Does our approach at Braver Angels work?

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By: Dr. Eliza Hawkins

This past week we released our 2020-2021 evaluation, Depolarizing During the Pandemic, which uses rigorous evaluation data to measure the impact of Braver Angels programs on Americans’ attitudes toward politics, and toward one another.

Dr. Eliza Hawkins is a professor at Brigham Young University who helps lead the evaluations committee responsible for researching and writing the report. Below she summarizes some key findings that demonstrate the effectiveness of our work.

Braver Angels rose to the occasion when faced with the challenges of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic, racial strife, economic tumult, increasing polarization among citizens, and one of the most divisive elections in American history.

To do that, volunteers rapidly converted Braver Angels programming to virtual settings to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. We started With Malice Towards None and Hold America Together initiatives to address the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 election. And we continued our work to ensure that constructive dialogue was the preferred mode of addressing division and conflict.

To gauge how well we did, the evaluation team looked at a year of data, starting with the March 2020 lockdowns and continuing into February 2021. During that time, Braver Angels hosted more than 400 programs that received almost 6,000 responses on feedback forms. We recently released our 2020-2021 report based on this data, which you can find here.

So, how did Braver Angels do?

Significantly, Braver Angels is meeting its overall goal to bring Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic. When asked after a Red-Blue Workshop, “How comfortable (or less estranged or angry) do you feel with those on the other side of the political divide?,” 82% say they felt more connected to the “other side.” Even more (86%) say they understand the “other side” better.

The Depolarizing Within workshop is also successful, with more than 80% saying that they were better able to counteract their inner polarizer and express criticism of the other side without increasing polarization.

Moreover, workshop participants are likely to share what they learned with other people around them (depending on the event or workshop, the numbers varied from 77% to 91%).

These numbers are encouraging since they indicate that Braver Angels events may have a positive effect for communities. Beyond the questions addressing polarization, the feedback showed Braver Angels programs elicited high levels of participation (80%-96%) and participants rated the programs as very well-run and well-designed (89%-95%).

Who participated in the Braver Angels programs between March 2020 and February 2021?

Perhaps the biggest change that happened during the pandemic is that we attracted more people to our offerings as we shifted to an online format. Membership increased substantially from 2,950 members in March 2020 to 9,262 by the end of February 2021. We also increased the number of people responding to feedback surveys, which gives us a better overview of who is participating and what they learned.

In terms of broad demographics across the programs, feedback forms captured information on age, location, ideology, political party, the strength of partisanship, gender, race, and education. Although Braver Angels programs tend to attract older, well-educated, liberal individuals, the report shows that we are diversifying our participant demographics compared with 2019 data.

Where do we go from here?

Our next step as the Evaluation Team is to look at the more recent 2021 data and publish a “2021 year in review” report. Other work we are engaged in is to incorporate academically-tested questions into the surveys that better measure depolarization and try pre- and post-workshop measurements. Finally, we will continue working with academics around the country so that we can have valid internal and external assessments.

We hope these reports will inspire Braver Angels volunteers to continue their important work, as well as help us identify ways we can continue to improve our depolarization efforts.

— Dr. Eliza Hawkins

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