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National Issues Forums

A Different Kind of Talk, Another Way to Act

Introduction to the NIF

Gerald R. Ford Museum
Grand Rapids Public Library

Kettering Foundation
National Issues Forums Institute
Study Circles Resource Center



What is NIF?
National Issues Forums (NIF) is a nonpartisan, nationwide network of locally sponsored forums for the consideration of public policy issues. They are rooted in the simple notion that people need to come together to reason and talk - to deliberate about common problems. Indeed, democracy requires an ongoing deliberative dialogue.

How Does It Work?
Each year, major issues of concern are identifies by the NIF network. Issue books, which provide an overview of the subject and present several approaches, are prepared to frame the choice work.

Forums are sponsored by thousands of organizations and institutions within many communities. They offer citizens the opportunity to join together to deliberate, to make choices with others about ways to approach difficult issues, and to work toward creating public judgment.

What Is Public Deliberation?
Public deliberation is simply people coming together to talk about a community problem that is important to them. Participants deliberate with one another -- eye-to-eye, face-to-face, exploring options, weighing other' views, considering the costs and consequences of public policy decisions.

Citizens have an undelegable responsibility to make choices about how to solve problems because the government alone cannot solve them all. Citizens' views often differ from officeholders' views. Deliberation may reveal new possibilities for action that neither citizens nor officeholders saw before.

Forums enrich participants' thinking on public issues. The process helps people -- who use choice work in their discovery -- to see issues from different points of view. At their best, forums help participants move toward shared, stable, well-informed public judgments, based on what is valuable to them about important issues. Through deliberation, participants move from making individual choices to finding common ground for action.

Who Participates?
A wide variety of organizations and institutions provide public space for citizens to develop skills in convening and moderating National Issues Forums. In many states, institutions of higher education, humanities councils, and/or other civic organizations have established Public Policy Institutes (PPIs) that provide NIF training. The list of states with locally organized and operated PPIs continues to grow: Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia. In addition, national organizations such as the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE) sponsor specialized PPIs for their memberships. For a complete listing of PPI locations and local contact information, please visit or call 1-800-433-7834.

How Can I Learn More?
Each year, Public Policy Institutes (PPIs) are held at institutions all across the country to train NIF moderators and conveners. They provide both NIF newcomers and veterans with background on the program. PPI participants receive training and practice in moderating forums, become acquainted with NIF materials, discuss how to organize NIF programs in their communities, and learn to appreciate the importance of deliberation in identifying the public perspective on public policy issues.

So What?
Citizens cannot act together until they decide together. Through public deliberation, citizens define what they consider to be in the public interest and find common ground for action.

By offering citizens a framework for deliberative forums, the NIF network helps the public take an active role in acting on public issues. And the health of this nation's democratic enterprise depends on the active participation of responsible citizens who take the initiative to deliberate about public policy choices and about the actions to be taken by citizens inside and outside of government.