We collaborate for change

Healing the political divide — healing all the divisions that divide us — is a wicked problem, one that is so complex that there is no single solution, much less a simple solution.

According to Jon Kolco, a wicked problem is “a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.” Sound familiar?  Kolco goes on to say, “These problems are typically offloaded to policy makers, or are written off as being too cumbersome to handle en masse. Yet these are the problems—poverty, sustainability, equality, and health and wellness—that plague our cities and our world and that touch each and every one of us.”

We at Crossing Party Lines believe that by bringing people together in conversation and teaching them the skills they need to look at problems from multiple perspectives, we are equipping individuals to make a dent in all the wicked problems our country is facing today. Toxic polarization – one name for this problem we are addressing – is what keeps us from talking to, collaborating with, and  sometimes caring for each other. We also understand that ours is not the only solution or the “right” or “best” one for this problem.  That is, we recognize the “wickedness” of the problem.

We know that we need to attack polarization from as many angles as possible, using as many approaches as humans can design. Because of this, Crossing Party Lines supports all our colleagues in the Listen First Coalition and beyond.  Whenever possible we work with our colleagues, developing partnerships that make it possible for us to co-create solutions for specific audiences or specific aspects of this work.

Explore our current projects below.

Crossing Party Lines (CPL), Living Room Conversations (LRC), and librarian Jenny Garmon are partnering to create a Signature Experience for the National Week of Conversation 2024. Ours is a collaborative program designed to bring bridging to the local level by providing librarians across the country with the resources and training they need to host bridging conversations on topics including those aligned with the Disagree Better initiative: Political Polarization, Trust In Elections, and Immigration. 

We are working to design a complete program that is scalable and adaptable to libraries in all 50 states, rural and urban, serving large metropolitan areas as well small towns. This program will include:

  1. An online training for librarians designed to build the skills, competence, and confidence they need to serve all patrons.  
  2. A model for productive conversations designed specifically for library settings that draws from best practices from Living Room Conversations and Crossing Party Lines. 
  3. Updated OCLC and ALA resource hubs for bridging and civic engagement in libraries.

 

We plan to work with an initial cohort of librarians to host the first conversations before April 15, the start of the National Week of Conversation (NWOC). We will personally invite librarians in our network and ask them to complete a google form that will help us track topics that interest them most, experience level in hosting community conversations, interest in serving on a collaborative development team and/or on a panel, and populations served from their particular library.  

As part of the pilot project cohort, each librarian will learn best practices from CPL and LRC, as well as personal insights from Jenny Garmon’s experience in hosting multiple community conversations at the Kansas City Public Library.

Cortico, Crossing Party Lines (CPL), and MIT’s Center for Constructive Communication are collaborating to test and refine a new conversation platform that brings people together in recorded small-group conversations to share life experiences, lift underheard voices, and guide informed action.

This conversation platform combines CPL’s best practices for dialogue and listening with the analytic power of modern AI. The next evolution of Cortico’s Fora Desktop platform, the Fora Mobile app, provides an experience that lets users take their bridging conversations beyond “just talk.” The app provides conversation transcripts, helping participants make sense of what was said, as well as built-in features for extracting key portions of the conversation and sharing them within the community and beyond.

We believe the app we are developing will be a perfect platform for helping Americans Disagree Better and sharing the results of meaningful conversation with representatives at the local, state, and federal levels. We are excited to share our lessons learned from designing, testing, and refining this app. We will be co-branding our events with the NGA’s Disagree Better campaign

Crossing Party Lines is proud to partner with the Institute for Multipartisan Education in developing a Reference Card to guide students in talking with other students who hold opposing views.  This is one part of the resource hub the Institute is developing to support  schools and universities in facilitating curious and constructive disagreement in and out of the classroom.

Crossing Party Lines is proud to partner with the Institute for Multipartisan Education chose to work together because of our shared belief that curiosity is the antidote to today’s polarized educational institutions, but that it is constrained beneath layers of well-intended equity concerns.

Our goal is to help professors, teachers, and students foster and engage with polarizing topics while maintaining a commitment to inclusion and justice.

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    The Two Types of Depolarization

    Depolarization — the work of reducing toxic polarization — is best understood in terms of the two types of polarization that shape our interactions and perceptions in today’s politically charged climate:

    1. Affective Polarization

    Affective polarization revolves around emotions and feelings. It refers to the emotional divide between individuals or groups with differing political views. It’s about how people feel about others who hold opposing ideologies.

    • Us vs. Them: In affective polarization, people tend to see those on the other side of the political spectrum as part of an “us vs. them” mentality. Emotions like anger, fear, and distrust often come into play.
    • Emotional Reactions: When encountering someone with opposing views, affectively polarized individuals may experience heightened emotions. They might feel threatened, defensive, or even hostile.
    • Echo Chambers: Social media and personalized news feeds can exacerbate affective polarization by reinforcing existing beliefs and isolating individuals from diverse perspectives.

    2. Cognitive Polarization

    Cognitive polarization focuses on thought processes and cognitive biases. It pertains to how people think about the views of others.

    • Discounting Opposing Views: Cognitive polarization leads to a tendency to discount opposing viewpoints without critically evaluating them. People may jump to conclusions, assuming that differing opinions lack validity or logical soundness.
    • Us vs. Them (Again): Just as in affective polarization, cognitive polarization reinforces the “us vs. them” mindset. It hinders open-mindedness and intellectual curiosity.
    • Intellectual Echo Chambers: Cognitive polarization occurs when people surround themselves with like-minded sources, reinforcing their preconceptions and avoiding exposure to alternative perspectives.

    The Interplay Between Affective and Cognitive Polarization

    Affective and cognitive polarization often feed into each other. Emotional reactions (affective) influence how we process information (cognitive), and vice versa.

    Breaking the Cycle: CPL recognizes that depolarization  requires us to address both affective and cognitive aspects. Encouraging empathy and  active listening is not enough.  We must also teach critical thinking and intellectual humility if we are to truly bridge the gap.

    About Bridging

    Bridging refers to the intentional effort to reduce toxic polarization by fostering understanding, empathy, and communication between individuals or groups with differing political views. It aims to build connections and discover our shared humanity, ultimately bridging the gaps that divides people along ideological lines.