An Overview - The Hidden Common Ground Initiative

Blog Category: 

  • America Amplified
  • The Kettering Foundation
  • The National Issues Forums
  • Public Agenda

From December 2019 through the 2020 elections, National Issues Forums (NIF) took part in the Hidden Common Ground project, an effort to uncover areas of agreement among Americans on the most pressing public problems of the day, including political divisiveness, health care, immigration, and rebuilding the economy.

NIF partnered with Public Agenda, USA TODAY, the Kettering Foundation and the America Amplified public radio network to explore opportunities for people across the country to deliberate and exchange ideas about issues.

  • Public Agenda researched and explored the issues, publishing both major research reports and smaller, more focused reports every month.

  • The National Issues Forums Institute conducted in-person forums and, both before and during the pandemic, online forums through Zoom and the Common Ground for Action platform.

  • The USA TODAY Network published stories and opinion pieces on each issue and the associated research. For the project’s conclusion, newspapers affiliated with USA TODAY across the country surfaced “Strange Bedfellow” stories of people in communities actually working together for the common good across partisan and other divides.

  • The Kettering Foundation researched, developed and published issue guides on each of the topics, used in the forums nationwide and available for download.

The project resulted in widespread deliberation over the issues, as Americans met both in-person and online to work through their concerns and questions about urgent public problems facing the country.

For its part, the NIF network convened 36 in-person forums (prior to the pandemic) and 138 online forums. In total, the issue guides were downloaded 2,696 times from the NIF website.

More than 100 articles and opinion columns about the project were published in newspapers in the USA TODAY network, other newspapers not affiliated with USA TODAY, and on public radio websites, including op-eds from David Mathews, president of the Kettering Foundation, and Will Friedman, director of the project at Public Agenda. USA TODAY itself published several four-page spreads in its national newspaper featuring issues from Hidden Common Ground. Public radio stations in more than 20 states also aired broadcasts about the initiative.

The project culminated in “Strange Bedfellows,” a focused look at how Americans with very different views reached across divides to solve problems. From “violence interrupters” in Nashville to rabbis and imams forging interfaith collaborations in Oklahoma, this final chapter of Hidden Common Ground offered examples nationwide of citizens overlooking their differences to work together.

NIFI and the Kettering Foundation will release a final report on the results of the project’s deliberations throughout the year in early 2021. More information on the underlying research is available at Public Agenda.

In addition to the project’s partners, the Hidden Common Ground initiative was made possible through the support of 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.

To read some of the media coverage and associated research reports, follow these links:

Watch a Webinar Introduction to the Hidden Common Ground Initiative (recorded December 4, 2019)

Read the Public Agenda research

Read a USA TODAY Article and Op-Ed Piece about Hidden Common Ground

Read the Press Release: National Issues Forums (NIF) Joins Hidden Common Ground Initiative to Examine Most Urgent Concerns in 2020

Read an Op-Ed Piece by David Mathews and William Muse - "Americans still work together despite political rancor, to resolve public challenges" or click here

Watch a Webinar (recorded January 9, 2020) about the New Issue Guide "Health Care: How Can We Bring Costs Down While Getting the Care We Need?"

Get Involved - The Hidden Common Ground Project

Read the USA TODAY Article - New Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos Survey Finds Republicans and Democrats Largely Agree on Some Things about Climate Change

Research on the Economy from the Hidden Common Ground Project

New Poll Results on the COVID-19 and the Economy from the Hidden Common Ground Project

Read the Report - Americans' Attitudes Toward Health Care: Some Observations from the Research

From the Hidden Common Ground Project - Updated Research on the Coronavirus

From the Hidden Common Ground Project - New Research on Police Reform and Rascism in the US

Read a USA TODAY Op-Ed by David Mathews - "How Americans can learn once again to solve our nation's problems together"   or click here

Read the Christian Science Monitor piece "Nudges to American Unity"

The issue guides:

A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want?

Health Care: How Can We Bring Costs Down While Getting the Care We Need?

 Immigration: Who Should We Welcome? What Should We Do?

 Back to Work: How Should We Rebuild Our Economy?