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Deliberative Discourse Initiative

Leading Across Difference

Deliberative Discourse Initiative

Civil discourse is a conversation in which we’re trying to promote mutual understanding. "Deliberative Discourse" takes the conversation one step further, into action. Specifically, the goals are a commitment to social good and the prevention of social harm.

Deliberative discourse Framework

The role of a higher education institution and college, particularly one that focuses on
policy, is to ensure that we foster spaces that encourage the growth of informed, engaged citizens prepared to participate in the work of our democracy. Success requires working with, and leading across, differences. More specifically, it requires skills in deliberative discourse.

Deliberative discourse is a form of communication in which participants engage in a discussion with the goal of reaching a decision or coming to a mutual understanding. It is characterized by a focus on reasoning, the exchange of ideas, and an effort to consider multiple perspectives.

Concentric circles showing five levels of engagement, starting with students, then college and campus wide events, then interaction between groups of students, then college and campus-wide events, and finally cultural values on the outer level.

To address the challenges ushered in by polarization on campuses, Heinz College developed a multisystemic intervention informed by Urie Bronfenbrenner’s socio-ecological development model, that seeks to embed and integrate deliberative discourse skills into multiple parts of the student experience, leading to a demonstration of the following:

  1. Increased exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives across the college
  2. Increased awareness of personal and professional barriers that prevent working across differences
  3. Increased skills that demonstrate complex and nuanced discourse to solve critical problems
  • Woman in yellow sweater moderates discussion from the front of a classroom.
  • Student and staff sit in a classroom.
  • Students, faculty, and staff attend panel discussion.

Equipping and Engaging Leaders

Students, staff, and faculty participate in a panel discussion focused on how emerging technologies are shaping our political landscape, in terms of both civil discourse and democratic governance.

Leading Across Difference concentration

To lead during a time in which polarization divides us like never before, we must move beyond words and embrace action. Heinz College’s Leading Across Difference (LAD) concentration equips you with the tools to engage in deliberative discourse, and translate those conversations into policies and actions that advance social good. 

This concentration provides education and experiential learning in the practice of deliberative discourse to students, faculty, staff, and the community. This holistic approach will result in culture change over time. You'll take classes in conflict resolution, negotiation, and leadership, a course load that builds toward the LAD skills lab. Here, you employ the characteristics of deliberative discourse – beginning with a goal in mind and debating different points of view about how to achieve it – to solve complex current issues. You'll hear from experts in the field and collaborate in groups to produce policy reform recommendations that address a real-world problem. 

Offered to members of all Heinz College educational programs, the Leading Across Difference concentration prepares you to navigate a workplace, industry, or society that suffers from division due to the stark contrast in the beliefs of its constituents. Upon completing the concentration, you'll possess the skills to facilitate discussion and harness the resulting collective wisdom to take action. Because it is action that creates impactand impact is the goal toward which our graduates strive.

  • 94-854: Developing as a Leader
  • 91-869: Conflict Resolution
  • 94-900: Negotiation
  • 94-897: Leading Across Difference

The first three courses can be taken in any sequence, and are prerequisites to the Leading Across Difference course. Leading Across Difference is a new class grounded in experiential learning that engages students and members of the community in skills practice around solving complex problems.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Cultivate cultural intelligence and responsiveness.
  2. Deepen negotiation and resolution across difference.
  3. Hone your leadership capabilities in managing diverse teams.
  4. Gain a competitive edge in the global job market.

Declare a concentration

Contact Dr. Basma for more information

Conversations at the Crossroads: Technology, Rights, and Public Discourse


Balancing Discourse: Rights and Responsibilities in the Age of Social Media
Navigating Free Speech and Regulation on Digital Platforms

Tuesday, September 26, 2023 | 12:30 - 1:30 pm | HbH A301

How does an organization’s right to regulate discourse on their platform interfere with a user’s First Amendment right as outlined within the United States Constitution?Professor Ananya Sen

As the number and scale of social media platforms continues to rise, so too does the number of challenges faced by the organizations that host them. Specifically, for platforms that center around some kind of information-sharing, there is a large-scale threat of the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Some organizations have already made attempts to mitigate this threat, but others have held back. As experts in both technology and public policy, the question we pose to you is: What is the right approach and how can we go about implementing it?

This conversation will be moderated by Ananya Sen, Assistant Professor Of Information Technology And Management.

Interested in sharing your thoughts? Sign up here to be selected to do so!


Threats to electoral integrity: preventing manipulation of candidates' messages
technology solutions and policy frameworks for secure elections

November 6, 2023 | Time: 12:15 - 1:30 pm | Location TBD

What role does technology play in detecting and preventing manipulation fo candidates' messages, and how can regulatory frameworks adapt to the evolving threat of digital disinformation?

In an era marked by the rapid proliferation of socialmedia platforms, electoral integrity faces unprecedented challenges. The spread of misinformation and disinformation poses a significant threat to the democratic process. While some organizations have taken steps to address this issue, others are grappling with the complexities involved. As experts in the realms of technology and public policy, we invite you to join a crucial conversation. Explore the right approach and effective implementation strategies to safeguard electoral integrity in our digital age. As experts in both technology and public policy, the question we pose to you is: Can technology alone solve the problem of electoral misinformation, or do we need a multi-pronged approach?

This conversation will be moderated by Zeve Sanderson, Executive Director of NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics.

Sign up here to participate in this event.

Deliberative discourse fellow 2023-2024

Rachael Harris, the 2023 Deliberative Discourse Fellow, is an Information Security Policy & Management student at Heinz College. Her research investigates the ethical implications of large-scale technology policies. Rachael has had a long history of discourse and community involvement; she competed on her high school’s speech and debate team in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, served as an assistant coach for a high school in Ohio, and represented Heinz College at a collegiate graduate student discourse event, among other engagements.

Rachael's passion is to amplify all voices through coordinating an educational environment meant for experiential exchange between students and their communities. During her master’s program, Rachael interned at Goldman Sachs as a cybersecurity analyst. She completed a B.S. in computer science from Allegheny College. While attending, she worked at the BiPartisan Policy Center, the Democratic National Committee, and Prudential Financial.

As the inaugural Deliberative Discourse Fellow, Rachael is tasked with collaborating on the design of deliberative discourse events, as well as leading and facilitating events under this initiative.

Our Origins: The Volcker Alliance - Deans Summit

The Volcker Alliance is a nonprofit organization whose work supports current and aspiring public servants. The Volcker Alliance Deans Summit is a collaborative network of leaders of public policy and service schools, founded on a belief that broadening the reach and impact of public service education requires ingenuity and collaboration. Leading Across Difference is an initiative of the Deans Summit.

The Leading Across Difference Initiative is co-chaired by Dean Ramayya Krishnan of Carnegie Mellon University & Dean Victoria DeFrancesco Soto of the University of Arkansas. They direct a working group that is exploring innovative ways to leverage courses and programs that teach students to work across personal and political divides. In particular, this group seeks to strengthen the following skills:

  • Engage in difficult conversations through active listening;
  • Express positionality and demonstrate self-awareness;
  • Remain curious and open to different perspectives and ideas;
  • Manage, negotiate, or resolve conflict; and
  • Balance personal values and beliefs with the need to “get stuff done” for the public good.