Toward Wiser Public Judgement


How should citizens in a healthy democracy work out their differences? Can problem-solving approaches which work well in small communities be scaled up to address problems on the national stage? How can we make sure that "democracy" is not just a word, and that government action is guided by thoughtful citizen input and complemented by authentic, broad-based citizen participation?

Toward Wiser Public Judgment, edited by social scientist and public opinion research pioneer Daniel Yankelovich and public engagement theorist and practitioner Will Friedman, revisits Yankelovich's landmark 1991 book, Coming to Public Judgment, on the question of how the public makes up its mind on issues and then zeroes in on what has been learned in nearly three decades of applying this theory to real-life situations.

The editors, who are also among those contributing essays to this checkup on 21st century democracy, have a unique advantage in approaching the subject of how issues work their way through the public consciousness. That focus is at the heart of the work done by Public Agenda, the nonpartisan public opinion research and public engagement organization of which Yankelovich is co-founder and Friedman is president, as well as by organizations like the National Issues Forums and Viewpoint Learning.

It's all part of what Yankelovich calls The Learning Curve™ - the process by which America makes up its mind - and it's more than just a theory. At a time in which civic life is more deadlocked than ever in name-calling and partisan suspicion, understanding the Learning Curve™ offers an important part of the solution.

With that in mind, Yankelovich, Friedman and the other public engagement practitioners who report in this volume on the practical application of the Learning Curve™ in our democracy take on another very timely question. Namely: is it possible for the public to move faster toward collaborative, sustainable resolutions of urgent conflicts ranging from education reform, energy and climate change on through to the foreign policy that affects the U.S. role and standing in the world?

The initiatives the authors write about illustrate new models of problem-solving, grounded in how the public really thinks about issues - and show a great deal about what it takes to truly connect and engage with the public.

As a nation, we've got to move both faster and better on all of these challenges, or risk the consequences. The question is: how?


Click here to purchase a copy of Toward Wiser Public Judgment

"Toward Wiser Public Judgment" is a product of Public Agenda's Center for Advances In Public Engagement (CAPE). It was supported by grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well through collaborative research with the Kettering Foundation.


About the Editors and Authors

Daniel Yankelovich

Theories on the underpinnings and functioning of our democracy abound, but their worth lies in what's done to test and apply their lessons to the problems of real life.

That has been a big part of the lifelong mission of social scientist and public opinion research pioneer Daniel Yankelovich, chairman and co-founder of Public Agenda, Viewpoint Learning, which specializes in dialogue-based learning, and DYG, Inc., a business research firm which tracks social trends.

Dan Yankelovich

He is the author of eleven other books, including Coming to Public Judgment; Profit with Honor: The New Stage of Market Capitalism; The Magic of Dialogue; New Rules; and Ego and Instinct (with William Barrett).

Yankelovich serves on board of the UC San Diego Foundation, is a member of the Dean's Advisory Council in the Social Sciences, a former trustee of Brown University and a former faculty member of NYU and the New School for Social Research. He has won numerous awards and was named by PR Week as one of the ten most influential people of the 20th century in the fields of public affairs and communications.

Educated at Harvard, Harvard's Graduate School of the Arts, and the Sorbonne, Yankelovich has had the opportunity to apply his knowledge and experience in multiple arenas of society. He is the founder of the New York Times/Yankelovich Poll, today known as the New York Times/CBS News Poll, and was founding president of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics.

Other institutional affiliations have included: chairman of the Educational Testing Service; fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Kettering Foundation trustee; member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and served as a director for corporate boards including CBS; Meredith Corporation; Loral Space and Communications; Diversified Energies/ARKLA; and U.S. West (now part of Qwest Communications).

Will Friedman

In Toward Wiser Public Judgment, Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda and founder of its public engagement practice, takes a look at the history of public engagement, the current environment, and the road ahead, including questions on scale, scope, and impact for political change.

Will Friedman

Since joining Public Agenda in 1994, Friedman has overseen Public Agenda's steady and expanding stream of work aimed at helping communities build capacity to tackle tough issues in more inclusive, deliberative and collaborative ways.

In 2006, he established Public Agenda's Center for Advances in Public Engagement (CAPE), which conducts action research to assess impacts and improve practice.

Friedman is the author or co-author of numerous publications including "Reframing Framing," "Transforming Public Life: A Decade of Public Engagement in Bridgeport, CT," "Deliberative Democracy and the Problem of Scope," "Deliberative Democracy and the Problem of Power" and "From Employee Engagement to Civic Engagement: Exploring Connections between Workplace and Community Democracy."

Previously, Friedman was senior vice president for policy studies at the Work in America Institute, where he directed research and special projects on workplace issues. He was also an adjunct lecturer in political science at Lehman College, a research fellow at the Samuels Center for State and Local Politics, and a practitioner in the field of counseling psychology. He holds a Ph.D. in political science with specializations in political psychology and American politics.

Keith Melville and Robert J. Kingston

Imagine a network of ordinary citizens, all over the country, coming together periodically to discuss the hot topics of the moment, looking at the issues from all sides, considering the pros and cons of different approaches to problems, and weighing each against the values they consider to be most important. That's what the Kettering Foundation has been doing since the early 1980s, with the establishment of the National Issues Forums, the vantage point from which Toward Wiser Public Judgment chapter contributors Keith Melville and Robert J. Kingston report on the mechanisms of deliberative democracy.

Their experiences with the practical application of Yankelovich's theory, and what does and doesn't happen when citizens get together to discuss public policy issues, are a great laboratory and foundation for further exploration.

Keith Melville

Keith Melville, one of the founders of the National Issues Forums and an associate at the Kettering Foundation, is a sociologist, consultant, author, and professor who has taught college and graduate level programs for the past thirty years.

Melville received his PhD in sociology from Columbia University, where he was already studying the subject of bridging gaps between different segments of society, and has held faculty positions at the City University of New York and the Fielding Graduate University.

Throughout his career, Melville has combined academic and professional work, particularly in the area of public policy and public engagement. He was a senior vice president at Public Agenda for 18 years and has designed and led hundreds of seminars and workshops.

He is the author of many books and dozens of reports on topics including immigration, income inequality, welfare, America's global role, senior entitlement programs and health care reform. One of the themes in his writing is personal lifestyle choices, and the cultural influences that shape those choices. This was the topic of his first book, "Communes in the Counter Culture," which found a large audience during the cultural changes of the early 1970s, and "Marriage and Family Today," which was for many years a leading college text.

Melville also worked in the White House during the Carter administration as a senior writer on a report on The Quality of American Life, prepared for the President's Commission for a National Agenda for the 1980s.

Robert J. Kingston

Robert J. Kingston is a senior associate of the Kettering Foundation. He grew up in England, was educated at Oxford, and first came to this country (of which he is now a citizen) as a professor of Shakespeare at the University of Michigan. A former president of the College Board, Kingston served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations and was executive director of Public Agenda in its formative years.

At Kettering, Kingston has contributed to the planning of virtually all of the foundation's operating programs. In addition, he has collaborated with other organizations on projects including the international Deliberative Democracy Workshops and the National Issues Convention, the latter in cooperation with MacNeil/Lehrer Productions and the Stanford University's Center for Deliberative Democracy.

Kingston is the editor of the Kettering Review, edited the book "Public Thought and Foreign Policy: Essays on Public Deliberations about Americans’ Role in the World," and was executive producer of the annual television program "A Public Voice."

Alison Kadlec

An examination of Yankelovich's theory of deliberative democracy would not be complete without a close look at how this has played out at Public Agenda. In Toward Wiser Public Judgment, Will Friedman is joined by Alison Kadlec in a review of Public Agenda's efforts to put the Learning Curve™ perspective into practice to inform policymaking, strengthen communities and their vital institutions, and educate and empower citizens.

Alison Kadlec

Alison Kadlec, a senior vice president at Public Agenda, is director of the Center for Advances in Public Engagement and of all of Public Agenda's public engagement programs. She works on the management and implementation of Public Agenda's public engagement and opinion research projects, and is active in the development and evaluation of research tools and reports, and in the training for, and evaluation of, public engagement projects.

Kadlec, who describes herself as a democratic theorist who left academics to work on-the-ground on behalf of meaningful democratic practices and habits, was a visiting professor and lecturer in the political science departments at the University of Minnesota, Macalester College, Baruch College and Hunter College. She holds Bachelor's degrees in Political Theory & Constitutional Democracy and English Literature from Michigan State University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota.

She is the author of a book on the democratic theory of John Dewey, "Dewey's Critical Pragmatism." Alison is also the co-author of a number of papers on the subject of public engagement, including: Beyond Debate: Impacts of Deliberative Issue Framing on Group Dialogue and Problem Solving; Promising Practices in Online Engagement; and Framing for Deliberation.

Steven A. Rosell and Heidi Gantwerk

"Just talk" - a dismissive phrase and one that would never be used to describe the work of Steven A. Rosell and Heidi Gantwerk, whose contribution to Toward Wiser Public Judgment is a deft report on the impact of dynamic dialogue as institutions public and private develop approaches to leadership that are increasingly participatory and learning-based.

Steven A. Rosell

As co-founder and president of Viewpoint Learning, Steven A. Rosell leads Viewpoint Learning's development of dialogue-based learning techniques and their application in the public sector and in business. Steve acts as an advisor to governments, international agencies and major firms, and is the author of numerous reports and articles and four books on questions of governance, leadership and learning, including "Renewing Governance: Governing by Learning in the Information Age" and "Changing Frames." He has worked with hundreds of executives in the public and private sectors developing learning-based approaches to leadership and governance needed to deal with new social and political realities.

Previously, Rosell was a senior official of the Government of Canada, where he led the group responsible for advising four prime ministers on the organization and machinery of government and related issues. He also served in the departments responsible for foreign affairs and international trade, consumer and corporate affairs, and housing and urban affairs. In addition, he was senior fellow at the International Development Research Centre and director of the Governability Research Program at the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

Rosell is a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Organizational Behavior from Cornell University.

Heidi Gantwerk

A leader in the field of public dialogue, Heidi Gantwerk is vice president of Viewpoint Learning, specializing in civic engagement, public policy research, community relations, and media production. She has designed and directed numerous national and local civic and stakeholder engagement projects on a wide range of complex public and private sector issues, including health care reform, land use and housing development, governance reform, and caring for the elderly.

Heidi Gantwerk

Gantwerk is often asked to speak about the critical role of public engagement in breaking through gridlock on complex, value-laden public policy issues. She has produced videos on the power of public dialogue and spearheaded the addition of online dialogue to Viewpoint Learning's methods for engaging the public and stakeholders on tough issues.

Previous to her work at Viewpoint Learning, Gantwerk focused on building bridges between communities, including serving as a liaison between local communities and network television, and creating innovative educational opportunities for inner-city schoolchildren.

She holds a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and is the author of numerous reports and articles.

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