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Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Frontiers of Democracy Conference

Frontiers of Democracy is an annual conference hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University since 2009.

In 2019, the conference took place from June 20 (evening) until June 22 (midday) at the downtown Boston campus of Tufts University (Sackler Building, Room 114 | 145 Harrison Avenue, Boston). The inaugural fellowship class of the Lead for America program, participants in the American Political Science Association’s Institute of Civically Engaged Research (ICER), and current and past participants in the Summer Institute of Civic Studies were part of the conference. Frontiers 2019 was co-sponsored by Cities of Service, Lead for America, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, the National Conference on Citizenship, and the Bridge Alliance.

Frontiers of Democracy immediately precedes the Summer Institute of Civic Studies, a selective seminar for scholars, practitioners, and advanced graduate students.

Frontiers 2019 Agenda

Location: Sackler Building, Room 114 | 145 Harrison Avenue, Boston.
Full agenda, including session descriptions, here

Thursday, June 20

5:00-5:30 p.m.  Registration; heavy hors d'oeuvres served

5:30 p.m.  Opening plenary

  • Welcoming comments by organizers
  • “Short-takes” talks (10 minutes each, no Q&A)
    • Jarvis Hall, North Carolina Central University, "The Genesis of  the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina"
    • Maya Pace, Lead for America, “Start Where You Live”
    • Jamila Michener, Cornell University, author of Fragmented Democracy: Medicaid, Federalism and Unequal Politics, on “Health Equity and Democracy”
    • Wendy Willis, Deliberative Democracy Consortium and author of These Are Strange Times, My Dear: Field Notes from the Republic, on "What's Creed Got to Do With It? (A Meditation)"
    • Andi Crawford, the Director of Empowerment and Citizen Engagement for the City of Lansing, MI, “Love Your Block in #LOVELansing”
  • Discussions at curated tables of eight

Friday, June 21

8:00-9:00 a.m.  Breakfast served

9:00-10:30 a.m.  Plenary Session: “Working at the Frontiers of Democracy”


  1. What sense of duty, purpose or mission guides your life?
  2. What issues at the “frontiers of democracy” interest and concern you most right now?
  3. What do you not know enough about and hope to learn more about?
  4. What issues and questions are you hoping that this conference will address?
  5. What do you imagine that you will do after this conference if it goes well for you?

These questions will be discussed first by a panel at the head of the room and then by all participants, seated at assigned tables of 8. The panel will feature:

  • Veronica del Carril, a youth program leader/arts educator from Argentina
  • Manuela Uribe Henao, a Colombian working on public health interventions in El Salvador
  • Marianne Kwakwa, a PhD candidate in political science at Notre Dame
  • Jennet Kirkpatrick, political theorist at Arizona State University, author of the books Uncivil Disobedience and The Virtue of Exit
  • Jamie Lee, Communication and Information Specialist, UNESCO/Cambodia, working on genocide memorials
  • Debilyn Molineaux, co-founder, The Bridge Alliance

10:30-10:45 a.m.  Break

10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.  Concurrent sessions. Choose among:

  1. Spectacle, Movement, Deliberation: Theoretical Perspectives on Democracy - Samuel Schmitt, Aidan Kestigian, Vasiliki Rapti
  2. Maintaining Meaningful Classroom Dialogue Even on Controversial Subjects - Michael Fischer and Katina Fontes
  3. BetaBlocks: Democratizing Manifestation of Technology in the Public Realm - John Harlow and Eric Gordon
  4. Renewing Democracy Through Renewal of Infrastructure - Tom Flanagan, Craig Lindell, Wendi Goldsmith, Douglas Bruce, Carmen Sirianni
  5. Love your Block, Michael Hammett, Mary Bogle, Mauricio Garcia, and Andi Crawford
  6. Fixing Democracy from the Outside In: Storming the Hill! - Ellen Moorhouse and Katya Raffensperger, RepresentUs; Jeff Clements, American Promise; Frances Moore Lappe, Small Planet Institute; Jeff Edelstein, Consensus Building Institute
  7. The Arts and Storytelling for Community Building and Social Change - Jeanette "Joy" Harris;  Elizabeth Jabar, Parish Conkling, Kristina Patterson, Jenna Spinelle, Xu Zihan

12:15-1:15 p.m.  Lunch

1:15-2:30 p.m.  Plenary activity: “How to be Helpful: Building Relationships for Social Impact,” led by Adam Seth Levine of research4impact. focused on the question “How do you build successful working relationships with people who have diverse forms of expertise?”

2:30:2:45 p.m.  Break

2:45-4:15 p.m.  Concurrent sessions. Choose among:

  1. Amplify Impact, Build Bridges, and Connect Communities through Civil Discourse - Cheryl Graeve and Timothy J. Shaffer
  2. Democratizing Research for Environmental Justice and Health - Chad Raphael, Doug Brugge, Amy Laura Cahn, Neenah Estella-Luna, Kenneth Geiser
  3. How Interactive Simulations and Film Presentations Enhance Classroom Dialogue on Controversial Issues - Joshua Littenberg-Tobias, GR. Marvez, Jonathan Goodman Levitt
  4. Gaming and Civic Tech - Libby Falck and Dmytro Potekhin
  5. Fixing American Democracy From the Inside Out: What’s Hot on the Hill! - John Richter, Bipartisan Policy Center; Jeff Edelstein, Consensus Building Institute; Tyler Cole, Issue One
  6. Governance and Restorative Justice: The Role of Civic Groups in Problem-Solving in Schools and Drug Policy - Nicole Kaufman, Sharyn Lowenstein, Dani O’Brien
  7. Toward Sounder Public Judgment: Engaging People on Tough Issues Through Play and Delight – Will Friedman and Eric Gordon

4:15-4:30 p.m.  Break

4:30-4:45 p.m.  "How to Stand in this Moment…" - Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, Executive Director Emerita, National Institute for Civil Discourse

4:45-6:15 p.m.  Plenary Session led by Sam Novey and Clarissa Unger: “Recognizing Local Leadership to Build Better Strategies for Civic Renewal.” (Time at tables for introductions and discussions.)

Saturday, June 22

8:00-9:00 a.m.  Breakfast

9:00-10:15 a.m.  A choice between two sessions:

  1. Panel: Political Participation in the City and the Ballot Box - Tanya Gibbs, Benjamin Hernandez, Tammy Esteves
  2. The Social Contract of America (interactive workshop) - Debilyn Molineaux

10:15-11:30 a.m.  Plenary Discussion


  1. What do you plan to do as a result of the conference?
  2. Did your understanding of the frontiers of democracy shift?
  3. What did you learn from someone in a different domain?
  4. What are we committed to doing together?

These will be addressed first by a panel seated at the front of the room, and then by participants at assigned tables of eight. The panel will feature:

  • Nakeefa Garay, urban studies PhD Student, Rutgers Newark
  • Elizabeth Jabar, artist, Colby College
  • Liza Kostanyan, NGO leader, Armenia
  • Sterling Speirn, CEO, National Conference on Citizenship
  • Amber Wichowsky, political scientist, Marquette

11:30 a.m.  What are we committed to doing together? Report outs from tables and discussion.

Frontiers 2018

The 2018 conference took place on June 21-23 at Tufts University’s downtown Boston campus in Chinatown. Partners for the conference in 2018 included the Bridge Alliance, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, the National Conference on Citizenship, and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

According to Freedom House, democracy has been in retreat worldwide for 12 years. Many people are pushing back, including activists and organizers who are nonviolently struggling, using tactics like strikes, boycotts, and mass demonstrations against entrenched power. Other individuals and groups take different approaches, some seeking a greater degree of neutrality and emphasizing deliberative dialogue, particularly when they work within institutions such as schools, public agencies, and newspapers. This year, Frontiers brought people from these communities of scholarship and practice together to ask how they can learn from and complement each another.

You can review the full Frontiers 2018 agenda here. You can also watch full video of this year's introduction and "short take" speakers below, or click on the links to skip to individual speakers' presentations:

Frontiers 2017

Thanks to everyone who joined us at an exciting, thought-provoking, and timely Frontiers of Democracy 2017, which was focused on multiple frameworks for civic and democratic work developed, respectively, by Caesar McDowell of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and MIT, Archon Fung of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Tisch College’s Peter Levine. Our short take speakers included Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson, the senior minister of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri; Wendy Willis of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and the National Policy Consensus Center; and Hardy Merriman, President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

In addition, the Journal of Public Deliberation, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and The Democracy Imperative held a preconference symposium on “Deliberative Democracy in an Era of Rising Authoritarianism.”

Check out the preconference symposium's agenda and readings and the full Frontiers 2017 agenda. You can watch video of this year's introduction, "short take" speakers, and one of our afternoon plenaries, below.

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