Stage 2: Issue Development

Researching Issues
Issue Convention
Suggested Lessons


In order to effectively impact important issues, teams must be armed with as much information and understanding of the issues as possible. Issue development takes place at all stages and levels of the PA process. It is a way to tap into the power of passions and interests, and direct them towards effective public work.

Ask students to think broadly about why these issues are important and how they affect others in and out of their community. It is also essential to tap into individual self interest regarding these issues. This will help motivate individuals and maintain a healthy momentum for the future work.

Issue development is the process of brainstorming, exploring, and researching public issues. Public Achievement stresses the importance of issue development at all stages of the process, from before teams are formed to the final completion of projects. Issue development ensures the team is addressing a public problem in a thorough, well-thought out manner. This is a prime opportunity to reinforce the concept of public and connect the team’s self interest to that of the common good.

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Begin by brainstorming possible issues and discovering what the students already know. (See Better Brainstorming) Other resources are no doubt useful references, but students may be surprised at what they and others around them already know. Have the students make a list of personal, school, city, national, and world issues and problems of which they are aware. The list should then be compiled on the board (perhaps categorized at the same time). This list should also be maintained for future reference, the class journal works well for this.

One of the most challenging things for students will be distinguishing between issues, problems, and projects. Issues are matters of public concern and debate (good and bad) that affect society (e.g. the environment). Problems are negative consequences or matters of uncertainty related to that issue (e.g. global warming). Projects are planned actions designed to positively impact identified problems (e.g. an educational program highlighting the things citizens can do in their everyday lives to reduce global warming).

The teacher/coach can pose follow-up questions to get students to focus on issues:

  • If they come up with projects, ask what the bigger problem is, and then what the broader issue is.
  • Are these public problems or issues? Is only a specific group affected, or is it broader than that?
  • Are there varying viewpoints to this suggestion, or is it a narrow solution or defined problem?

From the final class list, each student should choose one or more issue to research, one of which will be presented at the issue convention. While researching issues students should consider the items listed below.

Criteria for issue selection:

  • Does the issue impact a greater public?
  • Is there a potential for public work that will address the issue?
  • In what ways is the issue of concern to young people?
  • Are there available ways and places to do research regarding the issue?

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Researching Issues

At first I thought that PA was something that I didn’t need to take because it wouldn’t be helpful for me and my future, but I didn’t realize that PA would lead me to different spots where I found that a group of people can have the power to change one community. –Silvio Guachichulca, PA student

Once an issue is identified, it must be investigated. Is this an actual need or only a perceived problem in this community? Are there other agencies or individuals already adequately addressing this need? What will it take to make an impact? Gather as much information as possible involving the targeted need. Encourage the students keep open minds before they have considered and researched all viewpoints.

Students can do individual research or can work as a small group. Multiple problems or multiple aspects of the same problem can be investigated. Research should prepare students to ask really good questions. (See The Art of Questioning) Think of questions the group and others would want to know about the issue and where the best place is to find the answers. It is important that the teacher guides the research in a way that is meaningful to the students.

  • Identify multiple perspectives on an issue and continue to question throughout the PA process;
  • Read about it in books, magazines, pamphlets, encyclopedias, newspapers, etc.;
  • Search the Internet and World Wide Web;
  • Utilize school and county libraries;
  • Talk to other kids or other PA groups;
  • Think of how teachers can be a resource in thinking and teaching about the issue;
  • Examine the issue in terms of power and self interest; who decides what and why?
  • Identify the controversy and the common ground;
  • Research the legislative involvement or other policy implications regarding this topic;
  • Interview people from inside and outside the school, community, and nation on the issue;
  • Understand the issue from a young person’s point of view;

Possible Supplementary Activities:

  • Team Research
    Students are placed in groups to investigate specific, assigned needs. This research can include Internet research, print research, interviews, documentary videos and media examples.
  • Presentations
    Students create innovative presentations of issues, including skits, videos, multimedia and other forms of presentation. The focus is to inform and persuade others to choose to meet the presented need.
  • Campaigning
    Students can campaign for a particular issue about which they have strong feelings to encourage more people to work with them

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Issues Convention

The issues convention is the culmination of the students’ initial discussion and research. During the convention students present and advocate issues before the rest of the PA participants.

Before the convention have students, either individually or in groups, complete an Issue Proposal to present to the class. Have students look over the Issue Proposal Rubric. Discuss the convention process and what good issue proposal should include. It is also important that the class establish a few ground rules for the audience and presenters such as taking turns, listening, etc.

Have each student or group of students present their issue proposal to the rest of the participants. Write the issues on the board as they are presented. After the final presentation, begin a discussion by identifying and consolidating similar issues. Once you have narrowed down the list to a feasible number of issue groups, ask students to vote on their top three choices by filling out an Issue Ballot. Organize teams according to the number of available teacher/coaches and student interest.

Have the students reflect on the convention in their journals. Entries could include:

  • A self-evaluation using a rubric;
  • A synopsis/synthesis of all the issues;
  • A discussion of what they would change next time, what they liked; or
  • Identification of a presentation you particularly liked and explain why.

Once the issue teams are formed, the students can move to Stage 3: Identifying and Researching Problems.

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Suggested Lessons and Activities

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