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January 16, 2003

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.

January 16, 2003 5:14 PM | category: deliberation | Comments


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