Coming Soon – An Issue Advisory – “Infectious Disease in America: How Do We Keep Our Communities Safe?”

The Kettering Foundation has announced that work is underway on an issue advisory with the working title, “Infectious Disease in America: How Do We Keep Our Communities Safe?”

This issue guide is being prepared by the Kettering Foundation for the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), and will soon be available to download on the National Issues Forums website at

Watch for more details about this latest publication in a series of issue guides and advisories intended to help people deliberate about difficult national issues.


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

(From Nancy Gansneder,

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 so we can make reservations.

Watch and Share Your Comments – Shaping Our Future, Launching a National Conversation about the Public Purposes of Higher Education

Muriel Howard, President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, spoke during the “Shaping Our Future” launch at the National Press Club

We hope you will watch the video and share your comments, questions, and feedback.

You can now watch the video (approximately 2 hrs.) recorded during the September 4, 2012 launch of Shaping Our Future: How Can Higher Education Help Us Create the Future We Want? – A national conversation about the public purposes of higher education.   Through this initiative, students, faculty, administrators, employers, and members of the general public are invited to reflect on how colleges and universities might help the country tackle some of its most vexing problems. Shaping Our Future is organized by the American Commonwealth Partnership and the National Issues Forums.

The launch, which included a presentation and panel discussion, was held September 4, 2012, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and featured the following speakers and panelists:

Martha Kanter, U.S. Undersecretary of Education
Nancy Cantor, Chancellor, Syracuse University
Muriel Howard, President, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
Bernie Ronan, Chair, The Democracy Commitment
Kaylesh Ramu, President, Student Government Association, University of Maryland Baltimore County
Scott Peters, Co-¬Director, Imagining America
Harry Boyte, National Coordinator, The American Commonwealth Partnership
Bill Muse, President, The National Issues Forums
David Mathews, President, The Kettering Foundation (via video)

The “Shaping Our Future” issue materials are available to download online (free through June 30, 2013).

The following is a preliminary listing of colleges and universities that have committed to holding “Shaping Our Future” forums:

Morehouse College
Clark Atlanta University
Spelman College
Tougaloo College
Atlanta Metropolitan State College
Ft. Valley State University
San Diego State Univ. and Univ. of California at San Diego
Florida A&M University
University of Washington
Alabama A&M University
Lawson State Community College
Tennessee State University
Morgan State University
The Citadel
Clemson University
University of South Carolina, Sumter
Central Carolina Technical College
Morris College
Coastal Carolina
Albany State University
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Ashland University
Augsburg College
Bemidji State University
Broome Community College
Carleton College
Century College
College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University
Concordia College-Moorhead
Concordia University-St. Paul
Franklin Pierce University
Georgia College and University
Gulf Coast State College
Gustavus Adolphus College
Hofstra University
Inver Hills Community College
Minnesota State University-Mankato
Normandale Community College
North Hennepin Community College
Providence College and City of Providence
Portland Community College
St. Cloud State University
University of Georgia
University of Michigan
University of Minnesota-Duluth
University of Minnesota-Rochester
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
University of Virginia
Virginia Tech University
Winona State University
Minnesota Campus Compact
Central Lakes College
Hamline University
University of Minnesaota-Morris
Northeastern Illinois University
Southwest Minnesota State University
SUNY Cortland
University of St. Thomas
Washington State University Vancouver

For more information about participating in this national conversation contact Bill Muse, by e-mail at, or by phone at 800-433-7834 or Harry Boyte, by e-mail at, or by phone at 612-330-1453.

At the University of Montana – Using Deliberation and Radio to Battle Rape

The following is guest editorial that was written by Denise Dowling,, Associate Professor and Chair, Radio-Television Department, at The University of Montana.

For the full list of suggestions and to listen to the audio.

The University of Montana is not a happy place to work these days.  We’ve had the wind knocked out of us as we’ve been pummeled with accusations of rape, complicity and cover up on our campus.  It’s forced a collective gasp from us, the employees of UM, for this is not the place we know. But there it is, like a hard, cold slap in the face.  Horrible things have happened here and now we must work through the calamity.

When the details of sexual assault among our student body began to unfold this winter, students in my advanced audio course took on the topic in a series of radio programs called The Footbridge Forum.  This program began in The School of Journalism in 2004 with a grant from The Kettering Foundation and is modeled after that organization’s National Issues Forums.  A citizen panel is educated on an issue and deliberates on possible solutions with the help of a moderator.  The student producers invited parents, officials, students and athletes to participate on the programs aired on KBGA College Radio this spring.

The panelists say they learned a great deal about sexual assault over the course of their deliberations.  They learned rape is a crime of power, not sex and that very often rapists are known as “good guys who would never do such a thing.”  The panelists came into the process thinking many rape charges came after what they called “regret sex,” when a once-willing partner has regret or embarrassment after the fact.  But they were surprised to learn the overwhelming majority of rape allegations are true, and almost never a result of “regret sex.”  They heard from those who would like to quit qualifying rape with terms like “date rape” or “acquaintance rape.”  As one prosecutor put it, “It’s rape, it’s rape, it’s rape!” They learned sexual assault is an underreported crime because of the social stigma placed on the victim.  They heard of the tendency to blame those who have been attacked for “bringing it on themselves” and were surprised to learn women are more likely to victim-blame than men.

Over the course of their deliberations, the panel came up with suggestions for preventing and dealing with sexual assault in Missoula.  Their suggestions target many different stakeholders, from educators to citizens, administrators to law enforcement.  You can see the full list of suggestions at  The panel wanted each and every member of the community to examine his or her own role in the culture of sexual violence and work toward eliminating it.

Among their suggestions:

  • Examine your own tendency to victim blame and stop victim-blaming talk when you hear it.
  • Learn how to support victims and encourage them to report the violence to law officers.
  • Educate yourself on the rules and laws governing communication among agencies and the public in cases of sexual assault.
  • Consider how the treatment of victims may reinforce the notion that rape is somehow shameful.
  • Educate young people on the role alcohol plays in sexual violence and give them tools for responsible partying.
  • Focus on educating our boys and men about consent, respect and the consequences of sexual assault.
  • Encourage a peer “zero tolerance” policy and support intervention when there’s potential for assault.
  • Model good behavior and learn to talk to your children, especially boys, about sexual assault prevention.
  • Question the role the community plays in a culture of violence and entitlement, especially among athletes.
  • Demand clear communication from the university, law enforcement and the media.
  • Don’t blame the media, law enforcement or the university for the problem.  Place the blame where it belongs, on those who assault and rape.

We all have some very rough days ahead as we seek the truth about the violence in our community and learn from our missteps in dealing with the aftermath. But I’m confident we will work through this challenge and do the right thing.  We have much to be proud of at UM and in Missoula and I hope one day we can get back to focusing on those things.  For now we can all consider how we might work toward eliminating sexual violence in our community.

Denise Dowling
Associate Professor and Chair
Radio-Television Department
The School of Journalism
The University of Montana

On behalf of the student producers of The Footbridge Forum: Without Consent

Jonathon Ambarian, Jamie Bedwell, Jacquelyn Coffin, Emily Creasia, Clark Hodges, Josh Nierstheimer, Mike Powell, Emily Wendler

For the full list of suggestions and to listen to the audio.

Capitol Hill leaders observe two National Issues Forums held in Washington, DC, December 5, 2011

This post was written by Diane U. Eisenberg 

On December 5, 2011, some sixty persons – forum participants and representatives of various Congressional offices and national and state associations – met at the Hall of States on Capitol Hill to address “A Nation in Debt”, a featured issue on this year’s National Issues Forums (NIF) agenda.

Given the size of the group, it was decided to convene two forums in adjoining rooms. Forum participants included delegations from the Legacy Leadership Program at the University of Maryland, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) members from Victoria Falls, Maryland, and a student government class from Montgomery College, Maryland, thereby, adding an intergenerational perspective to the deliberations. One forum was co-moderated by Sharon Simson and Doris Goodlet of the Center for Public Life at the University of Maryland. The other forum was co-moderated by Bill Corbett and Beth Offenbacker, Center for Voter Deliberation of Northern Virginia. Michelle Scott, Montgomery College, served as recorder.
The representatives from Congressional offices and national and state associations served as observers of what for them was an opportunity to witness a different kind of conversation, one in which citizens brought their personal stakes and values to options for moving forward toward resolving their own and the country’s national debt.

After reviewing the ground rules and viewing the starter video, participants in both forums progressed diligently and systematically through the issue book options, arriving at their preferred approaches and identifying the tradeoffs or drawbacks for each.

Central to the conversations in both forums was a strong sense of disappointment in our nation’s leadership. While the participants were able to arrive at specific suggestions for each option, they expressed a strong sense of skepticism that they could be heard, and a feeling of lack of control. A sampling of frequently articulated comments were:

• I feel like a ball that is being manipulated and tossed around
• The system is just too big and poor little me has no say
• Things are out of whack; we need cultural changes
• The political will to affect change is missing
• The government needs to come together to solve problems
• We can’t do anything in the current political situation
• The Congress needs to take action, DO something
• They need to listen to the citizens and get off the dime

Despite this striking skepticism, there were points on which the participants agreed. Many were willing to accept higher taxes. They believed that the retirement age needs to be raised. They felt that entitlements should be reassessed. The one point on which there was total agreement was the need to strengthen our education system with emphasis on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and the addition of financial literacy courses into the high school curriculum. And finally, they agreed that it would take a combination of all three choices for progress to be made.

When asked to express their reactions to what they heard, several of the observers said the experience was interesting, but not surprising  . . . “it’s a complex issue and we are in a heap of trouble.” However, they were impressed by the forum participants’ willingness to tackle such a multifaceted problem and to make real changes.

The representative from the House Agricultural Committee said it was good to hear from people outside the Beltway, but he reminded the group that Congress reflects the American people – – the divisions in Congress reflect our society. When asked what was different about this conversation, one thoughtful observer commented that true emotions come through, “it’s not like reading a report”, “it was not only what they said, but how they said it.”

During the summing up period, several forum participants said that despite their frustration they found great value in the forum experience as a way of not only expressing their own ideas, but learning how others felt about the issue. They praised the issue book because “it forces you to look at all aspects.” And, in general, “forums create opportunities to think more deeply and speak more candidly.”

These forums, organized by Alice Diebel and Phil Lurie, were appreciated by all who attended. Because they were held in Washington, D.C., they offered an opportunity for Capitol Hill leaders to hear first hand “a public voice.”

Deliberation as an Alternative?

(The following is Gerald Ott’s response to a guest columnist’s piece  titled “One Helping of Irony is now Being Served” in


Nice piece in today’s Des Moines Register. Near the end you say “Instead of disparaging those seeking to be heard, those in elected office need to give these throngs a voice by trying to collaborate to improve America’s situation.”

On Saturday I attended a forum at the DM Central Library. The seven of us “deliberated” about the national debt, using a moderated process and materials from the Nat’l Issues Forums ( It seemed the few at the library were collaborating, but the throngs were in the streets. Any thoughts about how the two might get together (along with elected officials)?

Below are words from the NIF materials, including the the approaches we discussed. After the forum, we seven each filled out a survey and the moderator will send them and a report to the Kettering Foundation, who prepared the discussion guides. KF will write a report for leaders including politicians. Seems small in face of these huge problems. Thoughts?

Gerry Ott

From the introduction to A Nation in Debt: How Can We Pay the Bills?

It’s become apparent to many Americans that if we do not act decisively on the nation’s debt soon, our economy will be seriously hobbled and we will dump an unsustainable burden on our children and grandchildren.

“What’s decided (or not decided) over the next few years will spell big changes for the way we live our daily lives,” write Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson in Where Does the Money Go? Your Guided Tour to the Federal Budget Crisis. “How the country solves or doesn’t solve this problem will affect our paychecks, our investments, our mortgages, our kids’ prospects in life, what kind of health care we’ll get, our chances of ever getting to retire—even whether we live in a country that’s fair, stable and prosperous.”

This 12-page issue guide presents an overview of the problem and three options for deliberation.

Option One: Agree to Make Sacrifices Now – We need to compromise on our differences and act now to reduce the national debt.  If this generation doesn’t make needed sacrifices, we’re simply passing the burden to the next generation. It’s time to face this urgent problem.  We need to raise taxes and cut spending; neither will get the job done alone.

Option Two: Strengthen Checks and Balances – We cannot just hope that personal discipline and basic legislative safeguards will control the urge to spend.  Citizens willingly accept more benefits than government can afford and leaders are too willing to help us dig this hole.  Our top priority should be to make systemic changes to increase fiscal responsibility.

Option Three: Invest in Growth First – We need to encourage economic growth and invest in research, development, infrastructure, and science education.  Growing the economy will boost tax revenues, make the debt more manageable, and will be better for the country in the long run.  Drastic cost-cutting measures would likely harm the economy as it tries to recover.

Also read Gerry Ott’s blog post at