America speaks legacy_print


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America speaks legacy_print

  1. 1. of Critical Innovations in Deliberative Democracy and Citizen Engagement The work of AmericaSpeaks began with a clear and compelling vision: to reinvigorate American Democracy by engaging citizens in the public decision-making that most impacts their lives. For nearly two decades, we brought this vision to life and, in so doing, made a lasting contribution to the field. Through 150 projects that engaged more than 180,000 people and touched thousands more, AmericaSpeaks repeatedly broke new ground and achieved real results across the U.S. and around the world. “ AmericaSpeaks was never meant to be a mere experiment in democratic practice. It always worked to effect change on the ground by improving policies and strengthening communities. Yet in doing so, it also achieved an essential proof of concept and gave the field detailed insights about what works in deliberative democracy. - ” Peter Levine, Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs Director of CIRCLE (Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement), Tufts University Large-scale deliberation combining technology and skilled facilitation to engage thousands of citizens in thoughtful and productive discussion, was AmericaSpeaks’ signature method. Our unique “21st Century Town Meeting” helped link citizens’ voices and priorities to the rebuilding of lower Manhattan after 9/11; established essential plans for the future of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; and energized regional planning processes in metro areas around the country. Across multiple areas, AmericaSpeaks made a demonstrable impact on policy, budgets and planning; on communities’ capacity to engage citizens; and on the way we think about the role of citizens in a democracy. As AmericaSpeaks closes its doors, we recognize the continued importance of our vision, and we celebrate the innovative methods we developed and refined. We believe that our works leaves a critical legacy for the field of deliberative democracy and for citizen engagement efforts into the future. Share Your Memories How did AmericaSpeaks impact you? Email your written memories or photos to Your email’s body and attachments will be directly posted without edits.  See everyone’s contributions at
  2. 2. AmericaSpeaks’ most Significant Contributions to the Practice of Public Participation Over the course of nearly 20 years, AmericaSpeaks repeatedly upended conventional wisdom about the practice of citizen engagement, and demonstrated what’s possible in large public deliberations. Public meetings can have a real impact on participants and decision-making Public hearings and traditional town hall meetings — our nation’s standard citizen engagement methods — tend not to be effective ways for the public to have a real impact on decision-making. Such events are often speaker-focused, with little learning for participants or decision-makers because individual concerns dominate and participants often fall into repetitive ax-grinding, grandstanding or shouting matches. In the end, decision-makers don’t know which points of view have the most salience because there has been no authentic, informed exchange of opinions and no opportunity to build a true consensus. 2 AmericaSpeaks developed the 21st Century Town Meeting model as an antidote to these concerns. The model is an innovative blend of face-to-face dialogue and technologysupported, large-group engagement that enables hundreds — or thousands — of people to discuss challenging issues and find shared priorities within a single day. The 21st Century Town Meeting model also explicitly and strategically links citizens’ collective views to current decision-making processes. The impact of this process on participants and decisionmaking has been substantial. Click here for highlights of the research.
  3. 3. Essential Ingredients for Public Engagement AmericaSpeaks’ 21st Century Town Meeting established the importance of seven key ingredients for successful public participation in decision-making: People can and will find common ground despite deep differences of opinion In this era of divisive politics, bridging differences is one of our nation’s most crucial challenges. Yet even in the most highly polarized environments, AmericaSpeaks proved that citizens will put their differences aside to solve problems and find common ground. Core elements of the 21st Century Town Meeting model made this possible, including values-based discussions; careful attention to participant diversity and seating; facilitation of discussion groups; collective decision-making; and onsite reporting. In 2010, AmericaSpeaks took-on the hot button issue of our national debt and deficit. Across 19 sites, 3,500 people — including members of local Tea Party groups and activists from — came together to deliberate and develop shared views. Not only did participants find substantive agreement, they also reported learning from the experience and having been positively influenced by others’ views and opinions. Click for more information on the Our Budget our Economy initiative. Other notable examples include Colorado 100, Tough Choices in Healthcare, Washington DC One City Summit, World Economic Forum. 3 • A link to decision-makers The people responsible for taking action on an issue must be involved from the start and committed to responding to what they hear. • Participant diversity Demographic and political diversity are essential for helping a community reflect the ideas of all its members, and for leaders to know the results are credible. • Informed participation Providing neutral and accessible background materials ensures a level playing field for all participants. • Facilitated deliberation Trained facilitators at each discussion table help participants wrestle with difficult tradeoffs and divisive issues. • Fast feedback Iterative and highly productive conversations are made possible through computers at each table, a Theme Team culling shared ideas, live participant polling to prioritize the results of discussions, and immediate reports on the day’s work. • Shared priorities and clear recommendations for action Carefully designed meetings ensure participants find areas of shared support and common priorities for action. • Sustained Citizen Involvement Citizens must play an ongoing role in implementing shared priorities, evaluating progress, and identifying areas for continued collaboration.
  4. 4. Average citizens can handle complex content and make good decisions It is a commonly-held belief among elected officials and other decision-makers that the general public is not really capable of understanding complex policy issues; of grasping nuance and providing substantive input. Many also assume that citizens will rarely accept trade-offs and/or put the common good above their individual needs. This is why some argue that citizen engagement is not worth the effort and expense. Over the course of two decades, AmericaSpeaks repeatedly and resoundingly disproved these assumptions. Health care reform is a highly complex issue, combining social policy, medical science, health economics and health delivery systems. In 2007, AmericaSpeaks partnered with government, 4 business and philanthropy leaders to convene 3,500 Californians in substantive deliberations on health care reform, including proposals that were before the state legislature. Although legislative staff were quite skeptical about whether ordinary citizens could carefully analyze and weigh-in on these issues, the events powerfully demonstrated a different story. A diverse group of citizens worked through strong differences of opinion and gave leaders specific guidance on policy options related to employer, government, insurer and individual responsibility. Click for more information on the CaliforniaSpeaks initiative. Other notable examples include: Americans Discuss Social Security, Meeting of Minds, Common Ground: A Blueprint for Regional Action, Shaping America’s Youth.
  5. 5. Large-scale public deliberations can transform “stuck” governance Through multiple initiatives, AmericaSpeaks demonstrated that high-quality, wholecommunity deliberation will influence governance, even under challenging circumstances. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, it exacerbated a governance structure that had been troubled for decades — a city in which efforts to meet people’s needs had routinely failed or been inadequate. In this context, it was not surprising that official planning efforts following the Hurricane were unable to produce the widely-supported rebuilding strategy that would be required to release desperatelyneeded federal emergency relief funds. In late 2006, AmericaSpeaks was invited to bring its process of citizen engagement to New Orleans and try to “unstick” things. Through massive outreach and decision-maker 5 engagement, as well as meticulous attention to the political and emotional dynamics on the ground, AmericaSpeaks went about its work. In the end, the 21st Century Town Meeting model enabled New Orleanians who had been dispersed across 16 cities to come together in live deliberations with each other. The work had a remarkable impact: nearly 4,000 citizens participated in the development of a “Unified New Orleans Plan;” virtually all local and state decision-makers endorsed the plan; federal funds were released; and over time, important aspects of the way New Orleans conducted its business were changed, including the adoption of new zoning rules and the development of a citywide masterplan. Click for more information on the New Orleans Community Congresses. Other notable examples include: Listening to the City, Southern Louisiana Rebuilding Lives Summit, CaliforniaSpeaks and We The People.
  6. 6. Leaders will act on what the public has to say High quality public engagement requires good process. But it’s not enough. AmericaSpeaks led a critical advance in the deliberative democracy field by emphasizing an additional priority: explicitly linking engagement to current decision-making. Without this component, we knew that participants’ time and effort were at risk of being wasted, and a loss of faith in civic agency would be the unfortunate result. We also knew that leaders would be more effective in tackling complex budget and policy problems with the participation and support of the people. Following the destruction of the World Trade Towers, AmericaSpeaks brought 4,300 New Yorkers together to discuss the city’s designs for the rebuilding of Ground Zero. The deliberation was developed 6 in close partnership with key decision-makers who committed to fully participating in the process and heeding the results. After a day of tough deliberation, participants told leaders that the proposals on the table didn’t meet the city’s needs. Within a week, it was announced that plans would be redrawn in accordance with public priorities. Click for more information on Listening to the City. Other notable examples include: Unified New Orleans Plan, CaliforniaSpeaks and We The People. For Research demonstrating the impact of deliberation on decision-makers, click here.
  7. 7. Key Results from our Work In addition to busting popular myths and assumptions about citizen participation in governance, AmericaSpeaks also produced concrete results in key areas. Policies and budgets that reflect public priorities AmericaSpeaks influenced dozens of important public policies that have had a direct impact on tens of thousands of people and millions of public dollars. For example: • Over seven years, the Washington, DC Mayor redirected millions of dollars in the city’s budgets to reflect citizens’ most pressing concerns. Read more. • More than 1,000 people helped launch a national consortium and shape a policy agenda to advance the futures of adults with autism. Read more. • 650 citizens in Northwest Kentucky prioritized solutions to long-standing community concerns about downtown planning, substance abuse, and government collaboration and are jointly tackling these issues. Read more. 7 • 350 residents of the Oakland Mills village in Maryland forged a community revitalization plan that has brought new rehabilitation centers, a new community policing office – with a decrease in crime – and a booming “Street Captains” program, among other initiatives. Read more. • More than 300 rural leaders from across the country developed a common vision for strengthening rural America – they raised the visibility of their concerns, produced policy initiatives, and helped launch a national network of rural interests. Read more. • In 2004, following four devastating hurricanes on the Florida Coast, AmericaSpeaks partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to bring the public’s voice into recovery planning. FEMA used the community priorities that emerged to strengthen its efforts on the ground and sought dedicated funding sources for these efforts. Read more.
  8. 8. Citizens who feel empowered Independent evaluations of AmericaSpeaks’ work found that participants were positively impacted by their involvement. They both felt, and showed themselves to be, more informed about the issues. Where common ground was difficult to find, 21st Century Town Meeting participants moderated their opinions. They also reported a greater sense of civic efficacy. And, the effects of their participation lasted beyond the meeting itself – people were moved to take action such as contacting public officials, volunteering for organizations, signing or circulating petitions or contacting the media. For research demonstrating the impact of deliberation on participants, click here. A stronger deliberative democracy field AmericaSpeaks played a significant role in the creation and/or development of some of the most important organizations in the field, such as the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation. AmericaSpeaks also supported the Deliberative Democracy Consortium to launch critical publications like the Journal of Public Deliberation, and the Deliberative Democracy Handbook. Through targeted convenings and conferences, such as the Strengthening Our 8 Nation’s Democracy series, AmericaSpeaks played a key role in helping organizations across the democracy field build stronger relationships with each other. AmericaSpeaks’ own think tank, The Democracy Lab, led more than a dozen expert roundtables and conferences, and published nearly 20 original papers while contributing to many more. Highlights of this extensive body of work include: Taking Democracy to Scale (pdf); Designing 21st Century Governance Mechanisms (pdf); and Public Deliberation: A Manager’s Guide to Citizen Deliberation (pdf).
  9. 9. Better citizen engagement practice AmericaSpeaks inspired dozens of organizations in the U.S. and around the world to integrate technology with deliberation and adopt other key elements of the 21st Century Town Meeting model. We were a substantive participant in the development of the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative aimed at improving government’s use of citizen engagement strategies. And, we influenced the on-going practice of a number of federal agencies through the Champions of Participation initiative. Over the course of eight years, AmericaSpeaks partnered with Washington, DC Mayor Anthony Williams to engage more than 13,500 residents in budgetary and policy decision-making; to establish new community-based governance mechanisms; and to codify a role for youth in policy development. The repeated use of city-wide 21st Century Town Meetings in 9 Washington, DC left an indelible impression there: nearly 14 years after the first DC Citizen Summit, city agencies still routinely use technology and engagement methods introduced to them by AmericaSpeaks. Click for more information on the DC Citizen Summits. Other examples include: We the People; Voices and Choices, Ward 8 Summits; United Agenda for Children; City of Tuscan Climate Action Summit, Your Health, Your Care, Your Say.
  10. 10. More participatory urban and regional planning City, state and regional planning is complicated, often contentious work. Over nearly two decades, AmericaSpeaks used the 21st Century Town Meeting model in more than 40 planning processes. Beginning with a set of agreed-upon criteria and values, the model proved exceptionally adept at helping citizens balance priorities — such as economic development, the environment, housing and education — while also finding short- and long-term investment trade-offs they could accept. Working with AmericaSpeaks inspired many planning organizations and leadership bodies to adopt new participatory practices, deliberation strategies and the use of technology. 10 In 2005, in one of the single largest public planning projects every undertaken, AmericaSpeaks directly engaged 21,000 people across 16 counties in Northeast Ohio in deliberations about the region’s future through interviews, workshops, town meetings, community conversations and online “choicebooks.” Many thousands more participated through a strategic layering of additional communication and engagement methods. The emerging action plan, and extensive network of engaged citizens and leaders, became known as Advance Ohio, and remains a central part of the regional landscape today. Click for more information on Voices & Choices. Other notable examples include: Envision Prince George’s, Hamilton County Community COMPASS , Power of 32, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
  11. 11. Increased community capacity for democratic practice AmericaSpeaks created a network of more than 5,000 skilled facilitators trained to support the face-to-face dialogue that can build consensus on our most challenging concerns. These individuals continue to carry-out citizen engagement work in their own communities. AmericaSpeaks also built a network of more than 80 associates from around the country (and the world) skilled in the design and implementation of large-scale citizen engagement processes that are linked to decision-making. Trained, talented and passionate people like these represent a human infrastructure that is vital to making robust citizen engagement a regular part of governance in this country. Even a quick look at politics today reveals disinterested, cynical citizens, and leaders who capitalize on public differences and are more likely to be influenced by campaign contributions than by voters’ views. The work of AmericaSpeaks and its deliberative democracy colleagues has demonstrated that there is a better way to make public decisions. Again and again, well-designed public engagement has been shown to transform politics, communities, businesses, and individuals. Our country’s challenge now is to build on this groundwork and ensure that authentic citizen engagement becomes a routine part of the way our government and communities do their business. 11
  12. 12. Over nearly two decades, AmericaSpeaks collaborated with many hundreds of people -- far too many to name individually, but all deeply appreciated. We would like to formally acknowledge here the contributions of: Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer AmericaSpeaks’ Founder and President from 1995 to 2012, and Board member since the organization’s inception. Steve Brigham Chief Operating Officer from 2001 to 2012 and President from 2012-2013. Board Chairs Ed Nevis (1996-2002); Stephen Jenks (2003-2007); and Damon Hemmerdinger (2008-2013). Board members past and present Brian Cornell, Kevin A. Ewing, Reese W. Fayde, Archon Fung, Vincette Goerl, Juanita Hardy, Peter Levine, Benjamin J. Lieblich, Ali Solis, Adam Solomon, Barbara Roberts, Howard M. Rossman, Peter Tarlton, Anthony Williams, Carol Wishcamper, and Ernest Urquhart. Staff members (1995 to 2013) Sujeet Ahluwalia, David Anstett, Marianne Bottiglieri, Ashley Boyd, Alayna Buckner, Josh Chernila, Daniel Clark, Erzuile Coquillon, Mary Lauran Crary-Hall, Holly Davis, Dianna Dauber, Eric Diters, Cara Elkins, Janet Fiero, Brian Foyer, Joe Goldman, Elana Goldstein, Andress Green, Susanna Haas-Lyons, Megan Hamilton, Lars Hasselblad-Torres, Hala Harik Hayes, Kecia Jackson, Janice Kruger, Melvin Moore, Darrick Nicholas, Evan Paul, Audra Polk, Michael Ravvin, Jeff Rohrlick, Andrea Scallon, Julie Segal-Walters, Kim Sescoe, Anne Shoup, David Stern, Daniel Stone, Elizabeth Stoops Johnson, Roberta Travis, Stefan Voinea, Irene Wairimu and Elizabeth White. Associates Network Diane Altman Dautoff, Frances Baldwin, Ann Begler, Deanna Berg, Juanita Boyd-Hardy, Theo Brown, David Campt, Mary Cogan, Katherine Curran, Shelley Durfee, Don Edwards, Bernardo Ferdman, Ka Flewellen, Katie Fry, Scott Gassman, Laura Gramling, Dedoceo Habi, Jonno Hanafin, Mattice Haynes, Damon Hemmerdinger, Peter Hyson, Stephen Jenks, Gregory Keidan, Bob Kolodny, Matt Larson, Becca Lewis, Harold Massey, Jacqueline McLemore, Hubert Morgan, Steven Ober, Anita Perez-Ferguson, Linda Perkins, William Potapchuk, Ruthann Prange, George Reed, Le’Kedra Robertson, Tracy Russ, Diane Schwartz, Sally Sparhawk, Benjamin Stephens, Elizabeth Stoops Johnson, Clare Stroud, Julia Sullivan, Vickey Wilcher, Jennifer Wilding, Gary Willoughby, Jennifer Wright, and William Zybach. National Advisory Board Hon. Tom Allen, Hon. Bill Bradley, John Bridgeland, Hon. Steve Burkholder, Hon. Henry Cisneros, Hon. Mickey Edwards, Archon Fung, Bill Galston, David Gergen, Hon. Lee H. Hamilton, Elisabeth MacNamara, Jane Mansbridge, Constance Barry, Hon. Norman Rice, Alice Rivlin, Hon. Barbara Roberts, Hon. Anthony Williams, Daniel Yankelovich Share Your Memories How did AmericaSpeaks impact you? Email your written memories or photos to Your email’s body and attachments will be directly posted without edits.  See everyone’s contributions at
  13. 13. of Citizen Engagement Projects