Thursday, November 23, 2017

Talking it out, deliberative dialogue in higher education: Compact Nation Podcast

I had the opportunity to be interviewed about my teaching and research with colleagues at Campus Compact as part of #CompactNationPod. Listen below.

Talking it out, deliberative dialogue in higher education

 In our eighth episode of the second season, Co-Hosts Emily Shields and Andrew Seligsohn sat down with author and scholar Timothy Shaffer about his work and research in deliberative dialogue, including his new book “Deliberative Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning for Democratic Engagement.” We discussed what it really takes to embed dialogue in campus and community work and some ideas for making it more effective. We also took a detour from the usual pop culture conversation to review Thanksgiving traditions, including Andrew’s recipe for turkey that doesn’t suck. Listen now and weigh in online using #CompactNationPod.

Monday, November 6, 2017

New issue of Journal of Public Deliberation

***Just released!***

This issue features state of the art research on deliberative democracy and public participation in a variety of global contexts. Several articles offer advances in research methods, including John Gastil and colleagues’ assessment of the efficacy of using Participedia as a research tool, and Jaramillo and colleagues’ call for more transparency and data sharing in deliberative research. Research in this issue includes studies of participatory budgeting, stakeholder workshops, focus groups, and youth dialogues in public and university settings. The issue also includes practice-based Reflections from the Field and two book reviews that are likely to be of interest to scholars and practitioners in deliberation and public engagement.

Journal of Public Deliberation,  Volume 13, Issue 2 (Fall 2017)

Table of Contents

Testing Assumptions in Deliberative Democratic Design: A Preliminary Assessment of the Efficacy of the Participedia Data Archive as an Analytic Tool
John Gastil, Robert C. Richards Jr., Matt Ryan, and Graham Smith

Prompting Deliberation about Nanotechnology: Information, Instruction, and Discussion Effects on Individual Engagement and Knowledge
Lisa M. PytlikZillig, Myiah J. Hutchens, Peter Muhlberger, and Alan J. Tomkins

Beyond Aggregation: “The Wisdom of Crowds” Meets Dialogue in the Case Study of Shaping America’s Youth
Renee G. Heath, Ninon Lewis, Brit Schneider, and Elisa Majors

Explaining Political Efficacy in Deliberative Procedures: A Novel Methodological Approach
Brigitte Geissel and Pamela Hess

The Influence of Communication- and Organization-Related Factors on Interest in Participation in Campus Dialogic Deliberation
Gregory D. Paul

Focus Group Discussion as Sites for Public Deliberation and Sensemaking Following Shared Political Documentary Viewing
Margaret Jane Pitts, Kate Kenski, Stephanie A. Smith, and Corey A. Pavlich

Authority and Deliberative Moments: Assessing Equality and Inequality in Deeply Divided Groups
Rousiley C. M. Maia, Danila Cal, Janine K. R. Bargas, Vanessa V. Oliveira, Patrícia G. C. Rossini, and Rafael C. Sampaio

“Nothing about Politics”: The Political Scope in rural Participatory Governance, A Case Study in the Basque Country, Spain
Patricia García-Espín

Organising Stakeholder Workshops in research and Innovation – Between Theory and Practice
Morten V. Nielsen, Nina Bryndum, and Bjørn Bedsted

Mediation Styles and Participants’ Perception of Success in Consultative Councils: The Case of Guadalajara, Mexico
David López García

 Reflections from the Field
Reading Between the Lines of Participation: Tenant Participation and Participatory Budgeting in Toronto Community Housing
Behrang Foroughi
For more Transparency in Deliberative Research: Implications for Deliberative Praxis
Maria Clara Jaramillo, Rousiley C.M. Maia, Simona Mameli, and Jürg Steiner

 Book Reviews
Review of Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration by Teresa M. Bejan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017)
Donna Schenck-Hamlin

Review of Listening for Democracy: Recognition, Representation, Reconciliation by Andrew Dobson (New York: Oxford University Press: 2014)
Marietjie Oelofsen

Monday, June 26, 2017

Deliberative Pedagogy - Now on Amazon, B&N, and Google Play

Our book, Deliberative Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning for Democratic Engagement (Michigan State University Press, 2017), is now widely available. You can get it on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and in the Google Play store. As always, you can order it through the MSU Press website. There, use the code "PED2017" for a discount.

We look forward to having people check out the book. And if you happen to read it, please let us know your thoughts and reactions. Public comments are helpful (on Amazon, for example), but you are also encouraged to reach out and email me: tjshaffer [at]

We published this book because we saw a need for a collection that spoke to the multiple settings in higher education where deliberative approaches to teaching and learning might be useful and impactful. The strength of the book, I think, is the diversity of perspective, place, and institutional type. Here is the blurb from the press about the book:

As the public purposes of higher education are being challenged by the increasing pressures of commodification and market-driven principles, Deliberative Pedagogy argues for colleges and universities to be critical spaces for democratic engagement. The authors build upon contemporary research on participatory approaches to teaching and learning while simultaneously offering a robust introduction to the theory and practice of deliberative pedagogy as a new educational model for civic life. This volume is written for faculty members and academic professionals involved in curricular, co-curricular, and community settings, as well as administrators who seek to support faculty, staff, and students in such efforts. The book begins with a theoretical grounding and historical underpinning of education for democracy, provides a diverse collection of practical case studies with best practices shared by an array of scholars from varying disciplines and institutional contexts worldwide, and concludes with useful methods of assessment and next steps for this work. The contributors seek to catalyze a conversation about the role of deliberation in the next paradigm of teaching and learning in higher education and how it connects with the future of democracy. Ultimately, this book seeks to demonstrate how higher education institutions can cultivate collaborative and engaging learning environments that better address the complex challenges in our global society.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"He was a Democrat and I was a Republican so we didn’t have too much to talk about.”

The Belleville-News Democrat, the local paper from the community in which James T. Hodgkinson lived, provides a perspective that I think we need to attend to in the midst of this highly publicized act of violence towards members of Congress and their staff with a gun.

The paper quotes a neighbor of Hodgkinson:
Aaron Meurer is a neighbor of the Hodgkinsons and said he noticed in the last two months James had been gone. The alleged shooter’s wife Suzanne told him her husband was travelling. 
“She said that he went on a trip. She wasn’t real specific,” said Meurer, unclear whether the couple had split up recently.”He’s been gone for the last two months, so I haven’t seen him around too often.” 
Meurer said he occasionally cut his neighbor’s grass to help out. He didn’t know the neighbors well, just socialized from the lawn, and said his neighbor would fire guns on his rural property, commonplace in the open area outside of Belleville. 
“I knew he was a Democrat, a pretty hardcore one. I know he wasn’t happy when Trump got elected but he seemed like a nice enough guy,” recalled Meurer, who said the couple lived across the street for about six years. 
“He seemed like he was sem-retired, he was home a lot. He used to garden a couple of years ago,”said Meurer, who runs his own trimming and removal service. “I didn’t really talk to him too much. He was a Democrat and I was a Republican so we didn’t have too much to talk about.” 
Meurer said during the campaign Hodgkinson had a lone Bernie Sanders sign near the road in his front yard. He thought that Hodgkinson had raised foster kids who had grown up. He also thought there were grandchildren who visited occasionally. 
“We were neighbors but we didn’t talk every day. When we saw them in the yard we’d say 'hi' and go on our way,” said Meurer. “He seemed like a normal guy, a regular guy.” 
Meurer suggested that perhaps “this Democratic rhetoric made him snap. I know he was a pretty hardcore Democrat.”
What is most concerning to me right now, aside from the vast availability of high capacity firearms and this being the 154th mass shooting in 165 days, is the rhetoric we use to speak of our fellow citizens and how we identify so strongly with/against political parties. As Meurer said, “I didn’t really talk to him too much. He was a Democrat and I was a Republican so we didn’t have too much to talk about.” Have we come to a point that we can't share our humanity with someone if they don't share our political affiliation? Disagree passionately. Debate policies. And consider that your view might not be as airtight as you maybe thought. When we demonize the other, we create a space that, with the wrong ingredients, makes members of Congress become targets rather than fellow citizens with differing views.

Art from my mother's college days hanging in my home office. 
The National Institute for Civil Discourse is leading the Revive Civility and Respect campaign and it seems we need to figure out how to engage one another about the significant issues and challenges we face--even when we disagree deeply. We can do this locally. Here in Kansas we organized Kitchen Table Conversations about what it means to be a citizens and a member of a community. A dear friend and colleague in Kentucky inspired me to do this. The point is, we need to be able to talk with neighbors, colleagues, and coworkers about the issues that matter to us. Retreating into enclaves or disconnecting all together can lead people to take detrimental and sometimes deadly action. 

I'm sure I share many of Hodkinsons' frustrations with the current administration, but I know that actions like today only hurt us, not help. After listening to the Speaker of the House and Minority Leader today speak about the day's events, I would love to see a bit of a reset in how we approach our national politics. A serious challenge is that we have made everything partisan. Republican Senate leadership left a seat vacant on the Supreme Court because of partisan politics. We are on the verge of having millions lose health coverage, in part, because the oft-demonized President Obama's name is connected with the otherwise conservative healthcare model we have in the United States. We need better ways to engage, disagree, and deliberate. 

People across the country and the world are watching and listening, taking in the rhetoric and being shaped by the discourse that immerses them. We can do better. We must. We need to have things to talk about with neighbors regardless of which box they marked at the last election.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Seeing beyond categories #OpenYourWorld

It's an ad. They want to sell you beer. But it also speaks to the importance of engaging with others as people. We have differences. Sometimes rather significantly. But it helps to be able to recognize and respect the other as much as possible so we can work through those differences.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wendell Berry's Questionnaire


How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security;
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
"Questionnaire" by Wendell Berry from Leavings. © Counterpoint, 2010. (buy now)

Friday, January 20, 2017

In the midst of a new community in the Big Red Barn with Obama

Cornell University's Big Red Barn
In January 2009, I had just started my PhD program at Cornell University. In December 2008, I completed my MPA degree at the University of Dayton and made a winter move to Ithaca, New York. As someone starting an academic program mid-year, I was out of sync with most people. I didn't know others in my program well at that point. Like most of us have experienced some point in our lives, I had a sense of being in the midst of the unknown.

The inauguration of President Obama was a big event. The university had a watch party in the Big Red Barn (BRB), an old carriage house for the university president turned into a graduate student center. It's a great place for various events like the ever-popular T.G.I.F. (Tell Grads It's Friday) with $1 beer and snacks. So, just a few weeks after moving to a new place I was standing in a very crowded BRB watching President Obama be sworn into office for his first term. Many people were emotional. The gravity of the setting and situation spoke to what I recall being a very diverse crowd. What typically was a loud and lively space was celebratory yet solemn that day. I think people realized how significant the moment was for our history and for our future.

I was excited for my own new adventure at Cornell and beyond in the academy, but I was also excited and inspired by the possibility and promise of a democratic life that was/is engaging, meaningful, and inclusive of people from all walks of life and backgrounds. I saw a bit of that diverse America standing in that wonderful gathering place known as the BRB. We would walk out later in our varied directions via snow-worn paths to return to labs, offices, and classrooms. We had a charge and I feel that many people saw themselves as part of something larger that day.

President Obama's inaugural speech acknowledged the many crises we faced at that moment--terror networks, economic catastrophe, rising costs of health care--but he asked us to grow up a bit and choose a better path. In his words:
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
And what might be more a historical footnote from that day in 2009 is the poem offered by Elizabeth Alexander, entitled Praise Song for the Day. It remains, to me, the most beautiful poem I know. I include it here as people amass in Washington, DC for the inauguration as well as the march to follow the next day. Alexander spoke of possibility and love. We need that more than ever.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Yes We Can: People Share Their Most Memorable Moments from the Obama Presidency

As President Obama completes his second term, it is helpful to be reminded of the authentic and genuine commitment and compassion that shaped his politics. I don't think the White House will be this warm for a while.