The increase in polarization and hyper-partisanship has led to truly troubling outcomes. From legislative gridlock, to increases in hate crimes, to insurrections in numerous global democracies — a deeply polarized society will continue to be deeply dysfunctional.

In her presentation to the PageConnect Nonprofit Group, Phebe Meyer, affiliate with the The Clapham Group, shared a number of case studies that illustrated various theories to decrease polarization.

  • Trusted messenger "models" (stories, people, efforts) will shape behavior — finding real-world examples of good-will efforts made by those who a polarized individual disagrees with, and telling the story effectively, can help reduce polarization. To illustrate this point, Meyer shared the story of the unlikely friendship between a family values advocate and a LGBTQ-rights activist.
  • Objective information depolarizes —  Polarized individuals who are misinformed about the truth, who are then presented with factual information, can effectively become depolarized. Build Up, for example, is a nonprofit that works on social media platforms. They identify accounts that produce harmful, polarizing disinformation, and work to inform and intervene in these spaces to de-escalate the narrative.
  • Listening and Understanding Depolarizes — Polarized individuals assume ill-intent from those who they disagree with, oftentimes because they do not understand where the opposition is coming from. By creating spaces for civil, candid conversations, people can begin to understand and respect those they disagree with. BridgeUSA is a nonprofit that works on college campuses to establish these exact types of spaces.

Other important takeaways from the presentation include:

  • The end goal of depolarization is not more centrists. We need to abandon the idea you need to “reform” someone’s political beliefs to work with them. It is much more effective to meet people where they are, and work to find common ground and establish shared goals.
  • The incentive structures need to change. Right now, there exists a polarization-for-profit ecosystem, where publishers, influencers, and social media all are incentivized to generate divisive, polarizing content to drive clicks and ultimately increase revenue.
  • Co-creation is the key to long-term depolarization. When two opposing sides both feel engaged in the creation of a dialogue, the distance and animosity between those groups lessens.

Curious about what some of your peers are doing to combat polarization? Check out The Dialogue Project, founded by Page member Bob Feldman, Feldman + Partners.