A Productive Year: New Materials for Deliberative Conversation

2020 has been a challenging year, on so many fronts. It is gratifying to be able to report that the group I work with at the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute has been able to rise to the challenge. We worked as never before, and the team were able to produce needed materials that respond to the moment, all throughout the year.

Here is what we published this year, in reverse chronological order.

Youth and Opportunity: What Should We Do for Future Generations to Thrive?
(December 2020)

What should we do to address unprecedented challenges that may hinder future generations from leading successful and economically secure lives?

This guide raises crucial questions for which there are no easy answers.

  • Will the next generation, like those before it, be able to build an economically secure future, or will it face too many unprecedented challenges that undercut its prospects?
  • Should present-day priorities be more important than our obligations to future generations?
  • Is the next generation receiving the education and support it needs to succeed?
  • Are there disparities that we should be addressing today to enable future generations to prosper tomorrow?

Each issue guide comes with an introductory video that lays out the topic and introduces the options for deliberation. I am especially proud of the video work this team was able to do this year, under COVID-19 restrictions and with great care. This one, the most recent, is particularly good:


Back to Work: How Should We Rebuild Our Economy?
(September 2020)

The pandemic of 2020 swiftly brought the US economy to a near standstill: more than 36 million people lost jobs by that summer. The Wall Street Journal estimated that one-quarter of all business activity shut down in a matter of weeks.

Among the issues to consider are the best way to get back to full employment, what kind of support should go to businesses large and small, what the most vulnerable and essential workers need, and what changes should be made in the way we live and work. Looking beyond the reopening of businesses and communities in the US, what should our priorities be over the next few years? As a society, what lessons should we learn from this experience? What can communities do to build a prosperous future?

This issue guide presents three options for moving forward, each coming from a different perspective and each reflecting a different set of ideas about what should be done. Most people will find something to agree with in all three approaches, but each also has trade-offs, risks, or drawbacks that must be taken into account and worked through. The options presented here are not ready-made solutions but rather starting points for weighing alternatives and reaching sound judgments. Each community can shape its own conversation about the future based on its unique circumstances.


Policing: What Should We Do to Ensure Equal Justice and Fair Treatment in Our Communities? 
(Prepublication draft for testing, September 2020)

The United States is in conflict, as most Americans demand change in the policing practices that are intended to create safer neighborhoods.

In the spring of 2020, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks sparked nation- wide protests as many citizens voiced their concerns about the unjust treatment of racial minorities. All three died during encounters with police, and their names joined a lengthy list: Eric Garner in New York City in 2014, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD in 2015, Philando Castile in St. Paul, MN and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA in 2016, to name only a few.

This issue framework presents three broad options for improving police practices and suggests actions that could be taken to make progress on each. As with all ideas for change, all of these actions involve risks and trade-offs as well as benefits.

But the ideas outlined here are just a starting point. They are meant to spur deliberation on an issue that increasingly disturbs Americans of all ages and all races.

(Because we are still gathering information from community-based tests, we do not yet have a video available for this guide.)


Voting: How Should We Safeguard and Improve Our Elections? (August 2020)

Many Americans are concerned about the integrity of US elections. Recent surveys show that a majority of voters lack confidence in the fairness and honesty of the electoral process and a growing number worry about its safety and security.

The coronavirus pandemic has complicated many aspects of how we vote in 2020. But even before the outbreak, there were widespread concerns about the election system. The problems are complex and take many forms.

Today, Americans wonder whether they will be able to cast their ballots as usual on Election Day, whether their votes will be accurately counted, and whether national, state, and local voting systems will be safe from hacking, foreign meddling, and other problems.

How should we ensure that our elections are fair, efficient and secure? What should we do so people can vote with confidence and trust that the outcomes accurately represent the will of the people? How should we safeguard and improve our elections?


Immigration: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do? 
(June 2020) 

The immigration issue affects virtually every American, directly or indirectly, often in deeply personal ways. This guide is designed to help people deliberate together about how we should approach the issue. The three options presented here reflect different ways of understanding what is at stake and force us to think about what matters most to us when we face difficult problems that involve all of us and that do not have perfect solutions.

The US government essentially shut down immigration, at least temporarily, during the coronavirus pandemic. But as our country begins to reopen, difficult questions remain:

  • Should we strictly enforce the law and deport people who are here without permission, or would deporting millions of people outweigh their crime?
  • Should we welcome more newcomers to build a more vibrant and diverse society, or does this pose too great a threat to national unity?
  • Should we accept more of the millions of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing gang violence and war, or should we avoid the risk of taking in people whose backgrounds may not have been fully checked?
  • Should our priority be to help immigrants assimilate into our distinctively American way of life and insist they learn English, or should we instead celebrate a growing mosaic of different peoples?

Health Care: How Can We Bring Down Costs While Getting the Care We Need? 
(January 2020)

High health-care costs affect all Americans, often in deeply personal ways. This guide is designed to help people deliberate together about how we should approach the issue. It suggests three options for deliberation, along with the trade-offs each might involve. Each option presents advantages as well as downsides. Each raises questions for which there are no easy answers.

  • If we create a single government program to pay for everyone’s health care, would taxes rise and quality suffer?
  • Can gradual reforms hold costs down and still get everybody covered?
  • Should we take responsibility for our own choices in a more transparent and competitive marketplace even if that means those who make poor decisions will suffer the consequences?

Improving the US health-care system routinely presents choices between holding the line on enormous costs, covering more people, and maintaining the choices and quality of care Americans deserve. Which should be our priority?

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

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