A Public Voice That’s Missing

In a speech given in October 2014 to the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, Kettering Foundation president David Mathews makes a strong case for the value and importance of the current statewide grass roots initiative by the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network to provide citizens with a stronger voice in shaping education policy in the Buckeye state.  In his speech, “A Public Voice That’s Missing,” Mathews contends that “political leaders aren’t lacking for information on public opinions from polls or the results of focus group research, but policymakers need to know much more about how citizens will respond to the difficult trade-offs that are inescapable in policy making.  They need to know not just what people want but what they are willing to live with.  Officeholders are often faced with deciding between options that are ideological opposites, which leads to further polarization.  Encouraging a public voice can counter this polarization by getting beyond the predictable, bipolar options and dealing with all those that resonate with what people hold dear.”  Mathews points out that there is an opportunity to add a more public voice because, for the first time in our history, there are a number of nongovernmental groups that are willing to let citizens make up their own minds rather than insisting they accept a predetermined position.  These organizations identify as promoting dialogue or deliberation on critical issues and could provide officeholders with useful insights into how the public sees issues and makes decisions about policies.  A free report of his speech can be downloaded from the National Issues Forums website.

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