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09.02 Engaging Ideas - 9/2

Friday, September 2nd, 2016 | Public Agenda

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


25 Years Later, What Happened to 'Reinventing Government'? (Governing)
The ambitious public management crusade of the 1990s has made a mark on governments everywhere. But it’s fallen far short of its lofty goals.

Public Engagement

Where Sixth-Graders Run Their Own City (The Atlantic)
The idea is to improve kids’ economic knowledge—and it appears to be working.


How Academia Is Failing Government (Governing)
Because the incentives for academic research are misaligned, it has little impact on the real world of public administration and policy.


How the Middle Class May Have Gotten a Raise (The Upshot)
The Census Bureau’s estimates of income stop in 2014. It will not release those for 2015 until next month, and early estimates suggest that household incomes may be way up. Sentier Research, a research firm formed by two former Census Bureau employees, estimates that real median household incomes grew nearly 3.8 percent in 2015. This would be the largest annual gain in household income since Sentier began producing the series in 2000.

How Milwaukee Shook Off the Rust (Politico)
While many cities have sought to repurpose their old industrial zones into hip condos, restaurants or commercial lofts for tech companies—or simply knock them down—Milwaukee has invested in resurrecting its own, with intense planning, new infrastructure and exacting design standards. In the process, a coalition of public officials, community activists and manufacturers have created a model for the 21st century industrial park, where manufacturing, recreation and environmentally-friendly engineered landscapes co-exist. Milwaukee is at work applying the lessons learned in the nearby port district and in the 30th Street industrial corridor several miles to the north.

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09.01 Parent Engagement in Schools: What is Working? What Should We Try Next?

Thursday, September 1st, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER

For decades now, educators, researchers and school reform advocates have emphasized the importance of parent and family engagement. While the evidence for the impact of parent engagement continues to build, school systems have made key realizations about how best to support it. Some have pushed the concept further by developing practices of "student-centered learning."

Research "repeatedly correlates family engagement with student achievement," according to the 2010 Beyond Random Acts report of the National Policy Forum for Family, School, and Community Engagement. Research also suggests family engagement gives students better attitudes toward learning, produces better social skills and fewer disciplinary problems, and leads to lower drop-out rates and higher graduation rates.

On the surface, family engagement may seem like a question of good parenting rather than public participation. But it has become clear that family engagement is largely dependent on how teachers and schools interact with parents. In particular, students benefit from schools and communities that support sustained family engagement.

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08.30 Managing Discussions, Blog 3 of 3: Ground Rules and Feedback

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Key Talents for Better Public Participation, Part 11

Today, we close out our exploration of managing discussions with two critical skills: establishing ground rules and providing feedback.

If you missed them, check out our previous entries on face-to-face facilitation, recording and online moderation.

Ground Rules

When people are treated like adults, they generally act like adults. But sometimes, extra steps need to be taken to reinforce civil behavior. One way of doing so without removing group control over the process, is encouraging participants to set some basic ground rules – norms or standards for conduct, behavior and conversation that help shape constructive and productive dialogue and otherwise make a group functional.

Specifically, ground rules are used to establish the purpose of group, outline how meetings and conversations will be conducted, ensure that conflict is addressed but not escalated and create a safe environment to discuss difficult and controversial issues. The general premise behind ground rules is that all participants should be treated equally and fairly.

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08.26 Engaging Ideas - 8/26

Friday, August 26th, 2016 | Public Agenda

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


State Budgets’ Forecast: Cloudy (Governing)
At a time when every budget “yes” may mean saying “no” to something else, it can be painful for politicians to be forthright about the decisions they are making. But holding public debates about priorities is an essential part of leadership.

Public Engagement

A Scorecard for Public Engagement (Governing)
Involving members of the community in policymaking is tricky, but it's worth the effort. Those who do it well share some approaches.


The Plight of the Overworked Nonprofit Employee (The Atlantic)
Strangely, though nonprofits are increasingly expected to perform like businesses, they do not get the same leeway in funding that government-contracted businesses do. They don’t have nearly the bargaining power of big corporations, or the ability to raise costs for their products and services, because of tight controls on grant funding. “D.C. is full of millionaires who contract with government in the defense field, and they make a killing, and yet if you’re a nonprofit, chances are you aren’t getting the full amount of funding to cover the cost of the services required,” Iliff said. “Can you imagine Lockheed Martin or Boeing putting up with a government contract that didn’t allow for overhead?”

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08.24 Participatory Budgeting Gives Queens College Students a Voice

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Janice Adamo

My first experience with participatory budgeting, or PB, at Queens College was nothing short of revolutionary. Most college students feel left out from the decisions their schools make about how to spend money. PB gives me and my fellow Queens College students a tool to better understand our school’s budget and have a voice in how money is spent.

Queens College is a part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, whose budget is <. We are currently working to institutionalize Participatory Budgeting within the CUNY system. During the 2015-16 budget year, PB at Queens College was limited to a portion of the Student Government budget - $5,000 out of a total Student Government budget of over $115,000. This budget is funded entirely by students themselves. Every year, each student pays a student activity fee of $12 that goes into the budget. The Student Government plans and orchestrates various events on campus, so it’s particularly meaningful for students to have a voice in how this money is spent.

While students had the opportunity to weigh in on Student Government budget decisions before PB arrived, student participation was not fully inclusive. All enrolled students are allowed to be a part of Student Government, but it is a commitment that some cannot make. Not every single one of the almost 21,000 students has the time. Queens College is a commuter school and many of our students keep full- or part-time jobs, raise families or live too far away to stay extra hours. Many had therefore been left out of the process of determining what the $115,000+ Student Government budget will be spent on.

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08.22 Managing Discussions, Blog 2 of 3: Recording and Online Moderation

Monday, August 22nd, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 10

Ensuring that participant interactions work well for everyone requires a number of key skills centered on managing discussions, including facilitating face-to-face groups, recording, moderating online forums, setting ground rules and giving feedback.

Last week, we provided an overview for facilitating face-to-face groups. This week, we'll explore the functions of recording and online moderation. Next week, we'll complete this series on managing discussions with a blog on ground rules and providing meaningful feedback with participants.


Recording or scribing during facilitation can be done on flipcharts or butcher paper in front of the group, on a laptop or tablet, or through audio taping and other technologies.

Recording has many benefits. It lets people know they have been heard and that their ideas have been recognized. It provides a “transcript” of the meeting to help with future discussions and decisions, and can provide information to those who did not attend the meeting. And it helps keep participants on track with the agenda.

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08.19 Engaging Ideas - 8/19

Friday, August 19th, 2016 | Public Agenda

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


Who says voters are ‘polarized’? (Christian Science Monitor)
A study of voters who read news articles about political polarization finds they tend to soften their views. Democracy relies less on division than a respect among fellow citizens.

In South Dakota, Voters Get Rare Chance to Transform Politics (Governing)
Advocates around the country are weighing in on ballot measures that would drastically change South Dakota's elections, weaken the state’s Republican Party and send a message all over.

How media coverage of political polarization affects voter attitudes (Journalist’s Resource / Shorenstein Center)
New research in Political Communication looks at the media’s role in shaping perceptions of how divided the country is and how voters respond to members of the opposing party.


How do Americans view poverty? Many blue-collar whites, key to Trump, criticize poor people as lazy and content to stay on welfare (Washington Post)
The first Times poll of American attitudes toward poverty, in 1985, broke ground by surveying enough poor people to compare their views with those of people in the middle class. The new survey, which was conducted by The Times and the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank that is generally conservative, asked similar questions but with some updating. Much has changed since the 1980s. Welfare got a major overhaul in the 1990s. The number of poor Americans dropped sharply in that decade, only to partially rise again, particularly during the deep recession that began in 2007. But many attitudes have held steady, the new poll found, particularly doubts about the federal government’s ability to run its antipoverty programs, as well as their justification.

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08.18 The Tension Between Preserving a Community and Protecting It

Thursday, August 18th, 2016 | NICOLE CABRAL

A Grand Bayou resident repairs his fishing net.

On a recent hot and humid summer afternoon on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I head west in my rental car on I-10. It is eleven years nearly to the day since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast. Debris has been removed and many of the levees and floodwalls have been repaired. And houses have been fixed or rebuilt.

Yet residents of the Gulf Coast continue to struggle not only with destructive weather and coastal land loss, but with the tension created between preserving their community and protecting it.

I have returned to the Gulf Coast for the first time since 2010, when I was here with the Institute for Sustainable Communities. After Katrina, we worked with city government and nonprofit leaders, building their capacity to better serve their community and help it to be stronger and more resilient.

In my current position with Public Agenda, I am continuing to work in the region, building public engagement infrastructure. This summer I traveled across the Gulf Coast to see how community leaders are doing since the devastating storm. And I witnessed firsthand the tension created by efforts to build community resiliency in the face of climate change.

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08.15 Managing Discussions, Blog 1 of 3: Facilitating Face-to-Face Groups

Monday, August 15th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 9

In public participation, the rubber hits road when citizens begin talking with each other. Ensuring that these interactions work well – for citizens, public officials, public employees and other stakeholders – requires a number of key participation skills centered on managing discussions, including facilitating face-to-face groups, recording, moderating online forums, setting ground rules and giving feedback.

This week, we'll discuss skills for facilitating face-to-face groups. In subsequent weeks, we'll discuss the remaining topics.

Facilitating Face-to-Face Groups

The basic definition of “facilitate” is to make easy or easier. Within the context of public participation, the word facilitate means to lead (and make easier) a group discussion. This is done, for example, by guiding conversations, asking questions, mediating between opposing viewpoints, ensuring that all participants’ views are heard, reflecting and summarizing what is said, following the agenda and keeping time.

The facilitator’s main task is to create a safe environment where each participant feels comfortable expressing ideas and responding to those of others.

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08.12 Engaging Ideas - 8/12

Friday, August 12th, 2016 | Public Agenda

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


Hopelessly Divided? Think Again. (Moyers & Company)
Instead of lamenting our divisions, let’s celebrate what we agree on and find candidates willing to address what's blocking cooperation.

Can Citizen Governance Save Our Republic? (Governing)
Some governments are moving to give citizens more of a direct role in policymaking. It's a promising experiment. According to Public Agenda, 70,000 Americans and Canadians in 22 cities voted last year on how to spend nearly $50 million through participatory budgeting.

The Nerd’s Dream Guide to the U.S. Constitution (The Atlantic)
If you’ve been meaning to do this reading for a while, now really is the time to do it. The more citizens who take seriously their roles as stewards of our fundamental law, the less likely it becomes that the values of due process, equal protection, civic equality, and self-government can be obliterated by the screams of an angry mob.

Public Opinion

How did Marist, Monmouth, Suffolk and Quinnipiac get known for political polling? (Washington Post)
Americans addicted to political polls can get their fix these days from a growing number of colleges and universities that measure the ups and downs of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a tumultuous election year. But the leaders in this expansion of academic polling are hardly household names outside of politics. For these schools, polling in a polarized America yields a marketing bonanza akin to what others might reap through college football bowl games or the NCAA basketball tournament. They are building brands through surveys of political battlegrounds.

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