said Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff. "The whole point is to give people direct say over how taxpayer dollars are spent in their community, and we need all those voices if we want it to succeed."


In Life After Coal, Appalachia Attempts to Reinvent Itself (Governing)
The decline of the mining industry started long before the Obama administration and will likely continue even with Trump in the White House. That's why local leaders are starting to diversify their economies and prepare their people for an uncertain future.

Job retraining classes are offered to Rust Belt workers, but many don’t want them (PRI)
All this is not to say that American manufacturing is dead, far from it. It’s still a major part of the US economy, and those in the industry are calling for more investment in the next wave of manufacturing. "I’m not nostalgic for 1950s steel, but I’m really optimistic for 21st-century steel,” says Scott Paul. “Manufacturing is going through an evolution that people call 'Industry 4.0,' and that’s going to take a different set of skills and training.” Back in Indiana, steelworker-turned-HVAC-instructor Dennis Matney says coal workers and everybody in manufacturing should invest some time in more education. “I think that you can resist change all you like. But it’s going to happen regardless. You might as well get with the program.” That can be a tough message to take — that life as you know it, and have known it for generations, is ending. And, as Clinton learned the hard way, it’s not one that a lot of voters wanted to hear.

K-12 Education

Show Me the Data: State Report Cards Must Answer Questions and Inform Action (Data Quality Campaign)
Everyone deserves to know how their public schools are doing, and states are responsible for creating that clear picture. Read our analysis of what we could find in report cards from all 50 states and DC.

U.S. Performance Rising in Math and Science (EdWeek)
U.S. students are generally improving, along with their peers around the globe, according to the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study results. But a longitudinal look shows more of a slow uphill slog than a breakout performance.

Which Teacher Prep Programs Meet Tough New Accreditation Standards? (EdWeek)
Out of 21 teacher preparation programs from 14 states that were seeking accreditation under tougher new standards, 17 have met all expectations and gained accreditation, while four programs have failed to meet all the required standards, according to an inaugural report released on Monday by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

As Info Landscape Changes, Librarians Take on New Roles (EdWeek)
School librarians increasingly find themselves teaching students how to navigate and consume information online—and helping teachers embed those skills into the curriculum. Michelle Luhtala co-teaches a lesson on news analysis to 11th and 12th grade students at New Canaan High School in Connecticut. She and fellow librarian Jacqueline Whiting frequently partner with classroom teachers at the school to teach media-literacy skills.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Moody’s: Colleges Can Expect Another Year of Low Growth in Tuition Revenue (Chronicle)
More than 250 institutions responded to the survey, and comprehensive private universities projected the strongest growth, at 3 percent. As in past reports, this year’s report projects overall revenues to increase by about 2 percent and to track closely the rate of inflation. Additionally, Moody’s said low gains in tuition revenue are the “new normal” for colleges. The report cites the increased focus on affordability and a competitive environment as limits on raising tuition.

Interactive: Inside Jobs (The Atlantic)
Hear what 100 American workers have to say about their jobs

The New 'Good Jobs' (City Lab)
Jobs that pay well but don’t require a bachelor’s degree are what many Americans want—and these days, they’re not found on an assembly line.

Is College Worth It? Recent Grads Share Their Experiences (NPR ED)
It turns out they're all satisfied customers. And among the most important subjects they report learning a lot about was themselves — reconciling their plans and dreams with real life.

12 Cities to Work On Pathway Plans (Community College Daily)
National League of Cities is starting a two-year effort to address a major challenge facing cities — ensuring that all residents have access and support to earn industry-valued certificates and degrees with the ultimate goal of gaining meaningful employment.

Seeking Students, Public Colleges Reduce Out-of-State Prices (Associated Press)
"I really believe that this pricing strategy is going to open us up to people looking at the University of Southern Mississippi from places we traditionally haven't drawn from," said Douglas Vinzant, USM's vice president for finance and administration.

Health Care

What Trump Can Learn From Obama's Rough Ride On Health Care (AP)
President Barack Obama took on the problems of a lack of access to health care and high cost, but he and Democrats paid a political price. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to undo much of what Obama put in place, and pledged to make the system better. Although Trump is lacking in specifics, he seems to want to make costs his priority. States, insurers, businesses, and individuals would get more leeway to sort out access. Health care keenly reflects the country's deep political divide. A look at some lessons Trump might learn from Obama's rough ride.

Donald Trump Signals Big Health Policy Changes Are Coming (WSJ)
In tapping Rep. Tom Price and Medicaid consultant Seema Verma Tuesday for top health positions, President-elect Donald Trump has signaled that he intends to put conservative health-policy goals at the forefront of his administration.

Millions Of People Are Having An Easier Time Paying Medical Bills (NPR)
The number of people who say they are struggling to pay medical bills has dropped by 13 million in the past five years, a study finds. An improving economy and the Affordable Care Act are why.

Poll shows Obamacare started looking a lot better after the election (Wonkblog)
Contradictions in Trump voters' opinions of Obamacare.

Some GOP Voters Skittish On Full Repeal, Poll Finds (KHN)
With their party gaining control of both the White House and Congress, some Republican voters are growing hesitant about outright abolition of the Affordable Care Act and instead favoring a more circumspect approach of scaling it back, according to a poll released Thursday.


12.01 Questions from the Audience: Can the Public Have a Real Voice in American Politics?

Thursday, December 1st, 2016 | Public Agenda

During a panel discussion two weeks ago, we explored a number of questions: Can the public have a real voice in American politics? Is too much democracy a bad thing? Can we address our differences and move forward? Will the tools we use currently to engage the public be adequate for the radical moment we are in?

The lively panel conversation concluded with many questions from an engaged and curious audience. Sadly, we did not have the time to answer everyone’s questions. We’d like to take the opportunity to answer a few of the questions audience members submitted here. Have additional questions for us? Leave them in the comments.

Click here to read a recap of the event or watch a video of the discussion here.

Responses to the below questions come from Will Friedman and Matt Leighninger.

Can you talk about the factors that might keep people from "coming to the table" even if the infrastructure/opportunities for them to come to the table (engage) were in place?

There are all kinds of factors that keep people from the table: they’re busy, they’re working multiple jobs, they don’t speak English well, there’s no child care provided, they don’t like public speaking, etc. Dealing with these barriers is important. But focusing too much on the barriers can lead to a somewhat condescending attitude toward people we think of as “disengaged” and somehow “hard to reach.” We assume that the fact that they are disengaged has to do mainly with their own limitations – and we ignore the fact that almost all of us are disengaged most of the time. It is a mistake to deal with the barriers without also making “the table” (whether that’s a meeting, a process, or a website) something that is meaningful, powerful, convenient, and fun.

How would we overcome the lack of trust in government or in the "other" that might keep people from engaging?

Relationships and responsiveness. Public engagement processes that give people a meaningful opportunity to get to know each other and talk about issues tend to build trust because they build relationships – between citizens and public servants, between different kinds of people, between different ideologies and generations. Then, when people find out that the input they gave had an impact on a policy decision, or when their involvement leads to some other kind of good outcome, they gain trust that the system is responsive to them and their interests.

The panel is giving me the impression it feels "the public" didn't have a voice in the current elections. But if a significant part of the public, the 70% without a college degree, didn't have a voice, how was Trump elected?

The point is more that too many members of the public do not feel they have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, contributing to the profound discontent with the status quo that the election revealed.

How do you get people to the table who don't necessarily want to be there in the first place and aren't motivated by Participatory Budgeting money?

One of the essential facts of engagement: people participate when someone they know and trust asks them to. Other kinds of outreach are nice supplements to that – flyers, e-blasts, articles in the newspaper – but they won’t lead to a large turnout by themselves. Successful recruitment requires a web of relationships of trust. To improve and sustain engagement, we should pay more attention to growing and supporting those webs on an ongoing basis, not just when we face a big decision or a big crisis.

Americans across the political spectrum and in all demographic groups feel disenfranchised and powerless. What role does our non-regulated "system" of campaign finance play?

According to research Public Agenda is conducting, people do feel disenfranchised because they feel that wealthy and powerful special interests control the nation's policy agenda. That doesn't mean that campaign finance reform is all that needs to happen to create a more engaged and empowered public, but it's fair to say that it's a factor.

See all of the #AMPolicy tweets from the event. Join our list to receive notice of our next event.


11.29 Understanding the Debate on Charter Schools: A Nonpartisan Perspective

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

With the announcement of Betsy DeVos as President-Elect Trump’s Secretary of Education, charter schools look to be a central issue for the next administration. DeVos is an advocate for both charter schools and voucher programs, school choice approaches that have their share of ardent supporters and critics.

Charter schools are already a controversial issue. Given the tenor of public dialogue around the presidential transition, we’re likely to see even more division and emotion emerge around the topic. Passion and advocacy have their place in social issues. But with so much noise, it can become difficult for the public – including parents and voters – to understand an issue, weigh their own values and make a judgment on where they stand.

That’s where we come in. Together with the Spencer Foundation, we developed Charter Schools In Perspective a nonpartisan, non-ideological set of resources about charter schools and their place in American education. Our goal for this project is to help communities, educators, policymakers and journalists understand different approaches to educational policies and practices and the impacts those have on all kids. The resources have been designed and tested to foster better, more civil conversations.

The resources developed for Charter Schools In Perspective include:

  • Charter Schools In Perspective: A Guide to Research: A thorough and accessibly-written analysis that brings together and synthesizes current research on charter schools. Topics include student achievement, finance, governance, innovation and public opinion.
  • Ten Questions for Policymakers: A set of questions to help local officials think through decisions about charter schools in their jurisdictions.
  • Ten Questions for Journalists: A set of questions that provides local and national journalists with questions and ideas for stories about charter schools in their regions and nationwide.
  • Are Charter Schools a Good Way to Improve Education in Our Community? A discussion starter designed to help community members grapple with the trade-offs and benefits of introducing, expanding, limiting or closing charter schools. By presenting different perspectives on charter schools, this resource is designed to help communities hold civil, productive dialogue on how to improve their schools.

Charter schools made up nearly 7 percent of all U.S. public schools in 2013-14 and are quickly growing. Between 2007-08 and 2013-14, the number of charter schools increased by nearly 50 percent, and the schools are permitted in 43 states and the District of Columbia.

Debates over charter schools will continue, and both sides will make their cases, some well-founded and others not. A lot is riding on the decisions about expansion and closure – too much to not have an informed, civil dialogue.

We urge you to use the In Perspective resources and encourage open, honest dialogue at your dinner table, on your Facebook page or at a local school board meeting. Our research guide and discussion starter can help keep things in perspective and the conversation on a non-ideological, pragmatic track.

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11.22 Can the Public Have a Real Voice in American Politics?

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016 | Alisson Rizzolo

Watch a video of the discussion here.

This year’s election surfaced many divisions and frustrations, provoking questions, conversations and think pieces about the public’s appropriate role in politics. Is too much democracy a bad thing? Can we address our differences and move forward? Will the tools we use currently to engage the public be adequate for the radical moment we are in?

We explored some of these questions during a policy breakfast last week in New York City, “Can the Public Have a Real Voice in American Politics?” Participants in the event, a panel discussion, included public engagement experts and practitioners Carolyne Abdullah, director of the Strengthening Democratic Capacity Team at Everyday Democracy, Brad Lander, member of the New York City Council, and Matt Leighninger, vice president of public engagement at Public Agenda. The panel was moderated by Geraldine Moriba of CNN.

All three panelists acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead for public engagement in government. Still, they remain optimistic about the future of democracy and the public’s voice in politics. “We’re in for some hard times, but I feel ok,” said Lander.

Beginning with Transparency and Attention to Detail

When elected officials make decisions that affect the public without seeming to consider the public’s needs and concerns, resentment and frustration build. Many Americans are feeling a lack of agency in the decisions that affect their daily lives, and this feeling was sharply pronounced in the recent election.

At the same time, as Lander acknowledged, democratic decision making is more appropriate for some decisions than it is for others. Moreover, sometimes the popular decision isn’t the right decision. How can leaders navigate these tensions?

The first step is transparency, said Leighninger. Ninety percent of the decisions that officials make concern issues that the public wouldn’t even want to weigh in on, he said. The problem is that the public “doesn’t even know what the list is.” If the public doesn’t know what decisions their officials face, how can they assess whether they need or want to have a voice in those decisions?

The panelists agreed: We need robust public engagement on some decisions and expert decision making on others. But elected officials need to be transparent about the decisions they face and which may not necessitate public input. They need to provide space for meaningful public engagement on the decisions that warrant it, using processes that work well. Moreover, they must also communicate better about expert-level decisions, in a way that enables the public to absorb the information.

Lander acknowledged this may be difficult in practice, especially in light of the current public mood. “It’s easier to mobilize resentment and fear than to do the long, slow work of engagement,” he said.

Abdullah pointed out that details matter when it comes to public engagement. Officials may overlook the barriers to participation they may erect unknowingly. Who is the messenger, Abdullah asked? What language is used on the invitation? Officials also ought to be aware of time and schedule constraints their constituents may face. People care about many public issues, Abdullah said, but the barriers enforced by inattention to detail mean they can’t contribute.

Local Models that Show Promise

Communities around the country are experimenting with ways to more meaningfully and productively engage area residents in governance. One example of these innovations is participatory budgeting, or PB, which Lander has used in his district. (In the interest of full disclosure, Public Agenda serves as an independent evaluator of PB across the US and Canada.)

PB and other innovative public engagement models show promise in their communities. “Participatory budgeting works in red and blue communities in New York City,” said Lander. “When they’re working, these tools for democratic engagement do mobilize our better angels…People like to work together to solve problems.”

Leighninger noted PB has had positive outcomes in Brazil, where it started. He pointed to the ways that PB not only provides residents with a sense of agency, it also provides a means for residents to build social networks. Through these networks, people are able to find job connections, childcare and other supports.

At the same time, Lander admitted that such tools feel “radically inadequate” for the moment we’re in. Can we grow PB up to work more broadly? Public engagement tools require a lot of resources to do them well, yet constituents like the opportunity for authentic engagement. Our country already spends $5 billion annually on unproductive engagement processes, said Leighninger. What can we do to redirect those resources from activities that don’t really work?

What the Public Can Do Now

Meaningful and sustainable forms of public engagement in politics and governance will require patience, resources and time. Yet many Americans are feeling a need to act immediately. What can the public do in the short term?

Relationships and dialogue will be necessary to build bridges for progress, Abdullah noted, calling productive conversation between people with different perspectives a learning opportunity. This is an action that average citizens can take, she said.

She referred back to an experience she had in a community that had experienced a police shooting. Following the shooting, passions were high among both activists and police officers. A space was created for these two groups to come together for a productive conversation. At the end of the process, each group learned something about the other – about how they each think, about their life experiences. And these connections stuck. The community experiences a much tighter relationship between police and residents, including activists.

“There is potential for change, but we need to provide space for authentic conversation,” Abdullah said.

During this wide-ranging discussion, panelists also explored topics including voting, money in politics, engagement techniques for rural communities and what to do about the perceived marginalization of the white working class. We’ll post a video of the full discussion shortly. If you are interested in supporting or attending future policy breakfasts, contact Chandler at


11.18 Engaging Ideas - 11/18

Friday, November 18th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: What dialogue does to build critical thinking and empathy, and why it matters right now. Is it time to restructure the Education Department? A story of one group addressing employer and workforce needs in education. American’s want Trump to focus on health care first.


Room for Debate: Should the Electoral College Be Abolished? (The New York Times)
Hillary Clinton’s growing lead over Donald J. Trump is now over 1 million votes, making this the second time a president has been elected without a popular majority since 2000. That year, Akhil Reed Amar wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times that the Electoral College should be abolished, and Charles Fried disagreed. Here they are again.

Political Segregation Is Growing and 'We're Living With the Consequences' (Governing)
Author Bill Bishop, who has spent years studying America's urban-rural divide, discusses what it means for politics and progress.

Community Engagement

How Cross-Cultural Dialogue Builds Critical Thinking and Empathy (KQED)
Often adolescents hold strong opinions, but they don’t always know where and how they came to those beliefs. When a teacher pushes them to think critically about why they feel the way they do, it’s easy for students to ignore them. But, when video conferencing with a teenager from another country who genuinely wants to know the answer, students often respond more thoughtfully.

The Source: Online Platform Works To Boost Civic Engagement In San Antonio (Texas Public Radio)
The city is increasingly utilizing the digital sphere for official meetings and to gather feedback for long-term planning, and a new participatory platform is encouraging San Antonio residents to submit ideas for ways to improve the city. Ideas for CoSA is a crowd-sourced virtual suggestion box for citizens of San Antonio to voice their opinions. Once submitted, anyone can vote or comment on an idea. Top-ranked ideas on the site are regularly emailed to all City Council members. Community members can stay up-to-date by subscribing for notifications about new submissions. In addition to the website, Ideas for CoSA also uses a Facebook group to promote the discussion of topics "directly relevant to civic engagement in San Antonio."

What We Know Post-Election: Dialogue & Deliberation is More Critical than Ever (NCDD)
There are many different needs that our country and our communities have right now, but we see a few key needs that stand out as ones that are especially suited for D&D solutions: bridging long-standing divides, processing hopes and fears together, encouraging and maintaining civility in our conversations, and humanizing groups who have become “the other.”

K-12 Education

Report: Putting Democracy Back into Public Education (The Century Foundation)
To refocus civic education on democratic ideals in American public schools, changes should be made to both the explicit and implicit curriculum. Beyond learning about the nation’s Founders and the Constitution, our schools should model democratic values for students by encouraging community members to actively engage in education decisions and inviting teachers to participate in a democratic workplace.

Teacher and Principal School Report (Scholastic)
Nearly all educators surveyed by Scholastic for a new research project believe that "equity in education for all children should be a national priority."

Is It Time to Restructure the Education Department? (EdWeek)
The history of the U.S. Department of Education holds lessons for shaking up the education status quo, writes Gary Beach.

Professional Learning Communities Aren't Just for Teachers (EdWeek)
The superintendent's job can be isolating; online communities can make it less so, write Mark Edwards and Mort Sherman.

Higher Education & Workforce Development

Report: Free Community College: An Approach to Increase Adult Student Success in Postsecondary Education (Education Commission of the States)
To date, 23 states have considered 47 pieces of legislation related to free college. Zero states will realistically reach attainment imperatives without the participation of adult students in higher education.

How We're Convening Employers to Expand Opportunity and Strengthen the Workforce (Forbes)
Recently, Jobs for the Future (JFF) worked with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Institute (AHLEI) to promote ways to ensure career and wage growth for the current 15.5 million hospitality employees and for those who will fill the close to 12 million emerging jobs. Companies like Hilton and TGI Fridays provided leadership for expanding access to registered apprenticeship, with support from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Bringing universities to the students (Community College Daily)
Jasminy Queiroz, 23, a graduate of Montgomery College (MC) in Maryland, is able to save lots of money while pursuing a bachelor’s degree close to her home at the Universities of Shady Grove (USG), a unique regional higher education center with outposts operated by nine state universities. A student in the University of Maryland’s (UM) Robert H. Smith School of Business, Queiroz appreciates the personalized approach at USG. Most of her classes have 15 or 20 students, a far cry from the 80 or 100 packed into classes at UM’s main campus in College Park. More than three-quarters of the 4,000 students at USG are MC transfers. USG was created as a “2+2 model,” with the goal of ensuring MC graduates can complete a bachelor’s degree that will prepare them for in-demand jobs with local employers.

Health Care

Americans Want Trump To Focus On Healthcare First: Poll (Reuters)
Healthcare is the top issue Americans want Donald Trump to address during his first 100 days in the White House, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday, an apparent rebuke of outgoing President Barack Obama's signature reform, Obamacare. Some 21 percent of Americans want Trump to focus on the healthcare system when he enters the White House on Jan. 20, according to the Nov. 9-14 poll, conducted in the week after the Republican won the U.S. presidential election.

The One Thing Missing From The Debate Over Obamacare, According To A Top Doctor (Wonkblog)
President-elect Donald Trump's promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act while preserving some key elements has triggered rampant speculation about the future of American health care — and plunged millions of patients who benefit from the law into deep uncertainty about the future of their coverage. Little is known about the replacement plan that will ultimately emerge. But one voice angling to shape future policy is the leader of the Mayo Clinic, neurologist John Noseworthy. The issue he thinks has been strangely missing from the years-long debate over malfunctioning websites, politics and soaring premiums is this: the patient's health.

Politics Aside, We Know How to Fix Obamacare (The Upshot)
There’s one significant problem with all these ideas, of course: They’d need to pass the Republican Congress and be signed into law by Mr. Trump. Though the G.O.P. has endorsed some of the ideas before — for Medicare — it’s a safe bet they won’t do so for the Affordable Care Act.

Government Spending and County Health Rankings (Health Affairs)
Analyzing government spending at the local level, J. Mac McCullough and Jonathon Leider find positive associations between certain types of social spending and County Health Rankings. Expenditures positively associated with rankings include: community health care and public health, public hospitals, fire protection, K–12 education, corrections, libraries, and housing and community development.

What the Trump Administration Needs to Do About Health Care (Harvard Business Review)
The broad principles of the path forward for the new administration are clear. In our article “Health Care Needs Real Competition,” from the upcoming December 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review, we describe five catalysts that can accelerate progress toward a competition-driven, value-oriented health care marketplace, one that serves the needs of patients, controls costs, and rewards providers who can innovate and execute.


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