As we noted in our last post, political parties and citizens alike remain deeply divided on what might be done to reduce gun violence. There is however growing support for reducing that violence. Doing so will require more substantive and civil dialogue that is sustained over time.
In February we were selected by the National Institute for Civil Discourse to write an essay on how to navigate this difficult dialogue. A review of why dialogue on this issue is so difficult can be found in our last post. Below are some of our recommendations on how to plan for dialogue on gun violence.
- At its base level “civility” means communicating in ways that reflect mutual respect, care and concern, and that support joint action and effort. Leaders can model communication patterns that respect rather than attack those with whom they disagree. Leaders can also demonstrate an understanding of (or make an effort to understand) views that differ from their own. What we need is less partisanship and more listening and reflection. You can read more about the dangers of extreme partisanship and the role of civility in navigating difficult policy issues here.
- Those seeking dialogue need to frame issues in ways that invite and allow the underlying fears, distrust, and differences in values, information and experience that derail most discussions on gun violence to be addressed. This means starting at a level other than positional debate on, or evaluation of, specific policy proposals.
- Transparency regarding information development and evaluation is another key element in building trust in a dialogue process. Although dialogue participants need access to clear, consistent, understandable and honest data, they also need to be invited to discuss what makes data understandable and honest.
- When dialogue is difficult, leaders need to allow the necessary time and space for reflection and also provide participants with choices on how and when to engage as they proceed to work through the issue.
- Starting dialogues on gun violence at the local and regional levels around questions that reflect a common concern – such as “how do we want our communities to be?” – can also help to mitigate fear and distrust and set a good foundation for a broader national dialogue.
- Leaders can further promote civil discourse by using “stories of wisdom.“ These are narratives that emphasize the common good, accept the fact that differences exist, and reflect the hope that a path forward will be found. Stories of wisdom help dialogue participants to navigate differences in experience, interests, values, and information.
You can download our complete essay, “Aim Higher, Dig Deeper” as a pdf here. This essay was prepared for and with funding by the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse, as part of a collection of essays on supporting a national conversation about gun violence. The collection has also been posted on the NICD blog.
Posted in Dialogue, In The Field, Online, Our Work, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged civil discourse, civility, Conflict, Dialogue, Difficult Dialogues, guns, violence, wisdom
After the mass shooting in Newtown, communities around the nation began dialogues on what steps might be taken to reduce gun violence. Some states have adopted new laws, and in others no resolution has been forthcoming. As Congress returns next week to to take up the issue, political parties and citizens alike remain deeply divided on how to proceed. Simple discussion of the issue can raise strong emotions.
What makes dialogue on this issue so difficult? We were asked by the National Institute for Civil Discourse in February to write an essay on this issue. Some of the reasons why dialogue on this issue is so difficult are:
- All of the primary sources of conflict are present in this one issue. These include differences in values, interests, and information, as well as other differences.
- Instead of identifying and exploring these differences, discussions relating to gun violence too often focus prematurely on action items and are posed in “either/or”, “us v. them” terms.
- This then inflames regional and other differences, and reinforces suspicion and distrust of those who don’t “share the same way of life”.
- Fear, alienation and anger make it difficult for individuals to process new information, and in many cases leads to the automatic rejection of new ideas and approaches.
It is, however, possible to plan for and promote civil, productive dialogue. This kind of dialogue is crucial if we as a country are going to find ways to reduce gun violence in our communities. How leaders and citizens might promote that kind of dialogue will be discussed more in our next post.
You can download a complete copy of our essay “Aim Higher, Dig Deeper”, as a pdf here. The essay links up to additional resources through endnotes. You can click on the endnote number to access the related text. This essay was prepared for and with funding by the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse, as part of a collection of essays on supporting a national conversation about gun violence. The collection has also been posted on the NICD blog.
Posted in Case Studies, Dialogue, In The Field, Online, Our Work, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged Conflict, Dialogue, Difficult Dialogues, guns, violence
As we have previously indicated in our post on Structuring Engagement, the news media has a critical role to play in educating and engaging citizens about local political processes. Last year, the National League of Cities released this research brief indicating that only 12% of municipal officials think that local media contribute constructively to the discussion of public policy issues. A much larger number, 30%, reported that the media serves as an obstacle to greater public engagement. In order to make good decisions, the public needs good information. However, there are several widespread media practices that interfere with public understanding of available information. These include the practice of reporting on political processes as if they were sports events, picking “winners” and “losers”, failure to report on relevant context, and reporting “opinions” or “feelings” offered by various commentators on an equal level with factual information. Knowing that these are common practices, you need a plan for engaging with the media from the outset of your engagement process. How to go about this will be the subject of our next few posts.
In October 2010 John Gaventa and Gregory Barrett published an Institute of Development Studies (IDS) report titled “So What Difference Does it Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement” which assessed the outcomes of 100 different citizen engagement projects across 20 countries. From these projects they identified 800 different outcomes, which they then grouped into four general categories: construction of citizenship, practices of citizen participation, responsive and accountable states, and inclusive and cohesive societies. Each of these categories includes positive and negative possible outcomes. We have included Gaventa and Barrett’s summary chart (p 25) below.
While this report is a qualitative assessment, it is aligned with the literature on expected outcomes, and confirms those outcomes are occurring. The report also provides insight on the issue of how those outcomes might be tracked and measured by providing a well defined set of categories for evaluating outcomes.
As we have previously discussed, one way of strengthening engagement processes over time is to demonstrate to your community that their engagement makes a positive difference in the life of the community. The IDS report indicates that the citizen engagement projects assessed had positive outcomes more often than negative ones. Negative outcomes were in many instances tied to flawed structures for engagement. The report’s framework provides us a starting point for imagining how we can measure the outcomes of engagement in our own communities and either demonstrate progress or identify needed changes. When starting an engagement process, it would be worth thinking about some of the categories in the report and how you might use them to measure outcomes in a way that helps you assess and communicate where change is needed and where progress is being made.
“Social media” has become a common marketing buzz word today. Unfortunately, while there are valuable applications for social media like Twitter or Face book, the value of social media applications for engaging the public have been overstated in many cases.
Creating a social media page will not automatically engage your community. Those participating in social media are only a subset of the community and unlikely to a representative sample of the overall community. If you have a group that is already hostile or distrustful, reaching out to them via social media will neither improve the quality of discourse nor increase participation. In other words, using social media will not automatically build trust. If, however, members of your coordinating group are already involved in a social media network, you can ask that they disseminate information across their networks and this can help build some trust.
What social media tools may provide is useful information on the perspective of various groups in your community. If you need to learn more about what members of your community are thinking in regards to recent events, you can mine social media to find this information. People will regularly post things on these websites that they would not necessarily be willing to say person to person or in a public forum. While we would advise against reprinting or reusing these statements as there is a certain expectation that these comments are for friends, analyzing can help you to shape your dialogue processes, think through various approaches for outreach, or to identify misconceptions in your community that will need to be addressed as you proceed. If, for instance, you find that community members are hostile to a plan or planning process, you may consider stepping back and working to better educate members of the community about the plan or process.