From Nick Felts:
Common Ground for Action (CGA) was originally developed by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), two non-partisan, non-profit organizations that work on strengthening democracy. Kettering and NIFI are long-time partners -- Kettering conducts research on democracy in the U.S. and other countries, and NIFI works with local partners to host in-person forums in communities and on campuses nationwide.
CGA online forums are based on issue guides that lay out choices for addressing a problem and help users wrestle with the advantages and trade-offs of different approaches. If you decide to join an online forum, your moderator will send you an issue guide, and the CGA platform will help you walk through the choices and discuss them in a moderated, small-group setting.
We all know how tough it can be for people to have productive conversations about controversial issues— especially online. CGA provides a structured way for citizens to have these conversations, to more deeply explore their own views, the views of others, and to work towards sound decisions.
CGA has been put to productive use in a wide variety of settings for several years now. Community groups, educational institutions, and even Congressional offices have used CGA as a means of fostering public deliberation and judgment on challenging public problems. In these days of physical distancing, many are looking for ways to connect with others and continue their work. Over the next several weeks, we will share reflections from those who have used the CGA platform to good effect.
The first reflection comes from Andrea Christelle, an experienced moderator of both face-to-face and CGA deliberative forums. Now at the University of Texas at Austin, Andrea has used CGA extensively in her previous position at Northern Arizona University.
From Andrea Christelle:
I use CGA in classes, especially online or blended classes. The classes are FYS 121 (a freshman seminar called “leading yourself,”) and AHBY 350 (a required course for the Applied Human Behavior major called “Wealth, Inequality, and Global Citizenship.”)
I assign students to (i) read an issue guide; (ii) participate in a forum; (iii) complete a two-page reflection that includes whether and how participation in a deliberative forum changed their thinking.
CGA allows students to become acquainted with an issue of national concern and weigh in on whether or not they support potential actions associated with the issue. CGA also pushes students to weigh trade-offs associated with any potential action. I use CGA to encourage students to see themselves as citizens with views that can change, and not merely as people who should learn what they are taught.
Once students see the anonymized graph, they have an opportunity to deliberate about various courses of action. This often causes students to change their evaluations of the actions or tradeoffs. I use this as an opportunity to encourage students to notice how deliberation can sometimes change our minds, or at least make our views more nuanced. In summary, I use CGA because it helps students develop a self-understanding that includes citizenship, and to see how deliberation can build civic capacity.
To What Effect
For both online and blended classes CGA builds camaraderie among students. Student evaluations consistently report that students find participating in CGA a fun and worthwhile activity.