Not signed in (Sign In)

"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..."

Vanilla 1.1.5a is a product of Lussumo. More Information: Documentation, Community Support.


    What is legitimate civic engagement?

    from the Common Sense California website,

    The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once cynically called involving citizens in local government decisions "a device whereby public officials induce non-public individuals to act in a way the public officials desire," and a Federal official was overheard saying that in civic engagement, he followed the "3 I's" : "Include, inform, ignore." In the midst of this apathy, can citizens be involved in ways that truly inform elected and administrative policy-makers? Yes, but first it is important to know what legitimate civic engagement is not. Michael R. Wood from the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation frames the discussion this way:

    "sometimes different notions of 'public relations' are included under the umbrella of civic engagement. This confusion can lead to misplaced expectations and unaccomplished goals - by those involved. Consider when a public agency might want the community to have a better understanding of what it does and why. In this case, basic communications are in order. At other times, elected officials might want to rally the community behind a sales tax increase (or decrease) or a mill levy to raise resources to fulfill their responsibilities. These circumstances clearly call for advocacy. Civic engagement is appropriate when an agency is seeking to learn from the public. But learning is more than simply soliciting input, adding up the responses, and using the data to make a decision that is allegedly supported by citizens. It is about gaining and using public knowledge."

    In similar ways, civic organizations can also approach citizens with pre-conceived opinions about a given policy issues, and then approach governing institutions as an adversary, rather than as a partner. Public relations and advocacy are important elements of our representative democratic system, whether practiced by institutions or civil society groups, but they should not be confused with citizen engagement.

    CSC defines "legitimate" civic engagement as having three main ingredients. In different contexts, budgets and timelines can affect the degree to which these elements can be developed; these are not quests of political science "purity." Nonetheless, we believe the following pieces should be integrated to the degree possible.

    1. Incorporating results of engagement into actual decision-making process: The proof of a real civic involvement process is how it informs the policy-making framework. This often means that elected and administrative officials are at a point where they can "take their hands off the wheel" of the outcomes from such an effort. This does not demand that leaders must guarantee implementation of the opinions offered in a civic engagement initiative, but it does mean that they formalize how the results will be considered.

    2. Presenting of unbiased information to participants: One way public involvement processes can be manipulated is through the deliberation of slanted or biased information. Most policy issues have two if not multiple considerations. These should be presented in an honest way for the public's consideration. The best way this happens is to involve "stakeholders" in the early stages of the process, having them agree to central information elements, which will then go before citizens. Having participants make the tough "trade off" decisions that officials must make can only occur when they are provided with the same information.

    3. Gathering a representative and diverse group of participants: Engagement efforts can also be affected by the people assembled to discuss an issue. Outreach programs that elicit a variety of perspectives and ethnicities are a vital part of any legitimate campaign.

    4. Facilitating the discussion in a way that involves all participants: Once citizens are brought "to the table", results of deliberations can still be determined by ineffective facilitation. This can often happen in the usual "Town Hall" format, where citizens are restricted to a couple minutes at a microphone addressing an entire decision-making body. Breaking down these discussions into small group dialogues provides a more inclusive and deliberative environment in which to discuss a particular policy issue. It also brings citizens from varying perspectives into contact with one another - an important part of any civic engagement exercise.


Special Note:

Welcome to the NCDD website. What you see here, in the way of web design and layout is a work in progress. The forum feature works as you would expect, but we have just begun our web re-design and are testing the "bare bones" with this conversation. Many of the links and buttons outside the forum may not work as expected and we thank you in advance for your patience with us.

This re-design marks a new chapter in the online life of NCDD. It began in 1998 with a small online project called the Dialogue to Action Initiative and became the NCDD website after our first national conference in 2002. Beginning in 2009, we are turning our focus to embracing existing tools, instead of creating our own, as a way to further the networking opportunities of our members and offer examples, through use, of the many great tools that are available to us and our community.

Visit the Main Page of our website to learn more about NCDD. Please let us know what you think of the design! Send your feedback to [email protected].