April 9, 2015


Getting Your Message Out (and Why It's Not Enough)



While K-12 education leaders often focus on "effective messaging," they cannot forget the importance of listening. In the newest edition of Educational Leadership, Jean Johnson explores how a failure to listen is jeopardizing public trust in public education and undermining our ability to make needed changes in U.S. schools.


Messaging often addresses the concerns of leaders, she writes, and not the public. Added to that, in today's political reality, the public is often deeply skeptical of leadership and distrustful of experts. Furthermore, our typical tools for listening to the public -- opinion surveys and public hearings -- are inadequate, and we often use them in ways that damage understanding rather than enhancing it.

But we can turn the tide to improve communications between education leaders and the public --and among the whole range of stakeholders in public education -- even though it's not an easy assignment. 


Jean describes a few alternative communications models that could help and extracts some common elements that might be considered the ground rules for more authentic public communications. Here are the basics:

    • Start early and make communication both regular and a two-way give and take
    • Listen to understand, not to persuade, by emphasizing dialogue over debate
    • Let people in on how hard this is
    • Know when to listen and when to follow your heart

Read Jean's full piece here for more advice and resources, and let us know what you think


J.J. Baskin 1966-2015

We're saddened to share the news that Public Agenda Board Member JJ Baskin passed away last week. With JJ's passing, the country has lost a great man and a force for good. JJ's deep commitment to improving education was matched by his boundless energy, and that energy stayed with him to the end.


We first met JJ two years ago down in Austin, Texas -- his home state. JJ's energy, dedication and optimism inspired us, and we invited him to join the Public Agenda board soon after.

JJ had so much faith in the Public Agenda mission and team. He was constantly working to advance our mission by contributing ideas and cultivating relationships. As JJ's obituary points out, he was a world-class connector who took enormous joy in serving others.

While we didn't know him long, it was long enough to know he was one of the finest people we'd ever meet. His dedication to good work and his fellow humans was a genuine inspiration, and we were lucky to experience his creativity and kindness firsthand. We at Public Agenda hope we can honor JJ's memory by capturing and channeling a little bit of his spirit, goodness and commitment to making the world a better place.

When JJ was first diagnosed with cancer, not even a year ago, he formed JJ's Fight Club. He called it a "team of optimists" and asked its members to "inspire us and remind us of what we are fighting for."

We may have lost JJ, but he will continue to inspire and remind us of what we are fighting for.


Read more about JJ and his life's work.


PA in the News

A collection of stories citing work from Public Agenda, our Board and our partners. 

(Health Affairs' GrantWatch Blog)
Our Senior Researcher David Schleifer and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program Officer Andrea Ducas describe Pubilc Agenda's research on how people find information on out-of-pocket costs.

More coverage of findings from our latest research report: How Much Will It Cost? How Americans Use Prices in Health Care.


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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