Math, Science, History, Unraveling the Mystery: June Newsletter

Dear Valued Associate,

I suppose it’s from a mix of morbid curiosity, a sense of citizenship or interest in some level of truth that I’ve been skimming my way through the 729 page Mueller Report. I’m not sure that my attention span will hold up under 729 pages of legalese, but try to ignore the distractions of the latest Washington headlines for a minute and consider the following – and I’ll try to paraphrase what was written as objectively as I can: “The RussianInternet Research Agency (IRA) targeted social media operations at U.S. audiences with the goal of sowing discord in the U.S. political system starting in 2014. Facebook estimated the IRA reached as many as 126 million persons.” Russian generated propaganda – fake news, all designed to erode people’s confidence in facts, science, history and evidence, and it has been remarkably effective. Politico also reports new, additional data about Twitter’s involvement, generated by research from Symantec. And that’s just two of … how many platforms? From here on, fighting disinformation and (re)building trust is the first and foremost challenge facing anyone in public service. We must get better at it, and …

Stay curious,



Speaking of Truthiness

The changes in news, who and how it’s presented and how “news” is defined is top of mind if we’re interested in fighting disinformation and fakes. Most people now get their information from cable news and the internet. The Rand Corporation considered journalism facts vs. opinion and concludes that “cable programming today is highly interactive and subjective and relies on arguments and opinions to persuade and debate.” They also found that their “online journalism sample was characterized by a personal and subjective style that, in many cases, emphasized argument and advocacy and was very different than the pre-2000 print journalism sample, which relied more heavily on event-based reporting that often referred to authoritative institutions or sources.” Are facts and evidence-based information and decision-making just becoming a quaint old-fashioned notion?


You’re Gonna Have to Face it You’re Addicted to Loath

You might also consider that aside from the bot-generated posts and the active campaign to game the online world, real people like being mad. Really. We’re wired to … kinda get off on being angry; it’s a dopamine kick, a feel-good release of endorphins. And it works extra well online.


Rewiring Democracy

If you’ve not yet read this, I’d encourage you to do so. Matt Leighninger and Quixada Moore-Vissing summed up the current state of affairs nicely in this paper from Public Agenda. As they said, “When citizens do not feel their voices matter, particularly when they have made the effort to consciously engage, it can breed frustration, disengagement, distrust, and in extreme cases, violence.” I think their publication, Rewiring Democracy, captures the main and fringe influences that will keep us all busy for the rest of our collective careers in working with the public. As a practitioner of mostly thick engagement, I recommend it.


School Dazed 

I just spent several days professing with the next generation of public servants at a major university recently and a hot topic of classroom conversation had to do with big changes made by their administration without engaging the students who would be affected – they weren’t pleased. The conversation was respectful but heated, which begs the question of why most colleges and administrations continue to hide in their academic bubbles. The research shows that public confidence in higher education is declining even as costs are escalating and something’s gotta give. Parents, their checkbooks, and students need to be engaged in the solution.


Do You Really Mean What I Heard You Say?

So much information is exchanged online in some way; it’s how most people are connecting and how government agencies are increasingly communicating with their customers. We’ve never been able to reach so many people so quickly and so efficiently, but like everything else, there are always consequences and challenges. Most experts point to the fact that online communication typically lacks nuance and intent. Don’t let it.



Working with people and serving the public good isn’t for the faint of heart, especially these days; it takes true grit. That sounds like a funny description for what many people consider to be a soft skill, but it’s most certainly the case. Frankly, it’s easy to become discouraged when you deal with conflict all day long. My colleagues are fond of the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” I confess that I’ve, at times, had to force my skeptical left eye to stop rolling when I read that (my right eye is much more positive) but I stumbled on a story that actually supports that notion.


A Lot of Hot Air

If you’ve ever wondered if one of your more extrupulent (Yeah, I know there’s no such word … but it’s my newsletter) meeting attendees might be suffering from a lack of oxygen to the brain, we now have the answer – possibly. A recent study says “small rooms can build up heat and carbon monoxide from people exhaling and that correlates to poorer performances on problem solving tests.” Better built buildings are sealed and more energy efficient, but they can make the CO2 buildup worse – geez, you can’t win. So, crack open a door, will ya?!


Effective Public Participation, Managing Opposition and (Re)Building Public Trust Training

We’ve added a few more classes in 2019. We’ll help you succeed and build working, effective, more trusting partnerships with the public and your other stakeholders. The Participation Company (TPC) facilitates, consults, coaches and trains civil service, NGO and business people about their community conflicts and building effective public engagement programs. We help you make the disgruntled, gruntled. Our job is to help you do yours.

2019 Open IAP2 ‘Public Participation Foundations’ (5-day) classes:

  • Colorado Springs, CO – August 27-29 (Planning)/ October 23-24 (Techniques)
  • Denver, CO – September 11-13 (Planning)/October 21-22 (Techniques)
  • Orange County, CA – September 24-26 (Planning)/November 20-21 (Techniques)
  • Kansas City, MO – October 7-11
  • Pittsburgh, PA – October 14-18
  • Phoenix, AZ – October 21-25
  • West Palm Beach, FL – December 9-13
  • Charlotte, NC – January 13-17, 2020
  • Plano, TX – April 20-24, 2020

2019 Open IAP2 ‘Strategies for Opposition and Outrage in Public Participation’(2-day) classes:

  • Chicago, IL – July 25-26
  • St. Paul, MN – October 7-8
  • Phoenix, AZ – November 18-19

2019 Open TPC ‘Public Facilitation Essentials’ (3-day) class:

  • Denver, CO – November 12-14

IAP2 courses from The Participation Company are eligible for Certification Maintenance (CM) credits through The American Planning Association (APA)’s professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

The Participation Company LLC is also a strategic partner and provider for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).