job openings in civic renewal (9)

This is the ninth in a series of occasional posts with lists of open positions:

Executive Director, Opportunity Nation: “Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, multi-sector national campaign comprised of more than 300 employers, educational institutions, faith-based and civic organizations, community groups and nonprofits working to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America. As it moves to execute on an ambitious two-year strategic plan, Opportunity Nation seeks a skilled leader, influencer, storyteller, and champion to usher in a new era of growth and collective impact as Executive Director.”

Program Manager, Healthy Democracy: “If you’re passionate about political reform and civic engagement, this position is a unique opportunity to advance your values while making a lasting and positive impact on democracy. Healthy Democracy is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Portland Oregon. Our mission is to elevate the voice of citizens in our democracy in order to give voters information they can trust.  Our signature program, the Citizens Initiative Review (CIR), brings representative groups of citizens together to fairly and thoroughly evaluate high-profile ballot initiatives for the benefit of all voters. It’s a new and highly effective approach to democratic reform.”

Research Director, Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (soon to be led by the excellent Danielle Allen): “Working closely with the Center’s Director, faculty, and fellows, the RD will develop and manage a portfolio of collaborative projects and dissemination projects that would yield a stream of work outputs of interest to broad audiences, and support the intellectual work of grant development to sustain this portfolio of activities. The RD will participate in thematic seminars and conferences, and will work with the Director on their development. … The RD will assist with the development of the newly launched Fellows-in-Residency program, including helping to plan and oversee a weekly seminar, and evaluating its progress. The RD will assist with short and long-range planning to meet objectives, policy development and implementation, and other projects such as writing the annual report and other communications.”

Budget and Fiscal Administrator at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts (where I work!). See the Tufts Careers website, and enter requisition 15001129.

Program Administrator, Talloires Network (also based at Tufts). The Talloires Network is a coalition of universities — 340 institutions in 75 countries — that are moving beyond the ivory tower to tackle pressing societal problems. The Network is the primary global alliance committed to strengthening the civic roles and social responsibilities of higher education. It mobilizes its members to improve community conditions and, in the process, to educate students to be leaders for change. … The Program Administrator is responsible for organizing and managing conferences, workshops and other meetings; leading office management and systems; managing the annual MacJannet Prize Program; contributing to other core programs; and managing membership affairs. “

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Joe Kahne on the citizenship test movement

Several states are requiring high school students to pass the US naturalization test in order to graduate. I credit the very well-intentioned sponsors of these bills with raising attention to civics and provoking a healthy discussion. I am against the actual legislation, for reasons I laid out in a Fox News piece: “Federal Citizenship Test: What Should a Good Citizen Really Know About America?” Mills College professor Joseph E. Kahne has an excellent article along similar lines in Ed Week today: “Why Are We Teaching Democracy Like a Game Show?” It’s behind a firewall, so I’ll just cite some highlights:

Suppose a legislature passed a law that made it a graduation requirement to know the name of the town in which Shakespeare was born. By passing that law, the members reasoned, teachers would teach this fact, students would learn it, and presto—the nation would benefit from improved literacy!

This hypothetical may sound odd, but legislators in more than a dozen states want to prepare young people for democracy by taking this approach. They have drafted bills to make passage of the naturalization test, the test given to those who want to become U.S. citizens, a graduation requirement. This law has already passed in Arizona and North Dakota.

To some, this graduation requirement may sound fair. If those who want to be American citizens must pass this test, why not require it for high school seniors?

Unfortunately, the test consists of a fixed set of 100 factual questions. For example, one test question asks for the name of the territory the United States purchased in 1803, and another asks respondents to “name one of the two longest rivers in the United States.” Memorizing the answers to such questions might prepare students for the game show “Jeopardy!,” but doing so won’t promote good citizenship any more than memorizing who wrote Moby Dick would promote good literacy skills.

Schools can prepare students to become leaders and problem-solvers for the 21st century. But to do so, policymakers need to reinforce the focus on substantive reform, not distract teachers and students with empty symbolic efforts. That way, teachers can concentrate on helping students understand the content of the Constitution, rather than on requiring that they memorize the answer to the test question, “When was the Constitution written?”

Democracy thrives when citizens think critically and deeply about civic and political issues, when they consider the needs and priorities of others, and when they engage in informed action—not when they memorize a few facts. Let’s make high-quality civic learning a priority. Let’s not take the easy way out and pass laws in more than a dozen states that turn civic education into a game of Trivial Pursuit.

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Eight with twenty-one zeros. That’s how many
Letters and numbers, dots, jots, tittles and clicks
Our chatty species sent around this year–
More than in a score of generations past.
Into that wind-whipped Sonoran, I cast
These sixty grains, these quiet sounds I hear,
In hopes their mood or sense or purpose sticks
In the swirl that obscures so much and so many.

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pay-for-success in government

Let’s say you represent a program that would really save the government money as well as serving a social need. For instance, your program can cut the number of felonies, thereby saving $31,000 per person/per year in incarceration costs while reducing human suffering and injustice.

You’d like to ask the government for funds. You can’t get money from the executive branch at any level, because government budgets are committed to specific current activities, such as incarcerating a predicted number of inmates or fielding a certain number of police officers. Most agencies lack discretionary budgets for prevention, even if an investment would save them money later.

You could get funding from a legislative appropriation, but legislatures are not well set up to distinguish between truly effective preventive programs and those that just lobby well. In a crowded environment with tight budgets, your odds aren’t especially good.

You could offer the executive branch a contract that would commit the government to pay you from the savings that you actually achieve later on. They could measure the size of the savings using the most rigorous methods, such as random control groups. Then they could afford to pay you out of the savings in their planned budgets in future years.

But how can you operate your program until you deliver the savings and get paid? That apparent conundrum may have an answer: private third parties could invest in your program and get their money back–with a profit–once the government pays you for saving it money.

This is the pay-for-success model. Last week, we heard about it at a Tisch College panel with Jeffrey Liebman of the Harvard Kennedy School (the intellectual leader of this movement, who also provides technical support to governments); Molly Baldwin, Founder and CEO of Roca Inc., which has a pay-for-success contract to cut incarceration among highly at-risk young men in Massachusetts; Jeff Shumway of Social Finance, who sets up these deals; and Brian Bethune of the Tufts Economics Department and a Tisch College Faculty Fellow for 2015-16.

The evidence seemed compelling that Roca will save Massachusetts money while helping young men get on a better track. But I am a civic engagement/democratic participation guy, so I am supposed to ask, “Where are citizens in all of this?” I would say the following:

First, pay-for-success is value-neutral. It is an efficiency measure that could be used for a wide range of purposes. A dictatorship could use it to round up human rights protesters more effectively. Reducing incarceration in Massachusetts sounds much better than that, yet it could possibly legitimize the prison system. I don’t really agree with that critique, but I would acknowledge that any social intervention is a value choice. As such, it should be informed and reviewed by the public.

We already have the power to elect the high officials who preside over Massachusetts’ state government. But an election presents a binary choice (the Republican or the Democrat), which is a crude device for influencing subtle choices, such as whether to fund Roca, Inc. We can lobby and advocate on such matters, but there is an inevitable tendency for most advocates to be biased by self-interest or strong ideology. So we need more deliberative forms of civic engagement that get a wider range of people involved in making difficult value choices.

But increasing civic engagement seems fully compatible with using a pay-for-success model to get the government’s own job done. In fact, pay-for-success is wonderfully transparent. If citizens are asked to pay for 10,000 jail cells, we have no way of knowing how that will affect crime, safety, or fairness. But we can review the Roca, Inc. agreement and decide whether it offers what we want. And we don’t pay a dime unless it delivers.

A different question is how citizens should be involved in the programs themselves. I would hypothesize that in general, programs that produce good results have been designed and built through collaborations that involve the affected communities. Social policy is not like medicine, where chemical compounds that were invented in labs can cure (some) diseases in the real world. Social interventions operate in complex contexts with lots of conflicting values and interests, so they typically work only if they have been co-constructed. That is true, by the way, of Roca; Molly Baldwin emphasized that youth in the program have influenced its design.

Finally, if you want a robust democracy, one element has got to be a reasonably effective government that is capable of delivering what the people choose after due reflection. Eighty years after the New Deal, the US welfare state is not well designed for that purpose. It can’t, for example, make sensible investments in prevention. Even when it pays for activities that should have preventive effects (such as education), it doesn’t pay for success; it just funds the activities, some of which are ineffective. So I believe that pay-for-success is one step toward restoring confidence in government as the people’s instrument. Confidence is not an end in itself, but it is an important means to reengaging citizens in public life.

But see also: “qualms about a bond market for philanthropy”,can nonprofits solve big problems?” and “innovation and civic engagement.”

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the Millennials’ political values in context

The General Social Survey asked a set of questions about political values or principles twice, in 2004 and 2014. The questions were phrased, “How important is it ….?” and the items included: always to obey the law, always to vote, never to try to evade taxes, and always to understand other people’s reasoning. Respondents were also asked how important it is for people to be able to participate in making decisions. It’s a nice mix of conventional civic obligations and deliberative and participatory values.

As is my wont, I have looked at the changes generationally. Graphs are helpful for visualizing these changes. For instance, the first graph below displays an interesting pattern in attitudes towards understanding other people’s reasons. Generation Xers have become substantially more committed to this value as they (or I could say “we”) have aged, although we still lag a bit behind our elders. Older Americans have lost their commitment somewhat, especially the group that was born between 1926 and 1945. Millennials enter the picture with the highest levels of support currently, although they rate listening as less important than their grandparents did a decade ago.


I’ll display a second graph that shows quite a different pattern. The younger you are today, the less likely you are to believe that it’s very important for people to be able to participate in decisions. At least since 2004, the older cohorts have not changed their minds on that topic. Millennials continue the pattern of declining support by entering adulthood with the lowest levels of commitment to the value or principle of participation. This graph suggests that unless we do something to change the trends, generational replacement will gradually lessen our commitment to participation.


The pattern for always obeying the law looks like the second graph above, although the gaps are smaller. Millennials seem less committed than their predecessors, which could reflect an openness to civil disobedience.

All the older cohorts have grown to oppose tax evasion more as they have aged. Millennials enter the picture least committed to that ideal, but they are just where the Xers were a decade ago, and it’s possible that people’s focus on this topic naturally grows as they age.

Voting, finally, shows a pattern like participation in decisions (the second graph above). Commitment is lower for each generation, and much lower for Millennials. The older generations did not change their minds between 2004 and 2014, but the shrinking of the pre-War cohort and the growth of Xers and Millennials pushes down the average for the population as a whole. Voting is becoming less of a perceived obligation due to generational replacement. However, it’s important to note that this is a question about the obligation to vote. Actual voting rates have been flat over time. In other words, Millennials vote at similar rates to their predecessors; they are just less likely to conceive of that action as a duty.

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America’s Civic Renewal Movement: The View from Organizational Leaders

With support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Eric Liu—the founder and CEO of Citizen University and executive director of the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program—and I interviewed 20 key organizational leaders about strategies to expand civic engagement in the United States. Our new paper is: Peter Levine and Eric Liu, “America’s Civic Renewal Movement: The View from Organizational Leaders” (Medford, MA: Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship & Public Service, 2015).

Interviewees agreed that the nation faces polarization, corruption, and weakened civic capacity. David McKinney from the Alliance for Children and families observed: “Everyone is sick-and-tired of hyper-partisanship,” and we need “stories of leaders and their lives, folks that are doing the work in ways that are trying to cut through.” Anna Galland from MoveOn said, “Right now, our government is captive to lobbyists with money to spend.” Paul Schmidt of Ducks Unlimited observed that “the need and desire for affiliation has eroded.”

Most interviewees thought that citizens would have to play a major role in reversing these declines. John Bridgeland of Civic Enterprises said that we need civic engagement “now, more than ever” because of the paralysis and dysfunction of government and changes in society such as emerging conflicts, gaps in education and social mobility, racial conflict, and divides over immigration.

Some organizations included in this study are large, some are ideologically diverse, some have a coherent and focused agenda, and some are deep (engaging their members in learning, growth, leadership, and voice). But no organization has managed to be large, deep, diverse, and focused.


Furthermore, despite some working connections among these organizations, they do not yet form a coherent network. A simple network analysis of the connections that were either mentioned explicitly in the interviews or implied by the interviewees’ bios (for instance, when an individual holds leadership positions in two or more organizations) yielded the diagram below.


In exemplary episodes from American history, such as the Civil Rights Movement, networks of organizations have managed to be large, deep, diverse, and focused.

The paper concludes with some recommendations for research and convening to strengthen today’s network for civic renewal. You can download the full report here.

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Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg to lead CIRCLE

I am thoroughly delighted about this announcement:

Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg has been named the new director of Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

Dr. Kawashima-Ginsberg served as deputy director of CIRCLE since 2013, and has been a senior researcher with the team since 2008. She will be the third director in CIRCLE’s 14-year history, succeeding Peter Levine, who will remain active with CIRCLE while overseeing all of Tisch College’s research in his role as Associate Dean, and founding director William A. Galston, now of the Brookings Institution.

“It’s truly a privilege to serve as CIRCLE’s next director. I look forward to helping deepen our collective expertise and impact on opportunities for civic and political development among young people who are marginalized or disadvantaged,” said Kawashima-Ginsberg. “These young people are virtually shut out of public life, and our research can help identify barriers, test solutions, and transform the dialogue about the engagement of young people in our country.”

Kawashima-Ginsberg brings her extensive experience overseeing CIRCLE’s core research projects and producing resources, scholarly works, and reports for practitioners and researchers alike. With a background in positive youth development and an interest in diverse and marginalized youth, Kawashima-Ginsberg is primed to bring a sharpened focus to this important dimension of CIRCLE’s work. She is ideally prepared to provide organizations, communities, and the public with research that will increase civic and political learning and engagement opportunities.

Among her research projects at CIRCLE, Kawashima-Ginsberg has led studies on the leadership and political development of women and girls, the social class divide in the extracurricular experiences of youth, and the diversity of Millennials.

“Kei is the perfect choice to lead the next phase of CIRCLE’s development,” said Levine. “Her impressive background in youth development brings an important perspective to our work. She has been our lead researcher since 2008 and played an essential role in all of our activities. Many colleagues, both practitioners and scholars, already know her as a superb scholar and leader. I am excited to continue to work with her as she takes CIRCLE in important new directions.”

As Tisch College’s Associate Dean for Research, Levine will remain active in CIRCLE’s research and will support the organization.

Kawashima-Ginsberg earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with Specialization in Children and Families from Loyola University Chicago and has extensive experience in working with youth of diverse backgrounds both as a researcher and practitioner.

As it says above, I will remain deeply involved with CIRCLE–and more broadly with the research of Tufts’ University’s Tisch College of Citizenship, of which CIRCLE is a key part. In fact, my time commitment will not diminish. At the same time, Kei will be the true leader of CIRCLE, and that represents an enormous opportunity to develop and strengthen the organization in the service of youth civic engagement.

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Hillary Clinton should name a VP nominee soon

The 2016 Democratic nominating contest looks unprecedented so far. The party has neither an incumbent president with a VP already in place, nor a competitive field of potential nominees, each ready to step up if anyone else falters. Instead, the Democrats have one candidate who is so far ahead in her own party’s primary race that she resembles an incumbent president, but no one is obviously ready to replace her should she hit a major obstacle.

By the way, I am not predicting that anything will happen to her. She seems healthy enough, and most of her past has already been relentlessly vetted. But she is human and she could face a crisis in the 19 months before Election Day. Democrats have serious grounds to worry that if something does happen to Clinton, they would be left without a plausible nominee at all.

If, on the other hand, she were to name a VP candidate soon, then a strong replacement would be ready should she have to withdraw for any reason. Meanwhile, she would have a second Democratic heavyweight to campaign with her for 19 months (possibly someone who would otherwise have been a competitor). Finally, the announcement could counteract any drawbacks to Clinton’s candidacy, such as her age and her reputation as a classic insider.

There are obvious drawbacks to naming a VP more than a year before the customary date:

1. It would look arrogant. It would indicate that Clinton thinks she is positioned like an incumbent president. But she could address that impression directly, saying that she learned the hard way in 2008 that her nomination is hardly inevitable. There are other likely Democratic candidates, and she realizes that one of them could defeat her. She has simply chosen to share her VP choice with the public early; other candidates can do the same.

2. She would miss the “bounce” that usually follows a VP announcement roughly five months before the election. That is correct, but it’s called a “bounce” for a reason. It doesn’t last. VP nominations have only mattered in a negative way; a few choices have hurt the ticket on Election Day. No one had gotten a clear benefit that has lasted until November.

3. She might make a bad choice. Her prospective VP might prove a weak candidate or have a major vulnerability. But that would also be a problem if she made the choice in the summer of 2016. There is no substitute for choosing wisely.

Finally, a disclaimer: This is a tactical suggestion. It is not an endorsement. I have serious misgivings about Hillary Clinton and am hoping for a real choice in the primary campaign. Here I simply suggest that it’s in her own interest for Clinton to make a VP choice soon.

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alienation from politics in Europe

I have been invited to speak in Spain on “youth alienation from politics” this June. I have no doubt that if you ask young people in any of the wealthy democracies what they think of politics, you will get negative responses. But the question remains whether that is a special phenomenon of youth in the present moment, of youth at all times, or of all people in the present moment.

The European Social Survey asks respondents whether they trust politicians. Respondents are offered a 10-point scale, and after some experimentation, I have divided the subjects into those who gave scores between 0-5 and those who said 6-10. The available data come from even-numbered years between 2002 and 2012:


Note, first, that not many people rate politicians 6 or higher on a 10-point scale. That is not exactly startling news. Second, all age groups were more positive in 2002, less so by 2010, and somewhat more trusting again in 2012. Finally, the four major age groups show the same trends. If you wanted to identify a generational difference, you might note that seniors lost less trust between 2002 and 2004–possibly buffered from the recession by national retirement programs. The young are currently the most trusting, albeit not by much.

This graph is evidence that there isn’t really a phenomenon of youth distrust in politics in Europe. The distrust is shared. That said, I should note two caveats. First, the span of years shown above is short; it would be interesting to know how a similar question would have been answered in 1988 or 1966. Second, I didn’t track the same birth cohorts over time. People aged 14-29 in 2002 were 24-39 a decade later. It is conceivable that tracking birth cohorts would reveal a significant difference between those born in 1982 versus 1992–but that seems unlikely given the lack of a relationship between age and trust.

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Frontiers of Democracy 2015

Frontiers of Democracy 2015
June 25-27
145 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111

To register and hold a place at the 2015 conference, please use this form. The conference venue is in downtown Boston, easily accessible from hundreds of hotels. Participants are responsible for arranging their own lodgings.

While powerful forces work against justice and civil society around the world, committed and innovative people strive to understand and improve citizens’ engagement with government, with community, and with each other. Every year, Frontiers of Democracy convenes some of these practitioners and scholars for organized discussions and informal interactions. Topics include deliberative democracy, civil and human rights, social justice, community organizing and development, civic learning and political engagement, the role of higher education in democracy, Civic Studies, media reform and citizen media production, civic technology, civic environmentalism, and common pool resource management. Devoted to new issues and innovative solutions, this conference is truly at the frontiers of democracy.

Most of Frontiers is devoted to interactive discussions and learning exchanges, but we do offer very short, provocative, invited talks. The “Short Takes” speakers for 2015 will include, among others:

Harry Boyte leads the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College. Boyte has been an architect of a “public work” approach to civic engagement and democracy promotion, a conceptual framework on citizenship that has gained world-wide recognition for its theoretical innovations and its practical effectiveness.

Hahrie Han teaches political science at Wellesley College. His two most recent books are How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century and Groundbreakers: How Obama’s 2.1 Million Activists Transformed Field Campaigns in America (co-authored with Elizabeth McKenna)

Diana E. Hess is Senior Vice President of the Spencer Foundation and Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her most recent book, with Paula McAvoy, is The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education.

Caroline W. Lee teaches sociology at Lafayette College. Her most recent books include Do-it-Yourself Democracy, based on her ethnography of the public engagement industry, and Democratizing Inequalities, an edited volume with Ed Walker and Mike McQuarrie about the dramatic expansion of democratic practices in an era of stark economic inequalities.

Abhi Nemani is currently the first Chief Data Officer for the City of Los Angeles. Formerly, he helped build, launch, and run the national non-profit, Code for America.

Ajume Wingo teaches philosophy at the University of Colorado Boulder. His last book is entitled Veil Politics in Liberal Democratic States, and he is collaborating with Michael Kruse on The Citizen, a book about how Africans can move beyond where their history has put them and begin to make their own future and secure their own political freedom.

Brenda Wright is Vice President of Legal Strategies at Demos.  She has led many progressive legal and policy initiatives on voting rights, campaign finance reform, redistricting, election administration and other democracy and electoral reform issues and is a nationally known expert in these areas.

Frontiers is sponsored by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship at Tufts University, which is the host, along with the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and The Democracy Imperative.

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