Strengthening Cross-Partisan Collaboration in North Carolina Policymaking (2024-2025)


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 as well as 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. The NCLF brings together diverse state and local leaders from the government, business and nonprofit sectors to engage constructively on timely and controversial public policy topics. 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. Team members will investigate how the NCLF model compares to other “deliberative dialogue” models, with a particular consideration of its focus on individuals in leadership positions and effective techniques to facilitate conversations on divisive public policy topics. 

Team members will begin by reviewing and discussing existing material describing the NCLF model for deliberative dialogue and compare the NCLF approach to other national efforts to foster dialogue or improve the health of American democracy. The team will also look at academic and field literature exploring the causes of polarization and the range of interventions to address current dynamics. 

This work will build on the work of a previous team and delve deeper into the question of whether constructive engagement and deliberative democracy skills make leaders more effective in the legislature or other sectors, and how the NCLF model increases leaders’ self-efficacy. Team members will also compare the NCLF model to other similar program models as part of a “playbook” publication NCLF will use for facilitation training in the future.

While exploring the broader field of deliberative dialogue, the team will engage directly with ongoing NCLF program components, including attending and observing programs; preparing background materials for events; supporting analysis of pre- and post-program surveys and the implementation of other evaluation tools; contributing to report-drafting on events; interviewing past participants; and creating materials that describe alumni experiences, such as an academic paper, videos, audio recordings or opinion pieces.

Anticipated Outputs

Issue briefs and presentations; written reports, memos and/or other materials to be published by NCLF; new materials for NCLF’s website; data collection through participant surveys; assessment of NCLF programming

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 1 graduate student and 8 undergraduate students interested in psychology, public policy, political science, law, business and/or other related disciplines. 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. 

All 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. Students will have an opportunity to discuss what they observe and write about their interactions, and will develop research and writing skills in an applied public policy setting. Students 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 the team, students will enhance their own leadership skills for addressing polarization in their current and future spheres of influence.

This project includes an optional summer component during which 2 students will work 20 hours per week for 10-12 weeks (June 1 to August 15) to train on the NCLF model, help communicate the NCLF’s work and help prepare a program for NCLF alumni in the fall.


Summer 2024 – Spring 2025

  • Summer 2024 (optional): Train on NCLF model; prepare reading materials and foundational frame for NCLF model; prepare program for NCLF alumni; help communicate NCLF’s impact
  • Fall 2024: Discuss foundational materials and study NCLF model in context; begin alumni interviews and develop model for assessing impact; build comparison of NCLF model to other deliberative dialogue models
  • Spring 2025: Produce communications and academic project related to impact of NCLF; conduct statewide forum; observe and support program; write memo and produce final reports


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

See related team, Strengthening Cross-Partisan Collaboration in North Carolina Policymaking (2023-2024).


Image: North Carolina Leadership Forum logo

Image: North Carolina Leadership Forum logo

Team Leaders

  • Abdullah Antepli, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Minda Brooks, North Carolina Leadership Forum
  • Deborah Goldstein, North Carolina Leadership Forum

/zcommunity Team Members

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