Hidden Common Ground

Election-Year Forums & More

Are there areas of public life where Americans can agree and work together to solve problems?

We’ll tackle this question in our election year research and deliberation project called Hidden Common Ground. The project will include national press coverage from USA TODAY, opinion research from Public Agenda, and, through the network of the National Issues Forums, opportunities for people across the country to deliberate and exchange ideas about issues like divisiveness, health care, immigration, and the economy. Hidden Common Ground is a joint project of USA TODAY, Public Agenda, the Kettering Foundation, and NIF. 

 

1. What will be happening?

Beginning in December 2019 and lasting through the 2020 elections, Hidden Common Ground will focus on issues Americans across the political spectrum care deeply about.

  • Public Agenda will research and explore the issues, publishing its findings on one issue every few months beginning in December 2019
  • The National Issues Forums Institute will encourage other sponsors to join the NIF network and also provide online forums that will be available to everyone through the Common Ground for Action platform. The nonpartisan forums will be sponsored by libraries, educational institutions, and civic organizations all across the country. The issues will be those USA TODAY has selected for its elections coverage, starting with Partisan Divisiveness and the Collaborative Divide, and how it might be bridged, and followed by health care, immigration, and the economy.
  • The Kettering Foundation will research, develop and publish issue guides on each of the topics. These will be used in the forums nationwide and available for download.
  • The USA TODAY Network will publish stories and opinion pieces on each issue and the associated research, as well as surface “Strange Bedfellow” stories of people in communities actually working together for the common good across partisan and other divides.

The project will tackle these four urgent national issues 

  • December 2019: The division in our country
  • February, March, and April 2020: Our health care system
  • May, June, July, and August: Our immigration system
  • September, October, and November: Our economy

Timeline for Hidden Common Ground

Four issues: a year of public deliberation

December 2-4, 2019

Public Agenda opinion research on divisiveness in America
USA TODAY reports on research

December 4, 2019 – January 10, 2020 NIFI Common Ground for Action online forums on divisiveness
Related USA TODAY coverage of issue
February 4-6, 2020 Public Agenda opinion research on health care
USA TODAY reports on research
February 10 – March 13, 2020 National Issues Forums on health care
NIFI Common Ground for Action online forums on health care
Related USA TODAY coverage on issue
May 19-21, 2020 Public Agenda opinion research on immigration
USA TODAY reports on research
May 25 – June 26, 2020 National Issues Forums on Immigration
NIFI Common Ground for Action online forums on immigration
Related USA TODAY coverage on issue
September 15-17, 2020 Public Agenda opinion research on the economy
USA TODAY reports on research 
September 21 – October 23, 2020 National Issues Forums on the economy
NIFI Common Ground for Action online forums on the economy
Related USA TODAY coverage on issue

 

Hidden Common Ground is an unprecedented opportunity for members of the NIF network to invite Americans to deliberate on four urgent issues. USA TODAY’s coverage, Public Agenda’s research, and the NIF issue guides will all be focused on helping us discover where we have common ground and where we’re divided and still have work to do.

During this year-long project, conveners will be able to organize local or online forums in the context of significant media and leadership attention. It’s a chance to build and sustain interest in deliberative forums on these four issues—divisiveness, health care, immigration, and the economy—and, we hope, other issues down the line.

We invite the members of NIF network to hold as many forums as possible during each phase of the project. As in the past, NIFI will provide special packages of forum materials on each issue without charge for forums held within the designated time frames.

NIFI and the Kettering Foundation will issue an interim report on the public deliberations in May 2020 at the annual DC conference, A Public Voice. We will also release a final report on the results of these public deliberations at the project’s conclusion.

 

2. How can I take part?

We don’t get that many chances to focus on the areas where Americans agree and can make progress, so participating in the year-long project is important—and it’s easy. You can:

 

3. How can I get materials?

Throughout the year, the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forums will be offering issue guides on four Hidden Common Ground themes. For individuals, these will be available in downloadable formats without charge. For conveners, professors, and teachers, group sets will be available for scheduled forums. The issue guides are:

 

 

4. How can I participate in an online or in-person forum?

NIFI will be offering online Common Ground for Action forums on the issues during the scheduled periods. This is your chance to talk to people from around the country on the issues that challenge and divide us. You’ll be deliberating in small, moderated sessions using the NIF issue guides.

The network of NIF conveners across the country will be organizing in-person forums in many communities, often in partnership with local USA TODAY network newspapers or other local media. Click here to see what’s happening around the country.

NIF forums encourage deliberative conversations where people look at choices for addressing an issue, listen to each other, and share their perspectives and experiences. Deliberation is not about winning an argument, persuading others to adopt your views, or coming to an agreement. It is understanding and learning. Deliberation can help people overcome stereotypes and build trust. It helps us all be open to perspectives that are very different from our own. In many communities, deliberation has been the precursor to both personal and collaborative action.

 

5. How can I plan a forum for my community?

This fall, conveners around the country are hosting forums in their communities, classrooms, or local organizations and groups. We have a variety of materials for conveners and moderators, and NIF issue guides contain questions and suggestions that make it easy for anyone to moderate the deliberation.

Special Offer to Get Started

In partnership with the Kettering Foundation, National Issues Forums Institute is offering free group sets of the issue advisory– A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want? – for conveners, professors, and teachers. You can find out more and sign up here.

You can also download materials on how to use the House Divided guide in your forum. The Moderator’s Toolkit includes a plan for conducting a two-hour deliberative forum and a list of questions that encourage deliberation. All materials are free of charge.

Coming soon, a special offer on our health care issue guide, “Health Care: How Can We Bring Costs Down While Getting the Care We Need?”

 

6. How can I follow the Hidden Common Ground research and press coverage?

The USA TODAY national digital edition will be covering the selected issues and offering special features and events.

Public Agenda will be releasing national public opinion research in each of the targeted areas, showing where Americans are finding common ground and where we’re divided and still have work to do. Read the Public Agenda research.

 

7. Who are the partners and funders?

Hidden Common Ground is a partnership between USA TODAY, Public Agenda, and the National Issues Forums Institute, and the network of local organizations that make up the National Issues Forums. The NIF network includes libraries, schools, colleges and universities, and local neighborhood, youth, senior, and religious organizations that host forums in their communities.

The Hidden Common Ground initiative is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation. It is a major project of the Kettering Foundation.