Skip to main content

Frontiers of Democracy 2019 Agenda

LOCATION: Sackler Building, Room 114 | 145 Harrison Avenue, Boston

Thursday, June 20 - All at Room 114

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, on "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 - Room 114

9:00-10:30 a.m.  Plenary Session: “Working at the Frontiers of Democracy” - Room 114


  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 - Room 114

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

  1. Room 604 - Spectacle, Movement, Deliberation: Theoretical Perspectives on Democracy - Samuel Schmitt, Aidan Kestigian, Vasiliki Rapti 
    Amidst unprecedented massive waves of migrations and the advent of big data, democracy has been challenged on many fronts today. Questioned as ineffective or complete failure on a global scale, it has turned into a mere spectacle. What has gone wrong? What has happened with deliberation, its sine qua non? How does movement challenge it? Is there still hope? These questions will be addressed in this session by three presenters who will attempt to offer some theoretical perspectives on democracy, informed by various thinkers including Jeffery Edward Green and Elinor and Vincent Ostrom. Focusing on democracy through the lenses of spectacle, movement and deliberation, it will propose three theoretical models that can enliven today’s “endangered democracy”: a model that looks back at the roots of democracy through the conflation of Greek drama and democracy as a civic spectacle; a new model of public deliberation and debate and an institution-based civic equipping of community newcomers.
  2. Room 218 - Maintaining Meaningful Classroom Dialogue Even on Controversial Subjects - Michael Fischer and Katina Fontes
    The polarized nature of the world outside the classroom creates numerous challenges for college instructors. On the one hand, opportunities for practice in civil discourse, via seminar discussions and other forms of classroom dialogue, are needed now more than ever. On the other hand, possibilities for classroom discussions focused on more contentious subjects can easily veer into partisan contemporary issues beyond the scope of the course material. This participatory session will include three complementary components. It will begin with Michael Fischer sharing lessons learned from his experience teaching an undergraduate seminar on the Humanities and Democracy and reflections on how he handled the challenges he encountered. Katina Fontes will then discuss some methods and tools available to instructors wishing to deepen the level of dialogue in the classroom, including a brief presentation (with a hands-on experiential activity) on diapraxis, which uses a shared experience to activate dialogue. The remaining time will be devoted to a roundtable discussion by session participants wishing to share their own classroom experiences and potential strategies for maintaining meaningful dialogue.
  3. Room 316 - BetaBlocks: Democratizing Manifestation of Technology in the Public Realm - John Harlow and Eric Gordon
    Smart technologies offer us unprecedented power to understand, alter and enhance the public realm. Unfortunately, they are often proposed or even deployed without engaging the public. This approach ignores civic values such as personal privacy, social equity, creativity and play. This session will engage the activities of the roving BetaBlocks exhibition. BetaBlocks is a collaboration between the City of Boston Mayors Office of New Urban Mechanics, the Engagement Lab at Emerson College, and Supernormal. The project establishes temporary local experimentation zones in Boston, to which the roving exhibition recruits participants to consult, ideate, and explore how technologies are introduced into the public realm. If the exhibition is close to Frontiers, the session will involve a short excursion.
  4. Room 812 - Renewing Democracy Through Renewal of Infrastructure - Tom Flanagan, Craig Lindell, Wendi Goldsmith, Douglas Bruce, Carmen Sirianni
    The session will draw from real-world experiences in water resource infrastructure renewal in the spirit of Elinor Ostrom's work on common pool resources. The United States has a waste infrastructure renewal gap of between $300 and $400 billion. This is a municipal burden that must be resolved, not only because it is a persistent environmental problem but now also is an increasingly visible health problem. Resolving this huge problem calls for the equivalent of a modern barn-raising culture. We will explore how addressing this problem will, if properly linked to the works of others, renew the practice of democracy itself.
  5. Room 216A - Love your Block - Michael Hammett, Mary Bogle, Mauricio Garcia, and Andi Crawford
    City leaders are increasingly looking to their citizens to help them identify challenges and create solutions to pressing challenges. But with tight budgets and limited staff, many cities lack the capacity to adequately connect with residents on a large scale. Through its flagship Love Your Block program, Cities of Service has helped dozens of cities engage their citizens to improve their neighborhoods, one block at a time through projects like painting over graffiti with colorful murals and removing trash from playgrounds. A recent Urban Institute study found that the connection Love Your Block forges between city leaders and citizens can catalyze collective action by residents, boost investment in the neighborhood, and strengthen feelings of trust, all of which enhance their ability to effect change. This session will share findings from the Urban Institute study, using examples from two cities - Phoenix, AZ and Lansing, MI - that took part in the study. Representatives from these cities will share lessons learned, results of their work, and what lies ahead for their cities.
  6. Room 221 - 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
    These are heady times for American political reform. We’ll highlight the most recent victories achieved throughout the U.S. to bring redistricting, primaries, campaign finance, electoral systems, and anti-corruption laws into the 21st century, and explore exciting campaigns on the horizon, including progress towards a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to address campaign finance. Learn how Small Planet Institute and Democracy Initiative, with members representing 40 million Americans, are creating a brand-new website - DemocracyMovement.US - to provide an energizing hub where Americans can be uplifted by the breadth and depth of the movement, find allies, and undertake meaningful action. And we’ll examine how the strategies pioneered by movements which won seemingly unattainable federal reforms - women’s suffrage, prohibition, and marriage equality - can be adapted and applied to today’s challenges. The session will include brainstorming on new ideas and strategies, including how to message across the political spectrum.
  7. Room 219 - The Arts and Storytelling for Community Building and Social Change - Jeanette "Joy" Harris;  Elizabeth Jabar, Parish Conkling, Kristina Patterson, Jenna Spinelle, Xu Zihan
    In many ways, the arts and storytelling are the essence of civil society. It is through the arts, storytelling, and story listening that we make sense of our own lived experience and seek to understand the lived experiences of others. This session will include discussions of the use of the arts and storytelling to advance democracy from the perspectives of practitioner, educator, and researcher. We will begin with a brief discussion of the theoretical framework connecting the arts, storytelling, and democracy, followed by five brief presentations highlighting various arts and storytelling projects from around the United States and China. Participants in this session will gain a greater understanding of the power of the arts and storytelling to effect social change and advance democracy, as well as practical guidance on planning and implementing their own projects in the community or classroom.

12:15-1:15 p.m.  Lunch - Across the Street from Sackler Building (Jaharis Cafe)

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?” Room 114

2:30:2:45 p.m.  Break - Room 114

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

  1. Room 604 - Amplify Impact, Build Bridges, and Connect Communities through Civil Discourse - Cheryl Graeve, Timothy J. Shaffer
    How can public dialogue and discourse revive our democracy and citizen institutions? In the current climate of polarization and turbulence, how can we open opportunities to foster relationships, incubate emergent engagement ideas, and build new bridges of trust? Building on a hunger to build a civic culture grounded in listening and dialogue, this interactive session will invite participants to explore with us, how we can take this churning moment in our democracy to amplify, expand, and embed dialogue and discourse practices in our communities and civic infrastructure. Drawing on examples from the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD)’s work through Revive Civility and Respect initiative, Next Generation, and the Civility Network, the session will be an opportunity to learn and share ideas together to amplify, build bridges and connect in a time when our democracy needs it and the public is hungry for it.
  2. Room 216A - Democratizing Research for Environmental Justice and Health - Chad Raphael, Doug Brugge, Amy Laura Cahn, Neenah Estella-Luna, Kenneth Geiser
    Environmental Justice (EJ) scholars and advocates are researching and organizing on a growing array of issues: climate and energy justice and resilience, access to public transportation and green jobs, food justice, urban air quality and green spaces, safe and affordable housing and health care, occupational safety and health, and more. EJ concerns more than the fair distribution of environmental burdens and benefits. It is also about equal participation in environmental and health decisions by all who are affected by them, and restorative justice for groups that have been historically excluded from and harmed by these decisions. Community-engaged research has played an important role in advancing EJ. Participatory action research, community-based participatory research, and research to support litigation and organizing can democratize control over the research agenda in ways that align with EJ’s call for more inclusive policy making. This session will engage panelists and attendees in addressing three questions: 1) What are the central EJ issues confronting us today? 2) Who should be collaborating on community-engaged research on these issues? 3) How can they meet each other and work together effectively and fairly?
  3. Room 812 - How Interactive Simulations and Film Presentations Enhance Classroom Dialogue on Controversial Issues - Joshua Littenberg-Tobias, GR. Marvez, Jonathan Goodman Levitt
    How can we improve discussions about racism, sexism, and other difficult subjects in our classrooms? This participatory session offers insights from separate projects in development that facilitate better classroom conversations about challenging topics. Joshua Littenberg-Tobias and G.R. Marvez of MIT's Teaching Systems Lab will present a teacher training simulation called Discussion Leader that allows teachers to practice and reflect on important aspects of leading discussions of controversial issues such as asking meaningful questions and eliciting student knowledge. Jonathan Goodman Levitt of Changeworx and the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY will share a prototype of Reality Check, a new film presentation format that offers teachers insights about similarities and differences among students' attitudes and beliefs. After introductions to both projects from their creators, the session will shift into a workshop where participants experience both projects. Attendees will take part in the latest iteration of Discussion Leader and preview the work-in-progress prototype for Reality Check, which launches in a beta version during the 2019-2020 academic year. Discussion Leader topics will then be integrated into the Reality Check presentation format, as session participants explore others' views as well as their own. Do academics, non-profit leaders, activists, and others attending agree on strategies for addressing controversial subjects in the classroom?
  4. Room 218 - Gaming and Civic Tech - Libby Falck and Dmytro Potekhin
    We live in a moment of declining civic engagement and flourishing participatory culture.The presenters are two tech entrepreneurs, one a game designer from MIT and the other an activist from Ukraine. The questions they will explore include: How might lessons from the field of educational game design enable individuals to more effectively connect with - and contribute to - the civic organizations that are working to achieve goals that matter to them? What is the state of civic tech education? What skills does a civic tech entrepreneur need to succeed? What are the connections between civic tech and Civic Studies?
  5. Room 221 - 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
    Behind the headlines, Congress is buzzing with reform activity.  The American Congressional Exchange is connecting bipartisan pairs of members of Congress for tours of each other’s districts. Veterans in Congress are helping elevate values of integrity, honor and self-sacrifice. The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has begun issuing recommendations. And the Congressional Staff Academy is reinventing staff professional development. The Problem Solvers Caucus, the Future Caucus, and the Bipartisan Working Group are changing the way Congressional members and staff work together, and the newly-enacted Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act will support effective policymaking. Groups like the Consensus Building Institute, Bipartisan Policy Center, Issue One, and others are increasingly welcomed to work with Congress and are forging strengthened ties with each other, and the new House Rules are supporting new collaborative efforts. Come learn “what’s hot on the Hill!” and provide your ideas for new or enhanced efforts!
  6. Room 219 - Governance and Restorative Justice: The Role of Civic Groups in Problem-Solving in Schools and Drug Policy - Nicole Kaufman, Sharyn Lowenstein, Dani O’Brien
    We will discuss the extent to which the drug policy in the United States has relied on governmental partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including religious groups that provide treatment services and disseminate policy messages. We will situate these partnerships in the political landscape shaped by the rise of the New Right and explain the role of neo-conservatism in the use of partnerships as a tool of governance. We will then experience being in a youth-led Restorative Justice circle and begin to imagine how circle practice and/or the values that inform it could be implemented in participants' own settings.   We will discuss how restorative justice is part of a global movement rooted in Indigenous sovereignty that invites us to shift our worldview to one that centers on equity over power, respect for people and nature, and the possibility of repairing harm and transforming communities. Participants will learn about our model and experiences in the Pa’lante Restorative Justice Program and hear from two Holyoke High School students about their experiences using circle practice.  The discussion will be followed by small group breakout sessions where participants will discuss how they can apply these concepts in their own settings.
  7. Room 316 - Toward Sounder Public Judgment: Engaging People on Tough Issues Through Play and Delight - Will Friedman and Eric Gordon
    In our age of polarizing rhetoric, misinformation, social media bubbles, and populist instability, we are in desperate need of sounder public thinking. Dan Yankelovich, the public opinion research pioneer and democratic theorist, developed a useful framework for understanding how public attitudes can evolve from raw, reactive opinions to more well-rounded and responsible “public judgment.” While Dan’s framework holds up in its fundamentals, it needs updating for the information-age and today’s politics, and Public Agenda is partnering with diverse researchers and practitioners to do exactly that. In this session, Will Friedman of Public Agenda will provide an overview of the concept and our work to develop fresh ideas on how to support public judgment today. Eric Gordon, of The Engagement Lab @ Emerson College, will share his work on the role of play and delight in helping people productively engage complex issues. 

4:15-4:30 p.m.  Break - Room 114

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.) - Room 114

Saturday, June 22

8:00-9:00 a.m.  Breakfast - Room 114

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

  1. Sackler Auditorium - Panel: Political Participation in the City and the Ballot Box - Tanya Gibbs, Benjamin Hernandez, Tammy Esteves
    Political participation and trust in government are in evident decline. However, democratic societies may benefit from new processes and technologies which, by offering expanded choice, may help address rising polarization, low voter turnout, the rise of political extremism, and ideological disconnect between a public and its political elites. Tanya Gibbs will offer further understanding of the impact of voting methods on democratic processes and introduce the Janeček Method (D21), an alternative voting method constructed to resolve these paradoxes. Benjamin Hernandez will examine how modern campaign advertising and spending have shifted to influence voters on social media. Tammy Esteves then examines how civictech apps and social media may hold potential to impact democratic renewal and civic engagement. Finally, Jonathan Collins will examine the impact of public meeting environments on political participation. As a collective, these presentations will provide both national and international examples and perspective, leading to stimulating discussions about the changing nature of democracy.
  2. Room 507 - The Social Contract of America (interactive workshop) - Debilyn Molineaux
    We are living into the vision set forth by the Founders of the United States - that all people have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Using the framework of the “Four Corners,” we’ll examine the values within the social contract of America from four perspectives, exploring what we want to keep, update or lose. As we face the challenge of our lifetime, the implications of how we resolve underlying differences may influence the world as we undergo global shifts.

10:15-11:30 a.m.  Plenary Discussion - Room 114


  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.