Dialogue and Deliberation: Part II, National Issue Forums (NIFs)
"National Issues Forums (NIF)" is a nonpartisan, nationwide network of locally sponsored public forums for the consideration of public policy issues."
The NIF forum is characterized by the use of a NIF guide. The guide's primary thrust for a dialogue that yields a "successful deliberation" is the formulation of information and knowledge of the particular issue into at least three options. The premise is that to achieve critical thinking and in-depth analysis there must be more than a "yes/no" stance on a particular issue. Simply put, a minimum of three options on any particular issue, with pros and cons per option, places participants in a group setting where they are required at the outset to explore the topic in more depth.
Much of the NIF work has been facilitated by the Kettering Foundation.
The Kettering Foundation's work is guided by three assumptions:
1. Democracy requires citizens who accept their responsibility and are able to make sound decisions about the public's interest.
2. Democracy requires healthy societies of citizens in communities.
3. Democracy requires legitimate institutions that encourage healthy civil societies.
The NIF forums require participants "to make choices with others about ways to approach difficult issues and to work toward creating reasoned public judgment." The pervasive theme of NIF forums is participant involvement in "choice work".
The outcome for NIF forums is to have the group come to a common ground. The common ground is that gray area where participants can agree. After reviewing the pros and cons of each of at least three options on an issue, participants then are asked to develop a common ground statement about the issue of which each participant can agree.
Some issues to consider when using the NIF model are:
1. The NIF guides are usually very detailed and should be reviewed prior to the forum date by participants in order to have dialogue and subsequent deliberation on the topic.
2. Although participants do not necessarily have to read the material prior to the event, using the NIF guide presupposes a monopoly of opinion on the topic and can co-opt participant input even before the dialogue and deliberation begins.
3. If framing the topic is to capture all thought on the topic, the brief must indeed do that. Therefore local communities may be intimidated in framing local issues under the guise of the three choice model simply out of fear for "missing something".
4. Framing an issue for participants allows them to think publicly and to dialogue on the topic, which allows for easier transition into deliberation.