“Measuring, Growing, Embedding Civility” will bring proven practices to bear on a problem – uncivil discourse and political polarization – found in many American communities. Experienced practitioners of dispute resolution, public participation, and related fields know that it is possible to sustain civil, productive dialogue among people who have different backgrounds and interests. There are many proven practices for many kinds of situations. In most cases, better civil discourse is possible.
So why aren’t these practices used more often to strengthen civil discourse
There are four main reasons:
- Most of the public processes and meeting formats used in official interactions between citizens and government fail to employ the principles and practices that encourage civility – and in many cases, they use principles and practices that heighten frustration, conflict, and mistrust. This is particularly true for official public meetings, but it also happens in neighborhood associations, local online forums, and other community settings.
- Local leaders lack measurement tools that would help them evaluate the success of these practices and gauge the progress of civility-promoting efforts. In particular, they need versatile, easy-to-use tools they can use to test citizen reactions to new processes and meeting formats.
- Many people think it is impossible to promote civility because they have very little direct experience of doing it. Many local leaders are simply unaware of those practices or how they could embed them (many people are particularly daunted by the legal side of the problem and are unaware of or not sure how to use the Model City Charter).
- Activities that are organized under labels like “building bridges” or “promoting civil discourse” aren’t enough because, while they may use good practices, the labels attract people who are already committed to civility, and already acting in civil ways. Processes that increase civility in the service of other goals, or that are part of the regular routine of governance, may be more effective than initiatives that proclaim civility as the primary or only goal.
To address these challenges, the initiative will: promote and measure civility by producing a Civility Index; support work in three pilot communities to embed civil discourse practices in public settings; and convene local leaders to refine and disseminate these tools and practices.
The “Measuring, Growing, Embedding Civility” initiative will benefit from partnering with another grantee of the AAA-ICDR Foundation, the National Institute for Civil Discourse. NICD is launching a conversation component to the CommonSense American (CSA) program: this will provide the everyday Americans who are members of CSA an opportunity to deliberate with each other on issues before Congress via video conference platform.