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07.25 Managing Conflict

Monday, July 25th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 6

Although public participation projects rarely include formal conflict resolution processes, a general sense of how to manage conflict can be invaluable for building coalitions and facilitating meetings.

Participation leaders may face deep divisions and histories of conflict between city and county governments, school systems and governments, advocacy groups and federal agencies, developers and neighborhood leaders, elected officials from different political parties, unions and employers, and people of different racial or ethnic groups. They are also likely to face conflicting views about an issue under discussion and what ought to be done about it.

Understanding the basics of how to manage those differences can go a long way toward improving public participation. Two skills are particularly relevant to managing conflict: understanding positions and interests, and principled negotiation and interest-based problem solving.

Understanding Positions and Interests

Positions are what a person or group wants, or the demand a person or group is making.

Interests are the needs, values or concerns that underlie a position – they are why a person or group wants something.

For any given issue, people generally have only one position but many interests, with some interests being stronger than others. People with conflicting positions often share basic interests, which can form the foundation for constructive discussions and potential solutions.

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07.22 Engaging Ideas - 7/22

Friday, July 22nd, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, education, health care and urban housing.


Participatory Budgeting’s Promise for Democracy (Governing)
More and more communities are trying it, bringing tens of thousands of people into decisions on local spending.

'Politics Has Become Celebrity-Driven': How 2016 Surprised Political Thinkers (NPR)
Over the last month, we asked a group of political scientists and analysts how 2016 is changing how they think: what conventional wisdom is gone now; what surprised them? Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of these answers revolve around the Trump phenomenon, but others say we may have to rethink what voters want — and how to measure those attitudes.


Why everyone is so mad: 99% of post-recession jobs went to those who went to college (Quartz)
A new report might suggest why people are so angry in a world that should be experiencing much less turmoil as it recovers from the Great Recession. Jobs have come back back in post-recession America—but they’re reserved almost exclusively for people who went to college. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce put out an extensive report this week revealing that while the US created 11.6 million new jobs after the recession, 11.5 million of those went to individuals with at least some college education.

Bernie Sanders is right the economy is rigged. He’s dead wrong about why. (Vox)
Sanders thinks Koch and his billionaire comrades did it, more or less. Koch thinks an active, hands-on approach to economic regulation — an approach Sanders strongly favors — has allowed interest groups to capture the regulatory process and rig markets in their favor. Sorry, Bernie fans: Charles Koch is a lot closer to the truth.

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07.21 Transforming Public Engagement: Our Very First Strategy Lab

Thursday, July 21st, 2016 | NICOLE CABRAL

These days, most local public officials recognize the value of deeper engagement with their constituents. Yet the conventional formats they have to engage treat citizens like children rather than adults. Take the typical public meeting for example, in which people have two minutes at an open microphone to speak to officials.

A more effective approach is one in which both parties see each other’s insights and concerns as equally valued. How can local officials transform their engagement efforts so they resemble an adult-adult relationship?

This question resonated with participants in a recent workshop I delivered with my colleague Matt Leighninger. The workshop was our very first "Public Engagement Strategy Lab,” an interactive day-long opportunity for leaders to transform and reinvigorate their public engagement efforts. We offered the Public Engagement Strategy Lab in conjunction with the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, as a pre-conference event for the Frontiers of Democracy Conference in Boston.

Moving toward a more equal dynamic between officials and the public is a long slog. One part of the process is transforming the “two minutes at the mic” public meeting standard. We walked participants through the latest tools and techniques in engagement that can reinvigorate public meetings, including online tools as well as face-to-face formats.

Another common challenge local officials often face: the “usual suspects” dominating most public meetings. Conventional engagement often attracts only a small number of extremely strident voices. At the Strategy Lab, we talked about how to bring large, diverse numbers of people to the table.

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07.19 Communicating About Participation

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 5

Participation leaders should consider ways to communicate through the media about participation opportunities, experiences and impacts.

While the media landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade, some basic communication skills are useful whether one is working with traditional media organizations, such as newspapers and television and radio stations, or new media organizations, including hyperlocal and purely online outlets.

These skills include: clear messaging, creating a media plan, feeding the discussion about participation and reporting on results. Below we offer suggestions, many of which are adapted from the Institute for Local Government, for each of these skills.

Clear Messaging about Participation

Since media messages are mainly one-way forms of communication, there are fewer opportunities for questions and answers. Therefore, the message about the participation opportunity has to be simple and clear. It should answer the following questions:

  • What is at stake and why should citizens care?
  • What are the participation goals?
  • What will happen if people choose to participate?

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07.15 Engaging Ideas - 7/15

Friday, July 15th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, education, health care and urban housing.


After Education, Young Americans Diverge on 2016 Issues (AP)
When it comes to picking a new president, young people in America are united in saying education is what matters most. But there's a wide split in what else will drive their votes, the Associated Press reports. For African-American adults between the ages of 18 and 30, racism is nearly as important as education. For young Hispanics, it's immigration. And for whites and Asian-Americans in the millennial generation, it's economic growth. The results from the new GenForward poll highlight big differences among young Americans who often are viewed as a monolithic group of voters - due in no small part to their overwhelming support for President Barack Obama during his two campaigns for president.

Inside Obama’s radical experiment in national reconciliation (The Washington Post)
It was diversity “by design,” as Obama later told reporters, an unorthodox, four-hour experiment in policymaking through the kind of emotional exchanges that are more often associated with therapeutic encounter sessions than bureaucratic seminars. And according to interviews with about a third of those who participated, it worked. Participants described a wide-ranging, free-flowing conversation facilitated by Obama himself, who began by taking off his suit jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeves. Attendees, even some who had been skeptical of the utility of such a meeting, described an unsparingly frank discussion in which police, protesters, academics and the president debated many of the disagreements playing out across the nation.


An Underutilized Tool for Building Tomorrow’s Workforce (Governing)
Prior learning assessment — awarding college credit for knowledge gained outside the classroom — is a worthwhile idea that's catching on.

5 Takeaways From a Report on Income Mobility (Governing)
New data reveals long-term trends about the under-reported topic.

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07.14 The Urgent Need for Better Dialogue on Crime, Punishment and Education

Thursday, July 14th, 2016 | ALISON KADLEC, PH.D. & ZOE MINTZ

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring higher education opportunities for prisoners, particularly through Second Chance Pell. As we’ve demonstrated, large gaps exist between research, policy and public attitudes when it comes to correctional education. These gaps suggest a clear need for better public deliberation and decision making on this issue.

Research indicates that providing educational opportunities to prisoners has a significant positive impact on recidivism. Yet traditional public opinion research has found that Americans - particularly white Americans - tend to view punishment, not education, as the proper deterrent for crime. In a 2014 survey from The General Social Survey, when asked “Do you think the courts in this area deal too harshly or not harshly enough with criminals?”, 59 percent of white respondents answered “Not harshly enough.”

At the same time, a growing body of research suggests that when average Americans have the opportunity to deliberate on issues related to crime and punishment, they demonstrate the desire and capacity for more creative, measured and thoughtful cross-partisan problem solving.

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07.12 Recruiting Participants

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 4

Bringing together large, diverse numbers of people is often critical to the success of public participation.

Participation is more likely to benefit the community as a whole when it involves a broad cross-section of the community. And interactions will be more lively and rewarding when there is a diverse mix of participants. In this case, diversity not only means demographic diversity, but also diversity of views, perspectives, backgrounds and experiences.

Diverse participation is a conscious result of recruiting efforts. Valuable recruitment skills to assist in encouraging diversity include mapping the community, creating recruitment plans and conducting one-on-one interviews.

Mapping the Community

There are many ways for participation leaders to map the community or population with which they are working. The most basic and proven approach is simply to list the different networks and groups to which people belong.

Using an actual geographic map can be helpful for learning and remembering where people live, work, study, worship, and play. A map of social media connections can help organizers find the people who connect with, are trusted by, and curate information for others.

All kinds of networks and groups could be represented in such a map, including but not limited to: schools, businesses, faith congregations, service clubs, sports teams, hospitals, immigrant service organizations, fire stations, colleges and universities, restaurants and coffee shops, youth groups, senior citizens’ groups, grocery stores, libraries, newspapers and radio stations, police or sheriff’s departments, unions, newspapers and other media organizations, community organizing groups, neighborhood or homeowners associations, laundromats, barbershops and hair salons, political parties, social service agencies and bookstores.

These lists can be made graphically interesting. For example, the figure below provides an example of a neighborhood-based recruitment map. It also shows that mapping need not be complicated.

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07.08 Engaging Ideas - 7/8

Friday, July 8th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, education, health care and urban housing.


The people trying to save democracy from itself (The Guardian)
New experiments in democracy around the world are trying to take politics back to ordinary people.


How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality (The New York Times)
A growing body of economic literature suggests that anti-growth sentiment, when multiplied across countless unheralded local development battles, is a major factor in creating a stagnant and less equal American economy. It has even to some extent changed how Americans of different incomes view opportunity.


Why political participation falls short, and how to fix it (Ford Foundation)
Every election cycle, there’s a lot of talk about how to increase U.S. voter turnout. A new report looks beyond that familiar question and explains what it will take to make participation meaningful—and have a true, lasting impact.

Participatory Budgeting In The 50th Ward? Residents Push For Referendum (DNAinfo)
Some residents in the 50th ward are trying to gather enough signatures for a November referendum to bring participatory budgeting to the community.

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07.06 Cultural Competence and Engaging Youth

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 3

Last week, we discussed principles and methods for building coalitions and networks that support deeper public participation. We continue that theme this week, focusing specifically on cultural competence and youth engagement.

Photo by Sikarin Thanachaiary via Flickr.

Cultural Competence

To work with a diverse array of coalition members, citizens or other stakeholders, participation leaders need to cultivate the skills of cultural competence.

The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice defines cultural competence as the “the integration and transformation of knowledge about individuals and groups of people into specific standards, policies, practices, and attitudes used in appropriate cultural settings … thereby producing better outcomes.”

Most trainings and workshops in cultural competence ask people to reflect on their own backgrounds and experiences, and hear more about the backgrounds and experiences of others. These interactions are structured to build awareness and knowledge of cultures and their differences. In some cases, these trainings delve into questions of bias, discrimination and aspects of racism, including white privilege, structural racism and internalized oppression.

These experiences provide safe spaces for people to ask questions and air concerns. Cultural competency trainings also foster the sorts of skills that get people listening to and learning from others.

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07.01 Engaging Ideas - 7/1

Friday, July 1st, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, education, health care and urban housing.


The remarkable parallels between the Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump (Washington Post)
The stunning decision by Britons to exit the E.U. — and the underlying sentiments that led to this shocking result — are the stuff that Americans should not only pay attention to but should also understand as motivated by the same emotions that have fueled the equally remarkable rise of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in our own political system.

Creating Simpler, More Effective Government Services for Everyone (GovLab)
For technology to have its intended effects on the public good, government must recognize that technology “is not something you buy, it’s something you do,” argues Jen Pahlka (founder and executive director of Code for America and former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer).   

What it’s like to be a political moderate working in a ridiculously polarized Senate (
The Senate I observed was not the one I’d hoped for, and it didn’t seem orderly. For some pieces of legislation, senators could file virtually unlimited amendments, so that several hundred amendments might be filed for a single bill. And under closely held schedules, one never knew which ones might be called to the floor at any given time. It wasn’t a recipe for serious policymaking.

Do Digital News Feeds Threaten or Enhance Deliberative Democracy? (The Atlantic)
An expression of concern about the algorithms that shape what Americans read before they vote.


A Strong Middle Class Doesn’t Just Happen Naturally (The Atlantic)
In the 20th century, America invested in policies that created widespread prosperity. Can the country do so again?

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