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Throughout 2024, the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) will offer a new and innovative approach to conducting forums called “Everyone’s In” (EI). The initiative will provide materials and moderator training aimed at helping typical Americans exchange views on controversial issues such as immigration and voting. Everyone’s In builds on NIFI’s decades of experience helping people grapple with choices on divisive policy problems. More information about Everyone’s In is available here.

The new approach combines small-group online discussions with carefully-crafted interactive polling designed to make conversations more inclusive and welcoming for people with differing views. The anonymous polls help everyone in the conversation feel more comfortable at the outset. The results help moderators ensure that the session covers a wide range of perspectives and ideas.

According to NIFI's Interim Executive Director, Verdis LeVar Robinson, Everyone’s In can help make sure NIFI forums work for everyone—not just participants who are knowledgeable about issues and those used to speaking in public.”

Although created for online use, Everyone’s In can be adapted for in-person settings. EI has been successfully tested in pilot forums including both Republicans and Democrats and Trump and Biden voters. It works best for groups of twelve to twenty participants.

In 2024, NIFI will offer:

  • New EI materials for three top issues: NIFI will publish discussion starter materials for immigration, voting and elections policy, and a third issue to be determined. Each package will include a presentation laying out the pros and cons of alternative approaches, along with a series of participant polling questions. The materials are suitable for Zoom and other popular online meeting platforms.
  • EI materials for in-person forums: Each package of materials will also be available in a downloadable workbook that can be used for in-person forums and classrooms.
  • Online training sessions for conveners and moderators. Beginning in August, NIFI will offer online training workshops for conveners and moderators interested in conducing Everyone’s In forums. Current plans call for three sessions, one devoted to using the immigration materials, a second devoted to using the elections and voting materials, and a third aimed at helping conveners who would like to use the EI format for new or local issues.
  • Materials and training available as a public service. In 2024, all EI materials and training will be offered free of charge. For the late summer workshops, NIFI will give preference to conveners and moderators planning fall forums or fall classroom use. Experience in conducting forums using the current NIFI discussions guides is helpful but not required.

Everyone’s In was developed in 2022 with support from the Kettering Foundation. The project leaders are John Immerwahr and Jean Johnson, both of whom have worked with Kettering, Public Agenda, and NIFI in designing, evaluating, and reporting on NIFI forums. The NIFI/Everyone’s In methodology emphasizes considering different approaches to an issue and thinking through the practical implications of alternative courses of action.

Based in Dayton, Ohio, the (NIFI), is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves to promote public deliberation about difficult public issues. Its activities include publishing issue guides and other materials used by local forum groups, encouraging collaboration among forum sponsors, and sharing information about current activities in the network.

What do Everyone’s In participants think about the experience?

“I thought this process was excellent. It gave me an idea of where I wanted to start off . . .  versus trying to think from nowhere . . . .It gave a comfort level, too—by selecting the polls versus everyone trying to speak it once . . . I thought it was great.”

“I think it was respectful, and we did listen to each other, and we're coming from different perspectives, but we're able to share and have a conversation, a civil conversation.”

“Yeah. I thought it was great because I normally have an unpopular opinion, so I try not to share . . . The group was really respectful, and  I'm really appreciative that I got to hear some other points of view”

“I like that the group didn't assume we all share the same views . . . unlike the real world. You might be in other people's company . . . [and] they just assume you think [a certain] way . . . . I think that's where some conflict can arise, especially during the holidays.”

I think the polls are great . . . being able to see where things were landing. I'm an introvert, [so] I just felt more comfortable . . . having the polls and sort of knowing where to go and what to say.”