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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 21st 2009 edited

    I printed out all the lists of principles given on this website, cut them up, and clustered their individual parts.  As I proceeded, they sorted relatively clearly into six categories that embraced (I think) in excess of 90% of the principles listed, in some detail:

    • Inclusion - Treat diversity as a resource in dialogue.  Include a full spectrum of people and views in deliberation.
    • Collaboration - Support officials and participants working together toward common benefits.
    • Learning - Help participants listen, explore and learn without predetermined outcomes.
    • Impact - Ensure leaders take the conversation seriously. Help it make a difference.
    • Transparency - Be open. Provide a pubic record of the people, resources, and events involved.
    • Follow-through - Support emerging energies and sustain public engagement with the issue.

    It is clear that these relate to each other, overlap and interpenetrate.  I've started thinking of them as different windows on the same quality of public interaction and collective capacity.

    The articulation of them here is undoubtedly too long.  I trust someone not as wrapped up in the details as I have become can create a more concise version. 

    Furthermore, I am aware that the map is not the territory, and that this territory (obviously) can be mapped in many different ways.  I hope this map proves useful.



    NOTE:  The program would not let me post the whole thing as one document, so I'm posting the second half as a comment on the first half!


    1.  INCLUSION - Treat diversity as a resource in dialogue.  Include a full spectrum of people and views in deliberation.

    Include the appropriate spectrum of people, perspectives, and information needed to deal with the issue at hand, and use inclusive process.  While inclusive diversity is always desirable in dialogue, its success does not always require diversity that is rigorously representative of the whole situation or community.  Official deliberations, however, require diversity that represents the whole.

    People: The right broad-based group may be the full range of stakeholders, a demographically representative sample of citizens, diverse experts, the parties in a conflict, people with different cultures or different ways of knowing or engaging, and/or other types of variety.  Reach beyond "the usual suspects."  Everyone has a piece of the solutions you seek. Pay particular attention to marginalized people who often need supports to participate. The more fully you cover the range of people involved -- especially those impacted by the outcome -- the more people will honor the results.

    Perspectives: Diverse people bring diverse perspectives, but sometimes you need to attend directly to perspectives. The creative interaction of diverse perspectives -- which often involves conflict -- is a key factor in generating collective intelligence.

    Information: The information supplied to participants in public deliberations must be transparently fair.  To establish legitimacy, provide balanced information and options that cover at least the range of mainstream public discourse on that issue.  To generate high quality results, provide some provocative non-mainstream information and options, as well.

    Process: Inclusive process and facilitation welcomes, hears (as fully as possible), and creatively incorporate all voices, including dissonant and quiet ones. Inclusive process is vital to making positive use of the diverse voices you invite into the room.

    2.  COLLABORATION - Support officials and participants working together toward common benefits.

    Promote a community-minded, public-spirited climate of working together for the common good.  While in the process, treat all participants as peers: We are all in this together, sharing power and responsibility.  Conceive, organize, and carry out the process with this attitude in mind.

    Include in the organizing group -- or at least seek input from -- the range of people you want to invite.  They can participate in defining the intention, framing the questions, designing the process.  Provide ways for participants to express their concerns and ideas during the process, and respond well to those concerns.  Encourage all participants to take responsibility for expressing themselves and helping co-create a positive atmosphere and a good outcome.  Moderate both overbearing and withdrawn behaviors.  Acknowledge and act to minimize in practice any differences in power and privilege among participants that undermine the process.  While encouraging authentic expression, help people's diverse views and efforts complement each other rather than undermining each other.

    Ultimately, our common humanity may be our most potent resource for collaboration.  At all times, we have more in common than our differences.  The idea of "humanity" embraces all that -- and the foundation of that is mutual respect.  Listening to the heart of what we each say -- especially to our stories -- connects us to each other, making it harder to be judgmental and dismissive.  Encourage it. This is particularly important where there are significant differences in social power and privilege -- including not only the differences between minorities and majorities, but the differences between government and the people.  When people are heard respectfully, they feel safe and open to working with each other.

    It is often important for leaders to start a dialogue or deliberation with some serious listening to the stories, ideas, and concerns of the stakeholders or ordinary people involved.  This will powerfully communicate that the official players are there to collaborate instead of to dominate or ignore the others.

    3.  LEARNING - Help participants listen, explore and learn without predetermined outcomes.

    Whether it is dialogue or deliberation, learning is the primary thing happening -- learning about a topic or issue, about each other, about what's at stake and what's possible.  An atmosphere of openness, inquiry, and flexibility promotes this, as does providing useful information and expertise.  Help people loosen up their certainties, be curious about each other, hear each other, explore, and become self-reflective at least as much as they advocate.  And, above all, avoid meaningless participatory rituals, one-way communication, manipulation, pre-determined outcomes, and pushing for partisan victory.

    For dialogue, provide powerful questions for exploration.  Use the extensive existing expertise about how to create questions that have heart and meaning for people involved in dialogue about current events and public issues.

    For deliberation, provide full-spectrum information and expertise that are relevant, inclusive, and accessible to diverse participants, without overwhelming them with volume.  Consider positions and proposals as grist for the mill of deliberation. Fairly clarify the facts, values, needs and interests, options, and potential consequences -- economic, social, environmental, political, psychological, etc. -- involved in alternative positions and perspectives.  Help participants to articulate their values, concerns, and aspirations and then to wrestle honestly with pros and cons so they can engage well with difficult choices.  Help them articulate their findings and recommendations. 

    It is important to provide enough time and guidance for participants to engage productively with the issue and each other.  Often mixing large and small group interactions facilitates this.

    Recognize, respect, and engage the expertise of ordinary citizens -- especially their experience, stories, and values.  This is the essence of public dialogue.  In deliberation, ensure those with limited specialized knowledge can engage in two-way conversation with those who have much specialized knowledge.

    In the most successful dialogues and deliberations people emerge with deepened understandings of the issue and each other -- notably public officials and citizens better understanding each other's views and circumstances.

    (continued in first comment below)

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeFeb 21st 2009 edited

    4.  IMPACT - Ensure leaders take the conversation seriously. Help it make a difference.

    People need to feel that their engagement was meaningful, that it made a difference, that it influenced government decisions or had an impact on the world around them.  Furthermore, given the promise of democracy, they need to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.  The power they feel as citizens in public dialogue and deliberation engages them in supporting the decisions that result.

    Right at the beginning, they should be clearly told that their contributions are needed and wanted. Leaders need to "take their hands off the wheel."  Leaders don't have to guarantee implementation of the opinions offered in a civic engagement, but they do need to say up front how the results will be considered.

    Design the process to deserve serious attention from policy-makers.  The final results should demonstrate significant desires and perspectives -- preferably a sizable consensus -- on the part of a significant segment of the population, preferably in some way representing the whole issue or country.  The process should be demonstrably neutral, fair, and soundly executed.  Its results should be usable, clearly intelligent and carry the persuasiveness, emotional weight, and specificity that the public expressed and that decision-makers need.

    Afterwards, it should be fully clear what impact their work DID have.  Leaders should respond thoughtfully and conscientiously, explaining both the ways the public's ideas and concerns were being used and why some were not being incorporated.  In some instance, it may be appropriate to directly empower the results, such as crafting them into legislation or a referendum for the voters.

    At the very least, the results should be made fully available to the media and the public at large.

    5.  TRANSPARENCY - Be open.  Provide a pubic record of the people, resources, and events involved.

    Transparency builds trust.  Facilitator transparency builds trust in the process.  Participant transparency builds trust in each other.  Official transparency builds trust in the convenors and the government, prevents abuse of the process, and facilitates research. 

    Acting with transparency as an individual -- especially as a public process practitioner -- means sharing relevant information; acknowledging the issues at stake and the problems that arise, even when they are difficult, sensitive, or embarrassing; and bringing forward one's true thoughts and feelings when they are called for in a conversation.  This kind of behavior by dialogue practitioners establishes a basis for people to trust them, and through them to trust the process.  This kind of trust is needed to build inclusive dialogue, which by definition must draw people from different sides of political, socio-economic, cultural, religious, and ethnic divides.  By modeling transparent behavior, it encourages participants to be more transparent, as well.

    Official transparency is more a procedural matter.  In any official deliberation, keep and make available public records -- a full audit trail -- covering the following:

    • The organizing and convening process, including who was involved in the organizing team, how they were chosen, and their role in shaping the process and its mandate.
    • How participants were selected and briefed, and what support they received.
    • What happened during the process, including description of the give and take of the participants appropriate to the size and purpose of the gathering.
    • How the results were handled, whether policies were changed, what was taken into account, what criteria were applied when weighing up the evidence from the process, and therefore how the views of those involved in the participatory process may have made a difference.

    In the above records, provide full names for any participants representing a constituency or present professionally.  For privacy and to support openness in conversations where ordinary citizens are in small (less than 24 member) jury-like deliberations or stakeholder gatherings, use aliases, initials, or first names and initials for any ordinary citizens, unless they provide explicit permission to use their full names.  However, publicly record non-personally identifiable demographic and other information about them that may be useful to observers in understanding their role in the conversation.

    6.  FOLLOW-THROUGH - Support emerging energies and sustain public engagement with the issue.

    Support ongoing public involvement with and periodic public examination of the issue.  Public engagement  is potentially a very empowering form of citizenship, stimulating individual and group action.  Furthermore, repeated dialogue and deliberation increases public learning and competence dealing with an issue, and with the changing face of the issue over time -- especially when such engagement addresses underlying dynamics.

    Ensure that during the process, participants are exposed to deeper patterns and systemic, cultural, and behavioral dynamics that underlie the issue, so they see a bigger perspective than the "quick fix" and become oriented to long-term engagement.

    Ask participants how they would like to continue working on the issue, and encourage them -- or even provide funding for them -- to get active on it in their communities.  Connect them to public service organizations who can help them stay engaged over time.

    Encourage growth of an active political constituency for the priorities articulated by the citizen deliberation.

    Establish ongoing, periodic, or iterative public engagement  processes on the issue.

    Encourage media reporting on public conversation activities as part of their coverage of the issue.

    Build long-term capacity as you go.  Work actively to enhance the leadership capacity of the people you engage.  When done well, each round of public engagement sets the stage for broader and deeper public engagement in the future.  You are building capacity for democratic communities to communicate and collaborate effectively in order to solve their common problems and enrich their public life.

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeFeb 22nd 2009 edited

    Signs of the inadequacy of public engagement efforts
    a.k.a. Signs of pseudo-dialogue and pseudo-deliberation

    I decided to test what's there when the above criteria are not in place -- i.e., to see what pseudo-dialogue or poor quality D&D looks like through this lens.  You can see my results below.

    So far, I find it useful.  Now my question is:  What essentials, if any, are missing from this list?

    Inclusion (lack of):
    Participant diversity is significantly limited, or we see "the usual suspects" over and over.  Little effort is made to include marginalized people.  Information provided is biased or one-sided.  People have little chance to speak out or, if they do, there is little sign they are or will be heard by officials or each other.  Participants or segments of the public feel their interests, concerns and ideas were suppressed, ignored or sidelined.

    Collaboration (lack of):
    Officials are uncooperative, uncaring, or controlling and an adversarial, competitive spirit dominates the conversation.  Things seem to be centrally run by an unresponsive in-group which expects participants to just follow along.  Loud voices, mainstream views, or lifeless "reason" dominate, and other voices and modes of expression are silent or suppressed.  Even if there is politeness, there is no real respect or empathy.  There may be a sense of aimlessness or pointlessness to the whole activity, with little effort to clarify, reiterate, or pursue common purpose.

    Learning (lack of):
    It seems like the outcome has been pretty much decided before the conversation even starts; this "public participation" is basically a PR action, or going through motions required by law or expectation.  No one really changes their minds or is even very curious about what other people think or what information the other side has, except to build better arguments against them.  In deliberation, Information provided is poor, biased, overwhelming, or inaccessible to non-experts -- and if experts are provided, they lecture rather than engaging participants in clarifying two-way conversation.  People stay in their boxes -- or grandstand on their soapboxes advocating their positions -- rather than stretching to take real account of each other or the complexity of the issue.  They'd rather win or declare their righteousness rather than co-create a sense of exploration, deeper understanding, and new possibility.  Or there simply is no time -- or the group is too large -- to really delve into things.  People's stories, feelings, experiences and values are disregarded.  The outcome is hardly remarkable.

    Impact (lack of):
    There is no sense before or during the conversation of what actual impact it might have.  At the end, the final statement or outcome, if any, is inarticulate or useless to policy-makers -- or it does not clearly represent the views of anyone except a small bunch of unqualified people.  Whatever citizens come up with is basically ignored by officials -- or it is hard or impossible to find out what impact there might have been.  Hardly anyone even knows this "public engagement" event ever happened.

    (lack of):
    It is hard, if not impossible, to find out who is involved, what was done, what happened, and why.  Researchers, interested citizens, and answerability efforts are stymied.  Participants, the public, and various stakeholders are suspicious.  Participants don't really trust the facilitator and aren't themselves very vulnerable or clear about where they are at personally.  There's a sense of hidden agendas at work. 

    Follow-through (lack of):
    Public participation is limited to isolated events, with no sense of ongoing empowerment or revisiting issues in a useful way.  Although participants may have found the event meaningful, their overall citizenship activity remains unchanged, and their communities are no further ahead than they were before.  Media have not been engaged and there's no effort to organize around the agenda the deliberators came up with.  Any energy or activity catalyzed by the event dies out quickly -- and there's no support for anything else.


    Thank you for this, Tom.  This is an INCREDIBLE step forward for this group.  I need time to chew on all of this, and I think everyone in our group should take a careful look at comments that are added to other posts once we've opened this up to our networks.  Then we can all look at what might be missing that people seem to agree on, what might be redundant or how this can be simplified, etc.

    At first blush, this looks like it covers all the bases really well but, like you said, needs simplified (something I'm pretty good at, so I'll work on this).

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeFeb 25th 2009

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

    Tom - Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful job!  I'm impressed and awestruck by your attempt to pull it together, and what you have written I would stand behind in a second.  Thanks for doing it.  You've pulled the very best out of all the statements and themed it wonderfully well.

    Here is what I would ADD:  I think there is an upfront statement that over-rides all of it that is about the very nature of democracy.  Similar to IAp2's Core Value # 1 - The public should have a say in decisions about actions that could affect their lives.  It really is implied in everything else, but it is like the reason "why" for the rest of it, and is a powerful statement and a deep faith in democracy.

    Re: your test on "lack of" for each principle:  Under collaboration - I would add that while it is all the things you have also noted, it is also a mind set that has the answers, not the questions, where people feel that they are the "experts" and have nothing to learn from others, the community or the world at large.  In my experience, this mind set sometimes comes as a result of training - scientists, engineers, lawyers etc are often trained to be experts, and it takes an openness and a humbleness to retain the training while understanding that they do not have all the answers.

    • CommentAuthorkenoli
    • CommentTimeFeb 27th 2009
    Untitled Document

    Tom -- Throughout your discourse here, you create a dichotomy between "citizens and officials" or "people and policymakers." From where I am sitting a key distinction of participative process (as opposed to the kind of public process we experience in the world today) is that true participative process does not make this distinction. Policy makers or officials are simply another stakeholder in the mix with the rest of us. If we separate them out and make them "other" (or make ourselves "other," depending on your perspective), we change a significant power dynamic in the system. From where I am sitting, the key to all of our principles, inclusion and collaboration in particular (as well as others, including impact and followthrough) is seeing us all as participants, sharing power and responsibility. One of the big lackings in many participative events is the lack of the presence of policy makers as participants in those events.

    Of course, Obama can't attend all the public events in the country, but people that he shares as stakeholders, e.g. members of his staff, people who he has access to, those who connect and communicate with him, can. This is a key reason that "stakeholder" and what we mean by that is critical. "Decisionmaking" stakeholders (along with all others) need to be participants in all truly participative gatherings or they are an exercise in futility.

    For this reason it is also critical to have a clear and shared concept of how we determine who the stakeholders are. I have offered up the following criteria in other places and will off it here:

    1. Those who may be affected,
    2. Those having access to power or resources that can move the process forward or hold it back and
    3. Those having the experience, knowledge or wisdom needed to effectively take up the issue at hand.

    I am starting a thread in the principles section on this issue framed as understanding the distinciton between "consultative" and "participative" process.


    Tom's summary is excellent.

    I would add that a deliberative process should have some type of outlet for anonymous ideas.  This is especially necessary when government is concerned.  Of course, anonymity typically creates poorer dialogue should not be the primary means of communication, just a means to inject unpopular ideas into the mix.

    I would also offer up the idea of a controlled adversarial discussion.  Tom is right to point out that an adversarial atmosphere is antithetical to collaboration.  Once a consensus is reached, however, a great way to "double-check our work" is to appoint a devil's advocate to spark an honest discussion about the weaknesses of the consensus position.  We should look to create adversarial discussion and keep it under control so that it can mitigate the effects of groupthink (which can be catastrophic).

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeFeb 27th 2009


    I see stakeholder-based and citizen-based engagements as grounded in two separate ways of viewing "the whole".

    Stakeholder-based conversations look at the functional roles people ("stakeholders") have in the system (the situational system, the community system, etc.), as needed facets of any resolution or initiative.  Citizen-based conversations look at the whole (a community or country) as made up of democratically peer citizens (one-person, one-vote), whose values and power should ultimately rule.

    Citizen juries, Citizens Assemblies, Consensus Conferences, National Issues Forums, town meetings, and other such engagements take the latter approach, citizen-based.  Future Search Conferences, watershed councils, Consensus Councils, and other such engagements take the former approach, stakeholder-based.

    In stakeholder conversations, "ordinary citizens" are often included as a stakeholder category.  In citizen-based conversations, stakeholders and experts are often included either as advisors/educators or as participating outsiders who can greatly benefit from "engagement with ordinary citizens".

    I know you prefer stakeholder-based engagements.  I prefer citizen-based engagements.  From my understanding, that isn't the point here.  The point here is to be as inclusive as we can of all the diverse approaches to D&D and to try to fathom their basic common factors, the factors that make them all positive and powerful when they succeed.


    Tom, this is a very good summary and interpretation of all the different sets of principles - the work you've done here makes things easier for the rest of us!

    Here are my thoughts:

    - I understand what you're doing by applying the term "Inclusion" to both people (potential participants) and ideas (needing a range of views or options) - it definitely makes conceptual sense to me - but I think these are two critical areas and they need to be separated out so that each gets enough emphasis. I think the most important part about the inclusion of people is that you're proactively getting the people to the table who really need to be there - and in most cases, you want as many people as you possibly can, and you need to make extra efforts to get people who may otherwise be less likely to participate. I'm not sure you need to single out "official deliberations" - just defining what you mean by that would be a lot of work and I'm not sure it matters.

    - Whereas inclusion needs to be separated into two, I would vote for combining some of what's in "Follow-through" with "Impact." Your impact segment makes it sound like public officials and other leaders are responsible for all changes that might result (which I don't think you mean). Maybe "Action and change" would be a heading - I'm not sure, but I do think it is important to emphasize that all participants (including public officials, and yes they should be participants too) have some responsibility and capacity to do something about the issue/problem/opportunity being addressed. The best projects in our field embody and create "policy with a small 'p'" - all the things that all of us can do in our various roles to do something about public problems.

    - One thing that needs to go into the Collaboration section is the idea that different leaders and groups who are trying to engage citizens ought to be working more with one another. This work is so silo-ized by field right now - school administrators trying get parents involved in school issues, city councils trying to get people talking about budgets, human relations commissions and YWCAs working with people on race, and so on and so on. I try to apply Jane Jacobs' famous proclamation about mixed-use development to our field - we need more mixed-use public engagement, and to get it we need more collaboration among the engagers.

    - Call me Scrooge, but I say 'bah humbug' to the language about our common humanity. Of course I totally agree with you, but I wouldn't want to say it that way.

    - I'm ambivalent about how much we need to separate dialogue from deliberation (looking at the Learning section in particular here). We experts like to split those hairs, but in practice these two things tend to mush together in the same conversations (and, as Kathy Walsh has so adeptly pointed out, the best sessions often have a healthy and productive dose of debate thrown in as well).

    - If the concept of citizen-driven action is taken out of the Follow-through section and put with the Impact stuff in some kind of Action and Change session, that still leaves some good and separate thoughts in Follow-through that have more to do with sustainability and long-term structure. This is an area where the audience matters - I think I would write this differently for a local official than I would for a federal official. A lot more work needs to be done on this; at the same time, you have to be careful or it can easily be labeled as social engineering.

    - In general, I like your writing and the way you explain these concepts. I wonder whether we could take this a bit farther by having proposed little benchmarks in each category for people to look at? That would challenge them more to really understand - unfortunately, I think a lot of public officials and public employees look at a word like "inclusive," and assume too quickly that they already operate that way. In addition to your good explanations, giving people some benchmarks by which to judge whether or not they are really being inclusive (or collaborative, or supporting learning, and so on) might be helpful.

    What do others think?

    • CommentAuthorkenoli
    • CommentTimeFeb 28th 2009 edited

    Tom -- Maybe I'm dense here but I don't think I understand the distinction you are making. I see the concept of stakeholder as a tool for making sure we accomplish full inclusion (and, of course there are other tools than the stakeholder framework for doing this, but I don't think that changes what we are talking about). Isn't a key to quality of participative engagement, including citizen based engagements insuring full inclusion? What I see you suggesting is something different, namely, taking the group of, say, citizens, and saying that some people are the deciders and others are simply advisors. This is clearly the way things are set up now.

    I think core to what we bring is a challenge to this assumption. In part, we are able to do this because we have access to some process innovations that, for instance, the founding "fathers" did not have. The only thing they could think of doing was beheading the right and privilege of civic participation from the ordinary citizen and bestowing it on "representatives." This is what we now have the technology to change. Some communities got around this by sending people along with representatives to make sure they represented local communities, like the New England Town meeting. A significant group of the founders actually saw this as a core problem with the constitution. I think part of what we are saying is that we have some options now that make it feasible to re-visit this and do things differently, without even amending the constitution.

    For example, we just did 4 public hearing around the state for the California state water boards. Normally this would be done with the officials in the front of the room (or not even in the room) and other self-selected "stakeholders" "advising them in some way (speaking at a microphone, filling out surveys, etc.). What we did was to do some work with a microcosm of stakeholders up front to make sure that all stakeholders were in the room (this in itself was pretty innovative) and designed a framework where they could all work together to generate a collaborative outcome. Everyone, with and without official capacity worked to create an outcome that made sense to the whole.

    How would a citizen engagement look different from this? There are lots of ways to scale this or shrink it, but these are simply design considerations, it doesn't change things qualitatively.

    • CommentAuthorkenoli
    • CommentTimeFeb 28th 2009

    Matt -- I think in some of your comments you are getting to some of what I was trying to communicate above. You make the following comments:

    "Maybe "Action and change" would be a heading - I'm not sure, but I do think it is important to emphasize that all participants (including public officials, and yes they should be participants too) have some responsibility and capacity to do something about the issue/problem/opportunity being addressed. The best projects in our field embody and create "policy with a small 'p'" - all the things that all of us can do in our various roles to do something about public problems."

    I think it is important not to separate public officials out from out public engagement process. If they are included, then it expands all possibilities as well as the energy and resource pool for getting things done.

    You comments about connecting silos is a horizontal version of the same thing. I think whether we are working in an organization, at a community level or at state or national levels, the issue of participation is pretty much the same. We need to both include and allow people across the spectrum, at all "power" levels, across issues, etc. to meet as colleagues. This feel like a key premise in our work.

    I'm not sure I followed you exactly, but I think I am also fully with you in making sure we think through, action, followthough, sustainability and the like. The success of things at this level is critical and is directly related to the conditions we set up early on. It is also key to building the kind of community and relationships that build the broader social institutions that produce deeper evolution and change.

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeMar 1st 2009

    Oh my, Kenoli.

    I'll start with my positive appreciation of your contribution:  In digesting your comments, it makes sense to me to revise the "inclusion" section of my "integrated set of criteria" to include something like:  "POWER:  Different people bring different kinds of power to a situation and its resolution.  Greater synergistic power is available to the extent we effectively include 'the powerless' (who, if they felt empowered, would play a major role) as well as official decision-makers and players with relevant influence and resources to advance or impede outcomes."

    That said, I want to address the larger framing you advocated.

    You define "full inclusion" as including all stakeholders, and then ask, seemingly perplexed, "Isn't a key to quality of participative engagement, including citizen based engagements, insuring full inclusion?" -- implying that anything that doesn't use "stakeholders" as their criteria for inclusion is not insuring "full" inclusion.

    This only works as a rhetorical device.  It makes it clear that you have only one (explicit) standard for inclusion -- one that does not include the many other D&D approaches to public participation that do NOT use "stakeholders" as their bottom line for full inclusion -- for example, the "citizen-based" methods I mentioned -- Citizen juries, Citizens Assemblies, Consensus Conferences, National Issues Forums, and town meetings.

    What you are saying could be taken as claiming that

    • choosing citizens at random (like a Wisdom Council), or
    • using demographically modified random selection to ensure a representative range of ages, genders, education levels,, socio-economic statuses, political affiliations, etc. (e.g., a stratified sampling, as used in convening a Citizens Jury), or
    • letting anyone who wants to come to a meeting come (like Conversation Cafes) or
    • inviting the whole community and then making an effort to make it possible for commonly underrepresented demographic groups to participate (which is a very widespread practice, including NCDD's current effort to learn from and involve conservatives)

    do not constitute "full inclusion" but are "taking the group of, say, citizens, and saying that some people are the deciders and others are simply advisors" and that since "This is clearly the way things are set up now" it "doesn't change things".  As if all these other approaches are equivalent to elite white male powerholders shaping public policy without any effort to engage the public beyond opinion polls and well-manipulated elections.

    It depends on what you are trying to change, and how realistic you are.  To play the same rhetorical game:  It would be possible, for example, to convene an all white male stakeholder gathering using your definition of stakeholder, by simply ignoring demographic factors -- something I know you, personally, would not tolerate, but it just points out that there are other ways to cut the pie.  Furthermore, you could argue that most major issues impact EVERYBODY, and that EVERYBODY has access to power (as Gandhi demonstrated) as well as relevant knowledge/experience, and that therefore ANY effort that does not include EVERYBODY ON EARTH is not "fully" inclusive.  Again, I'm not saying you are arguing this.  But I am saying this is a logical, if unrealistic, perspective -- to point out the rhetorical nature of your one-sided argument.

    Again, our purpose in this current effort is to define the most leading-edge, transformational process theory and practice, but rather to come up with a description of real, effective dialogue and deliberation that (a) is agreeable to as broad a range of D&D practitioners as possible and (b) can advise the Obama administration with guidelines for public participation for use by their government agencies (I'm sorry, but we aren't the deciders in this case).

    None of this is to say that I don't think you are on a leading edge in the field, and that I don't have tremendous respect for your ideas and the ways you apply them in your work.  Furthermore, I have my own set of criteria, different from yours, for what constitutes adequately transformational D&D practice.  In the proposal I sent out to the list before last year's NCDD conference I tried to create a vision that integrated BOTH citizen-based AND stakeholder-based processes in one larger process.  But that is not the task here.

    So I am setting all my (and your) individually-preferred standards aside in my search for an articulation of a standard that not only can be interpreted as covering what I want, but can also be interpreted as including what everyone else I know in this field wants. I am seeking a set of guidelines that, even in their most minimalist manifestations, would be a BIG improvement over the lifeless forms of public participation currently mandated by law.  That search has the sort of inclusive spirit -- inclusive of our whole field -- which is, I think, very relevant to the purpose of this dialogue.

    And when I look at my initial articulation, written at the beginning of this thread, and compare it to your comment, I see that my framing of "inclusion" does not address the parameter of "power" that is included in yours.  So I will include it in my effort at an "integrated set of criteria", as noted in the first paragraph of this response.

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeMar 1st 2009

    Matt --  Thanks for your thoughts.

    1.  I appreciate your points on inclusion.  I strongly believe all dimensions should be combined, (a) for brevity, (b) because there's more than "people" and "ideas" involved and (c) the overall concept is so fundamental and, if you get it, it actually covers all the ground that's needed.
    *  I thought the term "official deliberation" was self-explanatory -- i.e., deliberation (not just dialogue or people giving individual input) which are sponsored by the government.  Can you help me see why it seems vague to you? 
    *  Re "official deliberations" as a distinction in this list of criteria:  I think it wise to provide guidelines that make it clear that you can have a very productive campaign of widespread Conversation Cafes about health care (for example) that has one standard of inclusion in order to get the population engaging with each other around the issue -- and, on the other hand, a 200-person government-mandated Citizens Assembly on Heath Care Reform that requires a very different and more rigorous standard of inclusion in order to legitimately guide public policy. 
    *  I see the "more people is better" formula as neither broadly accepted in our field nor desirable in all cases (e.g., citizens juries). 
    *  What do you think of concluding my italicized INCLUSION summary with something like "The more convenors make a pro-active effort to truly engage an appropriate amount and variety of people, perspectives, power, and information, the more successful and cost-effective the outcome will be.  In specific cases, focused effort and resources may be needed to enable participation."

    2.  Your and Kenoli's comments lead me to agree that the Impact and (most of) the Follow-through criteria can and should be combined.  The common denominator is IMPACT -- the fact that a conversation has some real effect on the world outside of itself.
    -   However, I think we need to face the fact that there are cases where a participatory activity is ABOUT producing citizen or stakeholder input to decision-makers, and that when that is the case, it is vital to institute factors before, during, and/or after the process that ensure the input is taken seriously. 
    -  While I agree that including decision-makers as participants is often a desirable design consideration, I think it is restrictive to say that it is NECESSARY for quality D&D to take place.  For example, neither Conversation Cafes nor Public Issues Forums use that standard. 
    -  The issue of participants (and observing citizens) taking action on the issue is already included under Follow-through. 
    - I would re-state the new combined criteria using the umbrella principle of IMPACT.  I would then describe the varieties of impact that various public participation efforts can have, both immediately and on some ongoing basis. (Then see point 6, below.)

    3.  Remembering that this document is particularly targeted at the Obama administration, what do you think about including in the Collaboration section something like this:  "Public officials, government agencies, community groups, and participation practitioners themselves could help coordinate diverse efforts at public participation towards greater combined effectiveness.  Often what's needed is not a new initiative, but expanding and integrating existing initiatives into a more comprehensive multi-process effort."

    4.  OK, Scrooge, if you were king of the world, what language would you use to talk about our common humanity? :)   Since I find this language obvious and useful, I'll need your help in using other language.

    5.  I see in our field a clear distinction between dialogue and deliberation, the clearest being the tight bond between deliberation and decision-making.  Dialogue need not arrive at any decision in order to be successful.  Deliberation fails if it reaches no decision.  There are many other (albeit less vivid) distinctions.  And the two are not, of course, mutually exclusive, and many practices creatively integrate them.  But I cannot see the distinction between them as "splitting hairs".  I CAN see adding in the role of debate.  I can visualize these three modes of conversation as three overlapping circles, all of which can manifest in less useful forms separately, but whose gifts become clearer when they are combined.  I can make this clearer in the Learning section.

    6.   I think your note on making "sustainability and long-term structure" a separate criteria is a good one -- perhaps under the heading "Participatory Culture".  We could note that participatory efforts can include support for continuing, iterating, or institutionalizing such activities and/or for building public and official expectation that expanded and deepened public participation is a vital part of democratic governance.  High quality public conversation is as much a way we "do democracy" as voting is.  Its relationship to social engineering is that democracy is largely a means by which "we the public" together decide what structures and policies we will use to engineer our shared world.

    7.  Not being primarily a practitioner, I think the idea of benchmarks is an excellent one, but one which others are far more qualified to articulate than I am.

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeMar 1st 2009

    Lucas - I agree with you.  I've commented on the role of debate ("controlled adversarial discussion") in my reply to  Matt.  I also think that designs that include the ability to input potentially unpopular ideas anonymously are good; I just question whether we can assume this is a broadly agreed on criteria for "quality D&D".  I see it covered (albeit implicitly) in the "Process" section under INCLUSION.

    Stephani - I personally agree with IAP2's core value #1 about the public having a say in decisions that could affect their lives, and included that very statement in the italicized summary under IMPACT.  However, I can't agree that that is the rationale underlying every form of public participation.  For example, Conversation Cafes simply engage people in sharing thoughts and feelings about common public concerns.  So I don't want to elevate IAP2's #1 Value to the status of an overriding principle in this project.
    -  Re Collaboration (lack of):  How about I add a sentence "Closed-minded experts, authorities, and others think they have all the answers and see no reason to listen to anyone else."?

    • CommentAuthorTom Atlee
    • CommentTimeMar 4th 2009

    Tree Bressen wrote to me, in response to a revised draft of this:

    I think there is a key attribute that is referred to in the descriptions accompanying the first 3 items on your list but not named specifically, and it needs to be directly stated as its own point instead.  I don't have the name for it on my lips at this moment, though i'm sure there is one.  It's something about equalizing the power dynamic.  All 3 of those items point to the need for process that is GENUINE rather than a manipulation.  The open-ended search for something that serves the interest of the whole, without predetermined outcomes.  I think this item, once distinctly articulated, might be the most important item on your list, the one whose lack in many supposed efforts at public engagement undercuts those efforts irredeemably.  It must be stated clearly and unmistakably in the summary version of the list.

    I responded:

    It seems to me this power factor is VERY present in the materials I was summarizing, although not explicitly.  To me, it is not a central factor at the level of the six others, but is a fundamental means to ends like inclusion, collaboration, and learning (the first three you talked about) -- all of which are seriously constrained to the extent there are significant power differentials.  But peerness often exists in the absence of these others, and so I'm wary of raising it too high on the list.  That said, this is just my sense of things, and they could easily be mapped differently. 

    Tree responded:

    I'm not saying that the right name for what i am referring to necessarily includes the word "power" or "equality," though it might.  The reality is that people are not equal, power differences exist, in a multitude of forms . . . personally i accept that, it is part of the framework we exist within.  But there is something core about doing a process that is *real,* something that often gets missed out in the world.  What i was trying to point to in my comments appears to be some combination of:

    -- authenticity (/genuiness, realness, truthfulness)
    -- open-endedness (/exploratory/outcome not predetermined/?)
    -- equality (/peerness/sensitive holding of power differentials/service orientation by those in charge/minimizing of power differences)

    I think this is so important because it's easy to cite counterexamples.  For example, one could assert that, according to the normal explanations of what these terms mean, that [a certain process] has your 6 qualities [but still be basically] manipulative, inflicting pre-determined outcomes on the participants.  The same could be said for most of the planning processes locally here in Eugene.

    (Perhaps considering the list in this way is a useful process mechanism for figuring out if it's complete:  think of poor process examples, and see which rules on the list they do and don't follow.  And remember that the list, if successful, will mainly be used in summary, as bullet points, without much accompanying explanation in many cases.)

    Of the 6 items on your draft, i think transparency probably comes closest to what i am trying to get at, but it's still not sufficient:  [In certain deliberative events, organizers] could explain to anyone from the public where they received the limited options from, what all the steps were of the process, and so on.  So transparency is still insufficient.

    [A colleague once asked] "How do we make it really, really hard for people to act without integrity?"  That's what i'm trying to get at here.  Name the core principles so clearly that convenors feel compelled to follow them, or know that they risk being easily called out if they do not do so.

    OK, so perhaps the term i am trying to express is:  INTEGRITY.

    My response:

    Another dimension involved here is the dance around the PURPOSE of this exercise.  Sandy and I, in particular, are searching here not for principles on the potent leading edge of the D&D field, but for a coherent set of principles to which a widely diverse set of D&D organizations and practitioners can ascribe. 

    The evolutionary leap involved here is less stretching people out of their comfort zone into a deeper, more expansive perspective, but more catalyzing the co-creation of the field, per se, out of its many parts, so that the Obama administration (and many others, including us) have a sense that there is coherent knowledge and skill in the world to which they can establish a relationship. 

    I have an underlying assumption that the common denominator of our diverse field's understandings, if used as a standard, will actually help move us beyond the most base forms of public engagement so often characterizing government/citizen interactions (traditional public hearings being a favorite butt of our critiques, but also total dependence on non-conversational input approaches).

    Kenoli has standards he wants put forward regarding the necessity of stakeholder dialogues (as opposed to "citizen-based" dialogues).  He also believes that providing deliberators with balanced information is unnecessary if you include all stakeholders, because they hold the diverse information you want to help the system self-organize.  All of which contains tremendous leading-edge understandings, while invalidating half the existing field of D&D.

    In contrast, my citizen-deliberation based "wise democracy" vision depends a lot on sophisticated ways to provide balanced, provocative forms of information and framings to randomly selected citizens to discover the "wisdom of the people" for use in policy-making.  Again, leading edge, but different from Kenoli's edge.  People involved in "emergent processes" like Open Space and Dynamic Facilitation have an entirely different piece of the leading edge.

    So I'm looking for principles WHICH CAN BE INTERPRETED AS supporting virtually all the quality practices being done by NCDD members when they are at their best, without excluding any.  There may be a way to articulate the underlying understanding you are bringing to the table here, that would fit that description.  I'm not sure I see it yet.  Whatever it would be would be something that created space both for most existing D&Ders to defend what they do AND for others to critique it -- in other words, for appreciative and critical dialogue about how we apply the principles to which we all ascribe.  That's my ideal.

    • CommentAuthorkenoli
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2009 edited
    Tom --

    Thanks for your reply. I did somewhere say that the stakeholder framework was only one way to build full inclusion and there were others. What I was speaking to was the language that seemed to divide the territory into us and officials, putting us in an advisory role to the officials. I used the language of "stakeholders" as a convenient way to see all of us -- us and the officials -- as equal entities in the process, divided by our roles, but not giving us different actual authority (as opposed to formal, e.g. elected, authority). For me stakeholders is a useful way to refer to all the voices that make up a system. I am aware that there are various ways to actually bring those voices into the mix. I'm fine with various ways of doing this, I just don't want to divide us up into those with authority and those who only act in an advisory capacity.

    I did not intend to dismiss any particular methodologies. I didn't really understand the distinction you were making between citizen approaches and stakeholder approaches.

    The distinction I was trying to make is the distinction between what I was calling a consultative process and a participative process. The former does divide stakeholders, citizens, the population, or whatever term we use into classes, i.e. those with power and those who only play a consultative role. In any given process, one can set the process up to have one of these two frameworks. In other words, within that process is everyone given an equal footing or are some put in a role of only consulting to others. Now when a group that acts together participatively moves out of that context, they enter the larger world and those who may be elected officials may go vote in their legislative body, others may go out and agitate, others may publish newsletters, or whatever but they are all working together to support and build whatever it was they cooked up together, using the resources and authority that they have access to in the world to that end.

    I think this is a substantive distinction and important, as I think the participative model is the innovation that we bring, The consultative model is just a variation on what already goes on.

    I don't want to dismiss any particular methodology, but I think it is important to understand the character of various methodologies. For example, I'm sure most people are aware of my posts related to AS. What I have been trying to say here is that the AS approach does put people squarely in a consultative role in relation to elected officials. As far as I know, elected officials are not, at least generally, if ever, included as equals in AS events. They are left in their rarified environments to, at best, consider what went on in an AS event. This is not to say there is no value to what AS does, but I think it is fair to say that it is not, at its core, a participative approach. As a particular example, in the budget events AS did in San Francisco, the mayor attended but he didn't sit at a table and participate with others. Nor did his staff. The staff actually acted as the dream team, interpreting what came in from the tables. His agenda was put out to the group on an overhead and the group largely commented on what they thought about his priorities. There was some opportunity to add to the mayor's list, but even that was filtered through his staff on the dream team. There was no way for the group as a whole to come up with its own framework. They worked entirely within a set of givens and their primary role was to consult to those givens or extend them somewhat. I say this is not a participative event; it is a consultative event, very much like focus groups, comments at a microphone, surveys and the like, though it uses very different technology.

    If we are going to come up with principles of a participative approach, we have to do more than just combine everything that everyone brings to the table. If we do this, then we just end up with a compendium of things, not a list of participative principles. If we want to talk about participative methodology, then we have to critically define what we mean by "participative." When I first responded to your work to pull things together, it looked to me like the basic stance you were taking was a consultative stance, even though it was being called participative. This is not surprising, as the lists of things that people were offering were by and large coming from a consultative framework. That's OK, but it is not a participative model.


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