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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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    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeFeb 15th 2009

    I hope this is a useful contribution to this dialogue, noting that the list below enumerates functions of public participation efforts rather than criteria for high-quality D&D.

    However, many practitioners' criteria for D&D are grounded in the values that underlie these functions.  For example, the common value of inclusivity -- the intention or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized -- is a value underlying the "marginalized people" manifestation of the function I call INCLUSION, below.

    I want to also highlight the note below that none of these functions is inherently good or bad, and that each function can be satisfied in ways that are better (or worse) than other ways.

    Thus, when considering how this list relates to criteria for high quality D&D, I'd suggest considering criteria that further

    1. the inclusion of most or all of these functions (especially the last) in any given D&D effort and
    2. the factors that contribute to each function being fulfilled in positive and effective ways.

    -- Tom



    I see at least six independently variable, value-laden bottom-line intentions or functions for public participation efforts.  Different practitioners and processes favor one or more of these, explicitly or implicitly.

    None are necessarily better or worse than the others.  But each function has better and worse ways to manifest.

    Although they vary independently -- any of them can increase while others decrease -- they are not mutually exclusive:  Practitioners can and do combine them for complementary effect.  Finding ways to embrace them all could be our most important challenge -- and biggest opportunity.

    So what do we seek when we propose, convene, facilitate, or evaluate public participation processes?

    1.  CONSENSUS -- We want to facilitate broad agreement among the public or stakeholders -- or, often, congruence between policy-makers and the public.  We may pursue this through
    *  Manipulation -- We get public buy-in through PR imagery and emotional appeals, half-truths, control of the conversation and information, and/or power plays legitimated by the formalities of public participation;
    *  Education and information -- We give the public a fully informed rationale for preferred policies, assuming they will (or should) then share our conclusions;
    *  Deliberation -- We give diverse citizens adequate information about a range of options to evaluate -- a spectrum that reflects at least the main alternatives being debated in mainstream discourse, and sometimes a few other intriguing options, as well -- and help them do "choice work", wrestling with the trade-offs and coming up with something they all can live with;
    *  Co-creative partnership -- We help all those concerned come to agreement on a particular approach because they all worked it out together; it is a shared creation.

    2.  INCLUSION - We want to make sure that diverse types of people are part of the conversation, and that their voices are heard, especially:
    *  Marginalized people -- those disadvantaged by race, age, gender, culture, language, ability, sexual orientation, beliefs, etc.;
    *  Stakeholders -- groups and individuals who are affected by or who can influence a decision or its implementation;
    *  People from all parts of e system -- demographics in a community, departments in an organization, parties in a conflict, etc.

    3.  PARTICIPATION - We want to engage as many people as are interested or as we can manage to engage.  We often invite either "open participation" or "the whole community" -- the more the merrier.  Our sense of participation often includes not only engagement in public affairs conversations, elections, and advocacy but often charity and community benefit activities, as well.  We want people moving out of their individual lives into the public sphere.

    4.  EMPOWERMENT - We want to make sure that the intentions, needs, and recommendations of citizens or the participants in our programs have impact in the world -- through more effective personal actions in their own lives, communities, or networks, and/or through their collective impact on public policy.  To enhance collective impact,
    *  the results of their work may be publicly presented to officials or other leaders, to the community, and/or to the media;
    *  public officials may be held accountable for serious consideration of citizens' recommendations; and/or
    *  citizen engagement may play some official role in established political or governmental processes.

    5.  COMMUNITY RENEWAL - We want to promote shared vision, healed community rifts and traumas and, in general, more good feeling, energy, activity, and togetherness in the community as a whole.  We seek to enhance social capital -- the webs of living relationship that exist (or can exist) within and among groups -- which generate the community's vitality and resilience.

    6.  COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE AND WISDOM - We want to catalyze the emergence of more effective policies and community solutions, greater shared learning and understanding, and long-term collective and systemic responsiveness.  We focus on the quality of the understandings, decisions, and responses generated by the conversations we convene or facilitate.  Such outcomes could be anything from a one-time high-quality policy statement to greater capacity for ongoing competent community self-organization.  At the high end of the spectrum of collective intelligence, we may seek community wisdom -- self-reflective collective intelligence that takes seriously the broader, deeper, longer-term realities and values of life -- often with humility, humor, vision and compassion.

    I suggest we can obtain the best results by designing all of these -- to the extent possible -- into every public participation effort or conversational program.  Usually this requires multiple events and/or the use of diverse processes.  Given our collective crisis situation, I suggest we urgently need more collective intelligence and wisdom, in particular, to transcend the mess we are in.


    NOTE A:  These are taken from an article proposed for the International Journal of Public Participation and should not be spread around without my and the editor's (Steve Pyser's) permission until its final form is published in June.

    NOTE B.  Let me know if you want more information on Collective Intelligence and Wisdom. There is a whole section about that following the section above in the article.  With Steve's permission, I could also post the whole article, which includes exploration of how Citizen Deliberative Councils and the Transition Towns movement both manifest all six of the above functions in very different ways, as examples of the kind of initiatives I think are needed in these times of crisis.

    NOTE C.  Comments on these functions -- including any major functions you feel are missing -- are very welcome, regardless of their relevance to the dialogue about criteria!  :)

    • CommentAuthorMikeT81
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2010

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