Wednesday, March 30th, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.
Reprinted from The Huffington Post - March 30, 2016
Nothing can make up for what was lost, but it might be the one way to get governing and democracy back on track.
The Flint crisis is perhaps the worst example of what can go wrong when people have no voice in the decisions that affect their lives: A generation of children faces the irreversible effects of lead poisoning. Nine people are dead. Trust has vanished. Residents saw their rights and dignity violated.
There’s no question that Michigan officials failed their citizens. It’s an extreme example, but this kind of tragedy is the inevitable result when officials govern without listening to and showing respect for the people they were elected to serve.
We felt helpless from the get-go...[We] felt like we had no voice.
To not only address the problem but also to make sure it never happens again, leaders will need to pay as much attention to the health of local democracy as to the immediate health of residents. Restoring trust and democracy will take time, effort and patience on the part of local officials and community members alike.
In the short term, here are five actions officials should take to lay the groundwork on the long road of righting relationships and fixing democracy:
Listen to residents and meet their immediate needs. Make up for past failures. Provide water, as much as residents need, when they need it. Replace pipes. Repay water bills. Set up funds to support the health and education of children affected by the crisis. Give residents the space to be angry. And listen to them and respond when they talk about what else they need. In concert with such ameliorating actions, take ownership of bad decisions and apologize.
As you respond to immediate needs, build durable mechanisms for ongoing and authentic public engagement. Transform city council and other public meetings into meaningful opportunities to interact with residents. Use civic tech to gather information and provide people with additional ways to weigh in on decisions. Empower communities through innovative democratic practices like participatory budgeting, and through more traditional ones, like citizen advisory boards.
Provide timely information and practice transparency. From the beginning, the decisions that led to the current crisis have been riddled with opacity and a lack of accountability. Now is the time to be transparent with residents. Give them the information they need, in a timely manner, in ways they can absorb, and continue that practice beyond the current crisis.
Partner with and empower community leaders whom people trust. With faith in official leadership gone, local officials will need to work with community members who ARE trusted. Identify respected leaders and organizations and build those relationships. But be careful to do so in an authentic, transparent way -- the last thing officials want is for the public to distrust by association the motives of local community members.
Pursue activities that slowly but surely rebuild the broken bond. Create opportunities for positive, problem-solving interactions between residents and officials that address real issues. Over time, these smaller efforts may help officials earn back residents’ trust. Visit homes and listen. Organize and attend recreational activities for area children. Deliver meals to elderly or disabled residents. Do well on a million small acts of governance that build the social capital and know-how to tackle bigger and tougher challenges down the line.
Such measures can lead to a Flint where residents have true ownership in decisions that affect their lives and where officials consult with residents as partners in formulating and implementing solutions. What’s done is done, but officials and other leaders must do all they can to make sure that this never happens again. They can best do so by taking democracy to heart and pursuing it with passion.
Tuesday, March 29th, 2016 | TIFFANI WILLIAMS
Too often, our conversation about gender equity fails to consider the ways in which college-level practices can end up reinforcing gaps and inequalities that persist well into women’s working lives. To boost gender equity in workforce representation and compensation, we need a deeper understanding of the ways colleges create and reproduce barriers to equal labor market opportunities.
Historically, women have been underrepresented in education and the workforce for a majority of the last century. However, current trends indicate that trend is shifting.
Women enroll in college, graduate and pursue advanced degrees at higher rates than men. For example, between 2002 and 2012, college enrollment grew from 16.6 million to over 20 million. Much of this growth is attributed to an increasing number of women enrolling in college. The ratio of college graduates that are women versus those that are men is 3 to 2. And when considering women ages 25-34, studies find that women are over 20 percent more likely to complete a college degree and 48 percent more likely to have completed graduate school than men.
Do these numbers tell the entire story of gender equality? Probably not. Labor market outcomes post-graduation reveal interesting differences between men and women and even suggest that large gender gaps still exist.
Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.
The presidential primaries have a way of putting the extremes at the center. As the candidates mobilize the small number of partisan donors and activists who determine their fate, the political discourse polarizes even more than usual and leaves behind what little common ground and pragmatism remain in our national politics.
This is, in part, the natural outcome of the problematic design of our electoral system. It is also symptomatic of many troubling trends that are dividing the nation and undermining our ability to solve problems. These include:
- The growing gap between leaders and the public: Public trust in government and many other societal institutions remain near historic lows.
- Increasing partisan polarization in our national politics: Moderates of either party in Congress have disappeared, partisan rhetoric has hardened, and populist movements on the left and right are rising.
- Growing inequality and the hollowing out of the economic middle: Our post-industrial economy is splitting into a small sector of high-wage knowledge occupations and a large one of low-wage and insecure service jobs, as the middle class disappears and inequality deepens.
- The fracture of the news media: This makes it all too easy to reinforce our own views and avoid hearing from those who disagree.
- The stubborn cleavages of racial discrimination, discord and violence: Racism, the most ancient of American failures, continues to challenge each generation.
Monday, March 21st, 2016 | DAVID SCHLEIFER, PH.D.
Experts have a lot to say about measuring quality in health care. But what qualities matter most to patients like you and me?
What do you think makes for a high-quality doctor? When asked this question, most Americans say they focus on doctor-patient relationships and doctors’ personality, according to a 2014 nationally representative survey from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
But do people think differently about quality when they're faced with a potentially more serious situation such as joint replacement, diabetes or childbirth? People facing such situations may be interested in personality and relationships. However, they may also want to choose doctors and hospitals who are “the best.” But the best at what exactly? And according to whom?
We've seen a lot of progress on ratings systems that measure and communicate the quality of care that doctors and hospitals provide. Organizations like the Leapfrog Group, for example, have for many years reported on hospital quality and safety. They have found that a person on Medicare has a one in four chance of experiencing injury, harm or death when admitted to a hospital.
Several other non-profit organizations, private companies and state governments also now publicly rate the quality of hospitals and physician groups. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently released core quality measures for treatment in seven areas of health care. These measures are designed to improve consumer decision-making and facilitate value-based payment, among other goals.
Monday, March 21st, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.
As a boy growing up in New York City's Upper West Side and West Village neighborhoods in the '60s, I kept my lunch money in my shoe and witnessed a cops and robbers shootout at a Western Union on Broadway.
I returned to live in the Upper West Side four decades later. These days, the neighborhood is safer, sure, but it's absurdly expensive. The high cost of living means the area lacks a true middle class, which I was part of growing up. There is fleetingly little diversity, and none of the street energy I knew playing handball against the pre-war buildings when I was a kid.
The neighborhood I called home is no longer a place where the son of a second-generation professor of American literature at the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy and a third-generation aspiring actress could live. And it's certainly not an affordable place for my aspiring-actress daughter and most other young people without a trust fund or relatively rare job in a high-wage industry.
New York's housing affordability problem has steadily crept outward from Manhattan to encompass the entire region. In fact, in a recent survey we conducted, 80 percent of those residing in the New York metro area said the high cost of housing was one of the area's most serious problems.
New York is not alone. It's among a growing number of economically powerful cities that face a crisis of affordability and inequality. This crisis threatens to choke off the very factors that drive these cities' success.
Cities thrive because diverse, ambitious, talented people intersect in ways that foster innovation and opportunity. City scholar Edward Glaeser puts this case in the strongest possible terms when he writes, "The strength that comes from human collaboration is the central truth behind civilization's success and the primary reason why cities exist."
If diverse, talented people cannot afford to come here or stay here to find opportunity and make their mark, cities like New York will lose their vital edge. That's why it's so important, from the perspective of both fairness and smart economics, to make sure great cities tackle the problem of housing affordability.
At the same time, policies that affect our housing and our neighborhoods also affect our daily lives. The public has a personal stake in housing policy. It should also have a voice.
Over the next year, Public Agenda will conduct research to understand where the public stands in the search for bold solutions to housing affordability in New York. We will share these findings with policy and decision makers so they make choices grounded in and informed by the will of the public. And we will create materials that communities can use to better understand, discuss and act on the issue themselves.
To kick off this project, we hosted a panel discussion in early April with WNYC's Brian Lehrer, NYC Commissioner for Housing Preservation and Development Vicki Been, New York Community Trust's Patricia Swann and New York University's Steven Pedigo. You can read a recap of the event on our blog, where we'll also post regular updates about our progress.
Do you worry about keeping our cities affordable and sustainable engines of innovation and progress for all its residents? You can support Public Agenda's efforts to elevate the public's voice on housing solutions by making a tax deductible donation. Your donation will help us do this work at the scale needed to make a real difference!
03.18 Engaging Ideas - 3/18
Friday, March 18th, 2016 | Public Agenda
Every week we curate recent stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.
Ronald Barba writes: President Barack Obama made his inaugural appearance at this year’s SXSW to discuss the importance of utilizing today’s digital tools and technological advancements to greatly improve and support civic engagement. Sitting with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune, the President talked over many topics, including the increasing role of government in streamlining the process for aspiring entrepreneurs, how a private-public partnership between The White House and Silicon Valley is helping to solve our nation’s problems, and even touched upon the civil liberties issues surrounding Apple’s privacy case. More relevant to our election season, though, President Obama called for a better process to engage citizens in the electoral process.
Mediating Political Gridlock (WNYC)
Being a political mediator is no easy gig. Just ask seasoned mediator, Mark Gerzon, president of Mediators Foundation and the author of The Reunited States of America: How We Can Bridge the Partisan Divide. He's advised a number of groups, political actors, and corporations on bipartisanship. Listen as Gerzon mediates a conversation between a guns rights enthusiast and an anti-guns skeptic.
The Power of Convening for Social Impact (Standford Social Innovation Review)
Bringing people together in an environment that encourages and facilitates idea exchange is one of the most powerful communications strategies for driving change.
Thursday, March 17th, 2016 | Chloe Rinehart
Photo: Costa Constantinides.
Next week, tens of thousands of New York City residents across 28 neighborhoods will have a voice in improving their community. Starting Saturday, March 26th, residents will go to the voting booths for the city's fifth year of participatory budgeting (PB), a process by which community members have direct decision-making power over local budget decisions.
Voting week is the culmination of many months of hard work, time and collaboration from community volunteers, city and district staff, and community-based organizations. Residents gather at a series of community meetings to present, listen to and collect ideas. Volunteers and city agency staff develop and vet projects. Finally, volunteers design and draft concrete project proposals.
During voting week, NYC residents who live or work in a PB-participating community can choose their preferred projects at a number of different voting stations located throughout their area, including libraries, schools, their council member’s offices and even beer gardens. Residents might also come across a “pop-up” voting table on a busy street corner.
Each voting location has ballots that describe the PB projects proposed for that particular community, with a brief description and cost for each project. Ballots are translated into languages other than English that are typically spoken in the community.
Many NYC residents are eligible to cast their PB vote even if they would not be eligible to vote in municipal elections. Residents as young as 16 (and in some cases 14), residents who were formerly incarcerated, and residents who lack citizenship status are all welcome and encouraged to participate in the vote.
How Research Helped Expand PB in NYC
As we have written previously, PB has expanded exponentially in the U.S. and Canada the past few years. New York City has driven much of that growth, where PB has expanded from 4 participating communities to 28 in 5 years.
The growth and expansion of PB in NYC has not happened in a silo. Research and evaluation led by Alexa Kasdan and Erin Markman of the Community Development Project (CDP) at the Urban Justice Center has played an integral role in development and expansion of PB in NYC.
Thursday, March 17th, 2016 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.
If you haven't read James Fallows' chronicle of local progress in The Atlantic, do yourself a favor and click over to read it when you're done here.
In it, Fallows writes about his small-plane travels to four dozen small cities throughout the U.S. Through his journey, we discover an alternate narrative of America, one celebrating the power of local determination, democracy and problem solving.
Nationally, we are utterly incapable of collaboration, compromise or making any progress on solving problems. The very rare exceptions only make the dominant pattern more visible.
Yet in cities big and small, where most people live and work, the ability of residents and officials to solve problems has not abated and may actually have picked up.
I would add this observation to Fallows' encouraging chronicle: There are two distinct strategies and styles evident in many local success stories. One is a more technocratic, top-down, data-driven, often tech-enabled approach. The other is more deliberative and democratic, centered on civic engagement and community empowerment. Both have their strengths and can help address different classes of problems or different aspects of the same problem.
Top-down, technocratic problem solving can be good for technical problems. For example, it can identify where the potholes are, and how to speed up response time to a 911 call.
In New York, for instance, the former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was a master of technocratic, top-down problem solving, and for many types of problems that worked very well-but not for all. It created an efficient 311 system that serves citizens well, and strengthened New York's anti-terrorism capabilities. But technocratic attempts to improve schools and police-community relations through corporate approaches of measurement and accountability fell flat and, in many instances, were counterproductive.
There are no purely technocratic fixes for many problems cities face, including poverty, inequality, educational disparities or diminishing opportunity. Such "wicked problems" (as the literature sometimes calls them) prove amazingly resistant to purely top-down solutions.
Instead, such problems require ongoing attention from many disparate actors, durable public support so experiments can prove themselves and blossom into policies and practices that drive progress, and tough choices among competing priorities about how we want to live.
Solutions to such problems can be data-informed but not data-determined because they are, to a very great extent, matters of values, priorities and the trade-offs we are willing to accept as a community. Do the pros outweigh the cons of a much higher minimum wage? Are we willing to experiment to find out? Should we permit bigger buildings in historic neighborhoods if doing so will make rents more affordable? If not, what measures should we take instead? Are we willing to provide the resources to ensure that all schools have adequate and safe facilities and well-trained teachers, or not? If so, how?
This is fertile ground for deliberative democratic work, and in fact that's the only approach that will bear fruit in the long term. In his most compelling examples of renewal and progress, Fallows feature cities where many different groups of people - experts and non-experts, officials and everyday residents, conservatives and liberals - work together on solutions.
As technocratic approaches reach their limit, we have the opportunity to help cities make progress on their big problems. We can do so by engaging the public and diverse stakeholders, by working through trade-offs and strengthening public judgment, by developing strong lines of communication and by celebrating our successes rather than wallowing in our failures.
Tuesday, March 15th, 2016 | ALISON KADLEC, PH.D.
Few issues enjoy the same widespread bipartisan agreement that higher education does, even amidst the unparalleled polarization we are seeing in this year's election season. Regardless of party affiliation or ideological orientation, a vast majority of leaders in this country agree that we need a more educated population and significantly more people with high-quality postsecondary credentials.
Despite the encouraging (and probably short-lived) cross-partisan agreement among policymakers of every stripe, conversations on college campuses—where the real work must be done—are rife with hostile, polarizing and often ideological rhetoric.
03.10 Engaging Ideas - 3/10
Thursday, March 10th, 2016 | Public Agenda
A collection of recent stories and reports that sparked consideration on ways to make progress on divisive issues.
Mark Funkhouser writes: Those who want greater turnout in elections, more successful women and minority candidates, less gerrymandering, less ideological extremism and more pragmatic policymaking have a ready tool: Take the electoral machinery back from the private organizations that have given us the broken system of governance we have now.
The End of American Idealism (The New York Times)
Charles Blow writes: There is palpable discontent in this country among those who feel left out and left behind in the bounty of America’s prosperity. How long can the center hold? How long can the illusion be sustained? How long before we start to call this the post-American idealism era?
The Risk I Will Not Take (Bloomberg View)
Michael Bloomberg writes: “We cannot “make America great again” by turning our backs on the values that made us the world’s greatest nation in the first place. I love our country too much to play a role in electing a candidate who would weaken our unity and darken our future -- and so I will not enter the race for president of the United States. However, nor will I stay silent about the threat that partisan extremism poses to our nation. I am not ready to endorse any candidate, but I will continue urging all voters to reject divisive appeals and demanding that candidates offer intelligent, specific and realistic ideas for bridging divides, solving problems, and giving us the honest and capable government we deserve.”
What's the Answer to Political Polarization in the U.S.? (The Atlantic)
From partisan gerrymandering to exclusionary party primaries, a breakdown of the factors behind our polarized politics, and common proposals to fix it in a Jeopardy-style Q&A.