Part of Dan's genius was to recognize that the public has its own way of thinking through issues...
The Right Time for the Right Conditions
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 careThrough 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.

Will's headshot


Will Friedman

New from Public Agenda


Tackling Transfer Guide
This implementation guide, a complement to The Transfer Playbook, is designed to help state entities organize workshops where teams from two- and four-year institutions can work together to improve transfer outcomes for their students.
With support from the Innovations and Collaborations program at the Vermont Community Foundation, Public Agenda created this guide to help Vermonters decide what kinds of engagement they want and to help them plan for an overall system for engagement that features those opportunities. Although created for Vermont, the guide is intended for local municipalities and community leaders across the country who are looking to plan for an overall system of engagement that's both effective and sustainable.

Teacher Collaboration In Perspective
A joint project of the Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda, Teacher Collaboration In Perspective is designed to contribute to a better-informed dialogue about how teachers can work more collaboratively. 

Qualities That Matter
Measuring quality is crucial to improving quality, to paying doctors and hospitals based on patients' health outcomes, and to steering patients toward high-value providers. But quality has many dimensions that are measured in many ways. This research report surveyed people who have experienced one of three common types of health care for which quality and costs can vary: type 2 diabetes care, joint replacement surgery and maternity care.

From the Blog

As Public Agenda gears up to do all we can in 2018 to support a healthier democracy and stronger communities, we thought we'd share some highlights from our work in 2017. 

While the debate on who should pay more taxes and why continues on a national scale, one thing to keep in mind is that the solutions to complex issues are rarely black and white, and more often than not, will elicit a range of feelings that Americans, regardless of political affiliation, all share.

Michael Barber of the Spencer Foundation writes, "If we make time for teachers to work in the company of knowledgeable colleagues, they can develop their tools to enact ambitious instruction on a range of topics across subject areas. If teachers have genuine and ongoing learning opportunities, they can improve opportunities for student learning. To do this, they need time."

Reconciling Principle with Pragmatism 
Public Agenda's Ravi Reddi talks about the release of upcoming research that sheds new light on where Americans are finding common ground and how those conversations are taking place.

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Public Agenda helps build a democracy that works for everyone. By elevating a diversity of voices, forging common ground, and improving dialogue and collaboration among leaders and communities, Public Agenda fuels progress on critical issues, including education, health care and community engagement. Founded in 1975, Public Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in New York City. Find Public Agenda online at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at @PublicAgenda.

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