The health of our democracy depends greatly on how well citizens discuss, explore, and develop public policy. Ideally, public policy choices will be based on citizens’ and policymakers’ careful consideration of reasonable alternatives and their likely consequences. Increasingly, in the real world, however, policy choices are made in response to crisis or in highly-charged political contexts. Frequently the opportunity for the development or consideration of meaningful citizen input is negligible, and the considered policy options are similarly underdeveloped and limited to a split-the-difference or the lesser of two evils approach.
In response to these challenges, the mission of the Interactivity Foundation (IF) is to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions, thereby improving the health of our democracy and its development of public policy. That is, IF works to improve both the quality and quantity of the public discussions that shape the development of our public policy options. To do this, we’ve developed a small-group discussion process designed to help people collaborate in the exploration and development of a) the diverse concerns and values that relate to an area of societal concern, (b) multiple contrasting policy possibilities to address those concerns, and (c) the possible implementations and consequences of those policy possibilities.
Most of our work and discussion efforts can be roughly divided into 3 highly interconnected Focus Areas:
- Project (or “Sanctuary”) Discussions – We convene two panels of selected generalists and specialists in a series of longer-term and closed (or “sanctuary” style) discussions to develop and explore multiple contrasting policy possibilities, which are then developed into a discussion guide.
- Public (or “Citizen”) Discussions – We engage small groups of participants in a shorter series of more open-ended public discussions that help citizens review, consider, explore, further develop, and consider the possible implications of the policy possibilities presented in the discussion guide.
- Classroom Discussions – We also work with selected college faculty and other educators to adapt and use facilitated, small-group discussion processes in the college classroom, with the goals of both helping teach content more effectively and introducing students to an important democratic process and life skill.