in DC

My commute to the University of Maryland

takes me about an hour and fifteen minutes each way (I live in Washington

and take the Metro to work). Therefore, I like to cluster my downtown

meetings on the same days, rather than shuttle back and forth between

DC and Maryland. Today—the coldest day so far this winter—I

had a string of meetings neatly arrayed across downtown. The first was

a breakfast with my good friends from the Study

Circles Resource Center. They support thousands of local "study

circles" around the county—groups of citizens who meet face-to-face

to discuss issues. We ate in an Irish-themed hotel restaurant near Dupont

Circle and talked about ways to promote a national deliberation for young

people on the topic of young Americans’ role in public life. As a researcher,

I am interested in what would happen if several organizations that promote

deliberation in very different ways all conducted a deliberation on the

same topic at the same time. For example, there are online deliberation

sites like E-ThePeople; grassroots

networks of citizens involved in face-to-face discussion like the National

Issues Forums; groups that convene randomly selected bodies of citizens

for intensive, lengthy conversations; and groups that manage very large

summit meetings of citizens all convened together in a single place. I

am interested in the differences among these methodologies. However, as

a result of the discussion with Study Circles, I realized that the important

differences are not really in methods. There probably isn’t even a huge

difference between online and face-to-face conversations. The important

distinction is the way that these groups fit into a larger social context:

how they recruit people, who participates, and what outcomes potentially

result from the deliberation.

Next stop was a meeting with United

Leaders, a Massachusetts-based group that has a Washington outpost

in a major law firm. So I found myself sitting in the lobby of an elegant

office building, decorated with scupltures that looked like Henry Moore’s.

(They weren’t.) The flagship program of United Leaders is a summer internship

for young people, and they wanted me to help them get some support from

the University of Maryland. I’m going to do my best.

Then on to the Council for Excellence

in Government, a major nonprofit, where my colleague Deborah has an

office. I wanted to camp out there for a little while, get Internet access

so that I could catch up with the latest developments with The Civic Mission

of Schools, and talk to Deborah.

At 3, my colleages Margaret and Carrie and I met with Dorothy Gilliam,

a distinguished Washington Post reporter who now manages the Post‘s

programs

in journalism education. Our goal was to acquaint Ms. Gilliam and

her colleagues with our work with high school students in Prince George’s

County—work that involves a lot of journalistic skills (from interviewing

citizens to interpreting news articles). We were not well prepared and

did not have a good answer when we were asked what we wanted from the

Post. I blurted out that we were simply hungry for guidance from

people who had more experience than we do in journalism education. I don’t

know how we came across, but I did enjoy the conversation about young

people of color and their relationship to news and newspapers.

Margaret and Carrie and I then had a quick coffee near my house to debrief,

and that ended my work day.

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