Issues for Deliberation

Guest Post by Neil Wollman, Ph.D, Bentley University - "Facing Gridlock, A Bold Proposal for Democracy"

I hope that the piece below will lead to good dialogue, political efforts, and finally to implementation of the suggested policy change. It is by projects such as the National Issues Forums (NIF) that we will have a public informed enough to make the proposed citizen initiative/referendum system work well. As a matter of fact, if citizens engage in such dialogue, maybe they have a right to more direct say in governmental decision making! It is encouraging that Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado recently decided to promote the establishment of a commission to study the feasibility of national initiatives. It is a good first step, but it will require informed  public discussion. See more information on citizens’ initiatives and direct democracy at

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Preventing Mass Shootings - How Should We Help the Public Work on this Problem?

by Patty Dineen

The December, 2012 shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut re-ignited public talk about what "we" as individuals, and especially, what "we" as a society should do about it.  Can we do anything to prevent the next one?  Can we identify likely future shooters? Can we make public places safer without turning such places into prison-like settings?  Would we have to give up some cherished personal freedoms in order to get the results we seek?  These and many other questions are being asked, discussed, debated, and argued about.

This public issue--what can, and what should we do to prevent this kind of violence?--as we all know, is presently being framed by many entities; media, interest groups, government, experts, and individuals in all segments of our society.  You might think that would be enough, but we don't think it is. The National Issues Forums Institute has a 32-year-long interest in a particular kind of issue framing; that is, framing a public issue in a way that can help people deliberate; or carefully consider a spectrum of approaches to dealing with the issue.  Deliberation also requires unflinching consideration of the possible consequences, costs, and tradeoffs inherent of each approach.

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Watch Online, Sept. 4, 2012, Launch of a National Dialogue about Higher Education

Shaping Our Future How Can Higher Education Help Us Create the Future We Want?

Watch the launch online (A brief registration is required)

Join us online on Tuesday, September 4, 2012, to kick off Shaping Our Future, a year-long national dialogue on the future of higher education. Through this initiative, students, faculty, administrators, employers, and members of the general public will 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 kick-off event will include information about forums now being planned on campuses and in communities nationwide.

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The Making of a Public by Craig Paterson

from a blog post by Craig Paterson at Deliberative IDEAS

We all have a place and a role in the ‘public.’ This appreciation of an all-inclusive participation in a shared, human environment goes back at least to the Greeks as they pondered their common good and civic purpose. The Greeks had already recognized that an awareness of a ‘public’ as an entity in its own right…larger and more significant than just the accumulation of disparate individuals. Those of us who seek to hear the voice of the ‘public’ today are challenged with all the classical barriers to public conversation AND some modern barriers that are presenting themselves for the first time in human history.

The ‘public’ exists and functions without our awareness…it doesn’t need anyone’s permission to be powerful. But…our awareness and appreciation of the ‘public’ CAN have some significant benefits…as we solve problems together, as we organize together to maximize our effective use of resources, and as we build great communities together. We have learned through the years, however, that this ‘public’ awareness doesn’t happen by itself…it requires its own careful attention.

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Higher Education

National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) director Jean Johnson suggested the following as a possible issue for development into a deliberative framework.  We welcome your comments and additional information about this issue.

I am proposing higher education as an NIF topic because I believe the country faces a number of important choices and trade-offs about its future, some of which involve core values about opportunity and fairness in our country. Although the U.S. higher education system has long been regarded as the best in the world, there are numerous signs that the system is under stress and that large numbers of Americans are asking tough questions about whether the system we have is the system that we need and want.

Here are some of the developments that make this topic so compelling to me.

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End of Life Spending

National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) director Chris Satullo suggested the following as a possible issue for development into a deliberative framework.  We welcome your comments and additional information about this issue.

The issue I'd recommend could be named, provocatively, "Do we have a duty to die?"

It's generally agreed that one of the main drivers of government spending and deficits is health care.

It's generally agreed that the most worrisome drivers of government health care spending are Medicare and Medicaid.

A little-recognized diver of Medicaid spending is skilled nursing care for the elderly, infirm poor (and, after some dubious finagling, the middle-class elderly).

A well-known driver of Medicare spending is the heroic, costly and usually futile care given to people who are near the end of life.

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Eating Ourselves Sick

National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) director Frank Fear suggested the following as a possible issue for development into a deliberative framework.  We welcome your comments and additional information about this issue.

Food, Nutrition, and Health in Precarious Relationship

Many issues facing Americans today are imposed on them, such as the national macro-economic changes that are affecting families’ economic security. However, every day in this country Americans are doing something to themselves: consuming food—in type and amount—that has negative implications for their long-term health.

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The Growing Gap between the Haves and Have Nots

National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) director Bo Beaulieu suggested the following as a possible issue for development into a deliberative framework.  We welcome your comments and additional information about this issue.

Is Income Inequality Harmful to American Communities?

A recent book published by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett titled, The Spirit Level (2009), has created quite a stir in countries across the world. The central premise of the book is that societies or communities that are more equal often do better on a wide array of socioeconomic measures – be they health, education, crime, trust, and social mobility. In essence, people from the same social strata with the same set of qu

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National Issues for Consideration

National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) director Scott Clemons suggested the following as  possible issues for development into deliberative frameworks.  We welcome your comments and additional information about these issues.

With our first black President, our prospective on racism and our sensibilities may have changed. The protracted discussion about the President’s birth certificate, however, suggests that the issue is still ripe for a national conversation. Comments by talk radio personalities and the sudden termination of Shirley Sherrod for supposedly discriminatory remarks give further credence to this.

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