Interactivity Foundation facilitates public policy discussions

Article by Amy Greil, community natural resource and economic development educator, Kenosha and Racine Counties
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

What is an appropriate public policy response to assure public safety?

This is just one of the many questions I have been hearing since the Las Vegas tragedy on Oct. 1.

I know that the health of democracy depends greatly on how well citizens discuss, explore and develop public policy, so let us take a step back and consider it together.

Increasingly, public policy choices are made in response to a crisis or in highly charged political contexts. This period of shock after a mass shooting that left 58 people dead at a music concert is highly charged, and people desperately want a policy solution to stop future violence.

Commonly, this knee-jerk public reaction means that there is a reduced opportunity for the development or consideration of meaningful citizen input. Policy options are then left underdeveloped and limited to the “lesser of two evils.”

We feel we have to do something before people move on — but at what cost? No substantive common ground is found through the policy-making process, as is intended through democratic public policy-making, so we should not be surprised if not much changes on the ground.

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for chaos to engage in meaningful interactions among people with differing views. The Interactivity Foundation is a credible resource that seeks to enhance policy-making processes by proactively improving both the quality and quantity of discussions in homes, public spaces and communities.

For example, I discovered discussion guides that frame ways of safely and respectfully talking with neighbors, family, friends, faith-based communities, schools about public policy aims of improving mental health provisions and/or tailoring more effective approaches toward crime and punishment. Consider using/adapting a discussion framework to bring about a sense of common ground and robust policy ideas.

I found just reading through these guides helped me to appreciate the nuances and ranges of perspectives that are, by their nature, very complex and not subject to “expert” opinion.

I see that traditional expertise does not hold up with certain types of subjective, value-laden issues that require careful consideration of positive and negative intended/unintended consequences.

Much of IF’s work can be translated to our daily encounters when we feel inclined to engage in fierce debate, bitter argument or rigid agenda-pushing.

Strategies to consider when talking about public policy:

Using “Yes—and …” statements. Try to build on each other’s ideas as they come up rather than evaluating or criticizing them. People see truth in their beliefs; do not be too quick to discredit them.

Know that reaching a point of common understanding does not mean agreement. Ask questions to draw out others’ thinking and to check whether you understand them.

Do not set out to persuade people to your way of thinking. “Winning” a debate is not the goal of public policy — it should not be anyway. Rather, we should strive to understand differing views, and be willing to revise our own thinking if needed.

Try to find grains of truth in the arguments of others, especially if you do not agree with them.

Surely readers are processing the unfolding of events in their own way, but perhaps the resources provided by the Interactivity Foundation’s library (found at https://www.interactivityfoundation.org) can help to heal, restore faith and mutuality, and spur responsible policy action.