In Panama City, Florida – A Forum on U.S. Federal Budget Priorities

(From Jean Johnson, jjohnson@publicagenda.org)

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Citizens from the Panama City, Florida area gathered to consider priorities for the U.S. federal budget at a National Issues Forum on held on October 9, 2014.

The forum was convened by Gulf Coast State College and the Panama City chapters of the League of Women Voters, and Daughters of the American Revolution. Participants weighed the pros and cons of the sequester, options for reining in defense spending, and the future of Social Security and Medicare in a lively conversation moderated by Virginia York, Terry Jack, and Liz Trentanelli.

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Gulf Coast State College president John Holdnak welcomed the forum participants, encouraging them to remember–as they met to exchange views on our country’s problems and challenges–that this is an opportunity that simply doesn’t exist in many parts of the world today.


National Issues Forums Caucus at Upcoming NCDD Conference, Reston, Virginia

(From Nancy Gansneder, nancyg@virginia.edu):

A National Issues Forums (NIF) Caucus at the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) in Reston, Virginia, October 17-19, 2014.

Are you a National Issues Forums (NIF) moderator/facilitator? Are you part of the NIF network, past or present? Do you remember the Public Policy Institutes (PPIs), or are you part of its successors, Centers for Civic Life?

Can we talk? Let’s do so over dinner, Friday, October 17 at the NCDD conference. Let’s share our common past, and build on our rich experience and chart a bright future.

Conveners: Patty Dineen, Craig Paterson, and Nancy Gansneder

Want to join us? Shoot Nancy an e-mail at nancyg@virginia.edu so we can make reservations.


“Whom Do You Trust?” – Article by Frank Fear

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Frank Fear

The following is excerpted from the article titled Whom Can You Trust? by Frank Fear. You can also read the entire article that was published in the LA Progressive.

It’s anybody’s guess when the public’s trust began eroding. There were instances, here and there, starting years ago. For many in my generation it began with the Nixon Years, especially “Watergate.” Today there’s a clear pattern of trust being debased…

Citizens need a way to consider public issues responsibly, collectively, and systematically. A time-tested strategy is available through The National Issues Forum Institute. It’s a structured and disciplined approach that begins with reliable background information about an issue—information that’s presented in nonpartisan form. Action options are then offered based on the background analysis. Citizens can use this information to engage in dialogue, then deliberation, to select an actionable solution that makes sense to them. The protocol can be used at multiple levels (organization, community, and beyond) and for a variety of purposes (e.g., for public policy and institutional goal-setting).

Citizens can’t do it all by themselves, though. The kind of progress we need requires changing how social institutions engage citizens, particularly in terms of how public sector and nonprofit professionals go about their work…


From Harry Boyte – “Civic Science – Renewing the link between science and democracy”

The following is excerpted from an October 8, 2014,  Huffington Post article by Harry Boyte, Director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College. Contact Harry Boyte at boyte001@umn.edu. Click here to read the entire post.

Science is not value neutral. It depends on democratic values of cooperation, free inquiry, and a commonwealth of knowledge. Before World War II, a broad group of “scientific democrats” including John Dewey and thousands of other scientists, described in Andrew Jarrett’s recent book, Science, Democracy, and the American University, helped to lead the movement for deepening democracy in America.

It is crucial to renew the explicit ties between democracy and science, declared Gerald Taylor, one of the nation’s leading community organizers, on October 2, to a diverse audience at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia. Otherwise science can become a tool of oppression in extreme cases. The Nazis, after all, conducted first class scientific experiments – on human beings. So did the U.S. government, in the infamous Tuskegee experiment. Between 1932 and 1972 the U.S. Public Health Service intentionally infected a group of rural African American men with syphilis, who thought they were receiving free health care, to study the disease’s untreated progression.

Taylor spoke at a workshop on civic science at the National Science Foundation, October 2-3. The meeting brought together a diverse group of scientists, community organizers, political theorists, social scientists, humanities scholars, graduate students, leaders in cooperative extension, humanity centers and science museum directors, federal administrators, program directors from the National Science Foundation, the United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Health, and others. For two days the group discussed the relevance of science to the complex problems of our time and the future of democracy…

To read the entire post.


From John Gastil – Seeking Nominations for the 2015 Penn State Democracy Medal

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Seeking Nominations for the 2015 Penn State Democracy Medal

Each year, the Pennsylvania State University McCourtney Institute for Democracy gives a medal and $5,000 award for exceptional innovations that advance the design and practice of democracy. The medal celebrates and helps to publicize the best work being done by individuals or organizations to advance democracy in the United States or around the globe. The Institute gives medals in even-numbered years to recognize practical innovations, such as new institutions, laws, technologies, or movements that advance democracy. In odd-numbered years, the awards celebrate advances in democratic theory that provide richer philosophical or empirical conceptions of democracy. The Participatory Budgeting Project won the first medal in 2014 for the best innovation in the practice of democracy (see details at democracyinstitute.la.psu.edu).

Nominations will be accepted through December 10, 2014, and the awardee will be announced in the spring of 2015. The winning individual (or representative of a winning organization) will give a talk at Penn State in the fall of 2015, when they also receive their medal and $5,000 award. Between the spring announcement of the winner and the on-campus event in the fall, the Institute provides the recipient with professional editorial assistance toward completing a short (20-25 page) essay describing the innovation for a general audience. Cornell University Press will publish the essay, which will be available to the general public at a very low price in electronic and print formats to aid the diffusion of the winning innovation.

Award Review Process for Innovations in Democratic Theory

This year’s Brown Medal competition will recognize an exceptional advance in democratic theory, broadly construed. Submissions can include conceptual advances, moral philosophical insights, rhetorical, interpretive or historical theories, empirical or causal models, and/or innovations in the design of democratic processes. Innovating ideas, models, and designs have been instrumental in advancing democracy on both large and small social scales, both in recent years and over the centuries of democratic practice. Examples include new methods of voting and representation, new notions of civil and human rights, theories of political communication, polarization, social capital, and social movements, models of democratization and its impediments, and deliberative and participatory re-conceptualizations of democracy.

Nominations will be accepted through December 10, 2014, and the awardee will be announced in the spring of 2015. Recipients may be scholars, civic reformers, non-governmental organizations, or any other individual or entity responsible for the theoretical innovation. The winner (or the representative of the winning organization) will give a talk at Penn State in the fall of 2015, when we will also present their medal and $5,000 award. Between the spring announcement of the winner and the on-campus event in the fall, the Institute will provide the recipient with professional editorial assistance toward completing a short (20-25 page) essay describing the innovation for a general audience. In the fall, Cornell University Press will publish the essay, which will be available to the general public at a very low price in electronic and print formats to aid the diffusion of the winning innovation.

All nomination letters must be emailed by December 10, 2014 to democracyinst@psu.edu to guarantee full review. Initial nomination letters are simply a one-to-two page letter that describes the innovation, its author/s, and the accessible location of its fullest expression (e.g., in a scholarly article, magazine essay, or on the Internet). Both self-nominations and nominations of others’ innovations are welcomed. In either case, email, phone, and postal contact information for the nominee must be included.

By January, 2015, a panel composed of Penn State faculty and independent reviewers will screen those initial nominations and select a subset of nominees who will be notified that they have advanced to a second round. By the end of February, those in the second round will be invited to provide further documentation, which includes the following: biographical sketch of the individual or organization nominated (max. 2 pages); two letters of support from persons familiar with their theoretical innovation, particularly those who work independently from the nominee; a basic description of the innovation and its efficacy, with a maximum length of 30 pages of printed materials and/or 30 minutes of audio/video materials; and a one-page description of who would come to Penn State to receive award and who would draft the essay describing the innovation. The review panel will then scrutinize the more detailed applications and select an awardee by the end of April.

Review Criteria

The theoretical innovation selected will score highest on these features:

  1. Novelty. The innovation is precisely that—a genuinely new way of thinking about democracy. It will likely build on or draw on past ideas and practices, but its novelty must be obvious.
  2. Systemic change. The theory, concept, or design should be able to change systematically how we think about and practice democracy. Conceptual insights should be of the highest clarity and quality, and empirical models should be rigorous and grounded in evidence. The practical significance of the innovation should be systematic, in that it can alter the larger functioning of a democratic system over a long time frame.
  3. Potential for Diffusion. The innovation should have general applicability across many different scales and cultural contexts. In other words, it should be relevant to people who aspire to democracy in many parts of the world and/or in many different social or political settings.
  4. Democratic Quality. The spirit of this innovation must be nonpartisan and advance the most essential qualities of democracy, such as broad social inclusion, deliberativeness, political equality, and effective self-governance. Nominees themselves may be partisan but their innovation should have nonpartisan or trans-partisan value.
  5. Recency. The award is intended to recognize recent theoretical accomplishments, which have occurred during the previous five years. The roots of an innovation could run deeper, especially as an idea or theory is developed and tested over time, but within the past five years, there must have been significant advances in its refinement or expression.

When choosing among otherwise equally qualified submissions, the review panel will also consider two practical questions. Who would give the lecture on campus and meet with the PSU community? Who would write the essay about the innovation? Neither needs to be the nominee, nor the nominator.

Individuals or organizations who have worked closely with the Institute’s director (Dr. John Gastil) or associate director (Dr. Mark Major) in the past five years are not eligible. For the first five years of the award (i.e., until 2019), Penn State alums or employees are also ineligible.


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