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Bernklau Halvor
SCW 472

Civic Discourse

What is it?
Conversation about pressing societal issues, in which those involved seek to better
understand one another, learn from one another, and contribute to public policy

Ground Rules for Civic Discourse*

Expect, encourage, and explore a variety of perspectives
Listen respectfully and thoughtfully
Ask questions that will contribute to meaningful dialogue and deliberation
Speak up, and seek to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to do so
Explain your ideas and beliefs as carefully and specifically as possible;
resist sound bites and buzz words
Speak for yourself and from your own experiences; avoid representing
others without their permission
Appreciate communication differences
Recognize and value different forms of evidence (ranging from statistical
evidence to storytelling)
Stay focused on issues, not personalities; avoid personal attacks
Be willing to both disagree and seek common ground whenever possible

A better way to mutual respect is to engage directly with the moral convictions citizens bring to
public life, rather than to require that people leave their deepest moral convictions outside politics
before they enter. (Michael Sandel)

Lets acknowledge that there are things that are more fundamentally important than civil
discourse. Like, justice or compassion. If you are trying to lynch me, I dont care how civil you
are, how polite, how well-rounded your discourse. If I am trying to lynch you, you will no doubt
feel the same. And yet, we cannot always just go for one anothers jugular. As a nation, we are a
large organism. To move forward or just to stay healthy, there are a lot of things that need to go
on. Maybe civil discourse is the oil can that lets gears mesh and work in a democracy, that lets
us apply our minds, not just our passions and our unvarnished narrow interests to our conflicts and
points of disagreement. But passions matter, too. My hope is that with vigorous discourse
spirited, intense, honest we may learn from our conflicts, even see our Republic strengthened.
(Tom Ashbrook, from Civility and American Democracy: A National Forum)

* Many of these ideas are adapted from the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy and the Conflict Information
C. Bernklau Halvor
SCW 472


The purpose of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to reflect on, practice, and
further develop your civic discourse skills. Doing so should strengthen your ability to collaborate
with colleagues and clients for effective policy action.

The task:
1. Complete an initial assessment of your civic discourse skills during the first class session.
2. Set 1-3 goals for yourself, in terms of strengthening your civic discourse skills this semester.
Write these in the front of your binder or calendar, where you will notice them each week.
3. Participate in civic discourse related to social welfare policy issues throughout the semester,
paying attention to and intentionally developing your civic discourse skills as outlined in this
handout. Doing so will require not only intentional practice, but also coming to class with
assigned readings and activities complete.
4. Complete a follow-up assessment of your civic discourse skills at the end of the semester.
(This step will be done as a quest.) Reflect on lessons learned, areas of strength, and ways
in which you can continue to develop and use civic discourse skills in your future social
work practice.

Grading Criteria for Civic Discourse Skill Assessment:

Your self-assessment and strengthening of civic discourse skills will be worth up to 30 XP points.
In order to receive any credit for this assignment, both self-assessments must be complete and clear.
It will then be graded based on the following criteria:
- demonstrates a clear understanding of the assignments purpose
- identifies specific areas and examples of ones own strengths and meaningful areas for
growth in civic discourse
- makes conclusions that are thoughtful, specific, and consistent with what the instructor has
observed in class