June 18, 2015



Polling the Public


In case you missed it, last week Will Friedman and Carolin Hagelskamp joined Brian Lehrer on his show to talk about a joint survey from Public Agenda and WNYC.


The survey will examine the needs and concerns of residents of the New York region, while also taking a deep dive into issues of inequality and opportunity in the region. Our research team has already conducted a series of focus groups to help frame the survey, which will start later this month.


In the meantime, we wanted to give you a sneak peek behind the scenes. As Brian noted on the show, we believe it's good for democracy to make the process transparent.


Listen to the segment to find out:

  • How do we get people to participate and stay on the phone for the entire 17 minute survey?
  • How many people will we need to poll to make the data meaningful?
  • What did we hear in the focus groups we conducted in preparation for the survey?
  • We're asking local residents about some pretty divisive issues. How do we write questions that provide clarity on existing cleavages without creating artificial or exacerbated polarization?

You'll also hear a few of the questions we're planning to include!


Surveys by themselves are a thin means for giving the public a voice. This is why we consider our partnership with WNYC to be such a valuable one. Throughout the project, we will incorporate the process and findings into an ongoing conversation via WNYC's programming. This will provide a jumping off point for real conversation about where residents of the New York region are in their views and how those views align or don't align with our public policies.


The Public Agenda/WNYC poll is the first survey of New York-area residents supported by New York-area residents, through the Deborah Wadsworth Fund. The poll will inform future on-the-ground work -- also supported by local donors -- helping community members collaborate on solutions to the public problems they care about the most.


Will you consider supporting this and future projects? By doing so, you'll contribute to community problem solving in the New York region. We'll keep you updated on our progress and also send you an invitation to a fall event where we'll discuss the results on the survey.


Please support the Public Agenda/WNYC survey today!



Trade-offs of Student Privacy

In states across the country and at the federal level, legislatures are considering bills that would limit the collection of student data.


We haven't waded into the issue of student privacy, nor is it our prerogative to take a side. However, an opinion piece on the topic in The New York Times this week came to our attention as it cited In Perspective, our recent effort to improve the conversation about charter schools.


Susan Dynarski, a professor of education, public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, wrote the piece. In it, she argues that projects like In Perspective, which synthesizes charter school research, would not be possible if we permit the more rigid legislation limiting student data collection to pass:

Perhaps the most stringent of these proposals, sponsored by Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, would effectively end the analysis of student data by outside social scientists. This legislation would have banned recent prominent research documenting the benefits of smaller classes, the value of excellent teachers and the varied performance of charter schools.


Of course, resistance to data collection is understandable and data privacy is a very real concern for many Americans. However, Susan argues that student privacy legislation is so broadly written that it could defeat the original purpose of collecting the data: assessing and improving education.


Education researchers and other social scientists, we're curious: how do you view this debate? Do you worry about the cautions that Susan raises? Is there a politically viable way for us to balance the competing values of privacy and the need for assessing education in order to improve it? Let us know what you think, via Twitter or on our Facebook page.


PS: Diane Ravitch also mentioned In Perspective on her blog this week:  

"Finally, a report from a completely non-political, non-ideological source about charter schools... Different sides may take heart from different aspects of the report." 


Engaging Ideas

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

The main content of candidate's announcement speech broken down into 13 topics shows very few who touched on healthcare. 

Reporters from 14 NPR-member stations contributed to this illustrated slideshow story on the official U.S. high school graduation rate -- which is at a historic high of 81 percent.

(Inside Higer Ed)
Advice on how to avoid or re-imagine certain routine traps, written specifically for higher education institutions and instructors which can also be applied to most other work situations. Main takeaway: be more reflexive, or evaluate your goals based on your subject's successes and loses. 

(Employee Benefits News)
The case for better and earlier engagement with consumers is made when considering the average health care journey lasts 11 months and includes interactions with 5 to 7 providers and 25-50 claims.


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 PublicAgenda.org.

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