NIFI Blog

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"The best two hours of the semester..."

The following guest bloggers, Emerson Murphy, Stuart Watts, Pierre-Emmanuel Thomas, Jill Bolak, Xan Hall, and Colden Franklin share their insights and experiences using deliberation to engage some difficult public issues during coursework with professor Gregg Kaufman, M.Div. Th.M.  at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia.

by Emerson Murphy
November 25, 2013

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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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Bob Daley: 50 Years with the National Press Club

Bob Daley, a long time veteran of public engagement work, and a journalist, was featured in a Dayton Daily News article on January 16, 2013. The following is excerpted from the article:

Bob Daley became a copy boy for the Dayton Journal-Herald when reporters wrote stories with manual typewriters and pasted copies of stories with flour and water. Throughout the years, Daley has been a copy boy, political reporter, press secretary, assistant to the governor, and director of public affairs. He's also always retained his membership with the National Press Club. A few months ago, the Washington Twp. man was honored for his 50-year membership with the National Press Club.

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Offering an Alternative to Polarized Debate - "How Can We Stop Mass Shootings in Our Communities?"

(The following is by Brad Rourke, Kettering Foundation program officer and executive editor of issue guides.)

On Friday, February 1, 2013, National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) released an Issue Advisory that contains materials that communities might wish to use in deliberating over the issues raised by the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut in December last year. It's not a full issue guide, but a basic outline of the options, entitled How Can We Stop Mass Shootings in Our Communities? It’s available here.

Developing the framework for this issue posed challenges. In the first place, the issue is raw, happening now, and strikes deep emotional chords. This can make it hard to deliberate -- which requires that people face the downsides of their favored actions. In emotional situations, this can be difficult. A good issue framework will make it easier for people to get past their reactions and begin to make judgments together -- to weigh options.

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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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Citizenship as Education, by Jim Strickland

The foundation of democracy is the very human act of just talking with each other...This kind of citizenship is the most transformative kind of education there is.  You cannot emerge unchanged because continuous and responsible change is the name of the game. 

The term “public education” can be understood in a couple of different ways.  One common meaning is related to its funding source.  Public education is education that is publicly funded, as in our public schools and other publicly financed educational programs.

Another meaning of public education, however, is related to its primary purpose.  In this view, public education refers to our intentional efforts to create a public – that is, a body of citizens who have the inclination and the capacity to participate in the ongoing and responsible practice of self-government.  This broader understanding of public education encompasses the work done by our public schools, but extends far beyond them to include the institutions and political, economic, and social structures of the larger community.

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Watch and Share Your Comments - Shaping Our Future, Launching a National Conversation about the Public Purposes of Higher Education

Watch the Video
Muriel Howard, President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, spoke during the "Shaping Our Future" launch at the National Press Club

We hope you will watch the video and share your comments, questions, and feedback.

You can now watch the video (approximately 2 hrs.) recorded during the September 4, 2012 launch of Shaping Our Future: How Can Higher Education Help Us Create the Future We Want? - A national conversation about the public purposes of higher education.   Through this initiative, students, faculty, administrators, employers, and members of the general public are invited to 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.

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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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At the University of Montana - Using Deliberation and Radio to Battle Rape

The following is guest editorial that was written by Denise Dowling, denise.dowling@mso.umt.edu, Associate Professor and Chair, Radio-Television Department, at The University of Montana.

For the full list of suggestions and to listen to the audio.

The University of Montana is not a happy place to work these days.  We’ve had the wind knocked out of us as we’ve been pummeled with accusations of rape, complicity and cover up on our campus.  It’s forced a collective gasp from us, the employees of UM, for this is not the place we know. But there it is, like a hard, cold slap in the face.  Horrible things have happened here and now we must work through the calamity.

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Coursework that Worked - An Assignment that Turned into a Thank You Letter

The following piece was written by Nick McNamara to fulfill a course assignment when he was a student in Dr. Wanda Minor's 2011 course titled Social and Public Deliberation.  The piece is being reprinted here with permission from both Dr. Minor and Nick McNamara.

Social and Public Deliberation Reflection

by Nick McNamara

I remember signing up for the section PR-498-51 entitled social and public deliberation.  I can honestly say that I did not have any idea what the course entailed.  Maybe it was the name of the course or the time slot of the course, but something compelled me to register.  So I just decided to take a shot in the dark and hoped that I would enjoy the class and learn something at the same time.  After receiving the required readings from the bookstore, I made the grave mistake by judging the course by the book covers.  I skimmed the abstracts and let my preconceived notions take over my thought process.  I thought to myself that I was about to enter a world of political rhetoric and bland functions of policy makers.  What I did not know was that my viewpoint of this course would be radically different than my preconceived notions.

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