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"Can our field present a united front to the new Administration? Let's start by seeing if we can develop a set of principles for public engagement we can all endorse..."

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    AmericaSpeaks' Millions of Voices doc begins with several critical principles for a blueprint for a national discussion.

    A National Discussion must:

    1) Educate Participants. It must provide accessible information to citizens about the issues and choices involved, so that they can articulate informed opinions.

    2) Frame Issues Neutrally. It must offer an unbiased framing of the policy issue in a way that allows the public to struggle with the most dif?cult choices facing the nation.

    3) Reach the Nation’s Diversity. It must recruit a demographically representative group of citizens to participate in the National Discussion.

    4) Build Credibility with Policy-Makers. It must engage a large enough and diverse enough segment of the American public to have credibility with policy-makers as well as the national media.

    5) Support Quality Deliberation. It must facilitate high-quality deliberation that ensures that all voices are heard.

    6) Demonstrate Public Consensus. It must produce information that clearly highlights the public’s shared priorities.

    7) Sustain Involvement. It must support ongoing involvement by the public on the issue.

    I like this text that appears later in the report:

    To ensure that a National Discussion can impact policy-making, the process must generate information and specific recommendations that have credibility with policy-makers. A National Discussion must also grow an active political constituency for the priorities it articulates.

    At the completion of each phase of a National Discussion, the public’s priorities are compiled through an online database and reported to policy-makers. This information communicates the direction of citizen concerns: what they value, how they would handle tradeoffs, and what speci?c policies they prefer. The reporting also conveys the magnitude of concern by demonstrating the diversity of people that have taken time out of their daily lives to participate in deliberations. In the end, the reporting must carry the persuasiveness, emotional weight, and speci?city of detail that characterize citizen deliberation. Such qualities will be as important as statistics in conveying the urgency of an issue, and in driving action.

    While doing this, reporting from a National Discussion must consistently demonstrate the legitimacy of the process by which it was produced. Policy-makers must be able to satisfy themselves that the process was neutral, fair and soundly executed. The report must transparently show whose voices are represented by the report and make available the raw data for analysis by public of?cials and outside parties.


    I like the format of these principles.  A very short title followed by an explanatory sentence.

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeFeb 21st 2009

    It's a good set -- ambitious, actually -- especially appropriate for a BIG national conversation.  It implies to me that we need to somehow differentiate between such large public engagements and more routine agency-convened conversations.

    In any case, I'd add to (5) as follows:

    Support Quality Deliberation. It must facilitate high-quality deliberation that ensures that all voices are heard and the co-creative, collective intelligence of the participants is encouraged and tapped.

    For me, ensuring all voices are heard is an inadequate standard for high quality deliberation -- necessary and insufficient.  We are not talking about a public hearing, but an effort to collectively recommend good policy.


    Here's something Joe Goldman from AmericaSpeaks just sent me...  It's an even more simplified version of what's above.

    At the core citizen engagement is about citizens having a voice in the public decisions that impact their lives.  Core principles:

    -- neutral process and framing
    -- informed participation
    -- diverse representation
    -- facilitated deliberation
    -- opportunity to clearly prioritize outcomes
    -- transparent link to action

    • CommentAuthorkenoli
    • CommentTimeFeb 26th 2009 edited

    Regarding the first three principles:

    1) Educate Participants. It must provide accessible information to citizens about the issues and choices involved, so that they can articulate informed opinions.

    2) Frame Issues Neutrally. It must offer an unbiased framing of the policy issue in a way that allows the public to struggle with the most dif?cult choices facing the nation.

    3) Reach the Nation’s Diversity. It must recruit a demographically representative group of citizens to participate in the National Discussion.

    It seems that if the third is reached the first two will be met, but not just demographic, but also functional diversity. There is something implicit here that someone other than the stakeholders themselves knows something that those stakeholders need to know. If a full range of stakeholders is included (we use the parameters: those who may be affected, those who have the power, resources or authority to move the issue forward or hold it back, and anyone who has the needed experience, wisdom or knowledge to address the process), all the information needed will be in the room.

    I am cautious about statements like "frame the issue," neutrally or not. In some ways, it may be better not to frame the issue, aside from clarifying why the group is coming together, what it needs to take up, as it is easy to influence or limit the direction of the conversation. If the right people are present and the overall focus of the even it made clear, and we have a good process design that allows people to fully engage, our experience is that people do pretty well on their own.

    My sense in many America Speaks events, is that the focus is less on full participation and more on giving people a chance to advise on a process that is going on elsewhere. We make a distinction between a "consultative" and a "participative" process. In the former (which is where I think AS falls), those being consulted are not taking power themselves, they are advising others who are the ones taking power. In a participative process, power, information and all other dynamics are shared by all.

    So how does this apply to current "reality." What we do is to included all stakeholders, from homeless people to, academics, to "experts," to elected officials, to people with control over resources to act together. After all, elected officials are just people in society who have been chosen to act on the behalf of a constituency. If those officials work collaboratively with member of their constituency and others with useful information, a truly participative framework can be created in which everyone shares power. After all, the reality is that we are all in this together, regardless of the distinctions of power we attempt to impose.

    Unless we create events that function in this way, we are not doing anything to change the prevailing paradigm where there are those in the process and those outside, looking in, and possibly advising now and then.

    The principles of participation we are talking about are truly transformative. If we force them to conform to the way things are done (however different what we are doing may look in form) then we are not changing anything. We are doing more of the same.

    • CommentAuthorkcissna
    • CommentTimeFeb 27th 2009

    Sandy, Obama and his team can read. I'm hesitant to reduce the principles to just a few words, which, I fear, could be interpreted in a lot of different ways. They probably good categories but they need explaining. 

    • CommentAuthorTim
    • CommentTimeFeb 27th 2009 edited
    Just a process question:

    I assume we want both: a short list of principles as well as some accompanying explanation. Correct?

    Remember, the goal of this project is to "present a collective source of principles, practices, talent and resources that this administration and nation will need in the next four years" and "to collectively agree (as much as possible) on principles or standards for public engagement" that "most of you will feel comfortable endorsing."


    A "national dialogue" can benefit from a strong online component.  Online dialogue can help before, during, and after the face-to-face deliberations to ensure that limited resources are spent wisely.

    BEFORE: A structured online conversation can effectively seed the face-to-face discussion with great ideas.  This ensures that the participants do not have to start from scratch or spend precious time reinventing the wheel.

    DURING: Citizens who are not able to attend (due to personal or financial obligations) can participate in parallel discussions online.  The best ideas from the online conversations can be inserted right into the in-person deliberations.  This is a way to harness the collective intelligence of our citizenry in real time.

    AFTER: Face-to-face discussions may arrive at a partial consensus.  This consensus should be opened up to structured, online dialogue to perform a "sanity-check" on the results.  This provides an opportunity for additional voices to be heard.

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