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11.10 Toward a Democracy that Works for Everyone

Thursday, November 10th, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Photo: Jnn13 | Wikipedia

Reflecting on this confusing and tumultuous election season, at least one thing has become clear: Millions of Americans feel unheard, unseen and disregarded. They do not trust traditional politics to represent them, and they want a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.

The election has shown how critically important it is to bridge the divides among leaders and the public, to make sure that people have a voice and that their voices are heard, to foster better public conversations that inform wiser public decisions, to create enough common ground and collaboration that we make progress on our most critical problems.

These tasks are the work of Public Agenda, along with our partners, allies and supporters. We stand more committed than ever to doing our part to build a democracy that works for everyone.


11.08 Get Ready for Messy Democracy: Public Officials on Participatory Budgeting

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

Whatever the outcome of today, it's been clear for a while that the public is seeking a greater voice in the decisions that affect them, both locally and nationally. And it's not just the public. Elected officials are frustrated with the state of public engagement as well, as we saw firsthand in a 2012 project with California officials.

As such, many public officials are experimenting with new ways to connect with their constituents and involve them in decision making. One of the most promising new processes is participatory budgeting, or PB, which enables residents to directly decide how to spend public money.

PB started in Brazil and came to the United States in 2009, when one ward in Chicago used the process. In 2015-2016, 47 cities or city council districts in the U.S. and Canada used PB. Recent numbers show that in 2014-15 alone, over 70,000 people voted on how to spend $43 million through PB.

We were curious to see what elected officials had to say about PB, so we asked, in a series of 43 confidential interviews with elected officials across the country, 28 of whom had used PB and 15 who had not.

We wanted to know: What motivated them to try it? Did it help improve their relationship with constituents? What were the other benefits and challenges they encountered? Last week, we released the results of these in the report, "Let the People Decide: Elected Officials on Participatory Budgeting."

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11.04 Engaging Ideas - 11/4

Friday, November 4th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: Articles on the effect scandals have on polling and what connecting research and policy can do to reduce inequality. A voter’s guide to the Nov. 8th education policy stakes. What 12 state schools are cutting, or creating, to ease cost burden on students. A look at an initiative on California’s ballot that may have important implications for drug pricing and policy nationwide.


Three charts make painfully simple how American politics became so messed up (Wonkblog)
With less than a week to go until the election, the country has descended into full partisan battle mode.

The Case Against Democracy (The New Yorker)
Caleb Crain writes: If most voters are uninformed, who should make decisions about the public’s welfare?

Accelerating “What Works” (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
There is an urgent need to expand the infrastructure for results-based policymaking at all levels of the US government.

Mass media has utterly failed to convey the policy stakes in the election (Vox)
Millions of Americans would love some or all of these changes, and millions of others would hate them. But most of all, the vast majority of Americans would simply be confused. Someone who’d been following the election moderately closely — scanning headlines, watching cable news, and tuning in to debates — would simply have no idea that this sweeping shift in American public policy is in the offing if Trump wins. Nor would they have any real sense of what the more modest shift in public policy that would emerge from a Clinton win would look like. Beneath the din of email coverage and the mountains of clichés about populism, the mass-market media has simply failed to convey what’s actually at stake in the election.

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11.03 The State of Public Voice, Post-Election

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016 | Public Agenda

Many in the United States have felt for some time that our elected officials don't put the public's concerns first. Now, years of diminishing trust in government and a growing divide between elites and the public have culminated in 2016: a growing, rarely productive populism and a divisive election season here in the United States.

While this year has been tumultuous and confusing, it also represents a crossroads. Can we harness the growing populism and cultivate a more meaningful, productive public conversation and a more engaged, informed public?

We'll be exploring this and other questions during our upcoming policy breakfast, Can the Public Have a Real Voice in American Politics?

The event takes place the morning of November 17th, after the election. We'll know who our next president will be. But we'll have a lot more questions to explore.

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11.01 Learn About Election-Year Issues with Our Discussion Guides

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

This election, light on the issues and heavy on hyperbole, has not helped our collective civic education and dialogue. Many would argue it's even been harmful or poisonous.

But if we hope to find common ground on and address our trickiest problems, we must educate ourselves on the issues and have civil dialogue, even with those we don't see eye-to-eye with.

Last week, we invited you to participate in #TextTalk2016, our election-season effort to generate better in-person conversations. This week, we want to share some resources to help you both learn about and engage civilly on topics ranging from climate change to the teaching profession to immigration. These resources are all what we call Choicework discussion guides.

The Choicework technique enables people to transcend ideology and partisanship, cultivates empathy and helps people move away from wishful thinking to weigh the pros and cons of policy approaches.

You can be the start of a better, more civil conversation! Download and read the below guides, learn about the issues, share them with friends, family and colleagues, and use them to spark a conversation in person or on social media.

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10.28 Engaging Ideas - 10/28

Friday, October 28th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: A reading list for those trying to make sense of the state of American politics. The New York Times follows three seniors from Topeka High School in Kansas as they journey towards college. What can an emergency loan can do for a student close to graduation? Lessons from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Academy Health's work to generate and disseminate rigorous research that informs and strengthens health policy.


A Reading Guide for Those in Despair About American Politics (The Atlantic)
Nearly three dozen book recommendations to help make sense of the state of U.S. democracy, from academics, comedians, activists and more.

What a liberal sociologist learned from spending five years in Trump's America (Vox)
Hochschild is trying to do something different — to see if it’s possible for a liberal to empathize with Trump supporters. It doesn’t end with a grand theory or a prescription for how to bring America together or help Democrats win elections or anything like that. It’s mostly a book about listening — a rarity in American politics.

Mayors to Trump: Enough With the Hellhole Talk, Already (Politico)
Two weeks before Election Day, mayors can’t get anyone to pay attention to good news. And there really is some.

How social media creates angry, poorly informed partisans (Vox)
Social media sites like Facebook have democratized the media landscape, allowing anyone to create and distribute content to their friends and family. There are a lot of good things about this, but it’s also proving to have a serious downside: Without the quality filters traditionally supplied by mainstream media outlets, there’s a lot more room for total nonsense to circulate widely. The increasing polarization of news through social media allows liberals and conservatives to live in different versions of reality. And that’s making it harder and harder for our democratic system to function.

Community Engagement

Chicago Alderman Joe Moore to Host Premier Screening of Documentary Film ‘Count Me In’ on October 30 (eNews Park Forest)
At a time when voter frustration is mounting, there’s finally a good news story about money and voting: ’Count Me In’ highlights an innovative experiment in direct democracy that gives ordinary Chicagoans direct say over local public projects and monies. Pioneered in Chicago, participatory budgeting is rapidly spreading across the country and even the White House recently made it one of its key recommendations for open government. ‘Count Me In’ tells the compelling stories of regular Chicagoans who are rolling up their sleeves to make an impact in their neighborhoods. The film shows residents pitch ideas for street repairs, bike lanes, or community gardens. Projects get researched, proposals crafted, and at the end, the entire community is invited to vote.

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10.27 Hope for Unity During a Divisive Election Season

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Photo: Jnn13 | Wikipedia

Public Agenda is in the middle of a move to Brooklyn, so no new content for the blog today. However, we wanted to take the opportunity to share some posts from the past that we hope will make you feel more optimistic about our country’s future during an unsettling election season.

We also invite you to help transform the civic discourse by participating in #TextTalk2016, an initiative to stimulate a more civil, informed and engaged conversation about the issues that matter.

Revitalizing Democracy, Community by Community
At the level of national politics, the American democracy is in clear crisis. Rampant gridlock and partisan bickering undermine progress and earn the mistrust and frustration of the populace. Fortunately, a better story is unfolding in many local settings.

Less Divided than We Look
Certainly, there is some evidence in the Pew research of a hardening of positions among the ideologically minded, and we don't deny that there are important disagreements among the American public. Still, this evidence does illustrate that common ground is not only attainable but, on many counts, already exists.

Participatory Budgeting's Promise for Democracy
We have much to learn, but what we already know is that this approach to decision-making holds great promise for our democracy and for the civic health of our communities.

With Dialogue, People's Opinions Can Change and Do Stick
Engaging in dialogue – which is more of a personal exchange rather than debate – with someone who has views and experiences different from your own causes both you and your conversation partner to examine perceptions and assumptions. It humanizes those different views and experiences and softens tightly-held or extreme opinions. Often, such experiences cause people's opinions to shift more quickly than they would otherwise. And these opinion shifts tend to hold.

Fixing Politics by Strengthening Networks for Engagement
David Brooks is right that strengthening the web of community networks can help fix politics, at every level of government. There are practical ways to do this – this is a matter for policy, law, cross-sector collaboration, and long-term planning. We should be proactive, and think constructively, about how we want our democracy to work.


10.25 We're Moving! Please update your records with our new address

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016 | Public Agenda

After more than 40 years in Midtown Manhattan, our offices are moving to a WeWork space in Brooklyn Heights at the end of this week.

Please update your records with our new mailing address, effective Oct 28, 2016:

195 Montague Street, 14th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Our phone numbers and email addresses will remain unchanged.

We look forward to settling into the new space and seeing you there soon!

Public Agenda


10.21 Engaging Ideas - 10/21

Friday, October 21st, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: Four ideas on how to energize demoralized voters. Two articles on the future of teacher prep. Pew reports on the expected growth in demand for workers with social skills. And Medicare announces one of the biggest changes in its 50-year history.


Room for Debate: How to Energize Demoralized Voters (The New York Times)
The percentage of people who say they will vote is down. What can get them to the polls?

Voters Given Opportunities to Limit Money's Role in U.S. Politics (Governing)
Several states will weigh in on the Citizens United ruling, campaign contribution limits and publicly-financed elections in November.

A Pre-Election Reminder: Don't Despair! (The Atlantic)
James Fallows writes: “I tell myself, with 27 days to go until the election, Don’t despair! Better things are happening than what dominates the news—and has dominated my own recent output. I tell readers too: Don’t despair! Will provide more evidence for that assertion soon.”


Bringing the Community Into the Process of Governing (Governing)
Local governments have a lot to gain from the kind of transparency that involves residents in decision-making.

A vital fund for Baltimore (Baltimore Sun)
Over the next few months, a diverse group of Baltimore stakeholders will collaborate with Strong City Baltimore, the national Participatory Budgeting Project, and the office of City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young to develop recommendations for a Baltimore PB process, a plan that would give citizens "real power over real money." This proposal will be evaluated and, hopefully, accepted by the City Council as a part of its plan to administer the Youth Fund.

Public Opinion/ Polling

Putting post-debate ‘flash polls’ into perspective (Pew Research Center)
Quick reactions to events are not always indicative of the ultimate impact of the events. The discussion of the debate among journalists and other observers can shape subsequent public opinion by pointing out factual or logical errors made by the candidates or simply by declaring a winner.

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10.20 Lack of Price Transparency in Health Care May Drive Rising Costs

Thursday, October 20th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

A few short years ago, few Americans felt the need to know the consumer costs of health care. Yet as Americans pay for more and more of their own medical costs, due to rising deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, calls for increased transparency in health care prices are rising.

In a 2015 Public Agenda survey, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 56 percent of Americans told us they had tried to find out what health care would cost them out-of-pocket before receiving care. Among people who had never sought price information for medical services, 57 percent said they would be interested in knowing this information.

Lawmakers are endorsing price transparency legislation at an increasing rate, often in an effort to protect consumers from surprise medical bills and also in the hope that consumers will choose low-cost, high-quality care. Insurers, providers, government agencies and organizations are developing more and more transparency tools and platforms.

Yet a new study from Castlight Health indicates that the health care market still lacks transparency. It also suggests that providers that don't share price information with consumers tend to have significantly higher prices and drive up health care costs overall.

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