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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
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009 edited

    This document has been revised to take into account the comments below it and elsewhere in this forum.  The new VERSION 2.3 is now posted as a discussion entitled

    Version 2.3:  An integrated set of criteria for high quality public engagement.

    Please comment on that new document.  Please do not add further comments to the discussion of this document.


    This second draft was created by Tom Atlee from the first draft, modified according to comments on this list, and then revised by Sandy Heierbacher.  It is open for comment and suggested revisions/ additions/ reformulations.


    The following criteria for high quality public engagement in public conversation on public issues are distinct, but overlap considerably in practice.

    1.  Inclusion - Incorporate diverse voices to lay the groundwork for quality outcomes and democratic legitimacy.

    2.  Collaboration - Support citizens working together to serve the general welfare.

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

    4.  Transparency - Promote openness and provide a public record of the people, resources, and events involved.

    5.  Impact - Set things up so each engagement actually makes a difference.

    6.  Participatory Culture - Promote programs and institutions that sustain quality public engagement.

    Below these are briefly described.  You can consult more detailed descriptions on our website at ___(this would be a URL for a page with fuller exploration and articulation of these principles)____.

    1.  INCLUSION - Incorporate diverse voices to lay the groundwork for quality outcomes and democratic legitimacy.

    What this looks like: Both the convenors and the participants reflect the full range of stakeholder or demographic diversity, and have the opportunity to grapple with data and perspectives that fairly represent different “sides” of the issue. Participants feel their views are welcomed, heard, and responded to. Special effort is made to include normally marginalized, silent, or dissenting voices.

    What to avoid: Participants are mostly "the usual suspects" plus some token diversity. Biased information is presented, and expert testimony seems designed to move people in a specific direction.  People have little chance to speak out and, when they do, there is little sign they are actually heard.  Participants, stakeholders, or segments of the public feel their interests, concerns and ideas are suppressed or ignored.

    2.  COLLABORATION - Support citizens working together to serve the common good.

    What this looks like: Organizers involve public officials, “ordinary” citizens, official and unofficial community leaders, and other interested parties in conversations in which they join forces as peers, cognizant of their common ground and using their differences for common benefit.  Cooperation is evident in every aspect of the engagement -- in the organizing, recruitment and information presented, the event itself, and all the way through to outcomes and impacts.

    What to avoid: Unresponsive power-holders deliver one-way pronouncements or preside over adversarial or stilted conversations.  Experts and authorities feel they already have "all the answers" and “listen” only to appease.  Loud voices, mainstream views, or suppressive "reason" dominate, and other voices and modes of expression are silenced, sometimes with politeness or formalities but little respect or empathy.  Forums feel pointless, lacking shared purpose.

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

    What this looks like: Everyone involved shares their views, listens, and learns things about themselves, each other, and the issues before them -- and together they generate new understandings, possibilities, and/or decisions that were not clear before the conversation began.  The engagement is characterized by shared intention, powerful questions, useful information, an open and respectful atmosphere, and good facilitation.

    What to avoid: "Public participation" exercises go through the motions required by law or the dictates of PR before announcing their pre-determined outcome.  Participants get on soapboxes or are repressed, fight or conform, get overridden or overwhelmed, and are definitely not listening to each other.  Available information is biased, scanty, overwhelming, or inaccessible -- and experts lecture rather than discuss and clarify.  Poor facilitation or lack of time make it impossible to deal with the true complexity of the issue.

    4.  TRANSPARENCY - Promote openness and provide a public record of the people, resources, and events involved.

    What this looks like: There is a sense of trust among everyone involved.  Relevant information, activities, decisions, and issues that arise are shared, while respecting privacy where necessary.  People experience planners, facilitators, and participants with official roles as straightforward, concerned, and answerable.

    What to avoid: 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 suspect hidden agendas dubious ethics.  Participants not only don't trust the facilitators but are not open about their thoughts and feelings.

    5.  IMPACT - Set things up so each engagement actually makes a difference.

    What this looks like: People sense -- and can see -- that their engagement was meaningful, influencing government decisions, empowering them to act effectively together, or otherwise impacting the world around them.  Due to media and official PR, appropriate publics know the engagement is happening and talk about it with each other.  Officials and ordinary citizens understand, are moved by, and act on the findings and recommendations of citizen deliberation -- and communities become more vibrant and functional through citizen and stakeholder dialogues. 

    What to avoid: Participants have no sense of having any effect -- before, during, or after a conversation.  There is no follow-through from anyone, and hardly anyone even knows it happened.  Deliberators' findings and recommendations are inarticulate or useless to policy-makers -- or seem to represent the views of only a small unqualified group -- and are largely ignored.  Any energy or activity catalyzed by the event quickly dies out.

    6.  PARTICIPATORY CULTURE - Promote programs and institutions that sustain quality public engagement.

    What this looks like: As a rule, the public expects to engage in powerful, enlightening conversations with diverse others as part of their vibrant democracy. Public engagement organizers make a point of developing the capacities of leaders and other citizens -- and whole communities -- as an integral part of convening public conversations.  At all levels of governance, we find sustained, periodic, and iterative public dialogue and deliberation, often because it has been institutionalized.

    What to avoid: Public engagements, when they occur, are one-off events isolated from the ongoing political life of society.  For most citizens, democracy means only freedoms and voting and perhaps writing a letter to their newspaper or representative.  For activists and public officials, democracy is the business-as-usual battle and behind-the-scenes maneuvering.  Few people -- including government people -- have any expectation that authentic, empowered public participation is possible, necessary, forthcoming, or even desirable.

    • CommentAuthorkcissna
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009

    Tom, we've got to get rid of that pubic record in #4.     Thanks for integrating these like this. Ken

    • CommentAuthorkcissna
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009

    These look great. #6 seems more like an outcome of the first five--if those five happen, then public engagement and participatory culture will be created. This doesn't seem quite as much behaviors that can be arranged as the others. Ken

    • CommentAuthorkenoli
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009

    Looks good. I'm a bit confused about the trouble you had with my comments, Tom, as much of what I addressed shows up here. The one piece that is completely missing is the part about planning, which as I mentioned in the topic I started has, for us, been an important criterion for success. I have always been interested that so few process people focus on this piece.


    • CommentAuthorRosaZ
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009

    looks good, to me, Tom and Sandy!

    I am joining in the conversation late, so I will look on the other threads to find Kenoli's point about planning... i suspect it's a valuable one.


    all best wishes,



    • CommentAuthorRosaZ
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009

    OK now that I've had time to review most of the other threads (i started with this one) here are a couple of thoughts...

    1) Tom, I really like what you and Sandy have come up with, above.

    AND, I also really like IAP2's core values... Yes they serve a different purpose, AND, the purpose they serve feels to me like an important one. Maybe there could be a way to acknowledge them, refer to them, point to them, something??

    2) Along those lines... and Kenoli's point about the distinction between "consultative" and "participatory" processes...  I think IAP2's spectrum can be REALLY helpful tool in this regard, because IMO we help people move toward the participatory end of the spectrum more effectively, when we place that possibility "on the map" by presenting a full "spectrum", instead of a more limited and easily polarized set of "only two options..."

    I also like IAP2's spectrum very much as it has strong parallels to Tannenbaum & Schmidt's classic work in OD, on "Levels of Employee Participation in Decision-Making"...

    So, those two items, the IAP2 values and spectrum, would be on my "short list", of a small "recommended tool box" to include, in addition to the above "criteria"...






    This is shaping up. I like the way you've incorporated most of the comments - in particular on the Impact criterion. I agree with Sandy that the 'What to avoid' paragraphs are excellent and really help to explain these ideas.

    A few more thoughts:

    - I realize that inclusion can neatly apply to both people and ideas, but again, these are two separate and very important points and you may minimize them by combining them. On the idea side, I think that the need to welcome a range of views might be a point that needs to be stated very plainly and prominently to the administration; I'm reminded of Pete Peterson's critique of the health care discussionsin City Journal. You could avoid adding a seventh criterion by incorporating this into the Learning one; maybe it could be " Help participants listen, explore and learn by considering a range of views or options."

    - On the people side of this, I think the word "inclusion" is just too overused to carry the kind of meaning we want to give it. And people who aren't experienced in this work might have trouble distinguishing between the first sentence of the  'what this looks like' from the first sentence of the 'what to avoid.'  So far, the campaign and the administration have emphasized openness - setting up events and activities that welcome anyone who wants to participate - and proactive recruitment - beating the bushes, and using personal connections, to get as many people as they can (and, as you say, making special efforts to get people who are less likely to participate). Those are powerful principles, they are also evident in the best projects in our field, and I think we should acknowledge them.

    - I think the point about planning should be named explicitly, and you could do this pretty easily in the collaboration criterion.

    - The participatory culture criterion seems a little abstract and vague, and I'm worried people will dismiss it. Maybe the current first sentence could be replaced with something like "In communities and online, there are arenas for citizens which allow them to bring their own ideas and concern to the table. These are ongoing structures - powerful, enlightening spaces for citizens - that are connected to the social and cultural aspects of community life." Hmm...well, the last part may be just as abstract, but it is the best I can do late at night. I know I've got better ways of articulating this in my book - very frustrating to realize you've described an idea before, but better! Anyway, you get the gist: we need to say a little more about what we mean by "institutionalized."

    • CommentAuthorTim
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009 edited
    There's a minor difference between principle #2 in the summary and its header in the detail section below:

    2. Collaboration - Support citizens working together to serve the general welfare.
    2. Collaboration - Support citizens working together to serve the common good.

    Personally, I think I prefer "common good."

    Which reminds me:

    It might be a good idea to run this document by our "Conservatives" panel (from last year's conference in Austin) to make sure the language we're using has broad appeal (though I can't immediately spot the terms "sustainability" or "consciousness-raising" anywhere in here, so we might be ok). ;-)


    I have one added principal that you might consider:  Settings conducive of dialogue and supportive of the other principals.

    Let me explain.  I was the lead facilitator in a statewide project  which held 20 dialogues around the state. One of these was held at a Library that you would normally think would be very welcoming and inviting of dialogue.  But, at this partidculoar facility the City had installed 20 minute parking meters at all nearby parking, with signs everywhere threatening towing.  It was very conserting for dialogue participants feeling they had to go move their car every 20 minutes. 


    Kenoli -

    If we added something about planning, what would that look like?  Would it be a separate principle/criterion about planning?  Or some text at the beginning, or what?  And what is the gist of what you'd want included about planning?

    As you know, I've been traveling and I'm now at a retreat, so I haven't had enough time to look carefully at what you wrote before.


    Tim - I changed the "welfare" thing to "common good" in the text and forgot to do it in the header; I'll go in as admin and take care of that.

    Definitely agree that we want some conservatives looking over this text carefully, checking for buzz words and terms.  We'll do that.

    • CommentAuthornpeden
    • CommentTimeMar 7th 2009

    Kenoli and all

    Looks very good. Interesting framing of the key criteria. Could planning be Collaboration and Strategizing? After all doesn't collaboration imply planning?

    I like Edgar Morin's call to strategize more than create a program or plan. Strategy seems more flexible to me.


    Nancy Peden, Monterey, CA


    Here are some comments from Will Friedman (Public Agenda)...

    I agree that this is coming along nicely. A few recommendations:

    4. Transparency: What it looks like begins with: "There is a sense of trust among everyone involved."  I'd recommend that we delete this. It's certainly a goal, but in the real world it rings a bit naive to suggest that everyone trusts everyone all the way through the process--which has nothing to do with the notion that transparency must be observed. While some degree of trust is necessary to pull together the partners, resources and participation that make this work possible, the level of trust of those directly involved and those observing varies, especially at the outset. (Some public officials may participate more because the media is going to be present, not because they truly trust the proceedings are going to be meaningful or something they're really planning to act on. Some citizens participate because they're giving a public process one more chance, but they're pretty skeptical about it. Hope is what brings them in more than trust.) Some trust is certainly necessary from the start, but Increased trust is also a biproduct of high quality D&D work, and the principle of transparency helps to build it. In sum, I think the section works better without that first sentence.

    5. Impact. At one point there is the sentence, "Due to media and official PR..." I'd substitute "communictions" for "PR," just because it's very hard to free "PR" from its assocaition with spin.

    I also think Matt's point about being clear very that inclusion (or whatever word is used) pertains to both people and ideas is important for the Administration to understand.

    I'd like to add one other point about our aspirations and strategy with respect to the Administration. I think that we'll be most effective in attempting to influence and aid the Administration if we're clear that it will only sometimes be in a position to act on behalf of D&D as we understand it. There will be times when the Administration can take an open approach to policy development that fits well with the work that we do and other times when it will necessarily be a partisan player and be neither willing nor able to effectively promote a D&D approach to national problem-solving.

    This is issue and timing dependent. For instance, I think the administration could easily support national D&D on the long-term budget deficit but I did not expect it to do so on the stimulus package--which arguably (certainly from the adminstration's perspective) needed very fast action and had quickly become a defining partisan issue to boot.

    Our job, as I see it, is to encourage the administration to take as much advantage as possible of the opportunities it has to develop policy in a nonpartisan, open, deliberative, citizen-centered manner and to do so at a very high level of quality and effectiveness--and the principles and our collective efforts in many other ways can help with that. And when the Administration is involved in partisan battles, which, on certain issues will be frequent, we need to encourage and help it to not muddy the D&D waters by pretending it is encouraging nonpartisan dialogue and deliberation when it is actually trying to rally the troops. This would only set our cause back, which is why I am trying to be clear on this point. Our job at such times, in addition to helping the Administration resist the lures of pseudo-engagement, is to foster dialogue and deliberation throughout society in various other ways, so citizens and communities continue to have opportunities to address the problems and decisions that affect their lives.

    To be clear, even the occasional embrace by the federal government of an authentic and high quality D&D approach to national problem solving would be a truly enormous step forward, and defining these principles is a useful enterprise, not only for what it might offer the Administration but for what it appears to be doing for our field. These comments are simply offered as strategic considerations that I think are worth bearing in mind as we attempt to come into relationship with the Administration.


    Here are some very helpful comments from Debby Sugarman...

    On the line:

    5.  Impact - Set things up so each engagement actually makes a difference.

    I wonder if you can replace the word "things" with something more specific like "Plan for adequate follow up so that each each engagement actually makes a difference."  (that's still not quite it but that's the idea)

    The other comment is a little more general...

    While I found myself getting excited when I read the "What to Avoid" section , I found that the "what this looks like" part made me glaze over and I was curious why.  I read it a couple of times quickly, like a busy government official might, and the words seemed to blur together.  Then I checked with my housemates who are both engaged in public policy and both of them had a similar reaction.  The "what to avoid" painted a clear picture and sparked many memories (unfortunately) and I didn't get that blurry feeling when I read it.  So I'm wondering if there is a way paint that kind of picture with the "what we want" paragraphs too.

    So I'll take a stab at simple changes that might help:

    #1, "Inclusion" was the most clear to me.

    #2, "Collaboration" was possibly the most problematic for me:  I didn't understand the phrase, "in which they join forces as peers, cognizant of their common ground and using their differences for common benefit. " I think I know what you mean, but the words didn't paint a picture for me.  A simple re-write of the next sentence might solve the problem:  Parties collaborate on every aspect of the engagement -- from organizing, and recruiting to presenting information and setting up the event, all the way through to ______ing outcomes and impacts.  (I'm actually not at all sure what ABOUT outcomes and impacts so I left off the verb for you to fill in)

    # 3, "Learning"- could be written like:

    A trained facilitator encourages everyone involved to share their views, listen, and be willing to be curious in order to learns things about themselves, each other, and the issues before them.  In this way, participants will generate new understandings, possibilities, and/or decisions that were not clear before the conversation began.  The engagement is characterized by shared intention, powerful questions, useful information, an open and respectful atmosphere, and good facilitation.

    # 4, Transparency was clear to me

    #5, Impacts was clear up until the last line, "and communities become more vibrant and functional through citizen and stakeholder dialogues"  As someone new to this, I'd have no idea how.  I'd like to see a "because..." after the "stakeholder dialogues" and then explain further in one more half a sentance.

    #6 was pretty clear

    I guess overall, I would love those paragraphs to be a little more clear and engaging while acknowledging that it is very hard to put this kind of thing in words.  Often, when I try, it feels like trying to explain purple to someone who has never seen color.

    Good luck and thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    Debby Sugarman

    • CommentAuthorneissept
    • CommentTimeMar 8th 2009

    This is wonderful stuff, both in substance and organization.  I know it's late in the game, and there may be not be time at this point to make any changes, but I would like to follow up on what Matt has said by suggesting that "disagreement" be a criterion unto itself, as in "Disagreement: accept ongoing disagreement as a valid outcome."

    Thanks, Phil


    Some thoughts from Kim Pearce (De Anza College and Pearce Associates)...

    Many thanks to those of you who are taking a leadership role of advancing the work of D & D at the national level.  I wish you all the best on Wednesday as you meet with the administration!

    I echo the sentiments of the others who have preceded me—this is a wonderful and very useful document!

    Here are some brief comments:

    Useful distinction between inclusion of “ideas” and “people.” In the spirit of maximum inclusion, I noticed that there are parts of the document that cast the widest net possible when naming who is involved (i.e., participants, the public…) and other places where “citizens” are the named group.  I suggest keeping the language as broad as possible throughout the document since there are many participants and stakeholders in public processes that are not citizens.

    I like Debby’s suggestions for making the “what it looks like” sections clearer.  Her re-writes are very useful.

    Kenoli’s ideas about making “planning” more explicit might be included in the “Impact” section.  I suggest differentiating between “event” and “process” planning.  Barbara’s story of the “20 minute meter” problem speaks to the importance of event planning; IAP2’s spectrum and NCDD’s streams are examples of process planning (and, in the case of NCDD's streams,the document includes event designs that are in the service of overall process goals).

    If you decide to keep the categories as is, I think “disagreements as outcomes” (Phil’s suggestion based on Matt’s observations) can be incorporated somehow into the “Learning” section. The “what it looks like” section might focus on the quality of communication among participants that make differences and disagreements (during an event as well as final outcomes) important sites for exploration, more complex thinking, the development of more nuanced relationships ….

    Thanks again for all that you and others are doing to advance this work!



    Hey folks,

    I think in general the principles are good but if the principles of deliberation do nothing to address inequalities in the ability of different groups to access the process it loses both value and legitimacy as an empowering tool.

    Now wonder people then become cynical about democracy. If we are only concerning ourselves with so-called negative rights of a civil and political nature yet neglect the positive realm of rights to participation which includes civic education, ensuring language access and addressing other social and structural barriers to engagement.

    Otherwise the system becomes too easily manipulated by those who are already priviledged and in a better position to participate and control the terms of the discussion.

    I'd like to see more conversation on these components and more inclusion of these concerns in these principles. Otherwise I can see the criticms of this initiative coming from social justice movements.

    Here in New Orleans we have created a process that developed a concept of Civic Engagment which does not divide components such as Civic Education from public participation. Civic Engagement is not just in the moment or the act of participating but the necessary capacity building, learning and bridge building that must take place prior to it.

    If powerful interest continually seek to exclude members of the community it is the obligation of the administrators to address it. Civic Education is not only for the "uneducated" but also for those who hold to backward and narrow beliefs that limit participation from others.

    For instance, if you are a leader of a neighborhood association and you believe and preach through your association that people are poor because they are inferior in culture, work ethic and thus deserve their poverty, it is likely that you won't recruit a great deal of participation from those who may feel targeted or offended by such vitrol whether they happen to actually be poor or not.

    If the structure of participation doesn't include standards that discourage the capture of the participation process by local elites, it will also increase cynism.

    Khalil Shahyd

    New Orleans Citizen Participation Project


    Hi Everyone: What you are doing is terrific, and a great contribution to both the field and to efforts to engage citizens in national policy making.

    I'd like to comment on the Impact section with a comment about process and values. What I like about the approach of Everyday Democracy is how it clearly seeks discussion and action about (1) what the government, or policy makers, or "others" can do, (2) what we, collectively, can do, and (3) what I as an individual can do. It's a helpful distinction, and very empowering. Could we clarify that action does not belong exclusively with the government or even with collective efforts, but that individuals can and must make a difference?

    My second point has to do with the larger goals of this work -- that we are not just trying to affect how decisions are made and who participates, but that we are doing this work to a particular end -- to advance democratic principles: freedom, justice, equality, and respect for others and for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenry. Perhaps this is it's own category or introductory sentence.

    Nancy Thomas

    The Democracy Imperative, University of New Hampshire

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