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01.11 Strengthening Public Engagement in Edmonton, Canada

Monday, January 11th, 2016 | NICOLE CABRAL

We think leadership works best when it helps others hold the reins. With that as a guiding principle, we’ve worked with many types of community leaders across the country and even across the Pacific to build on and improve their skills so they can better engage their constituents.

In November, we partnered with Fiona Cavanagh and Zane Hamm of the Centre for Public Involvement, as well as the forward-thinking city of Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada, to kick off a civic engagement training program.

We tailored this program, a series of workshops, to city employees, public servants and nonprofit leaders in the region. The workshops build upon the ongoing work of Matt Leighninger, vice president of public engagement, with the city, and in particular the findings presented in the Strengthening Public Engagement in Edmonton report.

Matt and I (I'm Nicole Hewitt, Public Agenda's senior public engagement associate) traveled to Edmonton to deliver the first workshop on strengthening civic infrastructure. Civic infrastructure refers to the opportunities residents have to participate in decisions, preferably in a wide variety of ways and across broad range of issues.

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12.14 To reduce economic inequality, do we need better democracy?

Monday, December 14th, 2015 | MATT LEIGHNINGER

When people have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, they will be better off economically as well as politically.

This idea has intrigued community development experts, foundation executives, public officials and academic researchers for many years. It has also animated some of the work people and governments are undertaking to address inequality, both in the United States and (especially) in the Global South.

But can a participatory democracy lead to greater economic opportunity? We are just beginning to amass evidence that this idea is true, understand how and why it works, and figure out how to make it happen better and faster.

Over the last two decades we have witnessed a quiet revolution in how governments and other institutions engage the public. Public officials, technologists, engagement practitioners, community organizers and other leaders have developed hundreds of projects, processes, tools and apps that boost engagement.

While they differ in many ways, these strategies and resources have one common thread: they treat citizens like adults rather than the clients (or children) of the state. They give people chances to connect, learn, deliberate, make recommendations, vote on budget or policy decisions, take action to solve public problems or all of the above. The principles behind these practices embody and enable greater political equality.

This wave of experimentation has produced inspiring outcomes in cities all over the world, but it has been particularly productive in Brazil and other parts of the Global South, where engagement has been built into the way that many cities operate. In these places, it is increasingly clear that when people have a legitimate voice in the institutions that govern their communities, and when they have support through various kinds of social and political networks, their economic fortunes improve.

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12.04 What do you want to see PB research address in 2016?

Friday, December 4th, 2015 | Megan Rose Donovan

As part of their work coordinating research on participatory budgeting processes in the U.S. and Canada, our research and public engagement teams have asked for input on potential tasks for the North American PB Research Board to tackle in the coming year (2015-16).

Below are five suggestions. What would you add or amend? Comment or tweet your suggestions to @PublicAgenda with #PBResearch.

  1. Building capacity for data gathering. This group would focus on the challenges facing local evaluators, such as: the lack of staff and volunteering time; lack of capacity to administer, collect, and enter data from surveys; translation of instruments; increasing survey response rates, and so on.
  2. Making PB data more usable, visible, and powerful. This work would work on ways to improve, facilitate, and institutionalize the collection, storage, and sharing of metrics data from all North American PB sites. There are a number of technological, ethical, logistical, and research challenges to making this happen. The final product would a rich, open data source for local PB evaluators and implementers, other PB researchers, and experts to draw on and share.
  3. Building a better infrastructure to support PB. Around the world, many cities have started doing PB without figuring out what kinds of supports they might need to make PB successful. At the same time, other engagement structures and processes that may already be in place may be far less effective from PB. This group would consider ways to use our research and evaluation efforts to help cities learn about PB, and learn from PB, in order to create a stronger engagement infrastructure.
  4. Organizing the evaluation and research track for the PB Conference in May 2016. This group would develop some interesting and thoughtful ways to present PB evaluations and evaluation data at the May 2016 conference in Boston. The overall goal would be to highlight the efforts, experiences, and insights gained through on-the-ground evaluation.
  5. Designing and supporting a larger research project to estimate the impact of PB in North American communities. This group would review the list of research projects that last year’s board members discussed during the development of the key evaluation metrics as important for further understanding PB in North America but beyond the scope and interest of individual, annual evaluation efforts. This group would focus on one of these project areas, design the study and develop a proposal for funding.


11.19 Dan Yankelovich Honored for Excellence in Public Opinion Research

Thursday, November 19th, 2015 | Will Friedman

On November 10th, our co-founder Dan Yankelovich received the Roper Center's Warren J. Mitofsky Award for Excellence in Public Opinion Research at a dinner in New York City. Will Friedman, who has known Dan for over two decades, introduced Dan, who joined the event via Skype . Below are Will's remarks, lightly edited.

There’s a story about Miles Davis at a White House dinner during the Reagan administration.

Supposedly, one of the guests naively asked him who he was and what he had done to warrant an invitation. Miles is said to have replied "I’ve changed the course of music five or six times. How about you?"

If Miles was a genius in music, Dan Yankelovich is a genius in our field.

Dan has changed the course of our thinking about public opinion, marketing and democracy five or six times. His many seminal insights have enlightened us on such questions as:

  • How public opinion changes
  • How public thinking differs from expert thinking without being inferior to it
  • How to help the public play its essential democratic role
  • How to integrate qualitative and quantitative methods into a unified research strategy
  • And what all of this means for market research, democracy, public policy, and true leadership

Central to his many contributions, Dan has given us a practical and meaningful way to think about the quality of public opinion and the stages that people go through to achieve what he calls public judgment. Public judgment is in contrast to raw, unstable, off-the-cuff reactions, like those we often see in polling.

As he’s shown, the concept of public judgment has gone a long way toward clarifying why some research results are better guides for policymaking than others -- because they are less, in his highly scientific term, "mushy."

Tonight, we honor this pioneering social scientist and esteemed figure in the worlds of polling, marketing, and democratic thought and practice. But note that his reputation was not always so: AAPOR once reviewed Dan's book, Coming to Public Judgment, by asking "Why is Yankelovich being so perverse?"

And, indeed, Dan's ideas have seemed perverse at times to various establishments, in the way the insights of innovative thinkers can.

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10.27 Restoring Opportunity: Perils and Promises for Education

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

From left to right: Public Agenda president Will Friedman, moderator Brian Lehrer, Wendy Puriefoy and Alison Kadlec. Tuesday, October 27, 2015.

Education has long been held as the best means for all people to get ahead and have a good life. As a nation, we haven't always enabled our education system to fulfill its promise as a great opportunity equalizer. Yet for all the challenges we face – challenges that will surely increase in an uncertain future – we have reason for cautious optimism.

In a discussion last week with WNYC's Brian Lehrer, education experts Wendy Puriefoy and Alison Kadlec spoke frankly about the historic challenges facing the public K-12 and higher education systems, including dwindling funding and an unpredictable future.

Still, education is an ideal woven into the fabric of our nation, Puriefoy noted. The American public broadly believes in public schools and agrees that our country must strive to educate everyone at high levels (though we of course disagree on how to do it).

When it comes to putting this ideal into practice, the nation is failing miserably on its promise to deliver a quality education to all students. Among the problems Puriefoy and Kadlec pointed out:

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10.23 How Can We Quantify Democracy?

Friday, October 23rd, 2015 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi



10.15 Police-Community Relations Strained With Groups Where Police Needed Most

Thursday, October 15th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

Listen to the related story on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

The New York metro area is no stranger to controversy on policing. New York City's stop-and-frisk policy was deemed unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. Its broken windows policy drew sharp criticism and protests following the death of Eric Garner.

Results from our recent survey with WNYC suggest that the communities that may need police the most are also most likely to say their relations with the police are problematic.

Residents who live in New York City are far more likely to say crime is a serious problem where they live, compared to residents living in the surrounding and farther out suburbs. Likewise, black and Hispanic residents throughout the entire New York metro area are more likely than white residents to say crime is a serious problem in their cities and towns.

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10.14 New Yorkers on Taxes: Contradictory or Common Sense?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

Listen to the related story on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

New York area residents are concerned with keeping up with the high cost of living in the region. That includes high taxes, which they view as a serious problem. But at the same time, 70 percent say they favor raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for efforts to help people get ahead.

What's more, even as residents favor higher taxes on corporations, they also favor tax breaks for new companies to bring jobs to the region and for developers to build more affordable housing.

These findings are not as contradictory as they may seem at first glance.

The results, from the Public Agenda/WNYC New York Metro Area Survey, provide a clear sense that people are looking for greater investments to improve opportunity for everyone. Remember, area residents also say the costs of living, housing, and college and are among the region's most serious problems. And they're willing to tax the wealthy in order to make these investments.

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10.13 NYC EVENT: Restoring Opportunity: The Role of Education

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 | Public Agenda

6:30 - 8:00 pm
Macaulay Honors College
35 West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023

Click here to register, or email

If the U.S. is truly to be a land of opportunity for all, what role can and must education play? How will our education system -- K-12 and higher ed -- have to change in order to play that role? And what are the limits of education as a cure-all for the challenges of diminishing opportunity in the U.S.?

We are excited to announce the first in our Restoring Opportunity series. "Restoring Opportunity: The Role of Education" will take place at Macaulay Honors College on October 22, 2015 from 6:30-8pm.

Restoring Opportunity is Public Agenda's 10-year commitment to help communities and the nation address one of the great challenges of our day, stagnating prospects for too many Americans.

For the program, moderator Brian Lehrer of WNYC will interview a panel of two dynamic education experts: Public Agenda board member Wendy Puriefoy, the former president of the Public Education Network and a K-12 expert, and Public Agenda’s Alison Kadlec, an expert on higher education reform.

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10.13 In Solving Region's Problems, New York Area Residents See a Role for Government, and for Themselves

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

Listen to the related story on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

Residents of the New York metro area say our region is facing some serious problems: the gap between the wealthy and everyone else is growing, costs are increasingly unaffordable, wages are stagnating and opportunity is diminishing. Moreover, they say the government is not doing a good job addressing their concerns.

But they don't view these problems as unsolvable. And they see a role for both the government and for themselves in solutions.

We asked local residents about a number of policy approaches for addressing the issues they view as serious problems. In general, residents favor policies that will make education and housing more affordable and that will bring good jobs to the area, even if those policies include tax increases.

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