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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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  1.  

    On his first full day in office, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on "Transparency and Open Government" in which he explained, to federal agency heads, his three criteria for "open government".

    1.  Transparent

    2.  Participatory

    3.  Collaborative

    After explaing what he means by those three criteria (full text below), the President directs that, within 120 days (May 21), a report with recommendations for an "Open Government Directive" be delivered to the White House.

    After it is signed by the White House, that directive will be THE document that federal agencies will use to guide and ensure that their operations are becoming more transparent, participatory, and collaborative with the public.

    The people on the taskforce that will be drafting the report of recommendations will be focusing on those three criteria, and how to flesh out the few sentences that the President used to describe each one.  And, due to the short timeframe, they will not be doing independent research.  So, therefore, these people will be very willing to make reference to existing wisdom that is widely accepted (i.e., national organizations) and easily explained (i.e., a handful of elements in clear language; think powerpoint).

    Please keep that in mind as you read over the President's Memorandum: what can we give them that they can easily grasp and use, with the comfort that it comes from the collective intelligence of the country's "experts" in this field.  Basically, we have to boil down our best stuff and then agree on something that is much easier to chew, taste and swallow than it currently is.

    One other thing to consider is that these three criteria are not independent of each other.  Any intelligent discussion, therefore, needs first to explain their inter-relationship, i.e., how do they affect each other, and how are they different/similar?

    I will save my thoughts for now, as I believe there is enough to ponder for now.  I look forward to this discussion with all of you.

    Stephen Buckley, http://www.UStransparency.com

    P.S. Thanks to Sandy and Andy et al. for being open-minded to my suggestion for this initiative and then setting this all up.  It looks great.

    ==========================

    Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Transparency and Open Government


    MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES
    SUBJECT:      Transparency and Open Government
     
     
    My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
    Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.
    Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.
    Government should be collaborative.  Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.  Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.
    I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.
     
    This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
     
    This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.
     
     
    BARACK OBAMA
     
     

  2.  

    Thanks for adding this, Steven!  Very good idea.

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeFeb 21st 2009
     

    Rationales and recommendations

    TRANSPARENCY

    High quality public conversations should provide public information about who is convening, funding, facilitating, and attending the conversation; its purpose; its results; and what happens with those results and why.

    Privacy can be a factor in the quality of conversation.  Ordinary people may not make their best contribution in the limelight.  On the other hand, answerable representatives of the government or interest groups need to speak on the record in order to sustain answerability.  Therefore we recommend the following:

    When people have been chosen as representing the citizenry or a special-interest constituency, or when their participation (e.g., as an expert) is only meaningful within the context of their identity, their identities should be public.  When people have been chosen as simple citizens -- even if they were chosen for some demographic reason -- data about them can be revealed, but their personal identities should be kept private unless they grant permission. 

    The proceedings of any public conversation -- including the give and take of the participants -- should be made available to the public, with identities of the participants indicated to the extent provided above.  Aliases, initials, or first names and initials can be used, if necessary, to allow readers to follow who says what in the conversation while maintaining privacy.

    PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

    1.  High quality participation to increase the quality of government involves

    a. activities in which citizens and communities deal with issues directly, on the ground;

    b. enhanced avenues for advocacy work to educate and orient citizens and public officials;

    c. forums through which individuals can share their expertise and information with government, and comment on each other's contributions;

    d. forums in which public citizens, stakeholders, experts, and government officials can converse -- both as separate groups and convened together -- to generate innovations and understandings impossible to develop alone.

    Our specialty is this last type of forum -- interactive dialogue and deliberation.

    2.  Just as there are more effective ways to gather input from widespread individuals, there are more effective ways to hold conversations among citizens, stakeholders, experts, and/or government officials.  Our professional field practices such methodologies -- a field variously called "public participation," "dialogue and deliberation," "community engagement", "facilitation" and "deliberative democracy."

    3.  The greater the complexity, controversy, challenge, and/or uncertainty surrounding an issue, the more important becomes high quality public dialogue and deliberation among citizens, stakeholders, experts, and government officials.  Not only does such official public discourse generate legitimacy, buy-in and implementation engagement by participants and those who identify with them, but it also brings to bear a broader spectrum of knowledge, reach of experience, and potential for appropriate policy and breakthrough innovation.

    The standards we propose support the ability of conversations to generate these results. 

    COLLABORATION

    Collaboration requires more than interconnectivity among individuals and groups.  Nearly all collaboration requires conversation -- and thus we find meetings everywhere.  Meetings have a needlessly bad reputation.  They can be sources of productivity, meaning and enjoyment.

    Few managers realize how profoundly the quality of conversations impacts the quality of collaboration -- especially when it comes to creative use of diversity, conflict, disturbance, and crisis to enhance collective capacity.

    The standards we propose support the ability of conversations to generate these results.

  3.  
    Tom,
     
    In his memorandum, President Obama is instructing the people in the federal departments and agencies want he wants them to do.  Everything that they do in the future will be with a studied eye towards the language in that memo.  [Patricia Bonner (EPA's Office of Public Involvement) told me that she already has the Obama Memo taped to the front of her office door.]
     
    The heart of the memo is the "participatory" element:
     
    "Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government."  --- Pres. Obama Memo [underlining added]
     
    The other two parts of the memo (i.e., "transparent" and "collaborative") are descriptors of the "participatory" part.  In other words, what Obama is saying is this:
     
    "There should be more public participation, and it should be more transparent and collaborative."
     
    Therefore, before discussing the "transparent" and "collaboratory" modifiers, we need to have a clear and accepted understanding of what Obama means by "public participation", "public engagement", etc., if for no other reason but for us to be able to understand each other in our discussions about how he uses those terms.
     
    Obviously, he believes that "public engagement" occurs when there is "public participation in policymaking".  But does he mean that "public engagement" is only "public participation"?  I think not because, on the day before he was inaugurated, Change.gov described Obama's MLK Public-Service Day as "public engagement".
     
    Therefore, we need to recognize that the definitions for these terms as contained in the NCDD
    Glossary are not the same as how Obama is using them.  So, unless whoever wrote those defintions for the NCDD glossary wants to convince the President to adopt those definitions, then we should instead use his (even if, at this point,they are only implied definitions).
     
    So, until we clear up the issue of common terminology surrounding the Obama memo, then there is no point in having a discussion because we will be using words that have different meaning to different people.
    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeFeb 22nd 2009 edited
     

    I'm not sure what you are correcting here, Stephen.

    I can accept your interpretation (despite the memo's title) that the memo is ABOUT participation, rather than transparency or collaboration, per se.  But I'm not sure what that has to do with my comment.

    Furthermore, I'm still unclear (despite your apparent clarity) about whether or not Obama has a distinction between "participation" and "engagement". 

    Data Point #1:  The paragraph from which you quote SEEMS to equate them.  It begins: "Government should be PARTICIPATORY."  Then it immediately says, "Public ENGAGEMENT enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions."

    Data Point #2:  Given what you said, it seems that "engagement" includes both public activities that "enhance the Government's effectiveness and improve the quality of its decisions" AND "MLK Public-Service Day".  That would imply that "engagement" is the broader concept (including at least both policy-making and service). 

    Regardless of the definitions, my comment was focusing on the fact that what we (NCDD and other such networks) have to offer (as far as I know) is not any GENERIC public participation or engagement expertise, but specific expertise in the conversational realm (D&D). 

    To complicate this, I'm not sure Obama makes any distinction between dialogue and deliberation.  His house meetings are more like dialogue, but he asks for input from them, which is a function of deliberation.  I don't see signs he has the level of distinctions that we make.  Therefore, I THOUGHT I was making no distinctions or assumptions about his definitions, when I wrote my comment (e.g., immediately under my title "Public Engagement" I write "High quality participation to increase the quality of government..." -- equating the two, as he seems to in his memo).

    Please clarify for me where you think I am pushing NCDD's definitions.

    To the point:  What IS clear to me is that when Obama thinks of participation OR engagement, his first thought is NOT about conversation, in any form.  He is setting things up and briefing his agencies to ensure that individual entities -- "executive departments and agencies..., nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector" -- can provide input and "cooperate" (in unspecified ways) with each other.  He wants government to have "access to [the] dispersed knowledge" that's out in the society, and he wants society to have access to the information that's in government hands.  (Nowhere does he note that conversation can CREATE new knowledge.)

    So, given the apparent peripheral role of conversation in his democratic sensibility, MY comment was an attempt to explore how CONVERSATION applied to each of the pillars of HIS Open Government memo.  I consider what I wrote to be raw notes offering rationales for how we MIGHT relate (in our communications with his administration) OUR work to HIS goals.

    I see no contradiction between anything I said in my comment and anything Obama has said or done.  If you do see such, please clarify.

  4.  

    Tom,

    Everything you said may not contradict what Obama said.  But a lack of contradiction doesn't necessarily lead to something that will influence the bureaucrats that will be crafting policy.

    The President laid out his "broad brush" language.  It is now up to the people under him to come up with some more specific recommendations (due May 21) that are consistent with his memo, which will then lead to an even more specific "Open Government Directive".  At every stage, the brushes will be getting smaller, and the picture getting more detailed.

    For example, the report due May 21st will probably say that "Public participation has (X-number) of parts and they are ......"    It will probably say something very close to EPA's 7 Steps or IAP2's 7 Core Values (which are essentially the same).

    Maybe they will come out, instead with 3 ... or 5 ... or 8 criteria for "public participation".  But some of those could contain good intentions but in flawed language.  But, by that time, it will be getting too late for comments about fundamentals.  It is like cement drying; the sooner the better.

    So now is the time to put our best foot forward, starting with, for example, what the basic criteria (values, steps, principles, whatever) for "public participation" are.

    I happen to think that the 7 criteria used by both the EPA and IAP2 can be simplified to 5 (as two of them appear to be redundant).  I've gone on too long here to explain (and it's late), so what does anyone else think?

    Should Obama & co. adopt the IAP2's 7 "Core Values" for describing "public participation"?  Or can they be improved first? 

     

  5.  

    Tom -  I like the text you created above.  I can definitely see a simplified version of your initial comment as the way we start off our letter to the administration.

    I especially like how in #2, you started to describe who we are, and listed some of the other terms people reading the letter might be familiar with.

    2.  Just as there are more effective ways to gather input from widespread individuals, there are more effective ways to hold conversations among citizens, stakeholders, experts, and/or government officials.  Our professional field practices such methodologies -- a field variously called "public participation," "dialogue and deliberation," "community engagement", "facilitation" and "deliberative democracy."

    I'll be interested to see people further hone what you wrote, and I'm curious whether Steve Pyser would see this as a good way to address/reflect the language of the memo?

    Stephen - why don't you add new discussions about IAP2's Core Values and EPA's 7 steps, so we can discuss them in their own thread like we're discussing the other sets of principles?

    Also, Stephen, you said "So now is the time to put our best foot forward, starting with, for example, what the basic criteria (values, steps, principles, whatever) for 'public participation' are."  I think that's what this project is all about (though I'd use the term 'public engagement' or 'democratic dialogue and deliberation'), and I don't think Tom disgrees.  Since he wrote "the standards we propose support the ability of conversations to generate these results," it looks to me like the text he submitted above is meant to be introductory text before we lay out the principles.  So this seems to be a both/and.

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeFeb 25th 2009 edited
     

    The following was emailed to the original task group by Stephani Roy McCallum on 2/22/09.


    Sandy and also Stephen - you've both made comments about terminology. In particular, I've cut and pasted Sandy's comments re: the IAP2 Core values here:

    "Plus, these are principles of "public participation," and I see that as
    different from "public engagement."  IAP2's popular Spectrum of Public
    Participation includes, on the left side of the spectrum, tools like fact
    sheets, websites, and surveys.  The Inform and Consult categories of the
    spectrum, in particular, do not fall under what organizations like Public
    Agenda consider to be public engagement (see the post about Public Agenda's
    principles for public engagement)."


    So...I have enormous concerns with the definitions that get thrown around, and frequently the underlying assumptions about what is "more" meaningful than another.  IAP2 defines public participation as "any process that engages people who are interested or affected in an issue in problem solving or decision making".  It's broad and huge on purpose.  The Spectrum is a tool used to explain that when you set your objectives for that engagement, you determine the influence the public can have on that decision in the end, and you make a commitment (or promise) to the public about how you will engage.  And all engagement is measured against those 7 core values - from Inform to Empower - all of it.  And yes, inform is "Providing balanced and objective information - SO THAT PEOPLE UNDERSTAND", and fact sheets and newsletters are just example tools of how you get there. So....those principles apply to everything in a democratic process - not just public consultation or participation rather than engagement. 

    Personally, there are a number of definitions in the glossary I disagree with, and a number of organizations and individuals around the world who are proposing that their term means the process is meaningful, and another term means it is not.  In the end, I don't care what you call it - if you act with integrity, openness, credibility and a faith in people, it doesn't matter what the term is - you make a difference by your actions and behavior.

    This issue is a reason why I felt so passionately about this project - let's get together and identify what it looks like when it is done well, when it is credible, meaningful and has integrity.  Let's present that collective belief to the White House, and then to other organizations and governments around the world.  Let's not go down the terminology rabbit hole - focusing on the terminology will mean our principles can only be applied in some places and not others. 

    Let's collectively agree what the process looks like when people's voices really mean something, and celebrate that.  I think Tom has made a beautiful start.

.
 

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