Ohio: The results are in….

On June 20th, we hosted our second polithon since our founding on the issue of student debt in Ohio. We brought together 17 participants or “Policy Disruptors” (PDs), split into teams of 5 or 6, to spend 12 hours debating, discussing, and ironing out potential solutions. They were given a briefing book about two weeks out to read up and get more acquainted with the issue and we had two experts on hand the day of the event to help guide the conversations and answer questions. In the end, three policy papers were developed with each team having the following week to clean them up before they were sent to judges. Our panel of judges then reviewed the papers and passed them back to the teams with feedback and scores based on a rubric they were provided.

At the end of Ohio Polithon, the PDs had asked if, instead of picking one of the papers to be the “winner,” which advocacy efforts would be focused on, we could allow them more time to collaborate and piece together a final platform. In theory, this was a great idea, and we loved the enthusiasm of the participants; however, in practice, with busy lives and commitments, this was probably not the best route forward. It was difficult to coordinate schedules for calls to gain consensus and ultimately, the drafting of the final paper landed on one participant with others chiming in and adding research, but it took away from the original process.

For this reason, we’ve decided to release the three raw policy papers from the Ohio Polithon and pull back on our advocacy in Ohio. This is by no means a perfect process and was really part of an A/B split test to further refine the model, with the major focus being on the length of a polithon, so ultimately, we are still very pleased with the outcomes. We learned a lot and were grateful for the honest feedback from PDs, experts, and judges, so we could improve upon the methodology and move forward. In fact, we’ve already implemented most of these changes with upcoming events in Florida with the Florida Student Association and Texas with Young Invincibles. (See our lessons learned below.)

All this being said, we do still want these great ideas circulated, especially since we’ve seen two that were put out there come to fruition already. One team had an idea similar to the Obama Administration’s new rating system for colleges. Locally, Ohio is taking steps to improve advising of students in public universities so they not only complete their degrees on time, but also have a better sense of how to build their resumes and find success after graduation, which was also something the teams outlined. That’s remarkable and proves that our generation has great ideas that deserve to be heard – because they’re already happening!

Next up for the Ohio papers is that they’re now posted on our website and will be circulated via partners and social media. We’re also in discussion with partners to see if they can work with various pieces of the papers and with two online platforms to see if it would make sense to post them up there for further distribution, discussion, and potential implementation. So fear not, this is all still going somewhere!

Lessons learned:

  • A single day Polithon doesn’t cut it on larger, tougher issues, or when the end goal is a developed policy paper. We will now be primarily running day and a half to two day polithons depending on the goals of the event.
  • We don’t have the capacity to handle the events and the advocacy. As a brand new organization, we have only a few staff and simply don’t have the capacity to do all we wish we could right now. That doesn’t mean that in the future we won’t have a policy team to direct advocacy, but for now, we realize our limitations.
  • Along the same lines as #3, it’s critical for us to partner up with an “Anchor Partner” ahead of a polithon, who ideally is bringing us in to use our methodology to develop new policy solutions in the area in which they work. Thus, they can better guide the process, setting concrete goals, and take the reins of advocacy immediately after a polithon.
  • That Briefing Book we send out to our PDs two weeks ahead for background information is critical. Not only do we need to make sure more is put into their development so our PDs are aware of existing policies as well as those that have been tried and failed, but we need our PDs to read them – in full – to be full prepared to tackle the issue at hand.
  • Communication needs to be as clear as possible from Polithon and It’s really important that PDs are fully aware, upfront, of the time commitment and any other expectations. The same message should come from both Polithon and partners and is outlined in our brief Participant Guide, which PDs also need to read in full ahead of an event.

Check Out the Proposals

Leave comments, feedback, ideas, etc., and continue the discussion. We’re eager to hear your thoughts!

Team 1

Team 2

Team 3

Millennials are frustrated with politics: Why this “negative” energy could be a good thing

Record election spending, the regularity with which moneyed interests win out in politics, and officials’ inability to persuade the American people that they can “get stuff done,” have seriously harmed Americans’ confidence in our democracy. Recent surveys from the Brennan Center showing that 41 percent of Americans believe that “votes don’t matter very much” and from the Harvard Institute of Politics indicating that fewer than a fourth of young Americans said they would be “definitely voting” in 2012 are dangerous omens.

We are stuck in a vicious cycle: cynicism leads to reduced participation. But to politicians and pundits, the lack of participation looks an awful lot like apathy, leading to the further detachment of politics from social and economic realities. This detachment fuels cynicism, continuing the cycle. Studies show that disillusioned political observers are significantly less likely to perceive media outlets as important sources of information, and in fact, Gallup polls show that confidence in radio, newspapers, and television fell from 72 percent in 1976 to 43 percent in 2010. So as the political system neglects large chunks of the population, those voters become more disengaged and less informed. Eventually, they will be ignored all together.

The only way to break this cycle is to make politicians listen. We have to keep a bug in their ears, but it has to be singing a very particular tune. Hashtag-activism and political complaining do not get very far in Washington. Instead, millennials need to mix creativity with proven methods for persuading politicians: visitations, phone calls, letters, and protests advocating viable solutions to problems. We need to harness our frustration. Polithon is committed to providing advocacy guidance and channeling distaste towards inaction into solution building.

Once we develop solutions to political problems, a plethora of statistical evidence shows that the average citizen has the power to push politics forward. We can act on our change potential by sending letters, calling, or sitting down with their congressmen or state representatives, or mobilizing voters by organizing rallies. A  1993 study by Rosenstone and Hansen concluded that had social movements been as active in the 1980s as they had in the 1960s, voter turnout would have been more than 8 percent higher than it was.

Successful 1960s social movements advocated for a slew of welfare programs, civil rights, and an end to the draft. The difference between those movements and, say, Occupy Wall Street, was the lack of ambiguity in their visions and the concreteness and viability of their demands. For protests to lead to voting and change instead of cynicism, they must articulate a tangible, realistic vision.

Once that happens, higher millennial turnout will have a threefold effect on policy. It will send a clear message to politicians that spending political capital on millennial policies is worthwhile, it will signal millennial approval for policy propositions that otherwise may not be given as serious consideration, and it will help put politicians who have millennials’ backs get into and stay in office.

Abraham Fraifeld is Polithon’s Operations Assistant. He is a rising Junior at Georgetown University working towards a BS in Foreign Service and a Certificate in International Development. Abraham wants to motivate voters to think outside the box and take advantage of the power of loud advocacy .

Pivot!

Something I’ve learned very quickly as a new entrepreneur is that when something isn’t going right, it either means your target is off or you need to pivot because you’re not going in the right direction – even just a slight bit. As we’ve pressed forward developing Polithon into the organization we want to become, we’ve kept a running list of the problems, pitfalls, and solutions, making sure we’re holding ourselves accountable. We’re calling it our “lessons learned” doc and as things began to not work out as planned with our first anticipated Polithon of 2015 in Ohio, slated originally for this coming weekend, we dug deep to see what needed to shift.

Our original focus was only national – bring together 25 people in five different states, hack a national comprehensive solution through a full weekend hackathon, and then bring the winning team from each state to DC to compromise and come up with a final outcome to be pushed out. We thought we’d start big and then look locally and test the model on both levels separately.SS quote

What we’ve come to find though, is that people are even more eager for a chance to do something locally, especially since it’s tangible and in their own backyard. This also helps us determine where we can have the most impact during the early stages of Polithon as an organization.

So instead of a strictly national focus, we’ll be running Polithons in the same five states as planned – Ohio, California, Iowa, New Hampshire and Texas – but focusing on what the state governments can do to fix the issue. From there, the teams in each state with the best solutions will still be brought to DC in January of 2016 before the first caucuses of the Presidential Election, and hack a solution to the issue at the national level. These local and national outcomes will be developed into a full policy proposal which will be pushed out by local and national partners and acted upon.

This shift will also allow us to run the state level Polithons in just one day – typically a Saturday – and then have the final outcome document cleaned up and fully developed over the next 3-5 days via GoogleDocs and email before being sent to the judges for review. The event will still be preceded by an informal dinner on Friday and then run from roughly 9 am to 9 pm the following day. We hope this adjustment will make the events more accessible and facilitate a better overall outcome by ensuring local focus, collaboration, and buy-in. The national Polithon will still be run over a full weekend, helping us to further prove the different levels of the model.

Our mission, vision, and goals remain the same and even though this is just a small pivot, we wanted to make sure we remained as transparent as possible and kept our loyal supporters up to date. Thanks for continuing on this journey with us!

– Julia

And for laughs….the title reference via Friends: