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08.01 Providing Information and Options: Issue Framing

Monday, August 1st, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 7

Getting people to the table is not sufficient for improved public participation. The table must also be set in a way that gives citizens more of what they want (problem solving, civility and community) and treats them like adults in the process. This requires participation leaders to think more deeply about how to provide information and describe options.

Three skill sets – issue framing, sequencing discussions and writing discussion materials – are especially useful to this work. We’ll dedicate this week’s post to the first of these skills – issue framing. Look for a discussion of sequencing and writing next week.

Issue Framing

Photo by Mario Mancuso via Flickr.

In his book, Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann (1922), a noted writer, reporter, and political commentator, remarked that “The way in which the world is imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do.” With this comment, Lippmann was getting to the concept of issue framing. Just as how a work of art is framed affects how we see and value it, so too does how an issue is framed affect how we perceive and assess it (for more information on framing, see the Frameworks Institute 2002).

In a political context, issue framing means presenting (or sometimes spinning) an issue in a way that is most likely get the most agreement from others.

In a public participation process, however, issue framing means something quite different. It means presenting an issue in a way that allows people to explore different definitions of the problem, different explanations for why the problem has emerged and different solutions to the problem.

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07.29 Engaging Ideas - 7/29

Friday, July 29th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, opportunity, education and health care.


However divided you think our politics are, this chart shows that it’s actually way worse (Wonkblog)
A new study tracks an "explosion" of polarized speech in the past 20 years.

Public Policy and the Blame Game (Governing)
Instead of working to solve problems like underfunded pensions, too often we spend our time and energy pointing fingers.

Public Opinion

The great irony about the issue upending U.S. politics (Wonkblog)
Opposition to TPP is the most prominent symbol of anti-free trade sentiment that seems to have upended the 2016 presidential campaign. Yet most Americans actually agree that free trade is a good thing — and support it.


Study: Raising the minimum wage did little for workers’ earnings in Seattle (Wonkblog)
The data on Seattle will be frustrating to both sides of the debate.


Event combines 'Pokemon Go' with civic engagement (Ellwood City Ledger)
Chakayla Hyland has been playing the mobile device-based game, along with her two children and some of her friends, just like millions of other people. She decided to use the game to rally the community to another activity: a neighborhood cleanup. She hopes they'll pick up any litter they find, especially at gyms and stops.

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07.28 Donor Profile: Lisa Belsky

Thursday, July 28th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Public Agenda is fortunate to have committed and engaged donors, and we are truly appreciative of their support. Our goal is to build a community of supporters dedicated to strengthening the democratic process and finding workable solutions to our most pressing national and local concerns.

Lisa Belsky (center) and family

Each month we will highlight a donor and share with you why they support Public Agenda. Meet Lisa Belsky. Lisa is a longtime donor to Public Agenda. Lisa's mother was Deborah Wadsworth, a former president, board member and board chair of Public Agenda. Deborah cared very deeply about Public Agenda and shared that passion with Lisa.

In Deborah's honor, the was created. The fund is designed to identify and address concerns determined by a particular community and create a collaborative nonpartisan space to develop solutions. Lisa is honoring Deborah's legacy as a second-generation Public Agenda supporter.

Will Friedman, President

How did you become familiar with Public Agenda and its work?

My mother, Deborah Wadsworth, introduced me to Public Agenda and its work in the early 1980s. I quickly became an admirer of its mission and programming. A few years later, as a freshman in college with a desire to contribute in the civil sector, I lobbied Public Agenda for an internship and worked for several successive summers, predominantly as a research assistant.

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07.25 Managing Conflict

Monday, July 25th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 6

Although public participation projects rarely include formal conflict resolution processes, a general sense of how to manage conflict can be invaluable for building coalitions and facilitating meetings.

Participation leaders may face deep divisions and histories of conflict between city and county governments, school systems and governments, advocacy groups and federal agencies, developers and neighborhood leaders, elected officials from different political parties, unions and employers, and people of different racial or ethnic groups. They are also likely to face conflicting views about an issue under discussion and what ought to be done about it.

Understanding the basics of how to manage those differences can go a long way toward improving public participation. Two skills are particularly relevant to managing conflict: understanding positions and interests, and principled negotiation and interest-based problem solving.

Understanding Positions and Interests

Positions are what a person or group wants, or the demand a person or group is making.

Interests are the needs, values or concerns that underlie a position – they are why a person or group wants something.

For any given issue, people generally have only one position but many interests, with some interests being stronger than others. People with conflicting positions often share basic interests, which can form the foundation for constructive discussions and potential solutions.

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07.22 Engaging Ideas - 7/22

Friday, July 22nd, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, education, health care and urban housing.


Participatory Budgeting’s Promise for Democracy (Governing)
More and more communities are trying it, bringing tens of thousands of people into decisions on local spending.

'Politics Has Become Celebrity-Driven': How 2016 Surprised Political Thinkers (NPR)
Over the last month, we asked a group of political scientists and analysts how 2016 is changing how they think: what conventional wisdom is gone now; what surprised them? Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of these answers revolve around the Trump phenomenon, but others say we may have to rethink what voters want — and how to measure those attitudes.


Why everyone is so mad: 99% of post-recession jobs went to those who went to college (Quartz)
A new report might suggest why people are so angry in a world that should be experiencing much less turmoil as it recovers from the Great Recession. Jobs have come back back in post-recession America—but they’re reserved almost exclusively for people who went to college. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce put out an extensive report this week revealing that while the US created 11.6 million new jobs after the recession, 11.5 million of those went to individuals with at least some college education.

Bernie Sanders is right the economy is rigged. He’s dead wrong about why. (Vox)
Sanders thinks Koch and his billionaire comrades did it, more or less. Koch thinks an active, hands-on approach to economic regulation — an approach Sanders strongly favors — has allowed interest groups to capture the regulatory process and rig markets in their favor. Sorry, Bernie fans: Charles Koch is a lot closer to the truth.

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07.21 Transforming Public Engagement: Our Very First Strategy Lab

Thursday, July 21st, 2016 | NICOLE CABRAL

These days, most local public officials recognize the value of deeper engagement with their constituents. Yet the conventional formats they have to engage treat citizens like children rather than adults. Take the typical public meeting for example, in which people have two minutes at an open microphone to speak to officials.

A more effective approach is one in which both parties see each other’s insights and concerns as equally valued. How can local officials transform their engagement efforts so they resemble an adult-adult relationship?

This question resonated with participants in a recent workshop I delivered with my colleague Matt Leighninger. The workshop was our very first "Public Engagement Strategy Lab,” an interactive day-long opportunity for leaders to transform and reinvigorate their public engagement efforts. We offered the Public Engagement Strategy Lab in conjunction with the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, as a pre-conference event for the Frontiers of Democracy Conference in Boston.

Moving toward a more equal dynamic between officials and the public is a long slog. One part of the process is transforming the “two minutes at the mic” public meeting standard. We walked participants through the latest tools and techniques in engagement that can reinvigorate public meetings, including online tools as well as face-to-face formats.

Another common challenge local officials often face: the “usual suspects” dominating most public meetings. Conventional engagement often attracts only a small number of extremely strident voices. At the Strategy Lab, we talked about how to bring large, diverse numbers of people to the table.

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07.19 Communicating About Participation

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 5

Participation leaders should consider ways to communicate through the media about participation opportunities, experiences and impacts.

While the media landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade, some basic communication skills are useful whether one is working with traditional media organizations, such as newspapers and television and radio stations, or new media organizations, including hyperlocal and purely online outlets.

These skills include: clear messaging, creating a media plan, feeding the discussion about participation and reporting on results. Below we offer suggestions, many of which are adapted from the Institute for Local Government, for each of these skills.

Clear Messaging about Participation

Since media messages are mainly one-way forms of communication, there are fewer opportunities for questions and answers. Therefore, the message about the participation opportunity has to be simple and clear. It should answer the following questions:

  • What is at stake and why should citizens care?
  • What are the participation goals?
  • What will happen if people choose to participate?

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07.15 Engaging Ideas - 7/15

Friday, July 15th, 2016 | Public Agenda

Every week we curate stories and reports on complex issues including democracy, public engagement, education, health care and urban housing.


After Education, Young Americans Diverge on 2016 Issues (AP)
When it comes to picking a new president, young people in America are united in saying education is what matters most. But there's a wide split in what else will drive their votes, the Associated Press reports. For African-American adults between the ages of 18 and 30, racism is nearly as important as education. For young Hispanics, it's immigration. And for whites and Asian-Americans in the millennial generation, it's economic growth. The results from the new GenForward poll highlight big differences among young Americans who often are viewed as a monolithic group of voters - due in no small part to their overwhelming support for President Barack Obama during his two campaigns for president.

Inside Obama’s radical experiment in national reconciliation (The Washington Post)
It was diversity “by design,” as Obama later told reporters, an unorthodox, four-hour experiment in policymaking through the kind of emotional exchanges that are more often associated with therapeutic encounter sessions than bureaucratic seminars. And according to interviews with about a third of those who participated, it worked. Participants described a wide-ranging, free-flowing conversation facilitated by Obama himself, who began by taking off his suit jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeves. Attendees, even some who had been skeptical of the utility of such a meeting, described an unsparingly frank discussion in which police, protesters, academics and the president debated many of the disagreements playing out across the nation.


An Underutilized Tool for Building Tomorrow’s Workforce (Governing)
Prior learning assessment — awarding college credit for knowledge gained outside the classroom — is a worthwhile idea that's catching on.

5 Takeaways From a Report on Income Mobility (Governing)
New data reveals long-term trends about the under-reported topic.

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07.14 The Urgent Need for Better Dialogue on Crime, Punishment and Education

Thursday, July 14th, 2016 | ALISON KADLEC, PH.D. & ZOE MINTZ

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring higher education opportunities for prisoners, particularly through Second Chance Pell. As we’ve demonstrated, large gaps exist between research, policy and public attitudes when it comes to correctional education. These gaps suggest a clear need for better public deliberation and decision making on this issue.

Research indicates that providing educational opportunities to prisoners has a significant positive impact on recidivism. Yet traditional public opinion research has found that Americans - particularly white Americans - tend to view punishment, not education, as the proper deterrent for crime. In a 2014 survey from The General Social Survey, when asked “Do you think the courts in this area deal too harshly or not harshly enough with criminals?”, 59 percent of white respondents answered “Not harshly enough.”

At the same time, a growing body of research suggests that when average Americans have the opportunity to deliberate on issues related to crime and punishment, they demonstrate the desire and capacity for more creative, measured and thoughtful cross-partisan problem solving.

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07.12 Recruiting Participants

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016 | MATT LEIGHNINGER and Tina Nabatchi

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 4

Bringing together large, diverse numbers of people is often critical to the success of public participation.

Participation is more likely to benefit the community as a whole when it involves a broad cross-section of the community. And interactions will be more lively and rewarding when there is a diverse mix of participants. In this case, diversity not only means demographic diversity, but also diversity of views, perspectives, backgrounds and experiences.

Diverse participation is a conscious result of recruiting efforts. Valuable recruitment skills to assist in encouraging diversity include mapping the community, creating recruitment plans and conducting one-on-one interviews.

Mapping the Community

There are many ways for participation leaders to map the community or population with which they are working. The most basic and proven approach is simply to list the different networks and groups to which people belong.

Using an actual geographic map can be helpful for learning and remembering where people live, work, study, worship, and play. A map of social media connections can help organizers find the people who connect with, are trusted by, and curate information for others.

All kinds of networks and groups could be represented in such a map, including but not limited to: schools, businesses, faith congregations, service clubs, sports teams, hospitals, immigrant service organizations, fire stations, colleges and universities, restaurants and coffee shops, youth groups, senior citizens’ groups, grocery stores, libraries, newspapers and radio stations, police or sheriff’s departments, unions, newspapers and other media organizations, community organizing groups, neighborhood or homeowners associations, laundromats, barbershops and hair salons, political parties, social service agencies and bookstores.

These lists can be made graphically interesting. For example, the figure below provides an example of a neighborhood-based recruitment map. It also shows that mapping need not be complicated.

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