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Frontiers of Democracy 2018 Agenda

Location: Sackler Building, 145 Harrison Avenue, Boston — See room numbers in parenthesis

Thursday, June 21 (All at Room 114)

5:00 p.m. Plenary Session

Welcomes and Orientation: Peter Levine, Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University

Short Talks:

  • “Innovating Democracy Reform” - Josh Silver, Founder & Executive Director,
  • “The Disenfranchised” - Sekwan R. Merritt and Marcus Lilly, formerly incarcerated people who advocate for an end to mass incarceration in America
  • “Global Democracy is in Decline, but We Can Take Steps to Reverse This” - Hardy Merriman, President, International Center on Nonviolent Conflict

6:15-7:00 p.m. Discussion at Tables

Friday June 22

8:00-9:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast and Space for Networking and Demonstrating Tools, Apps, etc. (Room 114)

9:00-10:00 a.m. Plenary (Room 114)

The 2016 Boston Student Walkout Movement: Stories, Strategies, and Impacts - Andrew King, Mark Warren, Mariette Ayala, Kate Kelly, Jeff Moyer, and Luis Navarro

The session will consist of a panel presentation from youth organizers and researchers, followed by a discussion. The youth organizers will tell their stories of their walkout movement and talk about its impacts on them and the student movement in Boston. Our research team will discuss findings from our collaborative research project with the walkout organizers about the process of organizing the walkout and its impact on the budget and on the educational justice movement in Boston.

10:00-10:30 a.m. Break

10:30 a.m.-Noon Concurrent Sessions (choose one)

  • Public Work Academy Workshop (Room 216A) - Harry C. Boyte, Marie Ström, and Jim Scheibel, Public Work Academy

    This workshop will introduce participants at the 2018 Frontiers of Democracy conference to the new Public Work Academy.  The Public Work Academy consolidates years of lessons from an international network of public work practitioners and scholars. The public work frame shifts democracy from simply a trip to the ballot box to the everyday work of citizens. It shifts politics from warfare to public problem solving.  It shifts citizens from voters and volunteers to co-creators. It shifts professionals, inside and outside government, from providers of services to citizen professionals who are “on tap, not on top,” using their expertise as a resource to help build flourishing communities and the commonwealth. The forthcoming book, Awakening Democracy through Public Work (Boyte, Vanderbilt University Press, 2018), describes examples of public work around the world. 

    The workshop will describe an initial program, Revitalizing Local Democracy, inviting discussion. The program aims to build a network of small cities using public work as an organizing approach for civic revitalization in communities and also in institutions and professions. It builds in part on Clear Vision, a project of the city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  “At the time we started in 2007, our community blamed government,” says Vicki Hoehn, Vice President of Royal Credit Union. “Clear Vision opened a lot of eyes. It’s not about relying on or blaming our government. It’s about taking responsibility and ownership ourselves as citizens.”

  • "How Can Museums Strengthen a Civil Society?" (Room 221) - Abby Pfisterer, Education Specialist; Magdalena Mieri, National Museum of American History; Rebekah Harding, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library; Michelle Martz, Lincoln Cottage; Teresita Paniagua, La Casita; Noelle Trent, National Civil Rights Museum; Dory Lerner, National Civil Rights Museum; Abby Kiesa, Director of Impact, CIRCLE, Tisch College

    A group of civic education practitioners from museums and cultural organizations across the country will explore questions affecting the role of museums as civic institutions. A 2018 report from the American Alliance of Museums on Museums and Public Opinion indicates that museums are among the most trustworthy institutions, scoring high on the belief that museums are educational assets for their communities and that museums contribute important economic benefits to their community.

    Presenters will work on creating a plan that will explore questions such as: Can museums play a role in buffering the effects of a deteriorating democracy? How can museums become a beacon for defending democratic values and championing civic knowledge? What can museums do to empower the communities they serve and to enhance its civic action? How can museums best partner with civic minded institutions in their communities?

    Museums have traditionally focused their civic engagement work on creating and strengthening communities. There are new ways though to look at how museums can be more impactful if they go beyond community to be more intentional about creating civic value and building civic skills among their visitors.

  • Panel: Statewide Strategies (Room 507)

    • ​“Democracy in Your Backyard: Building Local and State Capacity for Participatory Public Engagement” - Quixada Moore-Vissing, Michele Holt-Shannon, and Bruce Mallory, New Hampshire Listens

      Similar to the local foods movement, we can focus on building localized democracy in our communities and backyards. At New Hampshire Listens, a state university civic engagement program, we work with local communities to support the conditions and human capital needed for equitable, participatory democracy. As an educational institution, we also conduct initiatives within high schools and at the university level, where we encourage students to participate and lead such work. In this session, we will present our New Hampshire Listens model, which includes local groups around the state who focus on strengthening civic life in their communities. We hope to hear from session participants about their experiences building democracy at the local level, and to work with session participants to generate a list of recommendations for local public engagement that build democratic capacity.

    • “Civic Health in a Changing Landscape: Arizona as a Case Study” - Kristi Tate, Center for the Future of Arizona

      At the forefront of many demographic changes that will take shape nationwide, Arizona provides an important backdrop for a critical conversation about strategies to strengthen civic health and close the civic opportunity gap. Arizona is a dynamic environment, with rich diversity and significant changes underway. The state also faces urgent challenges in civic health, ranking in the bottom ten states on most measures of civic life. Similar to national trends, there are significant gaps along demographic lines including race and ethnicity, age, income, and educational attainment. The Center for the Future of Arizona seeks to address these challenges by driving a statewide Citizens’ Agenda and civic health strategy that focuses on engaging young people and traditionally underrepresented groups. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘do tank’, CFA will focus this session on how its data-informed, citizen-driven approach in Arizona might provide models for other communities. The session will focus on how to use data and national models to inform strategy and will create an exchange of ideas for promising practices to create the next generation of active citizens.

  • "Civility In Our Democracy – Collaborating and Rebuilding Bridges of Trust, and Respect" (Room 812) - Cheryl Graeve and Makayla Meachem, National Institute for Civil Discourse  

    Incivility in America has reached epidemic proportions, with surveys showing that 75 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. has a major civility problem and it has risen to crisis levels. The 2016 campaign brought political incivility into our living rooms and many are worried that the 2018 elections will be even worse. This trend has costly effects on the state of civic engagement and Democracy in general and people are hungry for a change, but don’t know how to help make that change happen. This workshop will share experiences from the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD)’s Initiative to Revive Civility and Building Trust Through Civil Discourse training. These programs are engaging communities, public leaders (local, state and federal), candidates and the media in efforts to listen across our differences, empowering communities around a positive change in the tone of our public discourse and building relationships of trust and respect for one another. This session will also invite participants to build on NICD’s experience and offer opportunities to enhance the conversation as the tone of 2018 elections are upon the American public.

  • "Deliberative Dialogue in Classrooms and Other Settings" (Room 316) - Sharyn Lowenstein and Denny Frey, Lasell College

    The session will begin with presentation about the nature of the NIFI/Kettering Deliberative Dialogue and some of the ways that Lasell College has piloted its adaptations in 13 classes.  We will explore the variations on faculty and moderator roles, pre-Dialogue activities (including teaching to disagree and raising personal stakes), faculty-moderator co-planning, during-Dialogue adjustments, and post-dialogue reflection. Further we will discuss the process of writing the issue guide, framing the issue, and ways of developing assignments to promote more careful reading of the issue guide. We will hold a mini-Deliberative Dialogue (about 45 minutes, assume a 90 minute session, or proportionately less if a shorter session). Following the Dialogue, we will discuss the impact of the discussion, ways to adapt it to the classroom and other settings, and the bigger questions about society and democracy which the Deliberative Dialogue invites us to think about. As time permits, we will share some of the ways in which the Deliberative Dialogue has impacted class content as well as process, how the Dialogue has differed from other kinds of class discussion, and considerations for enhancing the depth of the dialogue as well as for applying the learning from the experience.

Noon Lunch

1:00 p.m. Plenary Session (Room 114)

Short Talks:

  • “Activism under Fire: Violence, Poverty and Collective Action in Rio de Janeiro” - Anjuli Fahlberg, Northeastern University
  • “Fear and Present Danger” - Kelly Greenhill, Tufts University
  • “Citizen Professionals and Democratizing Institutions: A New Frontier of Democracy” - Harry Boyte, Public Work Academy, Augsburg University

1:45-2:30 p.m. Discussion at Tables

2:30-4:00 p.m. Concurrent Sessions (choose one)

  • Panel: Journalism and Storytelling​ (Room 216A)
    • “Unchaining the Power of Student Voices” - Frank LoMonte, The Brechner Center, and Zack Mezera, Providence Student Union

      The recent Parkland tragedy reminds us of the power of student storytellers, but schools do not reliably value and elevate student voices, preferring to minimize controversy and control the institution's public image. An empowering national movement, New Voices, is taking shape across the country to pass laws protecting students' rights to speak, blog and broadcast about issues of social and political concern. We will share a successful case study of how student leadership helped bring about passage of the New Voices of Rhode Island Act, the nation's strongest and most comprehensive student press-freedom law, why these laws are necessary, and how the censorship climate in schools disproportionately affects the ability of female students to develop civic leadership skills. We will invite discussion of the role of student-produced journalism in combating the news-literacy deficit, and how adults can effectively play supporting roles in promoting youth involvement in legislative reform initiatives.

    • “Civic Entertainment” - Anushka Shah, MIT Media Lab

      Entertainment is a powerful carrier of thought and behavior change. It is proven that we not only applaud the actions of character we admire, but also emulate those in our lives. As the modes through which entertainment media come at us expand in all directions, can we harness this potential of fiction and storytelling to educate audiences in civic engagement? Civic Entertainment is a word coined to define a potential genre of stories in film, television, or digital content that create knowledge about political and government institutions, present effective strategies for civic engagement, and motivate people to participate in change. In this presentation, I will explore what current representations of activism and protest look like in popular culture, and ask how we can encourage the genre of Civic Entertainment.

    • “Votes that Count and Voters Who Don’t: How Journalists Sideline Electoral Participation" - Sharon Jarvis, University of Texas at Austin and Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life

      After Donald Trump’s victory caught the media by surprise, many elite journalists voiced concern that they were out of touch with American voters. Prominent reporters, too, spoke about a need to listen more carefully to the electorate. While being more attentive to citizen participation is commendable, my research shows how listening is not the only barrier to better reporting. This presentation draws from my book "Votes that Count and Voters who Don’t: How Journalists Sideline Electoral Participation (Without Even Knowing It)" (Penn State Press, 2018) which combines a 68 year content-analysis of how electoral participation has been portrayed in presidential elections (1948-2016), experiments and focus groups testing how adult audiences react to these portrayals, and interviews with over 50 elite journalists on why they depict voters as they do. The data show how the routine and often mindless linguistic choices of journalists hold the power to either engage or dampen audience interest in voting. The short talk will highlight how being more mindful about word choices can not only (1) help reporters improve the campaign news narrative but also (2) empower educators, parents, and other concerned groups to contribute to a more robust conversation about electoral participation.

    • “If Only Journalists Care about the Future of Journalism, Democracy is in Trouble” - Fiona Morgan, Free Press

      News Voices has been centering the voices of local community members in conversations about journalism’s future that have gone on mostly among journalists and academics. Since we launched in 2015, first in New Jersey and then a year ago in North Carolina, we’ve hosted dozens of public forums, workshops and meetups where we’ve listened to people tell us the importance of local news - how it’s failed them, how it’s helped them, and what they want to see. As community organizers and former reporters advocating for informed communities, we bridge divides newsrooms have not. We use dialogic processes to engage cross-cultural conversations. We urge journalists to think of those they serve not just as an audience, but as a constituency. And we’re mobilizing that constituency: In NJ, to shape and support a Civic Info Bill to use spectrum auction proceeds to fund local news. In NC, we asked organizers, artists, librarians, students and journos what news Charlotte needs to address economic inequality with ground-up rather than top-down solutions. We’ll tackle misinformation in Rocky Mount by mapping information assets in a place many consider a news desert. Communities, not newsrooms, are leading the way.

  • "How can we productively talk About Divisiveness in a Time of Polarized Public Discourse?" (Room 316) - Elizabeth Gish, Western Kentucky University and John Dedrick, Kettering Foundation

    This session will offer participants a hands-on experience with naming and framing an issue for public dialogue and deliberation in cases where the terms of discourse are polarized and conversations have become unproductive and even counterproductive.  The session leaders will introduce research underway to develop an issue briefing for community and education use that addresses how to talk about polarized and divisive issues in today’s political climate. We will share research from The Kettering Foundation and The National Issues Forum Institute, including insights from recent focus groups.  Presenters will also share an overview of Kettering’s research on naming and framing issues and provide participants with materials developed for community groups to name and frame their own issues.

  • "Leadership Styles and Phases in Social Movements" (Room 218) - Hardy Merriman, President, International Center on Nonviolent Conflict

    Making social change from the grassroots requires several different forms of leadership, which play different roles as a movement grows and develops.  Local engagement may be prioritized during one phase of a movement and national engagement may be highlighted at another phase.  Likewise, nonviolent direct action may be most important at one point and engaging in institutional means of change (such as elections) may be crucial at another point.

    In this workshop we will discuss four different forms of leadership in social movements, and eight different phases of movements, which were developed by the practitioner-scholar Bill Moyer over his lifetime of organizing in nonviolent movements struggling for human rights.  Being aware of these leadership styles and phases of movements helps people to harmonize their different roles, allows tensions between the roles to be worked with constructively, and helps movements identify and meet evolving challenges by drawing from different human capacities.

  • Panel: Civic Tech (Room 114)

    • ​“What are the Responsibilities of Civic Technology?” - Erhardt Graeff, MIT Media Lab

      Democracy requires empowered citizens, and empowered citizens have certain skills, knowledge, attitudes, and habits that lead to effective civic engagement. Empowering experiences and learning opportunities promote a virtuous cycle of reinforcing citizen empowerment and strengthening democracy. Spaces like town hall meetings, protest marches, the voting booth, and the civic education classroom traditionally represent where these experiences and opportunities take place. The emergence of digital media have created new and pervasive civic spaces. Whereas public spaces offline have seen a decline, their online replacements are largely private spaces like Facebook, which have grown to astounding size and influence with limited accountability to governments and the public. As important actors in democracy, the creators of these spaces have a responsibility to design for citizen empowerment and ensure they are advancing empowering processes and outcomes for citizens by evaluating whether their platforms are actually serving this mission. Creators of digital technology used for civic engagement should be understood as stewards of democracy with an ethical obligation to serve the public good.

    • “Bridging the US Political Divide Online: What we learned from using big data” - Kate Mytty, Build Up

      Current political events in the USA reveal social cohesion is fragmented and increasingly polarized. This limits the opportunity and desire for people to engage across political lines. Well-established models of conflict escalation signal that these constitute warning flags for future violent confrontations.

      Social media is both a vehicle for perpetuating political polarization and also, for challenging it. From June to December 2017, Build Up, in partnership with MISTI and with funding from HumanityX, ran a pilot program that explored interventions to address polarization on Facebook and Twitter in the USA. The project, The Commons, identifies polarising filter bubbles on Facebook and Twitter, then uses social media bots to engage with relevant people, and finally organises a network of trained volunteers to move identified users towards constructive engagement with each other and with the phenomenon of polarization.

      In this presentation, we will share the characteristics and implications of political polarization online, the results of the pilot, and next steps. This project is explicitly non-partisan—as is this discussion.

    • “Build-Measure-Learn for Diversity and Inclusion” - Quinn Formel and Ada Vargas, Democracy Works

      A presentation of Democracy Works’s unique application of adaptive Build-Measure-Learn loops to shape and inform organizational diversity and inclusion practices in a nonprofit technology company. We will discuss the challenges and opportunities of this approach, as well as the difficult questions that need to be asked in order to more fully support D&I goals.

  • "Beyond the Ballot: Civic Lotteries as Radical (and Realistic!) Options for Democratic Reform" (Room 221) - Adam Cronkright, Democracy In Practice; Terril Bouricius, Fair Vote; Chris Ellis, MASS LBP

    Lotteries are the original way representative bodies were chosen in a democracy and they open new possibilities today. Learn about their ancient history and their immense potential for combating the corruption, dysfunction, and partisan divisions that plague electoral politics. Take a trip around the world to see the modern resurgence of lotteries in participatory budgeting in Australia, constitutional reform in Mongolia, military decision making in France, student government in schools in Bolivia, and over 30 Citizens’ Reference Panels and Assemblies in Canada. Engage in discussions about merits of this innovative tool and explore ways you can apply it in your own work advancing democracy.

  • "Partnering to Strengthen Participatory Democracy: How Might We Connect and Collaborate?" (Room 604) Courtney Breese, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD)

    This conference is all about participatory democracy. However, we are all approaching this work through our own lenses, fields, methods, and so forth. How might we become more closely aligned, to strengthen the impact of our efforts? Are there possibilities for collaboration? Who else might we want to make a part of this movement? Join us for a working session to tackle these questions. Examples of efforts to connect engagement practitioners with librarians and journalists will be shared, and participants will discuss how we can bring fields with shared interests closer together. We'll talk about how engagement practitioners might partner with social justice movements, what opportunities we all see for new connections, and more. Come ready with your ideas and your passion for this work - and let's see what we can build together!

  • Panel: Improving Congress (Room 507)

    • "State of the Congress: Staff Perspectives on Congressional Capacity" - Kathy Goldschmidt, Congressional Management Foundation

      Conventional wisdom holds that the blame for democratic dysfunction lies with the current occupants of Capitol Hill. The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) offers an alternative perspective. Congress may not be working well because it lacks the capacity to work well. Based on a 2016 survey of senior congressional staff, "State of the Congress" focuses primarily on the resource and operational challenges congressional staff have been facing over the past few decades and offers insight into the roots of current congressional dysfunction and paths toward pragmatic reforms to strengthen Congress and American democracy.

    • "Building a Directly Representative Democracy" - Michael Neblo, Ohio State University; David Lazer, Northeastern University

      Many citizens in the U.S. and abroad fear that democratic institutions have become weak, and continue to weaken. Michael Neblo and David Lazer, with Kevin Esterling, in their forthcoming book Politics with the People: Toward a Directly Representative Democracy, argue that "directly representative democracy” is a new way of connecting citizens and elected officials to improve representative government. Sitting members of Congress agreed to meet with groups of their constituents via online, deliberative town hall meetings to discuss some of the most important and controversial issues of the day. The results from these experiments reveal a model of how our democracy could work, where politicians consult with and inform citizens in substantive discussions, and where otherwise marginalized citizens participate and are empowered. Moving beyond our broken system of interest group politics and partisan bloodsport, directly representative reforms will help restore citizens’ faith in the institutions of democratic self-government, precisely at a time when those institutions themselves feel dysfunctional and endangered.

    • "Using Common Ground for Action to Build Directly Representative Democracy" - Amy Lee, Kettering Foundation

      Recent research from the Congressional Management Foundation and political scientists Michael Neblo, David Lazer and others shows a deep desire, by both citizens and elected officials, to engage more meaningfully and productively. A recent pilot experiment has responded to this desire, using the online platform Common Ground for Action to hold deliberative citizen forums with constituents of Senators Mike Crapo (ID) and Thom Tillis (NC), and shows promising possibilities for elected officials to earn the trust and support of their constituents through constructive, substantive engagement and accountability. Other Members of Congress are joining this experiment, and there are opportunities at the state level as well. Kettering Foundation program officer Amy Lee will discuss two recent pilot projects, and invite participants to brainstorm how the deliberative democracy network and other institutions can support this effort to restore the functioning of and confidence in our democratic institutions.

4:00-4:15 p.m. Break

4:15-5:45 p.m. Plenary Session (Room 114)

Living Room Conversations - Breakouts on Race, Free Speech, and Bridging Divides - Organized by Living Room Conversations

Saturday, June 23

8:00-9:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast and Space for Networking and Demonstrating Tools, Apps, etc. (Room 114)

9:00-10:30 a.m. Concurrent Sessions (choose one)

  • Panel: Perspectives on Civic Life (Room 507)

    • “Civic Learning and Young Citizens: Democratic Engagements in Higher Education” - Ivy Dhar, School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD); Nidhi S. Sabharwal, Centre for Policy Research in Higher Education (CPRHE), National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), India

      Education as a social process is expected to develop and strengthen ability to peacefully interact in a diverse socio-cultural world. Tocqueville discussed that skills for democratic engagements needs to be fostered so that democracy can keep evolving as per the exigencies of time (2004). Education for civic learning can cultivate the habits of democracy by training young citizens to respect diverse voices. Empirical studies world-wide have found that prejudice was lower and inter-cultural consciousness was greater among students who completed a civic learning course. It is far more challenging for large democratic states like India where discussions never gather dust on how diversity can weave into democracy without discontent.

      By 2020, India is set to become the world’s youngest country with high proportion of youth in its population.T he range of civic crisis among youth and prevalent forms of discrimination in educational campuses has been a discomforting reality for policy makers. This paper will discuss a) the persisting challenges of settling diversity in the framework of Indian democracy b) the crucial need of educational methods such as diversity courses and inter-group dialogues and c) how educational institutions stand to gain by implementing education for civic learning."

    • “The Role of Religious Communities in Strengthening Democracy” - Elizabeth Gish, Western Kentucky University; John Dedrick, Kettering Foundation

      This session explores the ways that religious communities can contribute to strengthening democracy, recognizing the complex issues that this often presents. In addition to a historical and contemporary perspective on this issue, participants will also leave with practical ideas to take back their community or religious organization.  In particular we will consider the challenges and opportunities to faith organizations engaging in public dialogue and public work over urgent public issues such as the opioid epidemic or immigration. This session is suitable for those who are working from within a religious community, or those who want to collaborate with religious communities in the context of their more secular democratic work.

    • “Civic Tinkering as Democratic Practice” - Scott Tate, Virginia Tech

      In qualitative field studies in the United States and Northern Ireland, and as a development practitioner; I have studied civic tinkering - efforts that seek to contribute positively to ideas of place through informal and impermanent means.   Civic tinkering includes four inter-related dynamics: civicism, spatiality, impermanence and informality.  Rather, than aimless meddling, tinkering is civically oriented, containing a positive intent of place-shaping.  Civic tinkering often seeks to disrupt or challenge situated meanings.  Activities may be limited in duration, yet aimed to provoke continued conversations and awareness shifts.   Tinkering is typically conceived and implemented by those individuals or groups not supported or sanctioned by larger institutions or governing bodies.  Tinkering efforts are temporary, somewhat limited, interventions that do not supplant other kinds of ongoing, lasting work such as politically supported change projects.   Civic tinkering projects, though, may be important as contrasts, counters, or spurs for more formal, resource-intensive efforts.  This presentation shares cases that illustrate civic tinkering efforts and explores their potential to stretch or strengthen the capacity of individuals to participate in the work of imagining their city.

  • "Don't Think of An... — A Co-Creative Workshop Toward Pro-Democracy Political Messaging" (Room 604) - Ellen Roche, Provoc

    George Lakoff's Don't think of an Elephant (2004) has influenced political strategy and analysis since it was released. This interactive workshop will playfully engage Lakoff's core ideas (i.e., strict father v. nurturant mother) and participants will propose and play with alternatives as a way of re-engaging, affirming and challenging Lakoff's ideas, particularly in the context of future pro-democracy political strategies.

  • "The Habits of Highly Effective Citizens: What Do We Need to Learn Today?" (Room 607) - Chad Raphael, Santa Clara University

    Many Americans are hungry for constructive, effective ways to engage in politics today. What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about political engagement? What do you wish you learned about it in school? Get your creative juices flowing by joining a collaborative design session devoted to brainstorming a new civic education course and supporting materials (book, web site, videos) for the college general education curriculum and adult learners. Participants can use the collectively-designed curriculum in their own teaching and learning. We will collaborate in small groups to design learning modules on topics that most interest participants, such as: Why participate in democracy? What kind of democracy should we want? What formal and informal civic education should we seek out? How should we construct a healthy diet of news and information? How do we persuade and deliberate with people about politics? How should we make up our minds as voters? How should we choose effective organizations and movements to join, and what should we do in them? Should we participate in political parties, and how? How should we communicate with government? Should we take part in electoral campaigns and run for office, and how? How should we practice citizenship across borders?

  • "The Pledge" (Room 316) - Brian Aull, Tufts University

    In an era of mean-spirited discourse, mindless partisanship, and blaming others for society's problems, how do we inspire citizens to see themselves as the ones who can create a culture of respect, illuminating discourse, and collaborative problem solving? The Pledge was created by business strategist Eamon Aghdasi as tool for doing this. Inspired by the MBA Oath ( for business school graduates, Aghdasi has created an analogous oath for citizens in general. The Pledge expresses a set of moral commitments to create authentic human connections across boundaries that normally divide, including race, class, religious belief, and political ideology. Participants in this workshop will be asked to share how their work is already actualizing these commitments and to offer insights on how best to reach a broader cross section of citizens with its message.

  • Panel: Emotion, Civility, and Polarization (Room 221)
    • “The Origins of Polarization: Emotions and Ideas” - June Jones, Vanderbilt University

      Why are American citizens so polarized these days? Political scientists have some surprising findings that suggest we are not as divided as the media suggests, though we do tend to get emotional about politics. On the philosophical level, progressive and conservative liberalism have many things in common, as well as conflicting ideas that can be accommodated and debated with civility and tolerance. Political theorist June Ann Jones will present cutting edge research from political science on the origins of polarization, as well as her thoughts on the theoretical divide that separates the left and the right. The audience is welcome to follow up with the presenter by email:

    • “The Role of Critical Thinking in Promoting Civil Discourse” - Tracey DeFrancesco,

      How can civil discourse flourish in times of incivility? For nearly 14 years, has adhered to the belief that being an unbiased, credible resource for information plays a crucial role in shaping civil discourse. Through our website and our community and student programs, we have spurred critical thinking and modeled civil discourse. Learn how being neutral can facilitate a productive discussion and stimulate understanding, and gain insight into how to successfully engage students in thinking critically.

    • “Filter Bubbles in a Democracy: Understanding the Problem and Some Solutions" (presentation) - John Gable, All Sides

      I'm a tech guy. I was the team lead product manager for Netscape Navigator, and I see modern technology in its current state as the driving force behind the increase polarization and division we are seeing in modern countries around the world. The way that information flows and how we communicate and interact puts us into extremely narrow filter bubbles. When we only see our own point of view reinforced, and only know people just like us, two scary things happen: we become more extreme in our beliefs, and we become less tolerant of anyone with different beliefs or who are different. I have a good deal of data that shows the increase in polarization and correlation between modern technology adoption and this increase, and also have specific remedies for how to combat the problem. By understanding the root cause, it is easier to identify the solutions that are most likely to have an impact. We all are dedicated to strengthening our Democracy, and I can present a good case for what kind of activities we can all support that will have the most positive impact on our society.

  • "Ben Franklin Circles & 21st Century Citizen Power" (Room 812) - Julie Mashak, 92Y

    Ben Franklin Circles – from the 92nd Street Y – are a nationwide initiative to bring together people from different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences to discuss how they can improve themselves and the larger community. Modeled on Franklin’s own mutual improvement club, Circles are a 21st Century civic support group aimed at building community connections, empowering local citizens and combating the loneliness and isolation often tied to current levels of polarization in the United States. 92nd Street Y provides the tools and guidance for any individual or institution to run a Circle and fosters a network of more than 100 Circles running around the country. In this presentation/workshop, Julie Mashack from the 92nd Street Y will provide a general overview of the project and then lead a Ben Franklin Circle-style meeting for people to experience the model. Toolkits and additional resources will be provided for anyone interested in starting his/her own Circle.

  • "Democracy and the Mysteries of the Inner Life" (Room 216A) - Wendy Willis, Deliberative Democracy Consortium; Peter Levine, Tisch College

When democracy means deliberation, protest, or advocacy, it is all about talking with strangers about the conditions of the material world. It is active, public, and extroverted. But what about the inner life, or at least moments of retreat? What is the role of introverts, of intimate pairs, and people on quests within themselves? What about the unconscious? The fleeting? The mysterious? To explore the tensions, tradeoffs, and possibly generative relationships between politics and the inner life, we will take time to read aloud and discuss directly relevant poems or short prose statements by authors who are likely to include Billy Collins, Luljeta LleshanakuHumberto Padilla, Ann Pancake, Adrienne Rich, David Whyte, and/or Adam Zagajewski.

  • "Infogagement: Citizenship and Democracy in the (Rapidly Evolving) Age of Connection" (Room 218) - Matt Leighninger, Public Agenda

Five years ago, I was asked by Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement to write a paper on how the worlds of journalism, technology, and civic engagement seemed like they were about to collide. The result was “Infogagement: Citizenship and Democracy in the Age of Connection.” Five years later, those worlds have definitely collided, with all kinds of impacts, both interesting and terrifying. All kinds of new questions, challenges, controversies, and opportunities have emerged, and PACE is reissuing the paper with a new foreword and set of commentaries. To seed the discussion in this workshop, I’ll briefly present the main ideas from the first and second editions of the report. Then we can tackle some of the big questions, such as: What is the relationship between information systems and community engagement? What has happened to our traditional notions of the “public square?” What are the implications for our civic life? What should we do next?

10:30-11:00 a.m. Break

11:00 a.m.-Noon Plenary Wrap-Up: What Have We Learned at Frontiers? What Are We Taking Away? (Room 114)

Panel discussion followed by plenary conversation. Panelists: Aamer Raza  University of Peshawar (Pakistan); Miriam Salvador Garcia, Camilo José Cela University (Spain); Sterling Speirn, National Conference on Citizenship; Maureen White, Maureen White Consulting. Moderator: Peter Levine, Tufts University's Tisch College