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#TextTalk2016 at Baruch College

In the months preceding the 2016 presidential election, CUNY’s Baruch College held a series of election and debate events called Campaign’16 @Baruch. As part of this initiative, David Birdsell, Dean of the School of Public Affairs, enlisted Public Agenda to train staff and students on techniques for hosting interactive deliberation processes around the election to help participants reflect on what the election meant for them and the larger community.


On September 22, 2016, Matt Leighninger, Interim Co-President and Director of Public Engagement, and Nicole Cabral, Associate Director for New York Engagement Programs, held a face-to-face facilitation training with students at Baruch. The 3-hour training incorporated Public Agenda’s suite of facilitation training resources, including a facilitation guide and set of training videos. The workshop participants took part in interactive presentations about facilitation, discussed the scenarios and facilitation techniques portrayed in the videos, and practiced facilitating in a group. Baruch faculty was responsible for recruiting and amplifying the training to recruit participants. 

On September 29, Matt Leighninger returned to Baruch to hold an online facilitation training which described the different formats for online dialogue, including email, social media, NextDoor, TweetChat and as well as offering organizing and moderation guidelines for each. Baruch students and staff acknowledged the need to offer both in-person and online opportunities to engage in the processes they were creating.  

To help staff and students test what they had designed, Public Agenda arranged for them to participate in the #TextTalk2016 process, a real-time, text-enabled, face-to-face conversation all over the country, launched on October 19, 2016. The public engagement team worked with Baruch staff to draft a script designed to help participants talk not only about the candidates and debates, but about the election and engagement in general which was then integrated into the TextTalk platform

This activity was launched in conjunction with the third presidential debate. #TextTalk2016 was created to encourage dialogue that was personally meaningful, stimulated thinking about actions individuals wanted to take, and that was part of a much larger conversation about the present and future of the country. The platform ran and was accessible by the Baruch community as well as Public Agenda’s extended network until the election wrapped. For more on texting-based engagement, see Text, Talk, Engage.

How the #TextTalk2016 Process Worked

  • Groups of 3 or 4 people were formed, and texted “BARUCH” (or BEGIN) to 89800.
  • They received welcome text, followed quickly by a few polling questions* about the campaign, such as “How likely are you to vote this November? A) Very likely, B) Somewhat likely, C) Not likely”
  • Each participant texted a response and received a reply with the next question.
  • Participants also received texts with links that showed the aggregated results of the polling in real time.
  • Participants then received the first of several prompts, including: “How well does the presidential campaign reflect the issues you care most about? (Take 15 minutes to discuss in groups & reply NEXT to go on.)”
  • The entire conversation took about an hour.  


#TextTalk2016 provided the Baruch community with opportunities to explore different views surrounding the 2016 election. The overall response from the post-training surveys was extremely positive. In addition to having a good experience during the training, Baruch is interested in expanding their use of tools to engage in dialogue. With help from Public Agenda, Baruch College is working to schedule a demonstration on how to use Common Ground for Action, a more sophisticated platform for online deliberation developed by the Kettering Foundation.