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Bridging Political Divides in Local Government

Keith Welker, PhD, Mylien Duong, PhD, Caroline Mehl, Shayne Kavanagh|August 1, 2022

Political polarization is the leading social rift of our time, leading to decreasing trust and political gridlock in government. Budgeting is inherently political, because it involves “who gets what." This paper reviews psychological research on Moral Foundations Theory and applies the findings to government finance. Moral Foundations Theory states that there are six basic foundations to people’s worldviews: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. However, individuals draw on them in different ways and to different degrees to form specific moral worldviews. Based on these research insights, the paper describes three techniques for communicating and collaborating across differences: moral reframing, separating goals from strategies, and integrative thinking. Finally, the report summarizes findings from a randomized controlled trial of the OpenMind learning program with government finance officers.

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