April 23, 2015


Public Agenda at 40 Years: Celebrating the Past and Envisioning the Future



Founder Dan Yankelovich (center) flanked by 
President Will Friedman and Senior Fellow Jean Johnson.

One afternoon in 1975, a prominent social scientist and a future Secretary of State met for lunch. Both were frustrated that the issues the public cared the most about were being ignored in the current presidential campaign. 


The two men, Dan Yankelovich and Cyrus Vance Sr., decided to form an organization that would work to shrink the gap between leaders and the public. Thus from that fateful lunch 40 years ago, Public Agenda was born. (Read more about Public Agenda's history and co-founders here.)


Earlier this week, we gathered to celebrate Public Agenda's 40th anniversary, along with the 90th birthday of our co-founder Dan Yankelovich, with a cocktail reception hosted at the home of our board member, Norton Garfinkle, and his wife, Sally Minard.


The event was co-chaired by Admiral Bob Inman and former Labor Secretary Ann Korologos, and former Senator Bill Bradley was an honorary co-chair. In addition to Dan, speakers included Public Agenda's President Will Friedman, Board Chair Mitchell Wallerstein, and Betsy Smith, former assistant commissioner for marketing and revenue at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.


The occasion was an opportunity for us to both celebrate the past with the generation that contributed to the legacy of Public Agenda and envision the future under a new generation of leadership.


While Cy Vance Sr. passed away in 2002, his son, New York District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., joined us for the 40/90 celebration. Of Public Agenda, he said, "My father had a great deal of affection and respect for the organization he founded with his friend, Dan Yankelovich, in 1975. If he were here today I know he would be proud of its accomplishments and enthusiastic about its ambitions."


Dan and Will spoke to the crowd about these accomplishments and ambitions, during the course of which Will announced the launch of a new initiative, Restoring Opportunity, whose vision and mission is rooted firmly in Dan's newest book and recent writing

Restoring Opportunity is a ten-year commitment by Public Agenda to help communities and the nation address stagnating opportunity, which we consider to be one of the greatest challenges of our day. In order to meet this challenge, we will attack three critical questions:

  • How to ensure high-quality educational opportunities for all
  • How to create more good jobs and economic security
  • How to engage citizens more meaningfully in politics and public life


We also surprised Dan with the announcement of the new Yankelovich Center for Public Judgment. This Center, to be housed at Public Agenda, will develop, disseminate and apply Dan's seminal ideas about democracy, ideas that have profoundly influenced our own work. The Center will ensure that these ideas continue to sharpen and evolve to meet the changing challenges of the day.


We are able to launch the Yankelovich Center for Public Judgment thanks to the Kettering Foundation's generous contribution and commitment to a robust program of joint research through the Center. David Mathews, the president of the Kettering Foundation and a long-time friend of Dan's, was unable to join us for the evening but shared his remarks about his friendship with Dan and the new Center in the video below (which brought a tear to the eye of a few of us here at Public Agenda):


Kettering's David Mathews on the Yankelovich Center


You can read more about the Restoring Opportunity initiative and the Yankelovich Center for Public Judgment on our website. To meet our goals for these initiatives, we need your help! To make a gift online, click here or contact Judy Weissman at


The Public Agenda team thanks you for your support!

Engaging Ideas

A collection of recent stories and reports that sparked consideration on ways to make progress on divisive issues. 

(New Yorker)
George Packer discusses his exhaustion with the "stuckness of American politics," though issues "remain huge and urgent: inequality, global warming, immigration, immigration, poorly educated children, American decline, radical Islamism." 

Last week, New Yorkers in 24 City Council districts voted to determine how a segment of the city's budget would be spent in their neighborhood. This article from the Big City blog describes participatory budgeting as "the ultimate inclusive party."

(Peter Levine)
In a new paper, Levine and Eric Liu discuss themes from interviews with 20 key organizational leaders about strategies to expand civic engagement in the United States. 

From Nicholas Kristof: "I support education reform. Yet the brawls have left everyone battered and bloodied, from reformers to teachers unions."

(Kaiser Health News) 
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "Despite the government's push to make health information more available, few people use concrete information about doctors or hospitals to obtain better care at lower prices, according to a poll released Tuesday." Our own research on how American's use health care price information finds that 56 percent of Americans have tried to find price information before getting care, and of those, 21 percent say they have compared prices across multiple providers. 

On the heels of Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's $42 million open data initiative, here's a few programs already boosting civic reform in New Orleans, San Francisco and Louisville.


Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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