I just got word that an impressive project designed to help Americans connect with global issues beyond a 'fear-mongering frame' is shuttering itself but will live on through the various reports it produced via the web.
The U.S. in the World Initiative, first launched many years ago by Priscilla Lewis, P.J. Simmons, and Sue Veres -- all then at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund -- was housed in various stages of its development at the Aspen Institute, New America Foundation, and Demos.
Today's toxic political climate and the extreme polarization of views after 9/11 on a number of fronts -- ranging from energy and climate policy to economic questions to national security -- seemed to force politicians and policy-focused organizations to chase people at the extremes rather than to make the case for healthy civic debate, a deliberative process about trade-offs, and decisions based on interests rather than fear.
The U.S. in the World Initiative did a compelling job assembling people from across the political spectrum who were committed to the idea of healthy civic engagement that included respect for minority or divergent views and prepared outlines for those speaking to classrooms, community groups, in the media, or elsewhere in how they might present positions on climate, war and peace, energy, terrorism, and other issues in a way that dialed down the hyperbole, took a big tent approach to the discussion, and yet still conveyed serious data about the respective challenge.
I have thought for years that we needed this kind of initiative on a much more massive scale -- but despite successful swimming against ideological and financing tides for years, to build out USITW just wasn't possible.
Folks may want to check the original U.S. in the World Guide -- which I had a small role in helping to support, and other materials (mostly in pdf format) available throughout the website.
I particularly liked USITW's recent work titled "Managing the Fear Factor." Two interesting reports that grew out of this project, again in pdf format are "If This Isn't a War on Terrorism, What is it?" and also "Talking Security with Americans, Ten Years after 9/11."
The first report considers opportunities and challenges associated with eight 'big ideas' that influential communicators might deploy to help change the conversation about terrorism and national security toward less fear-driven directions. The second is a user-friendly communicators' toolkit based on insights from the Fear Factor project.
The folks that assembled these essays, reports, and toolkits were painstakingly diligent in including commissioned focus group analyses as well as worked with a vast number of communications, psychology, and sociology professionals supplemented by issue specific-experts.
I found this material useful over the years and am glad that it will remain online for some time -- but will certainly miss the U.S. in the World Initiative.
Clearly the world still needs someone working hard on rationality over unmanaged emotion -- and making the case for healthy civic engagement instead of the regular toxic bickering, policy foodfights and paralysis that we see today.
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