The Deborah Wadsworth Fund

Each year, the Deborah Wadsworth Fund will underwrite a Public Agenda project on an important local issue where progress has bogged down because people are polarized and stuck in dysfunctional conversations about how to move forward.

In each case, Public Agenda’s unique research, mediation and communications capacities will be brought to bear to help leaders, residents and communities build common ground, forge solutions, and put them to work.

A Wadsworth Project might focus on:

  • Resolving conflicts over charter schools so we can better educate our children.
  • Creating greater resilience in areas vulnerable to extreme weather.
  • Developing new strategies for combating hunger and homelessness.
  • Fostering collaboration between colleges and employers.

Cities thrive because diverse, ambitious, talented people intersect in ways that foster innovation and opportunity.

In cities across the nation, and in the New York metro area especially, housing affordability is a growing concern. The next Wadsworth Fund project will enable us to conduct innovative research and create practical tools to empower communities and educate policymakers to work collaboratively on solutions that directly address the public's concerns.

We need insight from neighborhoods, not just experts, to inform work on the ground. We need public support to carry reforms through the inevitable bumps of implementation. Moreover, people should have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, and few issues do so more directly than housing. Public Agenda’s Affordable City Initiative will help engage the public on this crucial challenge and give people a voice in search for solutions.

Everyone has a stake in housing affordability. Everyone should have a voice. By supporting Public Agenda with a donation, you are creating a stronger democratic process that connects the will and voice of the people with policymakers.

Inaugural Project with WNYC

In 2015, Public Agenda partnered with WNYC – New York’s premier public radio broadcaster and producer – on the inaugural project for the Deborah Wadsworth Fund. This first project provided an unprecedented look into what’s really on the minds of residents of New York City and the tri-state region.

Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda, and Carolin Hagelskamp, vice president and director of research, on The Brian Lehrer Show.

Through focus groups and a major survey, Public Agenda and WNYC illuminated the concerns, priorities and aspirations of New York metro area residents when it comes to the public policy issues our region faces. The research placed a special emphasis on those issues that residents most want to have a voice in and where they feel their personal input and involvement is most needed.

We released findings from the research in our report, "What's At Issue Here?" and explored some findings more in depth on our blog. Findings also informed programming on The Brian Lehrer Show and other WNYC content. We view the research not as a set of conclusions, but rather a means to spark conversations that can help the public work together with civic leaders and public officials on solutions to our most pressing challenges.

The results will also ensure that subsequent Wadsworth Fund projects are aligned with residents’ concerns, priorities and values, and will provide the groundwork for on-the-ground public engagement around pressing issues in the coming years.

About Deborah Wadsworth

Deborah devoted her life to strengthening our nation through education, research, and civic engagement. She did so in significant part through her association with Public Agenda, first as president and then as board member. Throughout Deborah’s extraordinary tenure, Public Agenda’s work elevated the voices of the American people and had a lasting impact on important dimensions of American public life.

During the 90s, for example, Public Agenda research helped align national education priorities with the needs and concerns of the public through a series of influential and highly-acclaimed reports, including First Things First (parents), Getting By (high school students), and Stand by Me (teachers). When the National Education Goals Panel objectives for schools failed to address parents’ and teachers’ primary concern for safe and orderly schools, Deborah’s forceful briefings and presentations on our research in Washington were instrumental to the Department of Education’s eventual decision to add a goal addressing school safety. Public Agenda also conducted a landmark opinion survey exploring Americans’ attitudes about children and teens. The report, Kids These Days, was selected as one of the most significant documents by Congressional Quarterly in 1997, and was presented to President Clinton at the White House. This groundbreaking study led to follow-up research in 1999—which our project partners, The Ronald McDonald House Charities and The Advertising Council, used to inform their work with parents and children.

Other important studies conducted under Deborah’s leadership included Knowing it by Heart: Americans Consider the Constitutions and Its Meaning; For Goodness’ Sake: Why So Many Want Religion to Play a Greater Role in American Life; and, Aggravating Circumstance: A Status Report on Rudeness in America. Deborah also worked with current president Will Friedman to found our public engagement department in 1997, which puts our research insights to work by promoting dialogue and problem solving on divisive, complex issues.

Public Agenda has always been headquartered in New York City, and Deborah was a life-long resident of the region, from her birth in Mount Vernon to her final residence in Manhattan. The Deborah Wadsworth Fund will carry forward Deborah’s passionate commitment to democracy and human betterment through its yearly project serving the region.

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