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03.08 Gun Control: Who's responsible?

Thursday, March 8th, 2018 | REBECCA SILLIMAN

It’s the same plot we have sadly become familiar with as Americans. People’s lives are taken too soon, communities are left trying to put back together a picture that has missing pieces and another group of children’s innocence has been replaced with a nightmare that may haunt them their whole lives. The school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida last month is undeniably devastating.

Media, politicians and anyone who has access to a social platform all have opinions about what’s to blame – guns, mental illness, violence on TV. While we all can agree this tragedy shouldn’t have taken place, how to prevent it from occurring again is murkier. The typical questions roll out one after one: Is it time to remove all the guns? Do we need to provide better mental health services? Are automatic weapons really covered under the 2nd amendment? Should it be harder to get guns? Should more people carry guns?

We are inundated with many different answers to these, and similar questions, from conservatives and liberals, yet there has been surprisingly little action. A graphic published by New York Times outlines the few preventative steps that Congress has taken over the five years since Sandy Hook in 2013. ( The lack of action is frustrating and as there are more and more instances of innocent people losing their lives, we are left questioning if anything will ever change.

But, we live in a democracy, a government that is supposed to represent the people. If Congress has done little, maybe it is because there is so much disagreement among Americans or maybe Americans just don’t want change. Maybe the frustration is wrongly placed on Congress and maybe our representatives just have a better understanding of what Americans want.

According to two surveys conducted last year
(one by Pew Research Center and the other by Gallup)
and a national poll conducted February 2018
(by Quinnipiac University) here is what Americans believe:

Most Americans think owning a gun is an individual right.

  • 71 percent of Americans do not think that there should be a law that would ban the possession of handguns1.

Most believe it’s too easy to buy a gun.

  • 96 percent of Americans are in favor of requiring background checks for all gun purchases2.
  • 88 percent are in favor of preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns3.
  • 83 percent support a federal mandatory waiting period on all gun purchases4.
  • 66 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws5.

A little over half of Americans with a gun in their household support a ban on assault weapons.

  • 67 of Americans support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons.6
  • Among people who have a gun in their household, 53 percent support this ban.7

Most people do not think that arming teachers is the best way to reduce gun violence in schools.

  • 44 percent are in favor of allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns.8
  • 20 percent say arming teachers with guns would do more to reduce gun violence. 34 percent said using metal detectors and 40 percent said stricter gun laws would do more to reduce violence.9

Congress should be doing something.

  • 75 percent of Americans think Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.10

Government officials are elected to represent the public, on good faith that they will listen to their constituents. Yet, if so many Americans believe more should be done, why hasn’t Congress done anything? Why are conversations continuously revolving around what politicians want, what the National Rifle Association wants, or what Democrats or Republicans or Independents want and not what Americans want?

There are some solutions Americans don’t agree on, but many of us share similar ideas on progress. Congress, regardless of where you stand on this issue, please listen to Americans. We want you to do more. And Americans, please hold government officials accountable. Take action and demand that your voices are heard: speak out when you are ignored and vote for those who will listen and represent you.

Comment (2)

03.02 ENGAGING IDEAS - 03/02/2018

Friday, March 2nd, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


The Generation Gap in American Politics (Pew Research Center)
Generational differences have long been a factor in U.S. politics. These divisions are now as wide as they have been in decades, with the potential to shape politics well into the future.

The True Source of the N.R.A.’s Clout: Mobilization, Not Donations (The New York Times)
“It’s really not the contributions,” said Cleta Mitchell, a former N.R.A. board member. “It’s the ability of the N.R.A. to tell its members: Here’s who’s good on the Second Amendment.”

The Destructive Dynamics of Political Tribalism (The New York Times)
By now we all understand that America is in the grip of political tribalism. We lament and condemn this phenomenon even as we voraciously engage in it. But by fixating on the symptoms, we remain blind to the root causes.


How Cities Are Divided By Income, Mapped (City Lab)
Three types of visualizations show the stark economic disparities in U.S. cities.

The middle class is becoming race-plural, just like the rest of America (Brookings)
Two trends have emerged which highlight the degree to which the “American middle class” can no longer serve as an implicit proxy for a group that is predominantly white.

Facebook co-founder wants US citizens to have ‘fair shot’ at guaranteed income (Star)
A US$500 (RM1,957) monthly cheque from the government for every American earning less than US$50,000 (RM195,700), financed by taxing the wealthy, would provide financial stability for millions of people in the United States, said the co-founder of Facebook.


Effort to Boost Civic Engagement in Detroit Gets Financial Boost (WDET)
“Local democracy is the bedrock of the American system, and we see a way for the work we’re doing, in collaboration with others, to strengthen that.”

Report: Effective Government Outreach Requires Social Media (Government Technology)
The role of social media in citizen-government interactions has steadily increased in recent years as the public becomes more reliant on the medium for real-time information.

When You Call Your Congressperson, Do They Listen? (Government Technology)
The OpenGov Foundation has conducted human-centered research to identify pain points in communications between constituents and congressional representatives, and is using tech to make sure voicemails matter.


More California students graduate from high school, but far fewer graduate from college (EdSource)
California's high school graduation rates have increased significantly in recent years, but the percentage of those students who complete their college education continues to lag, with long-term implications for the state’s future.

States’ Strong Education Systems Often Cost Students. (U.S. News & World Report)
The 2018 U.S News Best States ranking data show that of the states ranked in the top 10 for education, half rank in the bottom half of states for low debt at graduation, including New Hampshire, which comes in 49th despite ranking fourth for education overall, and Massachusetts, which ranks 44th in low debt at graduation despite ranking No. 1 in education overall.

Do vouchers help students get to college? Two new studies come to different answers. (Chalkbeat)
The debate around school vouchers has exploded in the last year with the appointment of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. That also means recent studies showing that student achievement drops, at least initially, when students use public dollars to attend private schools have gotten a lot of attention. But supporters have countered that test scores only say so much about student performance. The real test is how students do over the long term.

Higher Ed/Workforce

Education Policy Design: The High Stakes Business Of Educating Students (
The American education system is experiencing vast transformation requiring schools to rethink how they teach students, evaluate the education marketplace, and exercise fiduciary responsibilities at the state and district levels.

States’ Strong Education Systems Often Cost Students (U.S. News & World Report)
The 2018 U.S News Best States ranking data show that of the states ranked in the top 10 for education, half rank in the bottom half of states for low debt at graduation, including New Hampshire, which comes in 49th despite ranking fourth for education overall, and Massachusetts, which ranks 44th in low debt at graduation despite ranking No. 1 in education overall.

Arizona Republicans Inject Schools of Conservative Thought Into State Universities (The New York Times)
Around the country, Republican legislatures have been taking a greater interest in the affairs of their state universities to counteract what they see as excessive liberalism on campus, from quarrels over conservative speakers to national anthem protests to the very substance of what students are taught.

Health Care

Red and Blue States Move Further Apart on Health Policy (Wall Street Journal)
Democratic and Republican states are moving in opposite directions on health policy, leaving Americans with starkly divergent options for care depending on where they live.

A Big Divergence Is Coming in Health Care Among States (The New York Times)
Little by little, the Trump administration is dismantling elements of the Affordable Care Act and creating a health care system that looks more like the one that preceded it. But some states don’t want to go back and are working to build it back up.

Democrats march toward single-payer health care (The Hill)
Single-payer health care is gaining ground among Democrats. In a sign of the party’s move to the left on the issue, the Center for American Progress (CAP), a bastion of the Democratic establishment, this week released a plan that comes very close to a single-payer system.


02.23 ENGAGING IDEAS - 02/23/2018

Friday, February 23rd, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


What Our Democracy Needs to Know (Slate)
In one example of how technology has become crucial to democratic institutions, speakers discussed how the 2020 census, which will be conducted digitally for the first time, could both keep up with the private sector and offer meaningful data to government leaders. An accurate Census is critical for everything from our economy to our educational systems.

OPINION: A big gerrymandering case raises a profound question about our elections (The Washington Post)
What should determine how district lines are drawn? On one side we have fairness — not always possible to achieve with perfect certainty, but at least a goal one could seek — and on the other side we have the exercise of raw political power for partisan advantage.


Roads to nowhere: how infrastructure built on American inequality (The Guardian)
From highways carved through thriving ‘ghettoes’ to walls segregating black and white areas, US city development has a long and divisive history

Facebook’s next project: American inequality (Politico)
A Stanford economist is using the company's vast store of personal data to study why so many in the U.S. are stuck in place economically.


Extra Doorbells, Satellite Dishes: How Cities Search for People the Census May Miss (New York Times)
This spring, volunteers will use a texting app the city tested in December to identify [unpermitted housing] and similar units. The city will then flag them on the Census Bureau’s master address list for San Jose. Mr. Almeida vows that the city department in charge of building code enforcement will never see these address notes, and the Census Bureau requires confidentiality from the local officials who do access them. A nonprofit founded by the former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Cities of Service, is hoping to spread the tool to other cities that will be receiving their address databases from the census in the coming weeks.

School District wants more community engagement (Santa Monica Daily Press)
The Santa Monica Malibu Unified District has unveiled a new proposal to strengthen family engagement in the education process. The framework was discussed during a board meeting on Thursday, February, 15.


Abolish middle school? Not so fast, new study says. (Chalkbeat)
The push to combine elementary and middle schools into K-8 schools has seemed like a heartening example of policymakers making decisions based on hard evidence. Rigorous studies have suggested that scrapping traditional middle schools is good for students. And some districts like Boston have moved to merge schools, trying to eliminate some of the elements of middle school that make it miserable for many tweens.

Do community schools and wraparound services boost academics? Here’s what we know. (Chalkbeat)
Research shows that these efforts often do help learning, but in a number of cases they don’t seem to have any effect — and it’s not clear why efforts sometimes succeed and sometimes don’t.

Higher Ed/Workforce

Departures at Gates Foundation Stir Speculation About Its Plans for Higher Ed (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
In the span of just a few months, two high-level officials at the higher-education arm of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have left or announced plans to depart. This being Gates, the largest philanthropic player in postsecondary education, the departures of Daniel Greenstein and Heather Hiles have prompted speculation about the future direction of an operation that now awards about $125-million a year in grants.

We need to rethink higher education funding (Times Higher Education)
Former education secretary Justine Greening explains her plans for a graduate contribution system that funds universities in the same way that national insurance covers state pensions

Health Care

Industry urges CMS to continue ACA wraparound coverage option (Modern Healthcare)
Health benefit managers are encouraging the Trump administration to continue a little-known ACA coverage option for supplemental insurance, which is slated to end this year. Under the CMS' wraparound coverage policy, employers can provide limited benefits that supplement individual health insurance policies, such as access to non-formulary drugs or out-of-network providers.

The Trump administration is proposing this health care idea — less insurance for lower premiums (Post Gazette)
The Trump administration Tuesday spelled out a plan to lower the cost of health insurance: give consumers the option of buying less coverage in exchange for reduced premiums.


02.09 ENGAGING IDEAS - 02/9/2018

Friday, February 9th, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


How a Nazi Made the Ballot in Illinois (The Atlantic)
The strange candidacy of Arthur Jones points to failures of democratic safeguards on every level.

Americans are getting smarter about politics in at least one important way (Washington Post)
American politics may be more polarized today than at any time in the postwar period. While this fact is commonly lamented, it has had one arguably beneficial side effect: Americans have become better at identifying where the presidential candidates stand relative to each other — a task that has long challenged voters.

CHART: How Trump's Immigration Proposal Compares With Other Plans (NPR)
Many major news stories have centered around immigration — and more specifically, Washington's inability to agree on what to do as President Trump's deadline to end the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA) policy fast approaches.


9 American cities with the worst income inequality (CBS News)
The divergence between rich and poor is growing in some regions, creating affordability problems and straining fiscal budgets.

How American Inequality in the Gilded Age Compares to Today (Time)
While the original Gilded Age inspired a wave of political change, from the first march on Washington to the rise of the Populists, its fallout did not lead to the end of inequality in the United States. As Painter tells TIME, there have been several major cycles of inequality in the U.S. since then.

The World Class Poverty in America’s Booming Economy (Nonprofit Quarterly)
Over the first two weeks of December, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited the United States. His findings, perhaps surprising, painted a very disturbing picture as he compared how the US, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, compares to other developed nations.


Opinion: Giving Outsiders More Power Can Help Grant Makers Solve Problems (Chronicle of Philanthropy)
Philanthropy is many things, but at the core, it’s people making decisions about money.

A People’s Democracy in America (Project Syndicate)
Trust in political parties is at new lows. And amid all the dismay and dysfunction, some of the new plutocrats have stepped up as philanthropists to underwrite social reform. Yes, it all sounds like Trump-era America. But these conditions also prevailed more than a century ago, during the Progressive Era of the early 1900s.

In Smaller Communities, Social Media Plays a Big Role (Government Technology)
In Pennsylvania’s smaller townships, social media is filling the gap between the government and citizens.


With new focus on curriculum, Gates Foundation wades into tricky territory (Chalkbeat)
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a new plan intended to help public schools: improve the materials that teachers use to teach.

Not One-Size-Fits-All (US News & World Report)
Charter school laws grant innovative educators freedom from many rules and regulations to design their own programs. But that freedom comes with a commitment – at the risk of being shut down – to improve outcomes and opportunities for students.

Graduation Rate Made Little Progress, State Says (New York Times)
The high school graduation rate in New York State barely budged last year, inching up just half a percentage point, according to data released Wednesday by the New York State Education Department. According to the department, 80.2 percent of public school students graduated on time.

Higher Ed/Workforce

Taking a cut of student’s future paychecks has Silicon Valley investors funding education (
Although not as favorable as most federally-subsidized loans (which offer income-adjusted repayment plans and loan forgiveness), ISAs essentially allow students to pay for today’s tuition out of their future earnings.

‘The Tyranny of Metrics’ (Inside Higher Ed)
Author discusses new book on what he views as the dangers of an obsession with numbers in analyzing admissions, academic success, faculty productivity and more in higher education.

College Applications as High School Graduation Requirement (Inside Higher Education)
New Mexico legislation seeks to require high school students to apply to at least one college.

Health Care

Rising health costs and economic inequality may threaten your retirement (PBS)
The significance of what Kaiser found is how our widening economic inequality is creating divergent impacts of health inflation.

HCC: The 3-letter word that can build payer-provider trust and improve quality (Healthcare Dive)
As the shift toward value-based care and risk-based contracting progresses, it will become even more important for health plans and those who deliver care to collaborate.

Bill would require full transparency in health care pricing (The Daily Sentinel)
Rep. Mike Foote isn't known for running bills dealing with health care costs. But after the Lafayette Democrat was approached by a friend who wants to help lower medical costs by making all health care providers and insurance companies more fully disclose what they are charging, Foote couldn't resist.


02.09 Looking Back to Forge Progress Ahead

Friday, February 9th, 2018 | RAVI REDDI

February is Black History Month and we at Public Agenda took the opportunity to reflect on some of the work we have done regarding race relations. As we look back on the progress made, we’re learning more about where there’s room for improvement and where there are opportunities for Americans to grow together.

In 2015, Public Agenda embarked on a project with WNYC/New York Public Radio to learn more about how residents of New York City and the greater metropolitan area thought about public issues like education, taxes and housing costs. From this project we learned there are stark racial differences in how New York City Metropolitan area residents view crime and policing.

More than half of black residents in the New York City metropolitan region (53 percent) say negative relations between police and the community are a serious or somewhat serious problem in their city or town, as opposed to only 27 percent of white residents who felt the same way. Similarly, more than half of black residents (56 percent) say that the high rate of crime is a serious or somewhat serious problem where they live, while only 35 percent of white residents held similar beliefs.

These findings suggest that the very people who feel they most need law enforcement in their communities are also those having the most strained relations with the police.

These racial divisions continue to reveal themselves in our more recent work. Our ongoing Hidden Common Ground research is yielding insights into not only how Americans view our criminal justice system, but also the changes they’d like to see in it. Our mixed-race focus groups revealed broad disenchantment with the criminal justice system, from how drug crimes are treated to how financial inequities reveal themselves in the courts. A 2016 Pew Research poll revealed a significant racial divide: Seventy-five percent of blacks said blacks are treated less fairly than whites in the court system but only 43 percent of whites agreed with the sentiment.

Our research shows that racial divides remain a critical part of the American story. But as we celebrate Black History Month, we’re encouraged by what else we heard during our Hidden Common Ground research. Indeed, while racial divides are real and significant, we are learning that Americans see ways to move forward, like strengthening rehabilitation and addressing systemic factors in education and economic opportunity that they believe contribute to criminal behavior. Americans, we have seen, may be inclined to re-consider the status quos of our criminal justice system and reinvent it in a more just and equitable way.

Comment (2)

02.07 The Right Time for the Right Conditions

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

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

Last week, friends, family and colleagues came together in New York City to celebrate the life of Public Agenda's co-founder, Dan Yankelovich. It was a fitting event to honor a man who touched so many, filled with heartfelt stories, big ideas and not a few laughs. It was also an opportunity to reflect on Dan's profound contributions to tackling the most pressing issues of our times and the struggle for a healthier democracy.

This week, after a year of bitter and divisive politics, the president gave his first State of the Union address. Partisan reactions during the speech revealed the sharply-divided nature of our national representatives on so many issues facing the country: immigration, criminal justice reform, health care and the economy. But does that divided chamber represent America's views on the issues?

Part of Dan's genius was to recognize that the public has its own way of thinking through issues, and that under the right conditions the public is surprisingly capable of developing well-rounded and thoughtful views based on core American themes and values, like fairness, opportunity, pragmatism and responsibility. Understanding the public's views and values, and creating the conditions that make wiser public judgment and more meaningful public participation possible, is at the heart of Dan's rationale for creating Public Agenda with Cy Vance more than four decades ago.

Dan's ideas have never been more important or relevant than in our age of alternative facts, populist instability, demagogic leadership and endemic mistrust. Celebrating his life was also an affirmation of our commitment to carry his ideas and work forward. Here are just a few of the ways in which we'll be doing so this year:

  • In the coming weeks and months, we will be releasing the first two installments of our Hidden Common Ground initiative, on criminal justice reform and health care. Through this work we illuminate the solutions to tough issues that the broad public agrees on despite the partisan polarization and gridlock of politicians and pundits.
  • We will also be starting on a new initiative, the Yankelovich Democracy Monitor, which will track the public's evolving views on solutions to the problems plaguing and stunting our democracy.
  • We will begin planning on the inaugural Yankelovich Prize, bestowed on a public official, community leader or public initiative that exemplifies inclusive, effective democratic engagement and problem solving at its finest.
  • And we will continue working on education, health care, jobs, and other issues critical to people's lives and prospects, the resilience of our communities, and the health of our democracy.

Dan did not take democracy as a given, but as something to be earned every day, protected and perfected over time. That is our commitment too as we build on Dan's ideas and take our work into a new and challenging era.



02.02 ENGAGING IDEAS - 02/2/2018

Friday, February 2nd, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


State of the Union 2018: Americans’ views on key issues facing the nation (Pew Research Center)
Here is a look at public opinion on important issues facing the country, drawn from the Center’s recent surveys

America Is Not a Democracy (The Atlantic)
How the United States lost the faith of its citizens—and what it can do to win them back

Here are the most politically polarizing brands in America (Mashable)
A survey from Morning Consult published Thursday identified some of the most polarizing brands in America based on party affiliation. Brands that were once seen as studiously neutral have become explosively divisive. Even chain pizza, the last bipartisan cultural good in America, has found a way to step into the political ring.


Majorities Say Government Does Too Little for Older People, the Poor and the Middle Class (Pew Research)
Majorities of Americans say the federal government does not provide enough help for older people (65%), poor people (62%) and the middle class (61%). By contrast, nearly two-thirds (64%) say the government provides too much help for wealthy people.

Just like India, America has its own caste system (Quartz)
As an India-born novelist and scholar who teaches in the US, I have come to see America’s stratified society through a different lens: caste.

Americans Haven’t Been This Poor and Indebted in Decades (New York Magazine)
Americans actually give Trump’s handling of the economy a positive approval rating — but dislike his handling of the presidency, nonetheless.


Commentary: Transparent Meeting Laws May Actually Discourage Public Participation (Door County Pulse)
It seems counterintuitive, but how and when local elected officials are allowed to communicate with one another regarding government business can often lead to decreased public participation during meetings.

City Challenges: Collaborative Governing for Public Problem Solving (Forbes)
City Councilmember Graciela Reyes was elected as one of Mexico’s first independent councillors for the Municipality of San Pedro, an affluent mid-sized community of about 150,000 outside the Mexican city of Monterrey about two hours from Texas. With the backing of the Mayor, Reyes launched the Desafíos or Challenges program on October 8, 2016 to invite the public to collaborate in the creation of better policies and services with the municipality.

Limit public speakers to 2 minutes? Citizen activists and Napa supervisors say 'no way' (Napa Valley Register)
Citizen activists want to make certain the Napa County Planning Commission hears them loud-and-clear on controversial Wine Country growth issues. They are afraid the fine print in proposed Planning Commission bylaw changes threatens to unduly limit public participation. And, while Napa County supervisors see no attempt to undermine democracy, they too have concerns.


How does limited education limit young people? (Science Daily)
A recent nationally-representative U.S. Department of Education study found that 28 percent of fall 2009 ninth-graders had not yet enrolled in a trade school or college by February 2016 -- roughly six-and-a-half years later.

The Outdated Study That Education Reformers Keep Citing (The Atlantic)
Mark Zuckerberg and others continue to tout the potential of personalized learning, pointing to decades-old research that’s been practically impossible to duplicate.

What the marketplace for classroom lessons says about the state of K-12 education (TrustED)
As school choice creates more alternatives to public schools, many public districts are adopting business-minded strategies—think marketing, branding, and customer experience. Now, it appears that teachers are following suit.

Higher Ed/Workforce

3 Million Americans Live in Higher Education Deserts (Inside Higher Education)
Roughly three million Americans live more than 25 miles from a broad-access public college and do not have the sort of high-speed internet connection necessary for online college programs, according to a new report from the Urban Institute's education policy program.

College Endowments Rose 12.2% in Fiscal 2017, Reversing Decline (Wall Street Journal)
Solid performance doesn’t end worries about long-term returns, as many schools brace for new tax

Many for-profit schools don't live up to hype, take funds for little benefit (Herald-Whig)
Remarks from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin- Every day, Illinois students are bombarded with advertising from for-profit colleges on social media, the internet and television. These advertisements promise fast enrollment, easily accessible financial aid and flexible course schedules. They often claim that their graduates go on to high-paying jobs and successful futures.

Health Care

If Amazon And Buffett Lift Veil On Health Prices, Insurers Are In Trouble (Forbes)
Jeff Bezos’ Amazon and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway are forming their own healthcare company with JPMorgan Chase to increase transparency for their employees, and that could be bad news for insurers and pharmacy benefit managers.

Bipartisan Bill Would Increase Competition Among Drug Manufacturers and Lower Drug Prices (Commonwealth Fund)
Congress is considering including bipartisan legislation that could expedite the availability of lower-priced generic drugs in its must-pass bill to fund the federal government in 2018. The legislation, called the CREATES Act, tackles one of the numerous problems driving high drug prices — brand-name drug manufacturers’ use of anticompetitive tactics to block access to generic drugs.

After Months In Limbo For Children's Health Insurance, Huge Relief Over Deal (NPR)
When parts of the federal government ground to halt this past weekend, Linda Nablo, who oversees the Children's Health Insurance Program in Virginia, had two letters drafted and ready to go out to the families of 68,000 children insured through the program, depending on what happened.


02.02 How Public Engagement Needs to Evolve, Part 6

Friday, February 2nd, 2018 | MATT LEIGHNINGER


How can public engagement evolve in order to meet the needs and goals of citizens today? My previous post explored how public institutions may collaborate in their efforts to support engagement so that it becomes more efficient, systemic and sustained. For this final installment in the series, I’ll address the need for better ways to measure the perceptions, processes and outcomes of engagement, so that people know how to continually improve it.

Measuring engagement, especially in quantifiable ways, has always been difficult. There are a number of challenges, including:

  • Difficulty in defining engagement. Many leaders understand engagement to mean the one-way dissemination of “correct” information to the community, in order to disprove “incorrect” information. Some see it as purely meaning face-to-face meetings, while others are focused mainly on online interactions.
  • Differing forms of intensity. Engagement varies in intensity, from “thick” forms that are deliberative, labor-intensive and action-oriented, to “thin” forms that are fast, easy and potentially viral. Both are valuable, but for different reasons. Counting website hits or social media impressions may overemphasize the thin forms, while counting participation in meetings may overemphasize the thick forms.
  • Just counting heads may give you the wrong impression. Counting participants in any setting may be deceptive because in places where conventional forms of engagement are the only ones being used, people tend to mostly engage when they are angry or fearful about decisions being made by government. In this sense, higher numbers of people “engaging” can be a sign that governments are failing to practice more proactive, productive forms of engagement.
  • Inexperienced engagement staff. Counting staff positions dedicated to engagement as an indicator of government’s commitment can be misleading – since engagement is often defined in limited ways, these “engagement” job positions are often devoted to traditional PR or stakeholder relations. These jobs are often given by public officials to people who were particularly active campaign volunteers, but who have only a narrow and limited background in what engagement can do for governance and problem solving, and the many forms it can take.
  • Inability to measure impact. One of the most critical measures of engagement, especially to citizens, is whether public input has some kind of meaningful influence on public policies and practices. This is a particularly difficult thing to assess; it defies quantitative measurement and is subject to many different variables.

Despite these challenges, it is possible – and, in fact, critically important – to assess public engagement, including quantitative measures of both processes and outcomes. (Leighninger and Nabatchi, “How Can We Quantify Democracy?Dispute Resolution, Fall 2015). Engagement practitioners have been able to measure how many and what kinds of people are participating. They’ve also been able to examine if people value the engagement, how the experience affects them, and whether engagement inspires and supports volunteerism, voting and other civic measures.

However, in most places, these kinds of measurement practices are done only sporadically and on a project-by-project basis. Leaders and practitioners are more likely to be focusing on the basics – how many people are participating, and the demographics of those participants – and have not begun assessing community members’ perceptions of engagement opportunities, or evaluating the impacts of engagement on volunteerism or policymaking. When measurement does occur, the findings are often not shared with the community and community members are rarely asked to help gather, analyze or act on the data.

If we can do better measuring on a more regular basis, we may connect the findings about engagement with some of the high-level indicators that are being used to track community success. These include the Civic Index that the National Civic League has maintained for over 25 years, the Civic Health Index developed by the National Conference on Citizenship a decade ago, and the Soul of the Community research produced by the Knight Foundation. There are also specific community examples like the Wellbeing Index in Santa Monica, California. While these indexes are interesting and helpful for assessing where the community stands, it’s unclear whether and how a community’s engagement level impacts the overall scores.

We probably need a family of measurement tools in order to bridge the gap between narrow evaluations and broad indicators. I’ve written about potential tools and have also been involved in creating others. One example is the Participatory Democracy Index, which is being piloted in beta by the World Forum on Democracy in Europe. The more that we can connect people who are building new tools, the more we can learn from one another and ensure that we are on the same page about fundamental questions, like how we are defining engagement. Public Agenda convened an online dialogue among people who are grappling with the measurement challenge, so that we could compare notes and see if there are common themes in our work. Later in the year, the Knight Foundation will release a white paper based on what we found.

By doing a better job of measuring engagement, we can help clear up some of the confusion about what engagement means and why it is important. Many public officials and other leaders use the rhetoric of community building, citizenship and democracy, but the language often seems to be used mainly as a window dressing, making it difficult for citizens to monitor their progress or hold public officials accountable for their rhetoric. Finding new ways to measure these interactions can be a powerful way of making engagement more meaningful and productive.


01.26 ENGAGING IDEAS - 01/26/2018

Friday, January 26th, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


American Views: Trust, Media, and Democracy (Knight Foundation)
Not only is more information readily available, but so is more misinformation, and many consumers may not be able to easily discern the difference between the two.

Politics Is More Partisan Now, But It’s Not More Divisive (fivethirtyeight)
Here’s the thing: By some measures, the United States is more partisan than ever, but that more peaceful and unified past, that golden age of unity, was … pretty much never.


This city will give poorest $500 a month, no strings attached (MSN)
Starting this year, an experimental program called the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) will pay $500 a month to a few hundred of the city’s low-income residents, no strings attached.


City of Oshkosh launches new online public engagement tool (Oshkosh Northwestern)
Locals now have the chance to give city leaders their input and opinions on issues facing the community through a new online tool.

Boulder plans 9 new events in effort to diversify public engagement by City Council (Daily Camera)
The Boulder City Council will experiment with a series of events in the coming year called "Chats with Council," which will be organized as open-ended conversations with city leaders outside of the typical modes of citizen engagement.


As Indianapolis moves to give principals more freedom, tough choices are on the horizon (Chalkbeat)
Indianapolis’ largest district is pursuing a new vision for education that aims to shift power from the central office to building principals. But as leaders move forward with their plan, they are facing a host of questions over how — and when — to cede control.

Teacher Ed. Group Calls for More High-Quality Student Teaching (Education Week)
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education's Clinical Practice Commission released a report today with 10 proclamations on how to better incorporate evidence-based clinical practice in teacher preparation programs.

Higher Ed/Workforce

State Spending on Higher Education Has Inched Upward. But Most Public Colleges Can’t Celebrate. (Chronicle of Higher Education)
State appropriations for higher education increased nominally over the last year, according to an annual survey. But the small rise and wide variations across the nation underscore why many public colleges still have reason to fret about their states’ economies.

Dividing Lines Take Shape in Senate (Inside Higher Ed)
As key committee strives for consensus on Higher Education Act, Republicans push for innovation and Democrats focus on protecting students from low-quality programs.

Health Care

Transparency & Tradeoffs: Clinicians Can Help Patients Be Better Healthcare Consumers (Cardiovascular Business)
Patients want healthcare cost information, but price lists alone aren’t turning them into savvy shoppers.

Changes in Health Care Use Associated with the Introduction of Hospital Global Budgets in Maryland (The Commonwealth Fund)
After reviewing the program’s first two years, Commonwealth Fund–supported researchers did not find that use of hospital or primary care services changed. The authors conclude that aligning the financial incentives of hospitals with physicians — who were excluded from the global budget model — may be needed to produce the desired results.


01.19 ENGAGING IDEAS - 01/19/2018

Friday, January 19th, 2018 | PUBLIC AGENDA


As Mueller Investigation Has Become Politicized, Americans Are Split On Its Fairness (NPR)
Americans are split on whether they think the Justice Department's Russia investigation is fair and are unsure of special counsel Robert Mueller, but they overwhelmingly believe he should be allowed to finish his investigation, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Can polarisation be eroded by design? (openDemocracy)
How can society encourage more nuance and compromise when entrenched opposition is baked into consumerism and politics?


This Way Up: New Thinking About Poverty and Economic Mobility (AEI)
A conservative take on solutions that can help more Ameri­cans move up the economic ladder.

What the dip in US life expectancy is really about: inequality (Vox)
While poor Americans are dying earlier, the rich are enjoying unprecedented longevity.


Could Digital Voting Create a Society That Is Truly Governed by the People? (Futurism)
Political scholars could take a number of lessons from the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Perhaps one of the most obvious is that our voting process is not immune to meddling.

Cities of Service Organization Reports Increased Interest in Gov Tech (Government Technology)
The nonprofit group, which helps a coalition of mayors leverage the skills, knowledge and creativity of citizens in order to improve local government, is more involved in tech projects than ever before.


Children’s Health Insurance Program is on the brink. Here’s why that matters for education (Chalkbeat)
Congress passed a temporary extension of funding for of CHIP in December, though some states will run out of money shortly. The end of the program would come with obvious potential consequences, as CHIP, which covers approximately 9 million children, gives participants more access to health and dental care.

There may also be a less obvious result: Research has found that access to health insurance helps kids perform better on tests and stay in school longer.

Why Are Schools Serving Predominantly Black Students More Often Marked As ‘Failing’? (Education News)
Headline after headline proclaims the news: America’s students attend “failing” schools. Government data supports the conclusion. Parents agree. On this issue, liberals and conservatives are united in their dismay.

Higher Ed/Workforce

Decline in College Attendance for Rural Nonwhite Students (The Atlantic)
The proportion of graduates from predominantly nonwhite rural schools who pursue higher education is declining.

Competency-based education: Recent policy trends (Wiley)
This article provides an overview of recent legislation and policy activity regarding CBE. Institution examples are presented as well as policy considerations for policymakers and institutions to keep top of mind when exploring CBE programs.

Health Care

New Colorado law gives patients more transparency on medical fees (Durango Herald)
A new law that took effect this month means Colorado is joining states trying to force hospitals to reveal their fees before treatment.

Healthcare costs contributing to U.S. inflation, rise 0.3 percent (Healthcare Finance News)
Healthcare costs are fueling a rise in the rate of inflation that is expected to accelerate this year; increasing rents are also helping to drive this trend, according to Reuters.


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