Rebuilding Trust Through Dialogue

Posted by on January 25, 2018 at 12:06 PM

By Annie Pottorff, Communications Coordinator, Jefferson Center. Reposted from Jefferson Center.

In the past year, common narratives about democracy have hinged on one main focal point: a severe absence of trust. We’ve heard that American trust in government fell to historic lows and that trust in the news media eroded as a result of  social media echo-chambers and partisan news outlets. Knowing this, it’s easy to feel discouraged. But, what’s actually going on in communities across the nation? Has this distrust led citizens to give up on their local governments and institutions?

Last year, we saw the opposite–sure, people were frustrated. But they were also energized to meet with their neighbors, learn more about issues that affect their communities, and do something. In a year where divisiveness and partisanship were identified as critical challenges to the health of our democracy, it was incredible to see citizens working together to create change.

In 2017 we…

Worked on accountable and responsive journalism through Your Voice Ohio

Across Ohio, citizens have been deeply affected by the opioid epidemic and the changing economy. In order to understand how people were experiencing these challenges, we hosted three conversations between journalists and community members. People in recovery, families who have lost a child or sibling to overdose, public health officials, elected officials, and others  discussed the information they needed from local media, causes of the epidemic, and potential solutions. Following these conversations, reporters divided up questions and topics, started their research, and have begun reporting their findings back to the community.

In 2018 we will…
Continue to support local media partners and share their research with past participants through weekly updates. We’ll also host similar conversations in Southwest Ohio in early spring, and will maintain updates to our solutions database so that journalists and citizens can find programs and initiatives used in communities, states, and countries also experiencing these issues.

Supported rural Minnesotans in imagining their energy future

As an extension of our Rural Climate Dialogues, we’ve begun to host town meetings in three counties in rural Minnesota where government officials, farmers, business owners, and the general public can generate and discuss new ideas and make more informed decisions about energy production, storage, and use. In Stevens County, our rural energy eventbrought together a diverse group of community members who proved that they were ready to embrace change and tell their own unique energy story.

In 2018 we will…

Head back to Stevens County in February to follow up on the key concerns and unanswered questions from community members. Later this spring we will host dialogues in Winona and Itasca County that will consider the shared goals and values of community members, and create plans to realize their desired energy future. Through these efforts, we will grow a statewide rural network of community members and leaders to support representative climate and energy policy for years to come.

Helped citizens imagine new ways of local democracy

Participants in the Minnesota Community Assembly learned about how their local government and others around the country operated, discussed advantages and disadvantages to different programs and policies, and identified their top qualities of good local government. With these factors in mind, they explored and recommended opportunities for change to their local government.

Growing our team

We were also delighted to expand our team in 2017 with additions to our staff and our Board of Directors.

  • George Cheung – former Director of the Democracy Program at the Joyce Foundation, joined our Board of Directors; bringing strategic guidance, administrative and fiscal management, public policy expertise, and a passion for democratic reform to our Board.
  • Doug Oplinger – former Managing Editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, manages the Your Voice Ohio/Ohio Media Partnership activities in Ohio.
  • Annie Pottorff joined our staff as Communications Coordinator to oversee and implement our communications strategy.
  • Kat Sims – after relocating from Pennsylvania to St. Paul, Kat, who worked with us as a Nevins Fellow from Penn State University in 2016, has continued working with us as a Data and Research Associate.

Looking forward

Beyond our big projects, we also traveled to Scotland, Japan, and Australia to host Citizens Juries, discuss the power of deliberative democracy, and learn from others in the field. This coming year, we’ll continue our collaboration with our partners in the UK, using Citizens Juries to develop policy recommendations for sharing health records for research and commercial purposes. We will continue to build relationships with and learn from our global colleagues such as Nexus Institute and Bertelsmann Stiftung in Germany, democracyCo and newDemocracy Foundation in Australia, and MASS LBP in Canada and others doing exciting work in this field. We will deepen our international connections by continuing to support the development of the Democracy Research & Developmentnetwork. Most importantly, we will continue meeting, learning from, and collaborating with practitioners in the US and across the globe who are using Citizens Juries and other deliberative methods to improve democracy and directly involve citizens and community members in developing the policies that affect their lives.

We’re excited to co-host the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference March 8th-10th in Phoenix, Arizona. The conference will bring together more than 250 youth, educators, advocates, elected officials, and researchers to explore innovations that empower community members to make real decisions and directly participate in government. You can still buy your ticket and RSVP on Facebook now!

We’re proud of what we accomplished in 2017, and can’t wait to bring the momentum into 2018.

Our programs wouldn’t happen without your support–thank you for wanting to build a better democracy. You are our partner in rebuilding trust in local government and media, and your investment in our work has helped citizens realize their role in creating change. Together we will continue creating stronger communities and representative solutions for everyone.

Thank you to individual donors and our foundation partners who are helping us strengthen democracy through support of our organization and our programs: the Bush Foundation, Democracy Fund, the Joyce Foundation, the Kettering Foundation, Knight Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are strictly those of the author and do not represent the views of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund, the Bridge Alliance, or the Bridge Alliance’s member organizations. Additionally, the Bridge Alliance Education Fund makes no representations as to the accuracy of this post’s contents.