The University of Arizona

"The Next Generation" Initiative: In-State Workshops on Civil Discourse for Legislators

The National Institute for Civil Discourse is committed to advancing the practice of civil discourse to strengthen our democratic traditions and improve governance. Many national elected leaders begin their political careers in state legislatures.  These future national lawmakers are the focus of “The Next Generation” initiative, which aims to cultivate a culture where discourse and collaboration typify public policy development.

In partnership with the Council of State Governments (CSG), the Institute has designed an introductory workshop tailored for state legislators entitled Building Trust Through Civil Discourse, which uses active learning exercises to convey knowledge of and explore attitudes about civil engagement.  A recent CSG e-newsletter article "A Great Tragedy in American Politics"  highlights the importance of civil discourse in state legislatures. The goal of this work is to:

  • Strengthen relationships across the aisle,
  • Increase the effectiveness of state legislatures, and
  • Create civility caucuses in participating state legislatures.

Throughout the workshop participants are encouraged to apply the material to practical examples from the legislative setting. As a group, workshop participants develop an action plan for advancing civil discourse in their own legislature with the goal of increasing legislative productivity. According to initiative leader Ted Celeste, a former state representative, “Participants learn how to set aside personal attacks and rebuild trust after a season of negative campaigning.”

This workshop has been presented to the Ohio, Nebraska, Washington, Maine and Pennsylvania legislatures and at the Council of State Governments Midwest and West Conferences.

The workshop presented to the Ohio legislators has led to the call for a bipartisan meeting by Ohio Sen. Frank LaRose. LaRose hosted this meeting at the Statehouse on Sept. 17, 2013. The meeting was an off-the-record attempt to learn more about each other, how they form their political views and how they can achieve greater cooperation. To read more about this meeting and the Institute's involvement, please click here. There have been a number of news articles covering this event. Click here to read an Editorial from Cleveland.com

The Institute presented the workshop at the Council of State Governments national conference in September, 2013, as we work toward rolling out the effort to states across the country.

In November 2013, the Institute brought the workshop to Washington. You can view the video coverage of the event below:

Based on feedback to date, the Institute is developing additional skill-based modules including:

  • Values-based Negotiation: How to advance legislation by understanding underlying values
  • Conflict Management: How to use conflict constructivelyto achieve your goals
  • Advanced Inquiry: How to acquire the information you need to get the job done
  • Creative Problem-Solving: How to apply improvisation techniques to break through impasses.

Listen to guest speakers Ted Celeste, founder and program director of Next Generation and Ohio Senator, Frank Larose, 27th District, on Town Hall Ohio speak about  Civil Discourse - Civility in Politics on November 25, 2013

In today's political world, it seems there are only two sides: left and right. However, things get done in the middle. So what's the secret to getting things done?