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It is wonderful to be in touch with you again to update you on the latest at the National Issues Forum Institute (NIFI). As a NIFI Board, we have been meeting more regularly and taking well-needed time to diligently tend to internal demands, reset, and recharge! With another powerful election cycle approaching and the recognition that the challenges facing democracy continue to grow, we are eager to communicate with you more regularly and gather your input as we continue to move forward.

A new day is dawning for NIFI! After a 40 year partnership with the Kettering Foundation, NIFI is emerging as an organization committed to serve the network of civic, educational, and other organizations and individuals. We remain committed to deliberative dialogue with its distinctive approach to addressing local and national issues from multiple perspectives. NIFI will continue to provide trainings, consultation services, and other inspiring activities. We are excited to collect stories from all of you and to assess resources and materials that we can share.

With change in the air, it is natural for different subsets of people and ideas to bubble up. Rest assured that the NIFI Board is solid and strong and with a new team of staff (as you will soon read about!) taking lead, we celebrate this time of growth, connection, and development. As you might guess, with any significant organizational change, we have faced deeply challenging times. In honestly naming and courageously addressing these issues, even in the face of uncertainty, we continue to ‘walk the talk’ of the work that we do and trust that these experiences will catapult us to a place of clarity and impact.

We are well on the way and we are eager to keep connected with you. We have been working on new tools, updating the website, and planning trainings and sessions based on NIFI’s election advisory. We would love to hear your thoughts and advice and remain true to the strong and steady force that NIFI has been and will continue to be. Thanks for being a part of this movement forward. We wish you all the best and please feel free to keep in touch with questions, comments, and/or ideas that you might have.


Awards & Recognition, Dr. David Mathews

NIFI Board Chairman Dr. David Mathews was recently recognized for his lifetime of service to American democracy with the Freedom of Spirit Lifetime Achievement Award. The award "transcends political, economic, and religious views to honor exemplary individuals and institutions embodying that inner freedom that is the energizing source of human courage, creativity, and love in the world."

Dr. Mathews has also been named by the Alabama Humanities Alliance as a 2023 Alabama Humanities Fellow. The Alabama Humanities Alliance "serves as a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. AHA promotes impactful storytelling, lifelong learning, and civic engagement."

Dr. Mathews will be honored at the 2023 Alabama Colloquium this October. The event is open to the public and tickets are on sale now.

NIFI Recognizes Betty Knighton

Betty Knighton served as National Issues Forums Institute President from 2019-2022 and has also been the director of the West Virginia Center for Civic Life and a senior associate of the Kettering Foundation for many years.  Betty brought vision and purpose to NIFI’s work.  During her tenure, she was always available to support network practitioners, university and community-based centers for public life, and nonprofit organizations dedicated to public engagement. NIFI is committed to building on her contributions.

2022 Deliberative Democracy Exchanges

From left to right: Derrick Hammond, Robert Richards, Lori Britt, Hollie Cost, Martin Carcasson, Cristin Brawner, Matt Leighninger, Betty Knighton, Gregg Kaufman, Leslie Garvin, Verdis Robinson, Debbie Stanton, Darla Minnich, Lisa-Marie Napoli

NIF practitioners from across the country gathered in Dayton, Ohio in July 2022 to consider ways to strengthen practices for connecting frameworks of national issues to local concerns and public acting. A key focus of the workshop was gathering existing resources and setting directions for developing additional ones that would support deliberative initiatives in communities and on campuses.

Welcome to the 2023 NIFI Transition Team!

Verdis LeVar Robinson, Acting President

Verdis assumed his role on August 1 after the NIFI Board named him Acting President at the July board meeting.  He will work with board members, staff colleagues, and network members to plan NIFI’s future. He will represent NIFI in external settings and dialogue with organizational leaders sharing common commitments to engaging citizens in democratic practices. Verdis brings extensive experience collaborating with nonprofit and educational institutions. Verdis is a Unitarian Universalist minister and serves the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, N.Y. He worked for the Kettering Foundation as an Associate with the Deliberative Democracy in Community Colleges and Interfaith Institutions portfolio. A faculty member at Monroe Community College, Rochester, NY, and SUNY College at Brockport, Brockport, NY, he taught African American Studies and Civil Rights courses. Verdis served in leadership capacities for Campus Compact and The Democracy Commitment and is a board member of several organizations including the National Issues Forums Institute.

Kenny McGuane, Administrative & Digital Communications Coordinator

Kenny McGuane has joined the transition team as Administrative and Digital Communications Coordinator. 

Alongside NIFI's former Chief Administrative Officer Darla Minnich and current Secretary and Treasurer Patty Dineen, Kenny has served the institute's digital communications needs for nearly a decade. He's worked with four NIFI presidents including Bill Muse, Carol Farquhar Nugent, Betty Knighton, and now our new interim president Verdis LeVar Robinson. Kenny is also a digital communications coordinator for the Kettering Foundation; he worked with NIFI's Chairman of the Board and Kettering Foundation President Emeritus David Mathews from 2011 to 2022. He also worked closely with NIFI Director Kara Dillard on Kettering and NIFI's proprietary online deliberative platform Common Ground for Action.

He is a Senior Master Sergeant (E8) in the United States Air Force Reserve, where he serves as the Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC) of the March Air Reserve Base education and training office in Riverside, California, which services more than 2,500 enlisted airmen. As education and training technicians, Kenny and his team assist base personnel with everything from career field upgrade training, professional military education, and all service-related education benefits, including tuition assistance and both the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bill programs.

Kenny holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from the University of Redlands and a Master of Arts in humanities from California State University Dominguez Hills. He lives in Palm Desert, California with his wife Alexandra, a third-grade teacher and former Kettering Foundation research associate, and their two children Miriam and Lola-Gene.

Gregg Kaufman, NIFI Transition Facilitator


Kaufman commenced his work with NIFI in June of this year. The NIFI Board retained his services for six months to facilitate NIFI’s transition to become independent and self-sustaining.


After 30 years of serving four Lutheran congregations, including 17 years in Princeton Jct., NJ, Kaufman directed the Georgia College & State University Coverdell Institute and coordinated the university’s American Democracy Project. He taught in the Department of Government & Sociology. In 2014, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities American Democracy Project awarded Kaufman the inaugural Barbara Burch Faculty Leadership in Civic Engagement Award.


A former National Issues Forums Institute Board Member (2014-2017) and graduate of the Kettering Foundation Democratic Centers for Public Life program, Kaufman participated in a variety of Kettering Foundation research exchanges over the past 15 years. He has a consulting and education initiative called The Deliberative Voice.


Kaufman remains active in deliberative work in the Jacksonville, FL vicinity and has worked with the University of Florida Extension and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Extension programs, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, UNF OLLI program, Cathedral District Jacksonville, Mayo Clinic Enterprise, and is engaged in multiple projects in Clay County, FL.

Patty Dineen, Secretary, Treasurer, & Website Contributing Editor


Patty Dineen has been convening and moderating National Issues Forums (NIF) in Pennsylvania and other states since 1994. She has assisted with issue framing and large deliberative forum projects for the Kettering Foundation and others including the Philadelphia Inquirers Citizen Voices projects, the National Summit on School Design (an initiative of the American Architectural Foundation), the National Parent Teachers Association, Common Ground in Akron Ohio, and Global Connections-Pittsburgh forums.

She has written issue books and materials for the American Bar Association and other clients. She is a freelance writer and the contributing editor for the National Issues Forums News (online) at www.nifi.org.

Dineen earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Thiel College, a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh, and a master's of fine arts degree in nonfiction writing from Chatham University. She also works as a museum educator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and is a member of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW).

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