Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

By the Numbers Again

This is an update to my post By the Numbers on April 19, 2009. I will say, just as I said then,

I know that numbers alone do not always measure impact and in this case none of the numbers really mean a hill of beans. (I am really put off by those twitterers who engage in contests to see who can get more people to follow them, for example.) Still, it’s fun to look at the numbers every so often.

So here’s an update:

442 – number of people following LBJnow twitter (at 479 followers, RonaldReagan40 has surpassed LBJnow. Follow lbjnow, follow lbjnow, please! I lied when I said I didn’t care! Of course it’s up to me to write more interesting tweets.)
339 – number of posts to the Texas Forums Blog since October 2006
1,451 – largest number of views of TF blog in one month
1.266 – number of Texas Forums photos online at Flickr
62 – number of videos uploaded to our site at youtube
749 – number of people on our newsletter list
6 – years of Texas Forums

Read Full Post »

John Stephens, University of North Carolina and I led a conference session at nbt09

Tech ethics: The values questions raised in a digital democracy
Many attribute the dramatic increase in youth engagement to shifts in the way democracy worked in this past presidential election, particularly the Obama campaign’s more technological orientation.

Workshop Goal:
This session will examine timeless questions – who controls information, who participates in policy making, how do we ensure equal voice and opportunity, what happens when we skip the relationship-building aspect of strengthening public life – in a new, techno-democracy.

Taylor Willingham, Texas Forums
John Stephens, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill


1.    Five lines of questions/topics – as part of introductions, please identify which ones are of interest to you.

A.     What does the dramatic increase in youth engagement (heavily tilted toward online and new communication media) mean for face-to-face democracy-building?
B.    Where are the digital divides – age, economic disparity, language – and how do we overcome them?
C.    Who controls information exchange? Extremes: no control, free expression and flame wars, “unfair” claims OK  vs. Need general rules for the road, and OK for content creators to retain some/significant control over flow of information
D.    New media, journalism, and the tension between accountability and openness/privacy. Recent example: Iran protests and Western journalists inability to confirm images/reports as accurate, but went ahead and used them.
E.    Are the technology advocates in sync with the deliberative democracy advocates?

Read Full Post »

What are common values & practices between DD and CO?

  • They are forums for action and it is about empowering people.
  • They both emphasize that power rests with the participants vs. outsiders
  • Each can be a tactic for the other.
  • Tension: with D&D, you have to be a neutral convener, but the community organizing field may have an intended outcome.
  • Both are about relationships
  • Both are change processes
  • They both struggle with the issue of power, but in different ways.
  • Common values – inclusion
  • There is a difference that DD focuses less on issues of social justice and often feels more academic whereas CO feels more “blue collar” and “boots on the ground.”

Highest aspirations for collaboration between DD and CO?

  • There are shared tools for determing values. The two can work together to develop evaluating tools.
  • We must understand the history or story behind each tactic and when it worked.
  • DD can learn more about dealing with the power dynamic. CO can learn collaboration from DD.
  • Our messages (language) should reflect our role as OF the community.
  • The two approaches are interdependent.
  • Both are looking toward something sustainable – the community can carry on without outside influence.
  • Deliberation can be useful in unearthing issues and CO can help mobilize people around the issues that are identified in the dialogue.

Strategies that are possible:

  • Hold a conference on this theme. Identify key bridging organizations in the field.
  • Develop a shared vocabulary.
  • Let the community know the benefits of both. But the community does not make the distinction.
  • Be more intentional about the relationship. Change the culture of higher education to make the community more infused into the institution. Need a model for how scholars and community members can work together.
  • Whether or not it is named as DD and CO, need diagnostic tools for the community.
  • Make this work less boring to people – think about how this could be less boring.
  • Pick an issue to mobilize energy, particularly among young people.
  • Using stories about people doing this exciting work.
  • Celebrate success more!


If the practitioners see the difference, then the comunity will see the difference. This is a disservice to the community.

Read Full Post »

In this session, we are using the World Cafe format. The questions that we are struggling with are:

  • What are the common Values and practices between deliberative democracy and community organizing?
  • What is the highest aspiration for collaboration between deliberative dialogue and community organizing?
  • What are some strategies or tactics that are possible and desirable?

What do you think?

Read Full Post »

Throughout the sessions, we have snapshots presented by people on the ground…

In Hampton, VA, Ramon, a young man who grew up in a public housing neighborhood who joined Community Builders Network working on drug abuse issues. Ramon participated in leadership development. Cindy was approached by the City to answer the question, What would it look like to have youth in positions in our department as a youth neighborhood associate? Ramon was hired with the goal of creating ways for more young people to be involved in their neighborhood association.

At Clark University, the Difficult Dialogues group had a grant from the Ford Foundation, an initiative launched in 2005 for Colleges and Universities to nurture practices of dialogue and engagement around difficult issues, particularly around race and religion. They felt like there was too much silence around these issues so the goal was to raise the awareness of a precise type of dialogue to help students understand what could be possible if one is willing to dig down and to be fully present.

These periodic snapshots from the field will help us keep our feet in the real world and be a reminder of why we do this work!

Read Full Post »

From July 8-11, 2009, I am attending the Democracy Imperative and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, a  national conference at the University of New Hampshire.

Background of the Democracy Imperative:

A couple of years ago, Bruce Mallory and Nancy Thomas convened a meeting of higher education folks to address the question: Is there a need for those of us concerned with the role of higher education in deliberative democracy to join forces and share knowledge and resources? The answer has been a resounding YES as is evident by the number of people participating here this week – 270 antitipated and judging from the limited number of open seats. The guest list reads like a who’s who in higher education and deliberation / service learning / community development & organizing. In addition, there are a number of representatives from non-profits.

To get a really good idea of who is here, David Campt is leading us through a keypad poll using Turning Point keypads. Here are the results:

  • 1/3 have used keypads, and 1/3 are new.
  • 60% are female
  • 41% are 40-55, but we do have 7% below 24 years and hopeful for more in the future!
  • 73% white again confirming that diversity is an ongoing challenge for this field
  • we are primarily from U.S., but we have 20% from outside of North America representing important perspectives for us to have in the room.
  • very good representation from around the country with the bulk (38%) from the northeast where the conference is taking place.
  • As far as the two issues that drew people to the field:
    • collaborative governance
    • justice and equity issues
  • Given lots of options about who we wanted to meet at this conference, the bulk answered “the person sitting next to me” (although Sarah Palin’s media advisor got a few hits proving that even academics have a sense of humor and, like me I will confess, can’t take their eyes off a train wreck!)

In just a couple of hours, I will be co-facilitiating a session with colleague John Stephens from the University of North Carolina on: Tech Ethics: The Values questions raised in a digital democracy.

I’ll check in throughout the week as I get time and have something worthwhile to say – or not!

Read Full Post »

I just watched the webcast of Open the Door hosted by Openthegovernment.org. The panelists were:

  • Dan Chenok, a member of President Obama’s “Technology, Innovation and Government Reform” transition team, former branch chief for information policy and technology in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and currently senior vice president and general manager of Pragmatics;
  • Vivek Kundra, newly-appointed federal Chief Information Officer (CIO);
  • Katherine McFate, a Program Officer for Government Performance and Accountability in the Ford Foundation’s Governance Unit; and
  • Beth Noveck, a professor of law and director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and author of Wiki Government (Brookings 2009).

This was the Sunshine Week 2009 National Dialogue sponsore by the American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Center for American Progress, League of Women Voters,National Freedom of Information Coalition, OpenTheGovernment.org, Public Citizen, Special Libraries Association, Sunshine Week, and the Sunlight Foundation.

As far as I know, there were no hashtags and I didn’t know if anyone else was twittering, but I posted my share and now I’ve been asked to re-post them for my non-twittering friends, so here they are along with additional notes I took. No offense to host Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org who did a fabulous job moderating, but I posted a tiny tweetplaint (OMG, now I’m making up tweet words) about her chewing gum.

My Chicken Scratch:
More important than ever to get data into hands because of huge expenses going out the door for recovery and stimulus.
Have to look at this as an ecosystem. When data is democratized, we can hold officials  and ourselves accountable.

Vivek (Obama CIO) pointed to two examples of how transparency and open source have been effective tools for the federal government:

1) The NIH Human Genome project. They opened up the data to anyone, led to massive explosion in the number of people working on the Genome project. For a quick history and to see some of the amazing results of this open source research, check out this two-page fact sheet from the NIH: www.nih.gov/about/researchresultsforthepublic/HumanGenomeProject.pdf
2) DOD and satellites when they released coordinates, led to geospatial data.

But we have to remember that it is not just technology for technology’s sake. We have to be focused on what the technology will enable us to do.

Connect people to services rather than to government agencies. Each agency has a separate web site. The services are organized according to the bureaucracy not according to the services that people need and not in a way that can be easily accessed.

Technology is just one element of transparency. It’s not the solution. It has to be embedded in the C.I.O.’s DNA. They have to come to favor solutions that make it easier for citizens to access and understand how their government works.

Driven by three values outlined in Obama’s memorandum

  • Transparency
  • Participation
  • Collaboration

When people understand the basis for a decision and are able to participate in the decision-making process they are more ready to live with the decision even if they don’t agree.
Accountable Recovery Resources:

What can you do to monitor the Recovery money? Do it at your state level.
Look at what states and localities are doing. Do they have web sites? What is on them? Is it helpful? If they aren’t good, tell them, write op-eds. Check out resources at http://accountablerecovery.net/ and tell accountable Recovery if you find good things that are working!

This is a special moment to reshape the way democracy works. We have a president committed to hearing what people have to say.
This is our moment to change the structures so that everyone can be engaged. This is about reinvigorating democracy.

Models from other countries: Singapore has a very open electronic gov’t platform. UK has a government gateway that they run transactions through. There is a huge e-government movement internationally.

Read Full Post »

For the upcoming NCDD Conference in Austin October 3-5, I’m doing two workshops – one on libraries and extension using dialogue, and one on the Missouri River Ecosystem Restoration Project. I am hosting a tech meeting, conducting a pre-conference with four colleagues, running a hospitality suite, sponsoring a poetry slam, videotaping events, blogging on site, and planning two tables for the marketplace. Like all of the dedicated volunteers on the Central Texas planning team, I have a crazy, crazy amount of work to do.

So how am I spending my time?

Contemplating goodie bag stuffing, of course! (Hey, it’s labor day weekend. This is about as much time off as I’ll get for the next three months.)

I’m stealing from the LBJ Library staff idea to have jelly beans at the LBJ 100 Celebration last Wednesday. (President Johnson’s gift to the Head Start kids he visited at Stonewall.)

So below are a couple of options. I need some advice. Which way to go??

Option 1

Option 1

This option is very cute, but also time consuming – punching the cards and cutting and tying the raffia. It also has the added expense of the blue raffia.

Option 2

Option 2

This option is in a resealable bag which is nice since people probably won’t eat 2 oz. of jelly beans at once. It’s also easier and lies flat in the bag.

I’m also looking for cheap options for jelly beans. I’ll need about 50 lbs. of jelly beans!

OK, now back to serious work – finishing uploading my photos from the LBJ 100 Celebration.

Read Full Post »

From Guest Blogger, Lareese Hall

The Community Problem Solving workshop was a first for the Kennedy School – it was the first time teams of participants came to the school to work on a problem specific to our community.

Intense days left little time for much more than wandering back to your room at night and trying to do the reading for the next day. Yes, we had homework. And we had group work and, on some level, individual work. We also had roommates – from other teams. So, on a nightly basis, you were able to reflect and share with someone who was completely unconnected to your team and your stated community problem, which was helpful.

The program was carefully structured to illuminate a very specific (and truly useful) process for problem solving in a community context (which I will discuss in upcoming posts): diagnosing the issue, developing strategies for real community participation, creating valuable partnerships, understanding the politics involved, and coalition building.

Our class sessions were focused on teaching us specific skills and each class session was followed by a team session that applied what we just learned in class to our particular community problem. I will not go into copious amounts of detail here about the community problems because the problems (although important) were essentially case studies for the process.

There is a tremendous amount of value working together as a team. I am a person who often, when faced with an enormous task, prefers to dig in my heels and just do it myself. I was reminded in those few short days at Harvard, that working with other people can give you resources and strength that you can never get all by yourself – no matter how amazing you are.

We were a group of people with something in common but not a group of people who had ever worked together to get something done. It was critically important that in each of our group sessions we would choose roles as timekeeper, facilitator, and note taker – roles that shifted with each session (and we had five group sessions overall). We were fortunate that we (along with each of the other groups) were assigned a faculty member who would journey through this process with us – keeping us focused and assuring us that we were making progress (or not). There was no session where someone did not get upset or challenge someone else, but we truly made progress and learned to be better leaders.

In the end, (civic) leadership is about participating and contributing; it is not about cutting yourself off from loss, fear, or danger. As Marty Linsky (one of our professors) and Ron Heifetz state in their book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading (a book we were each given in our introductory package – and that we had to read partially for class, of course!): Leadership is worth the risk because the goals extend beyond material gain or personal advancement. By making the lives of people around you better, leadership provides meaning in life. It creates purpose.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »