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Monday, September 8, 2014

Strategic Notes from FEE—Communicating Liberty

FEE’s founder Leonard Read was fond of pointing out that anyone aspiring to be liberty’s advocate must make a continual study, not only of the freedom philosophy itself but also of the art of discussing it constructively with people who come from different perspectives.

While FEE is known for its wealth of resources exploring ideas on liberty, FEE also has a particular focus on the art of communicating these ideas to people who don’t already embrace them. Neither FEE nor our alumni can be much use in befriending newcomers if we can’t meet people wherever they are on their own intellectual journeys! Improving in this area is as important as increasing knowledge about the ideas themselves.

Last month, FEE introduced a new version of our three-year-old “Communicating Liberty” program, in partnership with the Foundation for Harmony and Prosperity. The program is designed both to teach students and to learn from them about better ways to talk with young people.

The participants were all alumni of previous FEE seminars, selected for their potential as future leaders. They learned techniques of persuasion from masters of the art, and they were also challenged to devise ways to communicate the principles of liberty to people who are new to the ideas.

Innovative in design, the seminar had three parts: a kickoff webinar, remote project collaboration, and a three-day classroom component held near FEE’s headquarters in Atlanta.

The introductory webinar in July featured Sharon Harris, president of the Advocates for Self-Government, who presented on various personality types and kicked off the group projects. Over the following four weeks, students devised an original project that would communicate the “knowledge problem” principle to people who were ignorant of the concept. Each team was further asked to focus its project on a particular personality type from the Myers-Briggs analytical framework.

The classroom phase combined the traditional lecture and discussion formats with student presentations. These presentations were given twice, once before external focus groups coordinated by a market research firm and again before the whole group of seminar attendees and judges. 

From the focus groups, we learned not only that young people are generally prepared to support the ideas of a free society, but also that they require clear, jargon-free, and practically-oriented messaging to provide them with words for their beliefs. The focus groups provided instant feedback on the groups’ ideas, rating groups on creativity, clarity, and persuasiveness. From the ratings, it appears the greatest opportunity for improvement is in the area of persuasiveness.

You are invited to see the winning team present its project concept at FEE’s Annual Retreat, to be held in Bonita Springs, Florida from January 30 to February 1, 2015. Early-bird registration is now open for this event, featuring CEO Patrick Byrne and Universidad Francisco Marroquín president Gabriel Calzada.

The students raved about the program, while also giving us helpful suggestions for improvement. We are expanding the program to four seminars in 2015, including one for high school students.

We see this as a capstone experience for alumni of our regular programs and an opportunity for FEE and its partners to gain new insights on how to frame our ideas most effectively for those who don’t already share them.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] with any comments or questions.

  • Wayne Olson is the Chairman of FEE's Board of Trustees and a former executive director of the Foundation for Economic Education.