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06.22 Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation: Part 1

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo and MATT LEIGHNINGER

When it comes to local governing, we’re living in a time of great potential and democratic creativity. While the federal government may seem isolated from the needs and concerns of citizens, local officials are experimenting with new ways to encourage deeper and more robust public participation.

This is happening for good reason. Both leaders and residents are frustrated with traditional methods of public engagement, which often exclude the historically disenfranchised and discourage thoughtful consideration of problems and potential solutions.

So local officials are looking for new ways to hold public meetings. They’re integrating apps and other technologies that provide different ways for residents to weigh in with their concerns and insights. And they’re experimenting with innovative processes like participatory budgeting.

This period of democratic creativity has left us with an exceptionally wide array of participation skills, and the number and diversity of these capacities (especially those that rely on technology) continues to grow daily.

Yet most of these processes, tools and technologies have not been seamlessly or even adequately incorporated into the legal, governmental or civic infrastructure for public participation. Instead, as Maria Hadden of the Participatory Budgeting Project asserts, these practices are “civic hacks” developed to bypass our antiquated political systems.

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06.17 Engaging Ideas - 6/17

Friday, June 17th, 2016 | Public Agenda

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


Why the gun control debate gets more intractable every time there's a mass shooting (Vox)

The psychology of why terrorist attacks divide us further instead of bringing us together.

Enhancing citizen participation in city management (Huffington Post)

In Mexico, María Fernanda Carvallo discusses participatory budgeting, which emerged in 2010. Although the participatory budget is a counterweight to the public administration, it is still in the process of strengthening its role. The challenge lies in the overwhelming participation of people with political ties that influence the neighborhood committee. Furthermore, in an ideal model, the public consultation and application of projects would have to take a backseat to the analysis of common needs through community development mechanisms, which later can culminate in a public vote.

3 Ways to Stay Calm When Conversations Get Intense (Harvard Business Review)

Watch for the tipping point. Focus on something physical to regain perspective. Get to empathy and create bridges. Empathy is not about agreement. Nor is it the same as giving in, being passive, or allowing the other person to mistreat you. Recognize as you make more room for emotion that you are actually helping to discharge it. By allowing the other person to vent, you also gain access to other important facts, assumptions, and constraints at play – all critical information for bridging the gap between you and the other person.

K-12 Education

Digital Learning Games Break Into the Mainstream (EdWeek)

The number of teachers in the United States using games in their classrooms has doubled over the past six years, a new nationwide survey shows. The 2015 Speak Up survey findings are the latest in a series of reports released each year by the Irvine, Calif.-based nonprofit organization. The latest report draws from an online questionnaire completed by more than 500,000 students, teachers, other educators, and parents.

Boston Solicits Public for High School Redesign Ideas (EdWeek)

More than 2,000 parents, educators, residents, and students have offered their views on how to reshape the city's high schools.

Louisiana Pushing Industry Externships for Teachers This Summer (EdWeek)

Districts in Louisiana are paying teachers to swap their classrooms for factory floors and office cubicles this summer.

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06.16 Second Chance Pell Grants: Finding Common Ground on Education for Prisoners

Thursday, June 16th, 2016 | Madison Gordon and Erin Knepler

Last summer, the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Education launched a pilot program for incarcerated individuals called Second Chance Pell. Through this five-year program, a select number of colleges and universities receive Pell Grant funding to teach courses to currently incarcerated individuals, helping them work toward an associate and/or bachelor’s degree.

Rather than providing Pell Grants directly to prisoners, the colleges receive funds to cover educational costs and provide educational opportunities for incarcerated students. Some colleges offer online educational opportunities to inmates, and others teach face-to-face courses inside prisons. As part of the program, the institutions are also required to collect and monitor data to understand the effectiveness of the pilot.

Second Chance Pell has the potential to improve prospects for current inmates and reduce recidivism. But not everyone agrees with spending public tax dollars on education for inmates, and the issue is politically and emotionally charged.

Prior to the start of Second Chance Pell last summer, incarcerated individuals had not had the option to use Pell to pay for higher education in over 20 years. Back in 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which included a provision that denied Pell Grants to incarcerated individuals.

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06.14 What We Can Learn from Engaged Faculty

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 | ALISON KADLEC, PH.D.

Photo by Greg Andersen via Flickr.

Conversations in higher education reform, like those in K-12 reform, seem to be shifting. Particularly in campus-level reform efforts, higher education leaders are increasingly embracing faculty engagement as essential to creating sustainable change. But what does it actually look like when faculty are made true partners in the hard work of change?

Through our work, we have seen many examples of authentic and meaningful faculty engagement. We have also seen many examples of college cultures that are not conducive to deep, shared ownership of efforts to improve student success. But describing what exactly it takes to create healthy cultures for creative collaboration and student-centered innovation is no easy task.

Of course, what institutional leaders do matters. Many leaders feel that they are too busy or are under too much pressure to stop to listen and empower faculty at all levels. But few lasting gains can be made in the absence of distributed leadership.

Yet institutional leaders are not the sole drivers of institutional culture. In this blog, I want to focus on what we can learn from the traits and beliefs of engaged faculty who work in healthy college environments. These environments are conducive to creative collaboration and genuine shared vision and ownership of comprehensive, innovative efforts to boost student success.

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06.10 Engaging Ideas - 6/10

Friday, June 10th, 2016 | Public Agenda

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


Why inequality is worse for your wallet than a weak economy (Wonkblog)

Two trends have socked American workers over the past three decades. The economy has grown more slowly than it did in the decades after World War II, and the growth we’ve seen has disproportionately boosted the incomes of the very rich. Both trends are important, but in a new paper, a liberal economist argues that one of them was far more consequential for the vast majority of Americans. The economist, Joshua Bivens, is the research and policy director at the Economic Policy Institute. In his paper, he builds two alternate realities of the American economy from 1979 to 2007 (the eve of the Great Recession) to tease out whether slowing growth or widening inequality did more to depress incomes for the bottom 90 percent of U.S. workers.

Living in a poor neighborhood changes everything about your life (Vox)

We often talk about increasing wealth inequality, with the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. That's certainly a problem, but something we should be even more concerned about is what is happening to our neighborhoods. There are now more extremely poor neighborhoods and more extremely rich neighborhoods. We're seeing two divergent Americas, one with money, and one without — and the one without is largely black. And the residents of that America are increasingly living in neighborhoods of extreme poverty, where 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

The world’s most elite conference this year will discuss something called “the precariat” (Quartz)

The what? The “precariat” is a term popularized by British economist Guy Standing, describing a growing class of people who feel insecure in their jobs, communities, and life in general. They are the perpetual part-timers, the minimum-wagers, the temporary foreign workers, the grey-market domestics paid in cash, the techno-impoverished whose piecemeal work has no office and no end, the seniors who struggle with dwindling benefits, the indigenous people who are kept outside, the single mothers without support, the cash labourers who have no savings, the generation for whom a pension and a retirement is neither available nor desired.

K-12 Education

At 25th Anniversary Mark, Author of First Charter School Law Reflects on Movement (EdWeek)

Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the passing of the first charter school law in the country. Ember Reichgott Junge is the former Democratic state senator who authored the charter school legislation, which was signed into law in Minnesota on June 4th. She says, "I think we missed a couple of things in our original vision. We missed, first of all, that we needed to pay more attention to the authorizers or sponsors and to make sure they were well trained and to understand their role better. Not only are they compliance oriented, which they should be to hold the charter schools accountable, but they also need to be supportive in the sense of helping the school to be creative."

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06.07 From 'Buy-in' to True Collaboration: Advancing Teacher and Family Engagement in K-12 Reform

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER

Earlier in my career, I assisted and observed a highly successful school improvement effort in Kansas City, Kansas. The key to progress there seemed to be that reform moved along two parallel, interconnected tracks, both of which integrated meaningful engagement with educators and families.

Inside the school system, teachers, administrators and staff took part in regular, deliberative discussions about how to improve teaching practices, the curriculum and other aspects of how schools function. Meanwhile, parents and other family members were part of regular, deliberative discussions of school improvement options, what they wanted educators to do and how non-educators could help. Information was shared between the two sets of discussions, partly by people who were involved in both.

Three years into the process, test scores and graduation rates had risen dramatically, disciplinary incidents had fallen, and a wide range of extracurricular programs for students had been created by volunteers and community organizations. (For the full story, click here.)

Engaging teachers and families is critical to the success of school improvement efforts, as the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation admitted recently.

This means more than just getting ‘buy-in’ from teachers and families on changes conceived by education reformers. The people doing the educating and learning should have meaningful roles in assessing how things are going, learning about new reform ideas and deciding whether and how those ideas should be incorporated in the way their schools work. More productive forms of engagement can not only propel innovations, they can have a direct impact on student learning.

Many efforts to engage teachers and families in school improvement unfortunately share a common shortcoming: most have been temporary projects. In engagement efforts in Kansas City, Kansas and elsewhere, meetings and forums were treated as special activities, rather than built into the way that schools and communities function. Meanwhile, most of the regular, official opportunities for engagement in schools – parent-teacher conferences, Parent-Teacher Associations, school board meetings – continue to use the same tired, conventional formats that do not create sufficient deliberation, collaboration or shared learning. (See Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy for a comprehensive assessment of the state of engagement in K-12 education.)

At Public Agenda, we are working with school systems to overcome these challenges, in three main ways:

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06.03 Engaging Ideas - 6/3

Friday, June 3rd, 2016 | Public Agenda

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


Is civic technology the killer app for democracy? (TechCrunch)
The civic disconnect between information convenience and failing public systems is a considerable challenge. Big data might be a huge boost to our economy, but will it help us build a better nation? Hackathons are terrific community-building events, but we can’t code ourselves out of our failing infrastructure. To build the killer civic app, we need to find an ethical framework that connects technology to political leadership, to power.

Participatory Budgeting Reaches Historically Disenfranchised Neighbors (Next City)
“Does anybody know why this process is so important?” asked Councilmember Mark Levine. “The neighbors know best,” replied one constituent, seconded by many nodding heads and murmurs of approval.


Why early career researchers should care about public engagement (Times Higher Education)
Many researchers don’t want to do public engagement. Few consider it part of their core mission, many consider it a waste of their time. As for higher education institutions, they send out a mixed message: yes, please do it, but do it in your own time. The problem is that public engagement is perceived as taking valuable time away from research, which is already compressed by teaching and administration. It also requires a considerable amount of preparation and even training to deliver effectively. In much the same way that interdisciplinary research projects open hitherto unimagined avenues for research, generalist conversations at public events can provide new perspectives and shift your perception of a subject. Talking at literary festivals, appearing in the media and writing blog posts forces you to express your ideas with added clarity. You learn that making a valid point or providing astute criticism does not imply using convoluted sentence structures and deliberately obtuse vocabulary.

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06.01 A Growing Awareness of the Need for Teacher and Community Engagement in K-12 Reform

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

In a recent letter from their CEO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a bold pronouncement: throughout their K-12 efforts, they admitted to paying too little attention to both teacher and community engagement, a stumble they seem prepared to adjust in the future:

Deep and deliberate engagement is essential to success. Rigorous standards and high expectations are meaningless if teachers aren’t equipped to help students meet them.

We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.

This has been a challenging lesson for us to absorb, but we take it to heart.

The Foundation has certainly never disregarded teachers. In fact, they have funded a number of organizations dedicated to helping teachers have a voice in policies and practices at the school, district, state and federal level. This includes, full disclosure, Public Agenda. The Gates Foundation funded a survey we conducted with the American Institutes for Research regarding teacher attitudes toward reform proposals affecting their profession. This study led to the development of Everyone at the Table, a set of materials designed to help teachers have a more meaningful voice in education reform.

Still, the Foundation acknowledges past missteps and commits to setting a new course. Many leaders fall into a trap when it comes to engaging populations like educators – populations often ignored during but greatly affected by the decision-making process. Rather than looking to teachers as partners in decision making, they seek buy-in for decisions made by non-teachers.

Unfortunately, attempts to seek after-the-fact buy-in rather than authentic engagement can backfire and lead to distrust. We've seen this fairly often over the years, and we've also learned a lot about how a sincere and robust commitment to meaningful engagement can rebuild trust and relationships between leaders and decision makers and community members and educators. Throughout our 40 years, we have:

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05.27 Engaging Ideas - 5/27

Friday, May 27th, 2016 | Public Agenda

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


Democracy and Distrust: A Conversation on Race, Inequality, and Civic Cooperation (Urban Democracy Lab)
NYU Gallatin student Sara Nuta reviews the event, “Democracy and Distrust: A conversation on race, inequality, and civic cooperation,” hosted by the New York Council for the Humanities, as part of its Democracy in Dialogue series, on May 3rd at Federal Hall National Memorial.

In defense of the reasonable Republican (Lori Henson via Medium)
A much-shared article is a conservative cry for mature political discourse.

Why Americans don’t trust government (Wonkblog)
From Larry Summers: We seem to be caught in a dismal cycle of low expectations, poor results and shared cynicism.

Meet the Citizens Who Helped Decide Their City’s Budget—and Got Better Buses, Benches, and Crosswalks (Yes Magazine)
Greensboro, North Carolina, is the first Southern city to give citizens direct control over a slice of public spending.


De-Industrialization and the Displaced Worker (Governing)
The shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a technology- and services-based one hasn’t been kind to the middle and working classes. That won’t change anytime soon.

Neighborhoods Can Shape Success—Down to the Level of a City Block (The Atlantic)
A small but intriguing study done in West Philadelphia points to the importance of what researchers call microenvironments.

K-12 Education

The Push and Pull of Research: Lessons from a Multi-site Study of Research Use in Education Policy (William T. Grant Foundation)
Despite widespread efforts by intermediaries to shape education by conveying research to policymakers, a recent study finds that very few of these policymakers report using research when making decisions. As other studies have found instances where research can shape policy and practice in a variety ways, what explains this contradiction? And what does it mean for efforts to improve the use of research evidence? Chris Lubienski and colleagues share findings from their recent work and outline lessons for the field.

Nashville schools to change how principals are hired (The Tennessean)
Shayne Elementary School needs a new principal for the 2016-17 school year, and Metro Nashville Public Schools is asking the community to have a say in the type of leader the school needs. The process at Shayne Elementary is one the district will duplicate in each of the district's 18 principal hires for next school year— and from now on — after incoming Director of Schools Shawn Joseph made changes to the way the heads of schools are hired. For Shayne Elementary, parents and staff will have the chance to serve on the panel that interviews candidates for the job. Those panels include central office and human resources staff. In the case of a high school hiring, students will also be included in the mix.

Gates on Common Core Rollout (Politico Morning Education)
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "underestimated the level of resources and support required" for public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the Common Core standards, Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the foundation, says in a letter posted on the foundation's website. She says the foundation "missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators - particularly teachers - but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning." The foundation is now "doubling down" on efforts to "make sure teachers have what they need" in high-quality learning materials, she said.

What Are Massachusetts Public Schools Doing Right? (The Atlantic)
Widely seen as the best public-school system in the U.S., the Massachusetts school system’s success can offer lessons to other states.

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05.26 Using Data to Improve Participatory Budgeting

Thursday, May 26th, 2016 | REBECCA SILLIMAN

Last Friday a positive buzz of energy reverberated off the walls of the Tobin Community Center as young Bostonians between 12- and 25-years-old gathered around tables filled with paper ballots and voting boxes. People enjoyed pizza and ice cream in between a dance performance and a raffle.

I wasn’t at a school function, community mixer or party. I was at the Participatory Budgeting (PB) Votefest event, and the youth were there to vote on how they wanted to spend $1 million of the city’s capital budget.

Votefest was also the kickoff event for the 4th International Conference on Participatory Budgeting, organized by the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) in partnership with the city of Boston. The Conference occurred on the heels of our release of the first-ever comprehensive analysis of PB in the United States and Canada. It brought together members of the PB community, including evaluators, implementers, elected officials, scholars and activists, who shared their experiences with PB.

Everything about the conference exemplified the enthusiastic PB community and encouraged sharing of information, cultivating new ideas and excitement about possible long term social change outcomes. Conference panels included discussions about best practices for PB implementation, digital tools that have the potential to support the PB process, local PB advocacy and, central to our work in PB, the usefulness of evaluation and research.

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