An American nonpartisan, nonprofit organization building a democracy that works for everyone and fuelling progress on critical issues.
Mission and Purpose
Public Agenda helps build a democracy that works for everyone. By elevating a diversity of voices, forging common ground, and improving dialogue and collaboration among leaders and communities, Public Agenda fuels progress on critical issues, including education, health care and community engagement. Founded in 1975, Public Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in New York City.
Origins and Development
Public Agenda was founded in 1975 by social scientist and author, Daniel Yankelovich, and United States Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance. For over 35 years, Public Agenda has aimed to fulfill two main missions: for American leaders to better understand the public's point of view, and for citizens to know more about critical policy issues so they can make thoughtful, informed decisions.
PublicAgenda.org has been nominated twice for the prestigious Webby Award as one of the Internet's best sources for balanced, accurate information on public policy issues. It has participated with many different communities and partnered with many organizations to better inform the nation, so citizens and leaders can make higher quality decisions on public issues.
Organizational Structure and Funding
Public Agenda is funded by multiple major organizations. Some grants are designated for specific projects.
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - Promotes greater equity in global health, education, public libraries, and support for at-risk families in Washington State and Oregon
- Carnegie Corporation of New York - Created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote "the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding."
- Charles F. Kettering Foundation - Research foundation that seeks ways to make fundamental changes in how democratic politics are practiced.
- Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation - Encourages entrepreneurship across America and seeks to improve the education of children and youth.
- Learning Point Associates - Provides the evaluation, research, policy and practice that allows educators to find the learning point faster, more often, and for more students.
- Peter G. Peterson Foundation - Dedicated to increasing public awareness of the nature and urgency of several key challenges threatening America's future, and to accelerating action on them.
- Rockefeller Brothers Fund - Helping to build a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world
- The Ford Foundation - Seeks to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.
- The Lumina Foundation for Education - Strives to help people achieve their potential by expanding access and success in education beyond high school.
- The Wallace Foundation - Seeks to support and share effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people.
- The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation - Concentrates its resources on activities in education, environment, global development, performing arts, and population.
- W.K. Kellogg Foundation - Focuses on improving current and future communities' quality of life in the United States, Latin America, Caribbean, and southern Africa.
Specializations, Methods and Tools
The following has been adapted from "Our Approach" on the Public Agenda website :
Public Agenda helps build a democracy that works for everyone and fuels progress on critical issues through:
1. Research that illuminates people's views and values
Public Agenda conducts nuanced and in-depth opinion research, based on co-founder Dan Yankelovich's Learning Curve perspective. This research enables the organization to understand where stakeholders are coming from, what they think and why. In turn, it helps leaders and stakeholders grasp:
- how others are thinking and talking about a problem
- the sorts of solutions they are currently willing to support
- how to effectively engage them in problem solving
2. Engagement that gets people talking, learning from each other and working together on solutions.
Public Agenda's engagement work is propelled by their research and based on decades practice. Through careful issue framing, nonpartisan Choicework discussion guides, well-designed dialogue, expert facilitation and skillful reporting, Public Agenda helps people build common ground, despite their differences.
The organization's Community Conversation model for public engagement offers an alternative to traditional and often unproductive public forums. Community Conversations provide government officials and community leaders an opportunity to engage a broad cross section of a community in productive, action-oriented deliberation.
3. Techniques for managing the human side of change.
Often, earnest attempts to make a good decision and solve a problem are derailed when it comes time to make necessary changes. Change is always bumpy, but Public Agenda helps improve the implementation and sustainability of reform through additional research and engagement techniques that address the human side of change.
4. A capacity building ethos.
Public Agenda strengthens the capacity of community members, organizational and institutional leaders, and other stakeholders to continue and expand the work they do. Public Agenda works closely with stakeholders to develop tailored and flexible tools, provide training and assistance, and share knowledge of lessons learned.
5. Communications that build momentum for change.
Through approachable and readable reports, regular commentary, social media, and presentations, podcasts and webinars, Public Agenda shares what they're doing and learning to help others across the nation and worldwide work together toward solutions.
Major Projects and Events
Public Agenda is associated with many different public engagement projects and community forums to help the nation’s citizens come together to better deliberate and collaborate on difficult issues.
One of the projects was the Citizen Engagement And Community Transformation in Bridgeport, CT. In 1996, the Bridgeport Public Education Fund (BPEF) joined a national demonstration project led by Public Agenda and the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) to explore possibilities for public dialogue about education reform among diverse stakeholders.
In the spring of 2004, Public Agenda participated in the Nebraskans Weigh in on Essential Educational Opportunities for All Students. The Nebraska State Board of Education was looking for a way to allow a cross-section of residents to weigh in on the recommendations they had developed and laid out in a document called Equitable Opportunities For an Essential Education For All Students-Recommendations for Nebraska Public School Districts.Public Agenda had helped the state board connected hundreds of Nebraskans to discuss the controversial question of statewide standards. Parents, students, educators and community members participated in Choicework discussion forums where they wrestled with various approaches to the standards issue. Building off the results of these discussions, the state board was able to adopt new statewide guidelines. In the end, Public Agenda conducted focus groups and helped selected districts facilitate discussion forums with more than 370 parents, students, educators (teachers, principals and superintendents) and members of the general public that represented roughly 25 districts.
In 2004, Public Agenda conducted fieldwork in New Haven, Connecticut; San Antonio, Texas; and New York City, which was support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the New York Community Trust. This project was called the Straight Talk/Street Talk: Possibilities for Dialogue Between Communities and the Police. They interviewed numerous law enforcement officials, from patrol officers to upper brass, and held 12 focus groups with various kinds of residents. They also developed four new Choicework guides (Preventing Crime, Promoting Public Safety; Improving Police-Community Relations; Ensuring School Safety and Preventing Terrorism and Protecting Civil Liberties) that were used to structure five dialogue sessions held across the three sites.
In September 2003 Public Agenda launched the project of Addressing Property Tax Reform in New Jersey. Public Agenda helped the Coalition for the Public Good, a New Jersey based grass-roots organization, to organize and conducted a major statewide "Citizen's Tax Assembly," a two-day event held in the capitol building in Trenton. The New Jersey Citizens' Tax Assembly brought together close to 100 diverse "delegates" from every county in the state to engage one another in a dialogue on possible approaches to tax reform.
Public Agenda helped in creating a different kind of forum in which residents from across the state could engage complex questions of tax reform and reveal that reasonable solutions are possible. Public Agenda carried out focus groups with Anglo parents, bilingual Hispanic parents, Spanish-only Hispanic parents, students of various backgrounds, and teachers on the topics of student achievement, diversity, and equity, for the Standards in San Jose, California project. One district official called the findings "an eye-opening experience" because parents of all backgrounds, along with students themselves, called for high expectations for student achievement. In response, the school board raised its graduation requirements. The district then moved on to a broad-based community conversation about "Standards and Expectations for Our Students" with Public Agenda assisting by training conversation organizers and moderators, and by developing discussion materials. Although the district initiated and sponsored the forum, a committee that included parents, members of the clergy, employers and others took over the planning and operations. The forum, held at a downtown church, drew about 140 participants; some discussions were conducted in Spanish with translated materials and a bilingual moderator and recorder. The National School Public Relations Association awarded the district a top award for its public engagement model.
In the 1990's research commissioned by the Graustein Memorial Fund in Connecticut and conducted by Public Agenda revealed significant gaps between the general public, community leaders and educators concerning the problems facing Connecticut's schools, which resulted to the Changing the Conversation on Education in Connecticut project. To kick off the project, hundreds of organizations--school districts, parent groups, community-based organizations, etc., were invited to participate. Initially, eight local sponsors were chosen, covering 17 towns. By design, they were to work as a network to build statewide capacity for civic dialogues on the range of issues facing Connecticut's schools. Each site was funded and received technical assistance from Public Agenda. Since then, over 70 cities and towns across the state have participated and the initiative continues to grow.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Want to contribute an analysis of this organization? Help us complete this section!
Reports & Surveys: https://www.publicagenda.org/pages/reports-and-surveys
Discussion Guides: https://www.publicagenda.org/pages/choicework-homepage
Choicework Dialogue (method)
Bill Moyers, "Interview with Scott Bittle and Jeanne Johnson," PBS.org, Jan 22 2010, http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/01222010/watch2.html
Lead image: GuideStar https://goo.gl/BwbFmd