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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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10.18 Your Way to Take Part in the Presidential Debate: #TextTalk2016

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016 | Megan Rose Donovan

Even the most optimistic among us are likely feeling disengaged and fatigued during this election season. Tomorrow night, during the final Trump-Clinton debate, we invite you to join a virtual event to discuss the issues that matter most.

Those in the U.S. and all over the world can take part in the event called #TextTalk2016, a group discussion with real-time, text-enabled polling questions and discussion prompts. #TextTalk2016 is an alternative opportunity to talk politics and values with friends and family and without debate-style provocation. It is made possible through Baruch College, which is hosting a on-campus event for the debate.

Anyone can participate in #TextTalk2016. All you need are a few friends, family members or colleagues and a cell phone. Interested? Meet wherever you want at any time on October 19th and text “BEGIN” to 89800. You can join during your lunch break at work or over the dinner table with your family.

Each member of the group will receive polling questions, prompts and discussion suggestions via text message. Results from the polling questions will be tabulated almost instantly for everyone to see and react to.

#TextTalk2016 intends to encourage dialogue that is personally meaningful, that stimulates thinking about actions you want to take, and that is part of a much larger conversation on the present and future of the country.

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10.14 Engaging Ideas - 10/14

Friday, October 14th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: How one young man is distorting polling averages, and how to become a savvy consumer of polling data. The Education Department releases final teacher prep regulations, plus some research on the profession. And a quick history of the politics around universal childcare.


Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner on Citizen Scientists and the Lessons of Flint (Milbank Quarterly)
Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner explain the story of Flint as a classic case of the dual legacies of public health, one rooted in advocacy and aligned with community residents and activists, and the other protecting the interests of state bureaucracies using their own image as scientists. Out of that conflict a movement grew that forced the wider public health community to acknowledge the depths of the problem and the failure of the state to protect its people.

Public Opinion/ Polling

How One 19-Year-Old Illinois Man Is Distorting National Polling Averages (The Upshot)
He is sure he is going to vote for Donald J. Trump. And he has been held up as proof by conservatives — including outlets like Breitbart News and The New York Post — that Mr. Trump is excelling among black voters. He has even played a modest role in shifting entire polling aggregates, like the Real Clear Politics average, toward Mr. Trump.

The Savvy Person’s Guide to Reading the Latest Polls (The Upshot)
There are many factors to consider. Which ones are important?

K-12 Education

Trust Is Missing From School-Improvement Efforts (EdWeek)
Distrust among school leaders and educators can depress teacher retention and harm students, writes Dara Barlin.

Public opinion about improving achievement among poor, minority students (Harvard Shorenstein Center)
A study in Educational Researcher explores Americans' opinions about differences in test scores between poor and wealthy students and white and minority students.

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10.12 Faculty Engagement in College Program Redesign: Lessons from the Field

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016 | ALISON KADLEC, PH.D.

I first met Gretchen Robertson, a Basic Education for Adults (BEdA) faculty member from Skagit Community College at an event hosted by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The event was a Pathways Institute, part of AACC’s Pathways Project, which supports colleges committed to rethinking how they serve and support students.

Gretchen approached me following a presentation I delivered which stressed the importance of engaging frontline faculty and staff in any serious change effort, and doing so early, often and authentically.

Gretchen asked what advice I had for a college that may not have attended as carefully as it should from the outset to deep and authentic engagement of faculty and staff, and as a result, was now experiencing hostile pushback from those whose commitment would be necessary for real progress. It’s a question I get a lot, and I gave Gretchen my standard answer: publicly own where you’ve failed to meaningfully engage, and move forward with a real and visible commitment to doing better to create the conditions for faculty and staff to become true co-owners of the hard work of change. Expect it to be hard, but don’t be deterred by that.

A few months after this initial meeting, I ran into Gretchen at another Pathways Institute. This time I was moderating a session with faculty from colleges implementing guided pathways, which AACC defines as “coherent and easy-to-follow college-level programs of study that are aligned with requirements for success in employment and at the next stage of education.”

During the session, a faculty member became visibly distressed by the conversation as she realized that, for her college to do this work seriously, it may result in some of her courses not being taught as often or perhaps at all.

As the conversation unfolded, and became increasingly heated, Gretchen raised her hand and intervened. It’s impossible to capture here exactly how that conversation unfolded, but I was struck by how constructive and empathetic Gretchen was as she explained how she thinks about this work and why.

Following that session, I asked Gretchen if she’d be willing to talk with me more about her experience of being a faculty member engaged in an ambitious change process. The following edited interview captures the highlights of our ongoing conversation.

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10.07 Engaging Ideas - 10/7

Friday, October 7th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: What talking to strangers can do to combat xenophobia and what happens to the Education Department with an administration change. How mayors and faculty in higher education shape community and dialogue to change policy and outcomes. And a new survey that outlines how health plans will need to improve price transparency to guarantee consumer satisfaction.


Washington’s ‘governing elite’ think Americans are morons (Wonkblog)
A new book argues that Washington bureaucrats have contempt for the Americans they play a big role in governing.

The Hardened Divide in American Politics (The American Prospect)
When did hyper-partisanship begin? Pre-election polling data point to the mid-1990s.


To Combat Xenophobia, Do Talk to Strangers (Observer)
Hundreds of sociological studies over the course of decades about an idea called the “contact hypothesis” have shown with an immense range of nuances that overall, positive experiences with people different than you lead to greater understanding and tolerance for the entire group. Recently, researchers revisited these studies and focused on the previously disregarded effects of negative experiences. They found that the weight of a negative interaction is profoundly heavier than a positive one. To increase tolerance in our society as a whole, we need to create an overwhelming density of positive experiences. This election cycle has given us much to overcome.


Report: A Window of Opportunity II(The Opportunity Agenda)
A Window of Opportunity II, which revisits some of the key questions explored in our 2014 report. A Window of Opportunity II also examines new related variables, including public perception of the fairness of the economy, attitudes towards people suffering from homelessness, and public attitudes towards taxation and spending.

Striking new research on inequality: ‘Whatever you thought, it’s worse’ (Wonkblog)
America’s economic ladder is more broken than anyone realized.

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