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Getting Past Groundhog Day


Engagement Symposium Overview Report
November 14, 2002
Washington, DC

Event Summary
Speakers and Resources
Outcomes in Brief
Next Steps
Engagement Systems and Metrics: Workgroup Summary
Collaborative Protocols and Culture: Workgroup Summary
Ideas for Moving Forward

More than 100 million Americans don't vote. Few of those who do are active citizens. So how can we engage more citizens and begin to create new "social capital"?

Best Practices
Getting Past Groundhog Day

Remember that wonderful Bill Murray movie, where he is forced to re-live the same day over and over again? Well, who among us who works in “progressive politics” doesn’t share that uneasy feeling…in meeting after meeting. more

Chapter One: The Progressive Wisconsin Story

Chapter Two: New Engagement Strategies to Reach 100 Million Non-Voters

Chapter Three: Kumbaya, Dammit--and Nine More Strategies for a Smarter Left

In November, the Institute for America's Future convened a gathering to begin addressing this challenge systematically, in the launch event of the IAF Engagement and Collaboration Program. Over 50 activists and scholars gathered at Gallaudet University to discuss core research gaps, and to brainstorm about ways to collaborate and learn from one another on an ongoing basis.

The Engagement Symposium, funded by the Turner, Surdna and Beldon Foundations, grew out of an initial analysis prepared by CTSG for the Turner Foundation in March 2001, which identified a need for this type of project and nine other programmatic areas of investment.

Event Summary

Robert Borosage, IAF's co-director, opened the day and identified the key questions that the Project hopes to address in the future, including:

  • How to engage the unengaged?
  • What do we need to learn?
  • How do we collaborate/build momentum/evaluate our success?

Borosage noted that the context for the Engagement Symposium event -- the election of 2002 where over half of the country chose NOT to vote -- was both auspicious and daunting for those interested in re-connecting with Americans on so-called "progressive" issues. One perspective to consider, which Borosage described, was the rise of the conservative movement in the last 35 years. From its low point in 1964, the movement's architects took the very long view, and seeded a series of historic projects to reach out to new constituencies/institutions, to create new voices and messengers. Serious, patient and committed capital was invested to develop the conservative infrastructure, with a commitment to bring these ideas into both the national political debate and electoral politics.

Speakers and Resources

The day began with an amination of current approaches, tools and performance metrics for engaging voters, members and activists. Attendees broke into two working groups on engagement metrics and systems & collaboration.

Speakers and Schedule

Available additional information from speakers (slides forthcoming):

  • Paul Ray's presentation on the new political compass and values-based politics
  • AFL-CIO voter engagement slides
  • Lisa Catapano: NRDC: Lessons Learned from Save Biogems website
  • Joel Rogers: Sustaining Wisconsin
  • David Nickerson (representing work of Gerber and Green): Measuring differerent methods of communicating with voters to voter turnout.
  • Stuart Trevelyan, CTSG: Integrated Metrics Report and Engagement Pyramid

Outcomes in Brief

Event planners sought three outcomes from the Engagement Symposium.

  • To create a framework for thinking about the engagement challenge and how to best charter more experimentation and better reporting.
  • To begin cross-pollinating expertise from diverse sectors (political, policy, advocacy, and commercial marketing) and linking experts and activists that normally don't talk to each other.
  • To create two learning networks and a specific, scalable list of to-dos to inch forward.

The Engagement Challenge: The day began with an examination of current approaches, tools and performance metrics for engaging voters, members and activists - and then moved to explore what it will take to push current engagement efforts to the next stage. Dan Carol of CTSG presented a schematic for understanding how funders could gain more efficiencies in funding multiple engagement "lab experiments" by linking these investments to collaborative mechanisms and protocols. Roger Hickey, IAF co-director, presented a long-term vision of the engagement opportunities that abound, noting the potential for an army of activism as baby boomers retire and devote more time to community service.

Cross-Pollination: The Institute invited a wide range of participants from politics, advocacy, academia and the for-profit sector to create new conversations and learning. Commercial experience in designing "customer relationship management" and psycho-demographic clustering are highly relevant to the engagement challenge. Advocacy group experiences in creating deep affinity relationships based on values and passions, not just political affiliation, are another opportunity zone for learning and testing.

Learning Networks: While we know that old alliances and affinities are changing, we don't know why or to what extent. There is a shortfall - an absolute dearth - of useful research on what engages people who care about choice, environment and related issues. There is a powerful need for shared metrics, statistics and demographics of success to test and evaluate engagement strategies, offline and online. Two workgroups on engagement metrics and systems, as well as collaborative mechanisms to support engagement, met in the afternoon to begin developing these networks.

List of suggested projects from metrics group
List of suggested projects from collaboration work group
Want to join the conversation and get additional referenced documents?

Next Steps

The Institute for America's Future's Engagement and Collaboration Program will continue to sponsor discussion forums on the twin challenges of engagement and collaboration. IAF's upcoming and specific objectives include:

  1. Expanding Our Learning Networks on Collaboration and Engagement. Funding will be sought to move forward on this front and to undertake the various projects identified by the workgroups. IAF will also seek funding for a half-time workgroup facilitator.
  2. Convening quarterly meetings that focus on particular areas of importance. For example, a tools summit in April and training in June at the CAF national conference.
  3. Sharing a regular review measuring results. Building on the CTSG-IAF Metrics report, IAF hopes to collect and catalogue engagement metrics and publish them on a regular basis.

About The Institute's Collaboration and Engagement Project

Half of America does not vote and millions of citizens remain unengaged. Existing advocacy groups are constantly struggling to find new ways to collaborate and extend the reach and effectiveness of their work. Funders, in turn, seek better measures for assessing short and long-term project investments in these areas. The Institute for America's Future will sponsor a series of events, workshops and publications focusing on the two central challenges facing the progressive movement: engagement and collaboration. The lead project advisors are Dan Carol, Founding Partner of, and Mark Steitz, co-founder of Target Systems Development - both specialists in the cross-cutting challenges of communications, demographics, collaborative technologies and techniques as well as grassroots engagement campaigns and collaborations in the field.


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