From the Kettering Foundation Blog “Inside Public Judgment” – “On Immigration: In Search of a Public Voice”

(The following post, by Brad Rourke, a program officer at the Kettering Foundation, first appeared in the Kettering Foundation blog, Inside Public Judgment.)


November 7, 2014

The 2016 mid-term elections in the United States are complete, and the two major political parties are evaluating what the results mean for them politically. Both Republicans and Democrats appear to have adopted a stance that might best be described as: “I will say I will work with the other side, but only if they do what I want them to do.” This is, of course, a prescription for something other than “working together,” and it is likely to leave much of substance languishing.

Both sides are already identifying immigration as an area of conflict. The president has vowed action (which observers say is likely to include some form of work permit for undocumented individuals), while the speaker of the House of Representatives has vowed that any unilateral action by the president is “playing with matches.” This is on the heels, reportedly, of a year of discussions between the two party leaders that ended poorly.

Kettering research over decades suggests that the way difficult issues like immigration are framed by policy leaders and experts is often at odds, or at least out of step with, the way in which people see those issues. Where the dominant political discourse frequently sees conflict, people in communities are wrestling with tensions among the things they hold valuable. This is not a question of one solution versus another. Instead, the question individuals must wrestle with is, what am I willing to give up—and under what conditions.

On immigration, Kettering research suggests that people see this issue in a more nuanced way than the binary amnesty-vs.-tough-borders way in which the issue has been portrayed in the media. Their concerns center on a range of things that are commonly held valuable by all—our self-image as a welcoming nation, personal and national security, and the reality seen by many that our prosperity depends on immigrants. These concerns became the basis for the options in a guide for public deliberation that Kettering prepared for the National Issues Forums Institute, Immigration in America: How Do We Fix a System in Crisis? Three options are outlined, each rooted in a different view of the problem:

1. Welcome New Arrivals. A rich combination of diverse cultures is what defines us as a people. We must preserve our heritage as a nation of immigrants by shoring up our existing system while also providing an acceptable way for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living here to earn the right to citizenship.

2. Protect Our Borders. Failure to stem the tide of illegal immigration undermines our national security, stiffens competition for scarce jobs, and strains the public purse. We need tighter control of our borders, tougher enforcement of our immigration laws, and stricter limits on the number of immigrants legally accepted into the country.

3. Promote Economic Prosperity. To remain competitive in the 21st-century global economy, we need to acknowledge the key role that immigrants play in keeping the US economy dynamic and robust. This option favors a range of flexible measures, such as annual adjustments to immigration quotas, that put a priority on our economic needs.

The difficulty of immigration lies in the tensions between these things. One reason this issue is so intractable is that these tensions must be worked through by the public before there can be any durable policy solution.

If people deliberate in communities across the United States, where they can work through these options and address the trade-offs that they require, policymakers may well see a public voice emerge that can suggest the outline for a path forward.

Click here to order Immigration in America from the NIFI store.


January, 2015, “Teachers’ Institute” at The American Village, Alabama

(The following announcement is from the David Mathews Center for Civic Life in Alabama.)


The Mathews Center is pleased to announce that registration for Teachers’ Institute 2015 is now open. Teachers’ Institute is an interactive, hands-on professional development experience designed to equip teachers with skills and tools to increase active civic learning in the classroom and beyond. The workshop will be held January 15 – 16, 2015 at the American Village, and A+ Education Partnership and Alabama Public Television will be co-sponsoring the event.

Registration is free*, but space is limited. Reserve your spot today HERE. For more information, contact DMC Program Director Cristin Foster at

* The Mathews Center will reimburse substitute pay for all attendees. CEUs will be provided.

Word Clouds – Before and After a Moderator Training Workshop

(From Alberto Olivas,

I recently conducted a workshop on public dialogue processes and moderator training for a conference of environmental educators. I thought you would be interested in this striking graphic representation of the participants’ views about public deliberation before and after the training (see below). If you’re unfamiliar with Wordle, the size and prominence of the word indicates how often it came up; large words were repetitively used, and small words may be single instances or uncommonly used words.

On the evaluation form for the moderator training we asked two questions at the very end:

“Think about your understanding of public deliberation BEFORE you attended this workshop. Please provide five words or phrases that you would have used to describe public deliberation.”

Here’s the Wordle of their BEFORE responses:


“Now, think about your understanding of public deliberation AFTER attending this workshop. Please provide five words or phrases that you would use to describe public deliberation.”

Wordle of their AFTER responses:



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

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…