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The National Week of Deliberation provides students from across the nation the opportunity to deliberate with others from different campuses, from different walks of life, and with different backgrounds. Students participate in a 90 minute online deliberative discussion with a live, peer moderator on issues like addressing climate change, racial violence and policing, wealth inequality, the mission of higher education, immigration, and election reform. By participating, students can develop civic skills and agency – in other words, civic muscles –  to be active citizens through critical thinking, empathy, and working collaboratively with individuals and institutions.

Students need the kind of sustained and “meaningful interactions between people from different backgrounds, with different scars, and different ways of looking at the world” they cannot get dialoguing in discrete classrooms or from self-selected campus activities.

In these small-group deliberations, participants learn more about the issue, share why they care about it, then examine three different approaches to dealing with the issue, including the trade-offs of each approach. At the end, participants reflect upon any common ground they have identified, and see the difference their talking together has made. Through this process, students learn ways of naming and framing of wicked problems for joint problem solving, listening carefully and critically, understanding the values that drives individual opinions, weighing options against tradeoffs, and reaching shared judgment with others. In working across differences in a highly polarized world, students develop the capacity to see beyond ideological differences and partisan preferences to shared values and common good.

What is Deliberation?

Deliberation is the process of making choices about how to approach wicked issues together. The process involves choicework, meaning groups of people from all different walks of life having to weigh actions against possible tradeoffs or consequences and deciding what actions would the group could live with.

"Deliberation is ‘the kind of reasoning and talking we do when a difficult decision has to be made, a great deal is at stake, and there are competing options or approaches we might take. It means to weigh possible actions carefully by examining what is most valuable to us.’
– Kettering Foundation (link)

The Bridging Wicked Divides project and its collaborations utilize deliberation because of its benefits to democracy and to the public. We often use a model of deliberative forums developed by the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), one of the oldest and most practiced methods of public deliberation in the U.S.

Information

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Research

Review our draft findings HERE.

Read our story in The Breeze HERE.

Watch our #ListenFirstFriday video on our findings.

 

Students need to develop civic muscles to be active citizens. Deliberative pedagogy encourages students to learn ways weighing options against tradeoffs and reaching shared judgment with others. In working across differences in a highly polarized world, students can develop the capacity to see beyond ideological differences and partisan preferences to shared values and common good. Unfortunately, students have extremely limited opportunities to engage in dialogue across genuine divides. Opportunities that do exist are often social scientific research experiments or one-off campus events that provide little return on civic learning. Students need the kind of sustained and “meaningful interactions between people from different backgrounds, with different scars, and different ways of looking at the world” they cannot get dialoguing in discrete classrooms or from self-selected campus activities.

This research analyzes the impact of student deliberating across divides during campus-specific forum and forums held as part of the National Week of Deliberation. We assess the gender, ideological and geographic diversity of particular small group discussions and compare to the group’s ability to find common ground together, degree in which they support common ground, and whether students are able to find value in engaging with different views when discussing wicked issues.

This study has been approved by the JMU IRB, protocol #20-1420. This project will survey participants from the Free Speech and Inclusive Campus, Climate Choices, and Immigration Reform forums.

This research was featured in an Inside Higher Education article on campus bridging programs. Portions of this research were presented at the 2021 American Political Science Association annual conference. Updated methods, data, and results have been submitted for presentation at the 2023 Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement conference. Other sections will be submitted for competitive review for presentation at the 2023 National Communication Association annual conference.

This research has support from the  Madison Center for Civic Engagement, the JMU First Year Research Experience (FYRE) program, and the student engagement mini-grant program sponsored by JMU’s faculty senate and Student Government Association (SGA).

This study intends to answer how design features of deliberative spaces, i.e., the places where people go to talk about politics and issues of common concerns, impact a participants ability to reason with others, especially when participants differ in their political orientation. We look at all kinds of activated reasoning within three modes of deliberation: online using Common Ground for Action (CGA), online using Zoom and Zoom’s polling features, and in person deliberation. These three modes are the most popular modes of deliberation and understand the kinds of joint reasoning generated by differences in design can help practitioners and scholars of democracy create better, more useful spaces for engaged deliberation and democracy. Using the Deliberative Reasoning Index (DRI), we assess which online forums better activate reasoning and compare it to reasoning in in-person NIF forums. This research will provide the first of its kind empirical comparison between online modes of deliberation and in-person methods.

This study has been approved by the JMU IRB, protocol # 23-3876.  All forums held using the NIF issue guide “Youth & Opportunity” are part of this research project and features its own survey on deliberative reasoning.

This research is a collaborative effort between James Madison University’s Madison Center for Civic Engagement, Kansas State University’s Institute for Civil Discourse and Democracy, University of Houston-Downtown’s Center for Public Deliberation, and St. Edwards University, with research and financial support from the Kettering Foundation.

Contact Dr. Kara Dillard for more information.

Join Us

The Bridging Wicked Divides project and the National Week of Deliberation utilize a variety of modes of deliberation, including in-person forums using the National Issues Forums (NIF) model,  online deliberation using Zoom and its polling features, and Common Ground for Action (CGA).

We need facilitators!

Both projects rely on human facilitators to guide participants through the forum process, to ask guiding questions, to help the group reflect together on where they have common ground, and to encourage participants to engage civilly on the issue. Forums are only 90 minutes long and all materials including a full discussion script and process design are available. Facilitating a forum is a low stakes, fun way of building civic leadership skills.

Below are some examples of facilitator support material we will provide:

Youth & Opportunity In Person Facilitation PPT

Youth & Opportunity CGA Facilitation Script

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