Strengthening Cross-Partisan Collaboration in North Carolina Policymaking (2023-2024)


Polarization and pervasive distrust in politics serve as barriers to enacting sound public policy on critical issues. Leaders have helped erect these barriers by playing to their political bases instead of trying to understand the values of political opponents in order to form trust-based working relationships across partisan and ideological lines. 

Trust in American institutions has steadily declined, including trust in higher education. College campuses are often criticized for the ways they reflect and contribute to political polarization. Students have limited opportunities to engage with the often different political priorities and views of their fellow citizens without college degrees. Further, students are rarely exposed to the realities of state-level policymaking and leadership and the dynamics that make it difficult for local leaders to behave differently. 

While many organizations attempt to address dysfunction in Congress or at the grassroots level, the North Carolina Leadership Forum (NCLF) at Duke intervenes to address polarization at the state and local level. States are the building blocks of American democracy and serve as training grounds for future national leaders. Local leaders from different political parties do not know each other and rarely engage with people with different points of view. Further, state leaders currently have few spaces in which to engage in learning and debate about important policy topics.

Project Description

This project team will contribute to NCLF’s goal of bringing together diverse state and local leaders from the government, business and nonprofit sectors to engage constructively on timely and controversial public policy topics. NCLF's model is an alternative for healthy policymaking that will influence the national view of what is possible for our democracy. 

Team members will observe the NCLF model in action and conduct research to inform policymakers’ discussions. They also will develop their own leadership skills in engaging with different points of view and contributing to a healthy policymaking environment, attend NCLF cohort meetings during the 2023-2024 academic year, provide research support and help draft reports of the proceedings. They will select topics to research from cohort discussions and write issue briefs for use in NCLF events. Research projects may include analyzing the impact of NCLF programs on the policy-making environment.

The team will also explore how deliberative dialogue can contribute to better problem solving for policy issues and compare grassroots- and policy-maker-based dialogue programs. 

Anticipated Outputs

Data for future grants; peer-reviewed manuscripts; presentation to stakeholders; policy briefs 

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 2 graduate students and 4 undergraduate students. Students with an interest in psychology, public policy, political science, law, business, and other related disciplines are encouraged to apply. Students should be interested in diverse perspectives and have strong writing and/or presentation abilities, website and media skills, or experience collecting and presenting data on public policy topics. 

Team members will gain experience observing and interacting directly with state and local policy leaders from the business, nonprofit and government sectors at multiple events. They will have an opportunity to discuss what they observe and write about their interactions. Team members will also develop research and writing skills in an applied public policy setting. They will further develop their understanding of why American democracy is polarized in a unique setting (state policy forums) and how personal engagement and relationship-building could change that dynamic. Finally, by both observing others in dialogue and actually engaging in the same model of deliberation with teammates, each team member will enhance their own leadership skills for addressing polarization in their current and future spheres of influence.

In Fall 2023, this team will meet on Tuesdays from 2:45-3:45 p.m.

Student travel opportunities are to be determined, but team members will likely take two trips within North Carolina to observe NCLF programs. 


Fall 2023 – Spring 2024

  • Fall 2023: Discuss foundational materials and study NCLF model in context; attend NCLF events; conduct research for 2-3 NCLF meetings; debrief on lessons from observing program; draft project plan for spring
  • Spring 2024: Repeat research and observation with a second NCLF cohort; conduct new projects aimed at assessing and improving the NCLF model and impact on the public


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters

This Team in the News

Meet the Winners of the 2024 Bass Connections Student Research Awards

Image: North Carolina Leadership Forum logo

Duke North Carolina Leadership Forum logo

Team Leaders

  • Minda Brooks, North Carolina Leadership Forum
  • Deborah Goldstein, North Carolina Leadership Forum

/graduate Team Members

  • Anna Hallahan, Masters of Public Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Katelyn Cai
  • Andrew Fostiropoulos, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Ayush Gaur, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Adeleine Geitner, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Alexia Jackson, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Abigail Melton
  • Samantha Richter
  • Jaden Rodriguez
  • Olivia Schramkowski

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Abdullah Antepli, Sanford School of Public Policy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • North Carolina Leadership Forum
  • John Hood, John William Pope Foundation
  • Leslie Winner, North Carolina Leadership Forum