The following learning exchanges will take place at Frontiers 2015, held in Boston, MA on June 25-27. Register now to save your spot. View an overview of the schedule or jump to learning exchanges by time block: Thursday | Friday Morning | Friday Afternoon | Saturday

Thursday, 1-4 pm Workshop

Political Learning and Engagement in Democracy 365

According to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) at Tufts University, only 47% of college students voted in 2012. Voting can serve as a gauge of student willingness or capacity to engage in public life. For example, Harvard’s Institute of Politics 2015 survey found that only 21% of young people consider themselves “political engaged or active” and only 7% engaged in a government, political or issue related organization over the past year. Polls suggest that Americans view the political system as inefficient if not corrupt, distant if not elitist, and willfully disdainful of their opinions.

Citizen disengagement is exacerbated by the reality that colleges and universities, both public and private, often shy away from politics, controversial issues, and educating students for social activism or political engagement. We found some exceptions, however. Using NSLVE data to select campuses, researchers conducted case studies to examine how institutions foster campus climates that support student political learning and engagement in democracy. On these campuses, students are taught to analyze, communicate, and debate information. Social connections are so strong that “movements” happen almost spontaneously. Students feel a sense of shared responsibility for their campus, their peers and their learning. Curricular and co-curricular experiences capitalize on student diversity of identity, perspectives, and ideology. Free speech, academic freedom, and controversial issue discussions are robust and pervasive. These are not isolated “best practices” but deeply embedded practices and norms that have been intentionally cultivated by the institution over time. Political engagement is not just for political science majors and it is not just for an election season. Engagement in democracy is pervasive, habitual, and 365 days a year.

In this workshop, we will examine the NSLVE findings and then move to a learning exchange on how campuses can foster environments conducive to political learning and engagement in democracy for all students.

Nancy Thomas, Tufts University
Tim Shaffer, Kansas State University

Civic Engagement & Disability Advocacy: The Perils & Promise of Bursting Bubbles

Once one of the most ignored and abused populations in the nation, the disability community received long overdue recognition and protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In the wake of the ADA, much of the disability advocacy community has created bubbles of protection and shared experience, but what happens when that bubble gets in the way of integration? What happens when the disability advocacy community shifts focus from services, self-advocacy and support groups to civic education and community development? CivicSolve and the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) have been working together for nearly two years to address these questions. This session will present the story of this partnership between CivicSolve & NACDD and explore how civic engagement can be a tool both for building community and building identity.

Cornell Woolridge, Founder & President of CivicSolve LLC

Friday Morning

Community—Police Relationships: The Critical Intersection of Race, Rights, and Respect

Certainly one of the most sensitive and confrontational dynamics in communities across the United States concerns the relationship between local police departments and the publics they serve. Racial and ethnic differences are at the heart of matter, as evidenced by the incidence of violent events involving police officers and persons of color, including young men, immigrants, and non-English speaking residents. Recent reports from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Rand Corporation, and efforts by numerous local departments have called for intensive efforts to engage the public with police using the tools of democratic deliberation. This learning exchange will share the knowledge and insights gained from several public deliberations focused on community—police relationships. New Hampshire Listens has recently completed a series of three pilot community conversations involving some 150 residents and law enforcement officers in which we examined a range of issues related to deeper understandings between police and the public, including issues of race, the militarization of police, youth, mental health and substance use, and new forms of ongoing communication to assure more respectful and constructive problem solving. Everyday Democracy, building off its highly successful community-police initiatives in 2000, is now updating its discussion guides and other resources and will launch a significant national effort in the next year focused on this topic. We will share vignettes, materials, and the results of our efforts to date, and invite participants to share their own stories as well as give us input for the next stages of planning local and national efforts.

Bruce Mallory and Michele Holt-Shannon, New Hampshire Listens and the University of New Hampshire
Carolyne Abdullah and Val Ramos, Everyday Democracy

From Protest to Policy

The rise of social media has spearheaded a powerful, yet reactive, form of democratic participation. We’ve signed millions of online petitions, made moving videos, organized sit ins, boycotted products and identified potholes and parking meters to be fixed. These are all admirable actions, but they are also transactional, reactive and fleeting.  Citizens need to matter more and engagement needs to be extended both earlier as policies are formed and later as the results begin to emerge. Participants will discuss how to engage citizens conversationally about issues and policies and how to move people from being reactors to actors in the body politic. Allison will contribute a framework for discussion plus case studies of online/on land citizen engagement efforts.

Allison Fine

Is there a place for social justice in higher ed? Practitioners and academics share their experiences

We live in a time of vast racial and economic disparities within and across nations, challenges to basic democratic foundations, threats to the sustainability and very survival of the planet, global conflicts putting large populations at risk, and a K-12 public education system that is failing a large percentage of urban youth. At the same time, many civic organizations and academics are working tirelessly to reduce disparities and end injustice, through community activism and social justice education. In this session, we’ll consider the state of social justice education in higher education: what is currently working well, what colleges and universities can learn from practitioners in public life, and how can they work together to strengthen a citizenry that is simply intolerant of injustice and inequality. Participants will discuss the rationale, opportunities, challenges, and practical examples of social justice practice and education including existing practices in communities and within the curriculum, the classroom, research, and community outreach

Margaret Brower, Tisch College at Tufts University
Ande Diaz, Allegheny College
David Schoem, University of Michigan

Additive/Replacement Engagement

Regardless of the field, industry, or sector you work in, it’s a near certainty that you face the same universal predicament that afflicts the modern organization: there is never enough time to get everything done. And when it comes to deliberative dialogue, inclusive conversations, shared governance, or grassroots democracy, any civic-engagement specialist will tell you that the best strategies take time—a lot of time. For those who want to make deliberation, engagement, and democratic practices a priority, every organization, municipality, group, and initiative faces the same general set of questions: What do we need to start doing? What should we stop doing? And what are we already doing that we need to do differently? Using public schools as an illustrative case study, this session will explore a practical and efficient evaluative framework that engagement coordinators can use to determine what needs to be added, what needs to be eliminated, and what needs to be rethought and reengineered. The session will also include a structure self-assessment activity and opportunities to discuss and share effective strategies.

Stephen Abbott, Great Schools Partnership, and the Glossary of Education Reform

Critical Assessment of the Idea of Civil Society

This session will critically assess the idea of “civil society” as it has been used in recent interpretations of change and stability in democratic politics.   Participants will consider what has been learned since the rise of civil society with revolutions in the late 1980s—its present and future.  What does a civil society frame help to explain?  What are its strengths?  It’s weaknesses?   How does a civil society frame relate to organizing frameworks adequate to the tasks of large-scale democratic change, in a national and international context of mounting challenges? Session organizers will start the exchange with comments on their work with civil society framings and session participants will then add their own assessments.

Harry Boyte, Ausburg College
Karol Soltan, University of Maryland & Civic Studies Institute
Glaydys Kudzaishe Hlatywayo,  Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust

Friday Afternoon

Next Generation: Training Lawmakers for a Different Kind of Politics

Many national elected leaders begin their political careers in state legislatures. These future national lawmakers are the focus of the “Next Generation” initiative, which aims to cultivate a culture where discourse and collaboration typify public policy development. In this session participants will learn about Next Generation, its unique approach to cross the political divide, and the larger implications in American politics by supporting elected officials to work with those individuals who have different political affiliations but share a conviction that we must do more to make government work as it should.

Ted Celeste, NICD
Democratic and Republic legislators from Massachusetts

Creative Democratic Work at the Intersection of Faith and Community

This session discusses the different ways that religious organizations in the United States today understand and live out the relationship they have with the communities where they are located. Many religious organizations share a deep commitment to the well-being of the community where they are located and a wish for it to “be better” or to “help improve things.” Yet, despite these efforts many communities continue struggle to make progress on shared community challenges. We ask what factors make it more likely that faith groups play a role that strengthens communities’ ability to do public work in ways that make sense to the community toward the end of healthier and more democratic communities. Session organizers will share some preliminary findings from research introducing deliberative practices of naming and framing community-wide issues and engage participants in a conversation about their own experiences and knowledge that have the potential to enrich the conversation about, and possibilities for, faith organizations to be a part of the creative and dynamic process of democratic community building.

John Dedrick, Kettering Foundation
Elizabeth Gish, Western Kentucky University
Robert Turner, Mathews Center for Public Life
Whittney Barth, Pluralism Project

Innovations in Civic Technology

The field of civic technology is a nascent but growing field. Presenters Charlie Wisoff, Amy Lee, and Kaivan Shroff are founders or staff for civic tech start-ups designed to tackle problems in this field. Short presentations about each civic technology will be used as prompts to spark a larger discussion among session attendees about themes in civic technology. Discussion themes will include founding civic tech start-ups, online deliberation and decision-making, creating online communities, and the relationship between online and offline forms of engagement. CivNet, founded by Charlie Wisoff, is an online social networking platform that allows users to connect with people in their communities over issues they care about. It allows users to more easily engage politically, by increasing users’ capacity to organize, discuss and act around problems they share. Common Ground for Action (CGA), developed in collaboration among Kettering Foundation, members of the NIF network, and Conteneo, is a simple but sophisticated platform for online deliberative forums, based on the National Issues Forum model. In CGA, small groups are able to learn more about the tensions in an issue, examine options for dealing with the problem, weigh tradeoffs, and find common ground just like in in-person National Issues Forums, but with beautiful visuals that let you actually see the shape of your conversation as it evolves. Loomio is an online platform that make it easy for anyone, anywhere, to participate in decisions that affect their lives. The tool strives to create a non-hierarchical, collaborative, decision-making space.

Amy Lee, Kettering Foundation
Kaivan Shroff, Loomio
Charlie Wisoff, CivNet

Advancing Equity in Civic Deliberation

Civic deliberation can help us to imagine a more equitable society only if each of us can participate in the conversation on equal footing. What have we learned about how to promote equitable participation and what do we still need to learn? How do we address the many kinds of inequities people face in public forums, including disparities of political power, privilege (especially based on race, income, gender, and cultural minority status), and deliberative experience? What political contexts, forum designs, facilitation styles, and kinds of communication are most likely to enable disempowered people to participate fully? Are there promising ways of promoting deliberation within marginalized groups that flow into larger discussions among broader cross-sections of the public? After exploring a range of approaches to designing for equity, participants will work in small groups to craft solutions to common challenges posed by their own work.

Chad Raphael, Santa Clara University
Valeriano Ramos, Everyday Democracy

Civic Potential of Modernity: Civic Studies as an Antidote to Civic Despair

This session aims to explore whether the intellectual and political potential of civic studies can counter the despair sometimes provoked by modernity. We do civic work today in the context of modernity. But what is that? Is modernity a problem for civic work, or can civic renewal be modernist? Is the slowly emerging project of organizing democratic society implicit in modernity? What about the modern idea that science is the only truly reliable source of knowledge? What happens to human agency and human
ideals under those circumstances? This session will begin with some remarks by the panelists, followed by ample time for discussion.

Peter Levine, Tisch College, Tufts University
Joshua A. Miller, George Washington University
Karol Soltan, University of Maryland


Communications Scholarship and Deliberative Practice

Deliberative democracy practitioners and communications researchers are forging mutually beneficial relationships leading to both new scholarship and innovations in the practice of organizing and interpreting deliberative events.  In this interactive session participants will engage a series of discussion questions designed to elicit major learnings from the field and to identify the new questions and opportunities for both communications scholars and practitioners to collaborate.   The session will include communications researchers and practitioners who have done work in settings ranging from on-line dialogues over prison overcrowding in Alabama, to engaging rural populations in questions over food availability in Kansas, to a state-wide deliberative process in Oregon.  In addition to examining deliberative events, the session will also introduce new research on deliberation in everyday speech and its implications for the design and interpretation of deliberative events.

Erika Mason-Imbody, University of Alabama
David Procter, Kansas State University
Lucy Greenfield, Healthy Democracy

How does conflict resolution theory and practice contribute to the field of public deliberation?

This workshop explores the role of conflict resolution in the field of public deliberation and also within the broader field of public participation. Through a series of examples, theories and exercises, the presenters lead participants toward a better understanding of seminal conflict resolution work and how it relates to current day practices of public deliberation. Some questions to explore include: What are key concepts, skills and techniques for conflict resolution? How do these apply in public deliberation settings? How might the further integration of conflict resolution practices in public deliberation contribute to enhancing the broader realm of public participation practices?

Tina Nabatchi, Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Lisa-Marie Napoli, Indiana University, Political and Civic Engagement Program

Continuum of Civic Action

The Continuum of Civic Action panel will welcome a mix of scholars and practitioners interested in civic actions ranging from dialogue to deliberation to advocacy to protest. The panel will explore these actions not as discrete buckets, but as approaches on a civic continuum or continuums. The goal is to help participants learn from other approaches, explore what approaches are effective in different contexts, and ultimately strengthen their own civic approach.

Jason Haas, MIT Media Lab/Education Arcade
Cindy S. Vincent, Salem State University
Christy Sanderfer, University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service
Sarah Shugars, Tisch College at Tufts University

Working to Make Deliberative Civic Engagement ‘Business-As-Usual’ in City Governance: Pittsburgh, PA

This session focuses on collaborative work facilitated by the Program for Deliberative Democracy at Carnegie Mellon University that has engaged elected officials, government agencies, and community leaders in efforts to institutionalize deliberative civic engagement as a regular part of the decision and policy making procedures in the City of Pittsburgh. Over the last year, several departments within the City of Pittsburgh have incorporated Deliberative Forums as a means to engage residents and gather public input, including forums on selecting a new Chief of Police (Public Safety), on revising a Climate Action Plan (Sustainability Office), and on establishing a framework of priorities and projects for the City’s Capital Budget (Office of Management and Budget). In creating opportunities for deliberation, these projects did not create something new; rather, they sought to transform practices within existing structures and constraints (e.g., limited financial resources). Through collaborative reflection on these examples from Pittsburgh, participants will be asked to consider the possibilities for and the challenges to making deliberative civic engagement ‘business-as-usual’ in their own cities.

Tim Dawson, Carnegie Mellon University