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Our regional NCDD events brought together over 700 people total this October and November. A huge shout-out to all the members of our local planning teams!

Archives for March 2011

Recipes for innovation in public engagement    

I was trying to find new ways to articulate some of the daunting challenges in our field. I was trying to make abstract concepts more real to the average reader. OK, I admit it – I was just hungry.

I hope that my Recipes for Innovation in Public Engagement can help satisfy your own appetite!

Corporations Cannot Govern    

Corporations and governments have very different goals and motivations. Over the past few decades, these natural differences have become increasingly blurred in the eyes of politicians and the public…and some very disturbing consequences of this trend can now be seen. It’s time to drop the illusion that business strategies will work in effective public governance. In addition, I believe it’s time to drop the illusion that corporate skill is the panacea for our public policy dilemmas. Corporations do what they do very well…but we don’t have to believe they can do everything well to appreciate them as an integral part of our national and global society. Our public discussions need to address this hard truth: corporations cannot govern…and governments that act like corporations will fail.

  • Corporations serve a specific group of shareholders exclusively…governments serve all their residents equally
  • Corporations measure success in numbers…governments measure success in the quality of life in their communities
  • Corporations succeed through competition…governments succeed by balancing the needs of their diverse stakeholders
  • Corporations seek to defer or minimize risk…governments assume risk for their most vulnerable people
  • Corporations have CEOs and management staff with authority to make autonomous policy decisions…governments have checks and balances for policy decisions
  • Corporations can shift their multi-national operations to maximize profits…governments focus on a specific place and population in good times and in bad times

A business model does not translate well into public policy. And…CEOs rarely have the skill set for public office. Business strategies look at the world through a completely different lens than do public policy strategies. They aren’t inferior or evil…they just see the world in a unique and different way. So…why we can’t let business be business…and let public policy be public policy? When we confuse these roles in society, some very dangerous errors can happen…not because people intend to make mistakes, but because they are not prepared to make the best decisions for the common good. (more…)

Widespread errors hinder Obama’s open gov initiative    

NCDD member Cindy Gibson sent me this fascinating article from this afternoon, and I thought those of you following Open Gov would be interested… (more…)

What would YOU like to Confab about?    

I’d like to get your ideas on topics for future NCDD Confabs: conference calls and webinars for NCDD members where we explore key issues in the dialogue & deliberation community and encourage new connections among members.

We held several great Confabs last year before we became neck-deep in planning the regional events.  We held a webinar with Beth Offenbacker to talk about an upcoming Public Decisions online conference, a conference call with John Engle to discuss the role our community members could play in disaster recovery in Haiti, a conference call with Martin Carcasson to discuss his work on the goals of dialogue & deliberation, and a Maestro call hosted by Amy Lenzo about online engagement strategies.

The Maestro call was our most popular yet, with about 80 people calling into that Confab!  (See the wonderful graphic recording that Teresa Bidlake created on the call.)

I’d like to get us back in the habit of holding regular NCDD Confabs, and I’d love your ideas. What topics, questions, challenges, etc. would you want to focus on?  What thought leaders would draw you?  And perhaps most importantly, who among you would be interested in organizing or leading a Confab call, and on what topics?  Please comment here and share your ideas!

Group Decision Tip: A Way to Talk    

Group Decision Tip iconIn principle, in order for people to avoid conflict there has to be a way for them to talk. When in tension with someone else in my group, rather than talk with them directly, it is easiest to assume a superior position and take steps to prove my righteousness. It is also relatively easy to propose changes to the system in which we both operate: new rules, new policies, new ways of doing things that I think will make the tension go away. But both of these approaches create conflict and/or burden for my group.

Sometimes the barrier to direct communication is of a mechanical nature such as language or physical proximity or connection. But most often the barrier is our own fear about having a hard conversation. We don’t trust ourselves to say the right things or react the right ways. We are afraid that in a one-on-one setting we will lose the battle we are trying to win.

Practical Tip: Don’t view tensions as battles to be won or lost but rather as shared problems to be solved in shared ways. Before doing anything else, seek first to find a way to talk with those who are part of the problem.

If there are mechanical barriers to talking, work to fix them. In today’s world, going to war because one party can’t physically communicate with another is no excuse. If there are personal emotional barriers in the way, work to fix them. You are part of the problem; have a talk with yourself. Creating conflict or requiring your group to consider systemic changes because of your own emotional issues is selfish and inefficient.

And if someone else proposes a way to talk with you about a shared problem, accept the opportunity. Always talk first. Find a way.


Group Decision Tips are written by Craig Freshley. At his website you can access a complete archive of all previously published Tips, comment and view comments of others. Free distribution of Group Decision Tips for non-commercial purposes is encouraged with proper credit to Craig Freshley. Providing Group Decision Tips™ to others for commercial purposes and/or for any type of compensation is strictly prohibited.

Attn Canadians: ABCD seeks Project Lead    

NCDD member David Kahane from the University of Alberta asked me to share this job opening with the network…

Alberta Climate Dialogue (ABCD) seeks a Project Lead to guide an ambitious citizen engagement initiative that will operate first in municipalities across Alberta, Canada and then scale up to the provincial level.

ABCD is a five-year project premised on the conviction that well-designed citizen deliberations can play a crucial role in creating effective Albertan responses to climate change, by shaping the policies of participating municipal and provincial governments and motivating individual and community action. The project currently has $1 million in funding from the Community-University Research Alliance program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, as well as $2 million in matching cash and in-kind support from community organizations and partners; the Project Lead will work with partners to develop further funding from public, private, and not-for profit sources. (more…)

E.D. search for new advocacy organization for renewing democracy    

NCDD member Steven Kull asked me to share this interesting job description with the NCDD community, for Executive Director of a new advocacy organization for renewing democracy.  If you are interested in this position, send your resume and cover letter to Steven at . (more…)

Research positions open at Kettering    

Amelia Law asked me to share this important announcement with NCDDers.  If you have questions, you can contact her at 800-221-3657 or .

The Charles F. Kettering Foundation offers one-year research positions at their Dayton, Ohio offices to undergraduate, doctoral candidates and recent Ph.D.’s.  Research Assistants and Associates receive excellent full-time compensation and benefits including medical insurance.

As an operating research foundation, Kettering explores practical ways that democracy can be strengthened. The research, done in collaboration with people and organizations around the world, emphasizes the roles of citizens and the qualities of their interactions as decision-making actors in public life.  We especially encourage applications from scholars who have interests in topics such as deliberative democracy, civic engagement, social capital, civic education, civil society, and social movements, regardless of discipline or methodology.

For more information on the positions, including the application guidelines, visit  Note:  the application cut-off date for research fellowships is March 15th!

Will powerful conversations solve state and local budget crises?    

What would happen if professional organizers and facilitators of dialogue and deliberation decisively and publicly demonstrated their capacity to help cities and states solve their biggest problem — collapsing budgets — and then broadly promoted that fact?

What’s the crisis?  States, cities and towns across the United States are collapsing under mountains of debt.  The mortgage crisis crashed property taxes, the primary source of revenue for cities.  Cities are cutting off services from education to police to road repair. Comparable crises are hitting state governments, some of whom are selling off public properties, utilities and service institutions, resulting in a major privatization of the commons.  Some states and cities are contemplating bankruptcy, thereby scaring off bond investors.  See these articles for fascinating and troubling information on all this.

Advocates and practitioners of processes like Study Circles, Future Search, Dynamic Facilitation, Open Space Technology, and many other approaches have proclaimed the power of whole-system conversations, citizen engagement and stakeholder dialogues to solve the problems of communities.  Shouldn’t the power of such conversations be seriously considered by every legislature and administration? Shouldn’t the dialogue-and-deliberation approach be in the news as much as problematic solutions like staff layoffs, union-busting, bankruptcy, and increasing elementary school classroom size to 60 students?

The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, the International Association for Public Participation, the International Association of Facilitators, and the many networks of practitioners would clearly benefit from greater demand for powerful facilitated conversations. Clearly, the budget crisis is an opportunity of epic proportions.  But how might it be engaged? (more…)

Contribute to a national conversation on economic security    

The following was posted on the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) website here, but I know they would like to see many people from the broader dialogue and deliberation community get involved!

Read about taking part in an NIF national conversation about Economic Security:

The Kettering Foundation, in partnership with the National Issues Forums Institute, is seeking innovative ways to communicate the results of forums to policy makers.  Those of you who convene and moderate forums recognize how valuable they can be to participants and see them as a welcome antidote to polarized political talk. The public thinking that emerges from forums can provide valuable insights to policy makers about the kinds of things the public is ready to act on, and where the public might need further thinking. We also recognize that the results of forums might be more useful to state policy makers if they are analyzed regionally.

This year, we are promoting a national conversation on Economic Security, with national, state and local implications. Five, regional coordinators are working to encourage forums, analyze the results, and share their insights with each region and with Washington, D.C. policy makers at events in the spring, 2011. They are focusing on how ready the public is to act on various aspects of this issue. The Guide to Forums and the Questionnaire are both intended to encourage moderators and participants to emphasize a strong focus on the tensions the public wrestles with, and the tensions where the public has decided. We believe this information is vital to policy makers and to local action.

We need your help. We hope you will:

  • Hold many forums
  • Send in questionnaires promptly
  • Include your zip code and state on the questionnaires (must be received by March 31, 2011)
  • Complete and submit a moderator report along with questionnaires
  • Talk with the regional coordinator (more…)

Rich discussion on best practices for virtual meetings in NCDD LinkedIn group    

Have you joined NCDD’s LinkedIn group yet?  The group has about 800 members, and it’s a great way to stay updated on what’s happening in the field and connect with new people who work in dialogue and deliberation.  We’ve had some rich discussions there as well, like the one on “Groundrules necessary to make the best of virtual meetings” initiated by Martin Pearson about a month ago.

Martin wrote that he was starting to use Skype more for meetings, and asked group members if they have created specific ground rules for their own virtual meetings (like asking people to not to browse the internet while participating in the meeting).  The conversation morphed into a rich discussion on best practices for virtual meetings, with over 30 comments shared.

Group member Geoffrey Morton-Haworth took the time to summarize this excellent conversation, and posted the summary on his site here (you can also download a PDF of the summary).  Definitely worth checking out!

Group Decision Tip: Decision Method Right-sized    

Group Decision Tip iconIn principle, the amount of energy (time, money, etc.) invested in a group decision should be in proportion to the amount of impact it’s likely to have. The magnitude of the impact is a combination of how many people are affected, how deeply, and for how long into the future.

Consensus decisions are best suited to those that we expect to affect many people and last a long time—decisions that are expected to live longer than the current generation of decision makers. Consensus decisions are characterized by inclusive participation, shared understanding, and acceptance among all key stakeholders. This is when everybody decides for everybody.

Majority rule works well for medium-size decisions: decisions that are expected to last for awhile but are open to challenge and easily changed as majorities change (as generations of decision makers turn over). This is when most of the people decide for everybody.

One person in charge works well for decisions expected to last a short time with limited impact. Here, one person makes decisions on behalf of everybody. (more…)

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