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09.23 Engaging Ideas - 9/23

Friday, September 23rd, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: Only 4 percent of Americans have a positive image of both presidential candidates and a set of guidelines for improving the debates. Lots of new research about teachers, including how their relationship to principals impacts retention. An essay on the rising cost of college and news on higher ed funding in Kentucky. Kaiser Family Foundation's Drew Altman says the rising cost of deductibles might be the most pressing question in health care.


Candidates can't campaign as dividers and govern as unifiers (The Hill)
There are many ways to characterize this year’s presidential campaign — “polite” or “respectful” don’t come to mind. And it seems that voters are growing weary of the bad manners, the acrimony. A Gallup poll released in July found that one in four Americans have an unfavorable opinion of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But perhaps more indicative of national disgust was the contrasting statistic: Only 4 percent held positive images of both candidates. Lack of civility on the campaign trail has implications — for individuals and for the nation as a whole.

A Simple Plan to Fix the Presidential Debates (The Atlantic)
The National Institute of Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona has just come out with guidelines for debaters, the debate audience and, importantly, the moderators, that need to be heeded. Most of the guidelines are simple and obvious: Debaters should be respectful of others, answer the questions asked, and stand against incivility; audience members should be respectful, not create disturbances, and listen to those speaking. (Public Agenda has signed on as a supporter of these rules.)

There is no media (Columbia Journalism Review)
It seems perfectly plausible that just one-third of Americans trust “the media.” Liberals and conservatives alike have criticized “the media” over the course of this campaign, while presidential candidates have made “the media” a familiar target in stump speeches and fundraising emails. And herein lies the caveat journalists should consider before they wet the bed over Gallup’s latest data: There is no media. There is only my media and your media.

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09.22 During Debate Season, Let's Stay Civil

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 | Public Agenda

As we make our plans for watching the first presidential debate on Monday, we are committed to encouraging civil and inclusive conversations. Will you join us?

In an effort to reset the tone of this election, National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) has issued a set of debate standards. The standards call on presidential debate moderators, candidates and audiences to commit to more civil, informative and fair debates.

We join more than 65 other organizations in signing on to the standards. You can join the effort: sign the petition on Your name will be sent to the presidential debate moderators, asking them to adopt the Debate Standards for the upcoming debates.

The Debate Standards are:

We want debaters to:

  1. Be respectful of others in speech and behavior
  2. Answer the question being asked by the moderator
  3. Make ideas and feelings known without disrespecting others
  4. Take responsibility for past and present behavior, speech and actions
  5. Stand against incivility when faced with it

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09.20 Supporting Action Efforts

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 14

Ideas for action emerge naturally in many different forms of public participation. When people talk about issues that are important to them, they often want to:

  • Develop new problem-solving partnerships and new ways to work with others.
  • Express their ideas, concerns, and recommendations to public officials and other decision makers.
  • Strengthen practices and policies within departments, agencies, community organizations, workplaces or other groups.

During participatory processes, people often think about action ideas they would like to take individually and as a community. It is important for participants to be able to hear one another’s ideas and decide together which actions to take.

In some single-day participatory processes, action ideas are shared at the end of the day. In others, there is a separate action-focused event where participants can come together to share ideas. Still others facilitate action efforts with online tools and tactics.

Two skills, planning action events and supporting action teams, can be helpful for all of these processes. (Many of these tips, along with more information on supporting action, are described by Everyday Democracy here.)

Planning an Action-Focused Event

Events that help people transition from dialogue to action typically have three elements:

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09.16 Engaging Ideas - 9/16

Friday, September 16th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues. This week: Good news on wages from the Census Bureau. Philip Howard on how to restore healthy democratic debate. Columns on accountability, the looming teacher shortage, for-profit colleges, the skills gap and higher deductibles. Plus, a new report on charter schools and why we must banish the word "stakeholders."


Will Civics Education Make People Better Voters? (Governing)
It's making a comeback in public schools. But to really make voters more informed, the curriculum could use an overhaul.

Conversation Becomes Shouting in a Society Without Authority (Daily Beast)
Philip Howard writes: “There is a solution here. Restoring healthy democratic debate requires a healthy democratic structure. American public discourse has degenerated into a free-for-all because there’s no cost to being unreasonable. People will have an incentive to be reasonable only when officials have room to act on this question: What’s the right thing to do here?”

Opinion Research

How We Undercounted Evictions By Asking The Wrong Questions (FiveThirtyEight)
Conducting good survey research is hard. Conducting good survey research on people with low incomes — who tend to be transient, hard to reach and often hesitant to greet strangers knocking on their doors — is even harder.


Could Foundations Have Mounted A Better Defense Of The ACA? (Health Affairs Blog)
Given the ongoing vulnerability of the ACA, what could philanthropy have done differently to better support advocacy around implementation and to help shore up this nascent law? Was there temptation to declare victory and move on to other issues? How should advocacy support have gone differently amid the hyperpartisan atmosphere that now surrounds health reform and other critical issues, such as immigration and global warming?

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09.15 The public may be losing faith in higher education

Thursday, September 15th, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

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

This week, we released new research suggesting the public is losing confidence in higher education:

  • Just 42% of Americans say college is necessary for success in the workforce. This reverses a previous trend. (See our blog for more on this trend.)
  • 46% say college is a questionable investment due to high student loans and limited job opportunities.
  • 69% say there are many people who are qualified but lack the opportunity to go to college.
  • 59% say colleges today are like most businesses and care mainly about the bottom line.

Yet experts overwhelmingly agree that college credentials are the best opportunity to improve the economic prosperity of individuals, families, communities and the nation.

What should policymakers and education leaders take away from this research? Given their many efforts to boost college attainment, they ought to take these findings seriously. In particular, the findings should provoke them to better understand and respond to the factors underlying the public's skepticism about the value of higher education.

The research should also provoke leaders to reflect on their efforts to communicate with the public about the value and benefits of college. For example, leaders may need to better articulate the job opportunities a college education can provide and the return on investment of a college degree or certificate. They may also consider the best ways to engage the public regarding the varied types of higher education and the opportunities each can deliver.

Let's start the conversation! You can help by sharing this research with others - forward this email or share this infographic. And let us know what you think. We believe it crucial that higher education leaders be aware of the shift in public opinion this research strongly suggests, and consider the best way to respond.


09.15 Public Skepticism of Higher Education Is Growing. We Need to Confront It.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

One of the great things about the work we do is the opportunity we have to speak frequently with the public regarding their views toward education. This is something we’ve been doing for a long time, and it often enables us to sense and identify emerging trends in public opinion.

The idea that post-secondary education can lead to better economic well-being is often considered by policy elites to be common sense. Yet for a few years now, we've heard rumblings in focus groups which suggest the public’s perception of higher education is shifting.

Survey findings we released this week affirm that shift: the public is far less likely now to perceive a college education as necessary for a good job. And policymakers and experts ought to sit up and take notice.

This view is a reversal of an earlier trend – one of growing support for the necessity of college. For a long time, the public was increasingly likely each year to say that a college education was necessary for success in the working world. The increase held steady for nearly a decade, growing from 31 percent of Americans who said college was necessary in 2000 to 55 percent in 2008 and 2009.

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09.13 Helping Participants Make Group Decisions

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 13

In some participatory processes, people will need to select among options or alternatives, or make other kinds of decisions about implementation or action. Two skills may be particularly helpful for making decisions in participatory processes: dotmocracy and keypad polling.


One technique for making decisions is dotmocracy, also known as dot-voting or idea rating. This technique is useful for ranking or selecting ideas, alternatives or options.

In dotmocracy, the facilitator gives all participants an equal number of stickers – usually dots, but any stickers will do. Markers can also be used in place of stickers. The options are written legibly and largely, usually on individual flipchart sheets that are posted on a wall. Participants are then invited to “vote” for their favorite options by placing their stickers on the flipchart sheets.

Participants may spread their votes among a number of options, or consolidate their votes on a single option. The option(s) with the most dots at the end of voting “win.” One variation of dotmocracy uses different color stickers to signify different values, for example, a green dot means something is liked and a red dot means it is disliked.

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09.09 Engaging Ideas - 9/9

Friday, September 9th, 2016 | Public Agenda

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


Can a Japanese Business Process Help Solve Our Complex Social Problems? (Governing)
Governments are using the "Lean" model to bring efficiency to their operations. But it could be doing a lot more writes John M. Bernard, chairman and founder of Portland, Oregon-based Mass Ingenuity.

Against transparency (Vox)
Matthew Yglesias writes: It’s impossible to write about this issue in today’s environment without thinking of Clinton’s use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state. But while the question of whether she appropriately followed the existing laws is obviously important, so is the question of whether the laws make sense. And the answer is: no. Treating email as public by default rather than private like phone calls does not serve the public interest. Rather than public servants communicating with the best tool available for communication purposes, they’re communicating with an arbitrary legal distinction in mind.

Public Engagement

Reading Beyond the Headline: Why Seattle’s Ideas Are Worth Stealing (Governing)
Seattle’s Mayor Murray ups the ante on inclusive citizen engagement -- and helps pave the way for the rest of us writes Ron Littlefield, a former mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., and a senior fellow with the Governing Institute.


What Homer Simpson's 100+ jobs tell us about America's middle class (Vox)
Homer Simpson has economically stagnated, just like the real American middle class. I plotted out Homer’s hypothetical job salaries in a linear order, by episode number. Over the course of 597 episodes — from 1989 to 2016 — it’s clear that Homer has not climbed the economic ranks.

As 5 States Vote on Minimum Wage, Not All Look to Raise It (Governing)
Most of November's minimum-wage ballot measures would increase workers' pay. But one state's would actually reduce it for some.

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09.08 Reinventing Economic and Political Opportunity

Thursday, September 8th, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Photo: Nathan Keirn

Most Americans do not particularly resent wealth. In fact, they respect those who make it big, especially if they do so through ingenuity and hard work, and hope to do the same themselves.

But if they feel that their own economic opportunities are diminishing rather than expanding, people begin to feel mounting frustration as they question society’s basic fairness.

If more and more of life’s essentials—housing, college, health care—skyrocket in price well beyond what people can reasonably afford, people begin to feel desperate.

And if they believe that the wealthy have undue political influence, so that the average person’s recourse in both the economic and political spheres has closed down, then people begin to feel enraged.

This brings us to the present political moment.

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09.06 Helping Participants Generate and Evaluate Ideas

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 12

A common practice in all kinds of participation settings is generating, refining, evaluating and ranking ideas. Two skills are particularly helpful for supporting these activities: brainstorming and visioning to generate ideas, and using ABC standards to evaluate ideas.

Brainstorming and Visioning

Some participation opportunities will directly center on generating new ideas and information, while others may only need to generate ideas as one of the steps in the process. Generating ideas is sometimes called ideation, especially when it is done online. Whether done in online or face-to-face settings, ideation relies on brainstorming and visioning.

The term “brainstorming” was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in his book Applied Imagination. Since then, practitioners and researchers have updated and improved upon his approach.

Brainstorming is now a very common way to help groups identify creative solutions to problems or issues. At its heart, brainstorming combines informal problem solving with lateral thinking and fun. During the brainstorming process, groups are encouraged to develop as many ideas for addressing a problem as quickly as they can.

Visioning is very similar to brainstorming. However, it is more future-focused. Instead of asking people to come up with ideas for problem solving, it asks people to look to some point in the future when the problem has been solved and generate ideas about what the situation looks like without the problem being present.

The steps of brainstorming and visioning are similar and simple. The facilitator prepares the group by explaining the process and the rules, presents the problem or issue to be addressed and guides the discussion while reinforcing five simple rules:

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