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 On the evening of May 1, ten members of Texas Forums participated in a research project for the Kettering Foundation. They watched an unedited version of Public Voice, a documentary filmed earlier in the day at the National Press club featuring panelists who were commenting on videotaped excerpts of National Issues Forums on energy. The panelists participating in this documentary were:

Host/Moderator:  Frank Sesno

E. J. Dionne, Columnist, Washington Post
Betty Sue Flowers, Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
Jay Hakes, Director, Jimmy Carter Library
Mike Johannes, U. S. Secretary of Agriculture
Senator Mary Landrieu, Louisiana
David Mathews, Kettering Foundation
Congressman Charles Gonzalez, Texas
Andrea Seabrook, Congressional Correspondent, NPR
Senator Jeff Sessions, Alabama
Jerry Taylor, CATO Institute
Roger Wilkins, Author and Analyst

This is the Kettering Foundation’s description of the research:

“A Public Voice brings together policymakers and policy elites on a panel to react to and discuss the implications for their own work of scenes from publics grappling with a significant national issue, this year, energy. As the publics deliberate, they identify why the issue is important to them, what things highly valued by them they see at stake in the issue, why they cannot get everything they want regarding the issue, and so, in the end, struggle with what trade-offs among things highly valued they may be willing to make, and thus, what kind of permissions for action they would open up for policymakers.

In addition to demonstrating these qualities of public deliberation through A Public Voice, Kettering’s research interest lies largely in seeking to understand the conditions under which policymakers and policy elites come to recognize the contributions that a deliberative public can make to their own work. In conducting this research with policymakers, we bear in mind five underlying questions, greater understanding of which may help us understand better how a deliberative public can more effectively relate to its elected representatives, and how our representative institutions may become more responsive to a thoughtful, deliberative public. “

Below is a brief report filed by Marla Crockett who facilitated the discussion on May 1. We will prepare a longer report and meet in D.C. on June 8 with colleagues from the Ford and Carter libraries and Saddleback Community College who also participated in this research.

“Citizens who watched A Public Voice at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin saw and heard two different discussions Wednesday night. The seven women and three men were virtually unanimous in saying that edited comments from the public forums on energy were deliberative and held their attention, while experts on the panel were at times “dismissive,” and “spoke from a script.”  Members of our group praised a few panelists, including Carter Library Director Jay Hakes and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johannes, for really listening to the public state the problem, weigh trade-offs and reflect on leadership.  However, the consensus in our group was that too many experts focused on positions and strategies instead of on interests and concerns.

What came through the loudest, however, was an unhappiness with the program’s format.  While recognizing that the demands of television might be at odds with a deeper conversation, our Austin panel wanted to see a dialogue between the experts and the public.  The exchanges led by moderator Frank Sesno were “jarring,” and too much like “Crossfire,” several people said.  One woman felt more optimistic at the end of the program, because it seemed as though public officials and journalists really understood the public’s desire for change.  But one of the men said that if citizens had been allowed to participate in the discussion, they would have held the politicians more accountable on issues like the influence of money on energy policy.”

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The following is a summary of the new National Issues Forums discusion guide on Energy posted in the Kettering Foundation’s Friday Letter from Home produced by KF resident journalist, Bob Daley. Texas Forums will have a limited number of these issue books available for free to organizers of these forums. You MUST use a trained volunteer moderator (I’ll match you up!) and agree to submit participant questionnaires and a brief report on your forum. Just leave a comment here if you are interested or send me an e-mail.

“This country is facing an energy problem with an uncertain future and it is time to face up to some difficult choices, some people say. An NIF has a new issue book written by KF Associate/Researcher Brad Rourke, to help with the public deliberation.

Our way of life seems threatened by unstable sources of energy and there is growing evidence of environmental damage. We may soon reach a point of no return, Brad points out in the introduction.

Why is it so serious? Experts say we are “just one unfortunate event away from real trouble, and the world seems increasingly filled with unfortunate events.”

How did we get here?  Following World War II, the economic boom was powered by plentiful domestic oil and coal. We fell in love with the automobile and the affiar intensified through the 1960s and the early 1970s. We had cheap gas and better roads and the number of cars on the highways doubled between 1950 and 1972.

Then came the long lines at gas stations after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) stopped shipping petroleum to countries that had supported Israel in the Yom Kippur war. In 1979, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the amount of oil exported by Iran fell drastically. The price of oil jumped from $3.75 a barrel in the 1970s to more than $70 a barrel last year. At the pump, the cost of gasoline hovered around $3 across the country.

The environmental impact is increasing, too. Global warming is increasing faster than had been predicted. Five of the warmest years on record have occurred in the last 10 years while hurricanes are getting more intense and frequent.

Three approachhes for deliberation are offered:

* Unreliable Sources – Reduce our Dependence on Foriegn Energy

Much of the oil we use comes from the Middle East and other  politically volatile countries that cannot be relied upon to continue supplying our needs. This poses an ongoing threat to our security. The United States has many untapped reserves of oild and natural gas. Our best courses of action is to make all possible use of these domestic energy sources.

* Emissions Warning – Get Out of the Fossil Fuel Predicament

The escalating use of fossil fuels is wreaking havoc on our environment. Most scientists agree that global warming has begun in earnest and, unless we slow down the burning of fossil fuels, we face catastrophic climate changes. We must get serious about developing alternative energy sources, such as wind farms and solar power, and rethink the use of another clean energy source – nuclear power.

* Curb Our Appetite – Reduce Our Demand for Energy

We are missing the point when we go looking for new sources of energy. We need to find ways to use less energy in teh first place or use it more efficiently. The United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population but uses more than 20 percent of its energy. Cutting back on consumption is the cleanest and most workable way to deal with impending shortages.

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Listening is key to acting

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I’ve been reading Alan Alda’s delightful and provocative memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Things I’ve Learned.
Although he’d had a successful acting career, Alda confesses he didn’t fully understand what it takes to be a good actor until M*A*S*H.

“When I started out as an actor, I thought, Here’s what I have to say; how shall I say it? On M*A*S*H, I began to understand that what I do in the scene is not as important as what happens between me and the other person. And listening is what lets it happen. It’s almost always the other person who causes you to say what you say next. You don’t have to figure out how you’ll say it. You have to listen so simply; so innocently, that the other person brings about a change in you that makes you say it and informs the way you say it.

The difference between listening and pretending to listen, I discovered, is enormous. One is fluid, the other is rigid. One is alive, the other is stuffed. Eventually, I found a radical way of thinking about listening. Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues. Like so much of what I learned in the theater, this turned out to be how life works, too.”

Several statements from these two paragraphs are worth considering in the context of our deliberative forums.

Here’s what I have to say. How shall I say it?
Somewhere in my sixteen years of working with deliberative forums, I came across a quote from Paul Axtell, “We live in a culture where we are raised to problem-solve and give advice. We are either talking or waiting to talk.” When we find ourselves thinking about what we are going to say next or how we are going to say it, we have checked out of the conversation. Instead, maybe we need to check our brain and engage our being. How can we fully know what to say until we’ve fully listened? Listening is different from hearing. Listening takes time. It takes full engagement of all of our senses. We can’t be fully engaged if we are focused on ourselves and what we are going to say.

What I do is not as important as what happens between us
The spaces between us is where the magic occurs. We forget how powerful the “between” can be. There are two ways in which we violate the “between” moments in our forums and miss opportunities for breakthrough deliberation. First, a noble desire by the moderator to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak can lead to a Baskin Robbins approach to moderating. If you’ve ever been to the famous ice cream shop or other businesses that employ “take a number, please” line management systems, you know what I mean. As a moderator you see an intimidating sea of hands waiting to speak. You go around the room like a mechanical “take a number machine” pointing from raised hand to raised hand. “I’ll take you, then you, then you, then you, then you.” By the time the third “then you” person is speaking, any sense that this is a conversation is completely lost. There is no “between us”. We are not reacting to what others are saying; we are giving the speech that was inspired by a comment made several minutes ago and long forgotten by the subsequent disconnected thoughts. Those in line to speak are focused on what they are going to do or say next. The rest of the people in the room have checked out. They didn’t come to hear a series of speeches.

The second way we fail to take advantage of the “between” moments is when we rush to fill the silence, We ask a question and no one answers. We assume that it MUST have been a bad question. So we restate it. We ask another question. We stutter and stumble. Our voice fills the silence and distracts the participants from their thoughtful consideration of what might have been an outstanding question. We forget that silence IS content. Deep thinking takes place in silence. Deliberation takes place in silence.

Claude Debussy said that “Music is the space between the notes.” (Or it might have been Miles Davis who said, “It’s not the note I play-it’s the space between the notes.”) This blog, which contains the graphic below, provocatively explores the question “But what if the non-things–the space between the things–is just if not more important?” from different perspectives and metaphors.

 

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For example, this blog points out:

  • “Some of the best musicians, I’m told, play fewer notes than you actually hear”
  • Artists know that negative space carries weight.
  • Newbie writers (like me) are taught that it’s the words you cut out that matter most. We’re told to edit until nothing else can be removed.
  • But real learning takes place between exposures to content! Long-term memory from learning happens after the training. The space between the lessons and practice is where the learning is made permanent.

Great advice, from an interesting blog!

Listen simply
How often do we assume that we know what others mean? We jump to conclusions. We make assumptions. But we need to discipline ourselves to listen innocently, to suspend our assumptions. Or if we ARE going to base our response on assumptions, perhaps we need to assume the speaker has the best of intentions in our listening. The book, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, recommends disentangling impact and intent. We can only be aware of our intentions and how the other person’s comments impact us. We cannot know their intentions or how our words impact them. And yet, we assume that we know the other person’s intentions and more often than not, we assume the worst intent.

Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you
When you think about it, this is a scary proposition. It means that we have to be willing to acknowledge that we don’t have all of the answers. We might not know everything. We may even have based our own opinions on faulty facts or logic, or a limited understanding of the issues. At the conclusion of our forums, we ask participants to reflect on how their thinking has changed. Notice that we are focused on how thinking has changed, not how opinions have changed. Forums may not change opinions, but they DO change people’s way of thinking about issues. We cannot engage in honest dialogue and walk away unchanged.

Dueling monologues: This is what we often see in public hearings, particularly those that are held because that are mandated by legislation and not held because of an earnest desire to engage the public. In dueling monologues, each person gets their two or three minutes to make their case and then they sit down or leave. They get a hearing. They are heard. And unless the legislative body is going to vote, there is no reason to stay. They physically check out. Public hearings are not about public listening, or public decision-making, or even public engagement. You may get your chance to speak, but there is no guarantee that you have been heard and no requirement that you listen.

But perhaps the most profound lesson from this reading that good acting happens when we learn to listen. In our work, skeptics often ask about the action. What action follows from forums? Well, Alda has given us a new way to answer, “How can we know how to act until we learn how to listen? The action may be less about the doing and more about what happens between us, what happens when we listen.”

Listening IS acting!

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As always, it is an honor to be invited to participate in the annual Public Policy Workshop hosted by the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute. Additional interest was created when I learned that a banquet would be held on Tuesday evening, June 27, 2006 with former astronaut and Senator John Glenn as the keynote speaker.
One way to understand the importance of the evening was my personal willingness to trade in my jeans and tennis shoes for suit pants, black shoes, long-sleeved shirt and rarely-worn tie. Elaine purchased new clothes for the evening
For a man from central Iowa, whose only adult world travels consist of two very enjoyable trips to Canada, the international nature of the event, it also is exciting to be in the presence of so many from countries other than the United States. (By the way, did you know Ottawa is the second-coldest nation’s capitol? The coldest, if I remember correctly, is Mongolia)
A social was provided prior to the banquet with music provided by a three-piece band and lots of joviality. Waiters from the hotel entered the room and used chimes to let everyone know it was time to enter the ballroom. As we stood in a long line to enter the hall, Elaine noticed a nearby door with no line, so we entered there. We looked for seats where we could the stage without turning. Tables were set for ten people with a chocolate dessert highlighting the place setting.
Much conversation and story telling occurred at tables as old friends re-united and new friendships begin. Clearly, there were people from throughout the United States and world continents. Included were folks from developing democracies in Africa, Eastern Europe and South America. A cadre from several Mid-eastern nations (Arab) received applause as their presence was announced.
Opening comments by David Mathews, President of the Kettering Foundation, indicated that over 1,000,000 copies of issue books have been distributed in the past 25 years with 4,000 to 5,000 organizations and groups holding deliberative forums. After the banquet, I visited with a gentleman whose father worked with Dr. Matthews, who at age of 33 was president of the University of Alabama, and led the university through desegregation.
As people, at least in our area, were half-way through the meal, the formal program began.
First honored were 21 early pioneers of public deliberation – people who have been involved for 20 years or more. Their names were shown on the large screen, there were asked to stand, and were given awards.
The Dora Rothlisberger International Award for Deliberative Democracy was presented to a woman from Ghana and a gentleman from New Zealand. A video tribute the late Ms. Rothlisberger was presented and the awards were accepted on the behalf of the recipients, who were not in attendance. I have learned to appreciate the hardships, and some times dangers, that public deliberators faces in some places of the world. It can make the challenges and frustrations that I face as almost meaningless. Several humorous mentions of the World Cup were made during these awards.
John Cavanaugh provided a respectful and interesting introduction Senator John Glenn. This man twice went flew in outer space served for 24 years in the United States Senate. The Senator appears to very down-to-earth for a man who is considered a hero because of his military hero, the first American to orbit the earth and his long tenure in the Senate. He opened with a couple of stories indicating one of them he found on the internet. Another was a letter from a young grade school student who was doing a report on the Senator. The boy said he was glad that he had selected the senator, because many of his friends chose people who were dead and could not answer the students’ questions. Senator Glenn said he responded immediately to the boy’s questions.
The Senator congratulated the members of the audience for their work in furthering democracy and issue forums. Quoting from a dictionary, Glenn defined democracy as “principle of social equally and respect for an individual.” He talked about the importance of providing every person an opportunity to become what they want to be and noted that if a person is in their 70s, they have lived 1/3 of the history of the United States.
He talked about two key principles of democracy: education and research. He described his concern with the state of K-12 education in the US. He described the results of the international studies and his work with math and science teaching. He described the need for national standards and for teachers fully prepared in the content they teach. I restrained from commenting on the error of national standards.
He described the importance of research leading to invention and innovation, as the new knowledge will lead to economic activity and societal gain. After his presentation, the floor was opened to questions
When asked what advice he had a college student, Glenn respond “Study hard, get good grades, and stick with it.” He elaborated.
He concluded his presentation by identify future issues that world is or must confront and handle. They are:
• Much turmoil in the world for religious beliefs
• Environmental problems – especially the condition of air and our atmosphere
• Energy – making sure all countries have their fair shareHe finished with a story and quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson and then said, “Future can be as bright as we want to make it.”
The only disappointment was that he was not asked about his experience in outer space. Even though I had a question, I waited for someone else to ask. In retrospect, I should have asked, “Senator Glenn, thinking of your experiences in outer space, what did you learn, what was especially exhilarating, and what was frightening?”
The night ended with David Mathews saying” Goodbye” to the audience.
It was a good evening and time well spent.
David Wilkinson is a co-founder of the Iowa Partners for Learning, a statewide team of people promoting deliberation throughout the state of Iowa. He is a teaching and learning specialist for the Iowa State Education Association.

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As I was listening to Dr. David Matthews who is the president of the Kettering Foundation, I noticed that he asked a very interesting question. He asked “Why is there a diversity of participation in the Public Policy Workshop?” This question was interesting to me because I wondered the exact same thing. I think there is such diversity in this workshop because when discussing a subject as large and as broad as politics, one needs everyone’s opinion. A person needs to know how other people from different states as well as countries view politics. There are so many different views on this topic and it is very important to understand and learn from other people’s opinions. Therefore having diversity is a very good way to understand and learn different cultures.

I am Kourtney McDowell from Greenwood Mississippi. I am a junior at Tougaloo College located in Jackson, MS where I am studying Psychology/ Pre-Nursing.

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