public participation

An Experiment in Blending Dialogue Media    

Picture of the US flag on a political button.What’s working in our political system? What isn’t? Our company is OnlineTownhalls and we are passionate about improving the quality of our national dialogue. We recently joined the Open Model for Citizen Engagement Working Group here in Washington, DC which inspired us to give this a shot.

From June 23-27, 2010 we are conducting an experiment called the American Townhall on National Politics. Our mission is to find deeper ways to discuss critical issues facing our democracy combining tools for discussion online, in-person, and over the phone.  The target audience is not the general public; we’re testing these tools on our own communities: opengov, NCDD, e-democracy, transparency, etc.  When we learn what works and what doesn’t, then we’ll repeat the experiment with the general public and publicize the method for others to replicate.

Image of a hand-held camera.Join Us In-Person:

We’ve kick-started the townhall by conducting video interviews on the National Mall in Washington, DC. We’ll be asking visitors to our nation’s capital what they think is broken and what they think is working well in our national politic system. All the videos are available here and are included in the OnlineTownhall mentioned below where others participants can build on these ideas.

Image of a phone receiver.Join Us on the Phone:

The central question for the three-day show is, “What is working in our national political system, and what isn’t?” We’ll be joined by Wayne Burke of the Open Forum Foundation and the lead organizer of the Open Model for Citizen Engagement, key staff in the Sunlight Foundation, and members of the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation (if you’d like to be interviewed about your dialogue work, 6:30pm EST is open on Thursday and Friday; email [email protected] if you’re interested).

We have three live call-in radio shows:

  • Wednesday, June 23 from 5pm-7pm EST. Click HERE to listen.
  • Thursday, June 24 from 5pm-7pm EST. Click HERE to listen.
  • Friday, June 25 from 5pm-7pm EST. Click HERE to listen.
  • From June 23-27, join this OnlineTownhall to discuss the ideas raised in the radio shows.

Want to call into the radio show? Dial (917) 889-2510 to join the discussion during the times listed above. You can also add your thoughts via email to [email protected] or through Twitter using the tag #ATHNP (for American Townhall on National Politics). We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

A quill and paper.Join Us Online:

Using this conversation at OnlineTownhalls, participants will be able to take the conversation started on the videos and the radio show deeper from June 23-27.

OnlineTownhalls is different than standard commenting software; it helps participants visualize all the branches in a conversation and see which issues are controversial and which are common ground.

For those that would like a brief orientation to the software, we will be available over the phone. The dial-in number for the live walk-through is 605-715-4920 with an access code of 616033 from 7pm-9pm EST on June 23-25. The online discussion will be open through June 27.

If you’re comfortable with online tools, you’ll probably be able to figure out the townhall technology after watching this three minute intro video.

New report by Barnett & Kim Pearce on public managers’ views of public engagement    

The February 2010 report to the Kettering Foundation, “Aligning the Work of Government to Strengthen the Work of Citizens: A Study of Public Administrators in Local and Regional Government,” was written by my friends (and NCDD members) Barnett Pearce (pictured here) and Kimberly A. Pearce. The Pearces’ report surveys California administrative leaders from cities and counties, noting their changing views of “public engagement.” The main research question for the study was “What do public administrators need to know and to do in order to promote and respond constructively to an engaged community?” Downloadable here from the NCDD site.

The primary research method was participatory action research. The Pearces took advantage of an opportunity to work with Common Sense California (CSC), a multi-party, nonprofit organization founded in 2005 whose purpose is “to help solve California’s public problems by promoting citizens’ participation in governance.” They offered their services in helping design and evaluate a series of seminars for public administrators in exchange for access to those seminars and contacts and information gathered in other CSC projects.

The report is chock-full of useful quotes from public managers like this one:

“It is part of our job to get the public engaged to give a meaningful voice and ultimately have control over their government…[civic engagement] is not in addition to, but it is the work…if we are going to be as good as we can be in serving the community.”

 – David Bosch, Manager, San Mateo County

Here are the sections included in the must-read conclusion of this paper:

  • Public administrators question the public’s will or ability to communicate responsibly in civic engagement.
  • Public administrators think of civic engagement in the context of their professional responsibilities.
  • Public administrators are reassured by the experience of their peers and adaptable examples.
  • Civic engagement involves “culture change” and “authenticity.”
  • Public administrators have powerful motivations to support civic engagement.
  • Public administrators know that they need to develop new skills for supporting civic engagement, but are not sure what those skills are.

About the Authors: Barnett Pearce is Professor Emeritus at Fielding Graduate University; Kim Pearce is Professor at De Anza College. Both are Principals of Pearce Associates, Inc. and Founding Members of the Public Dialogue Consortium

Coffee Party Mvmt looking for good videos for training moderators    

Update on this post: We compiled the most relevant suggestions we received from the NCDD community (videos and books) in this PDF document. It may be easier to go through than looking through all the comments added to this post. Thank you to NCDD intern Cait Kershner for compiling everyone’s recommendations!

I’m sure most of you have heard of the Coffee Party Movement (CPM) by now; launched early this year on Facebook by Annabel Park, it quickly gained over 100,000 fans and initiated hundreds of face-to-face “coffee parties” across the country (fans now exceed 212,000!).  A left-leaning alternative to the Tea Party Movement, CPM The Coffee Party Movement is embracing civil discussion and collaboration as a means to impacting public policy.

I had a great conversation with Annabel Park a couple of days ago, and she felt that CPM’s coffee party moderators could really benefit from the expertise in our community of practice.  For starters, she wondered if we could help identify some great videos on group facilitation they could encourage their moderators to watch. (In my opinion, any group that is bringing so many people together for civil political discourse – from any side of the political spectrum – deserves our help with process.)

What training videos would you recommend? Videos/films/clips that are freely available for online viewing – or could be made so – are highly preferred!

Knowing the dialogue & deliberation community, you guys will recommend all kinds of resources that are great for new facilitators, and that’s fine (just please include titles, brief descriptions, and links).  I’ll compile everything here on the NCDD blog as it comes in (I’ll be sending this request to various listservs, LinkedIn groups, facebook groups, etc.).  Let’s show Annabel and other civic pioneers how responsive and generous our community can be!

Learn more about the Coffee Party Movement at or if you’re on Facebook. And check out this February post on the CPM site, which talks about how they “want the political process broken down into three steps: 1) open and respectful dialogue, 2) thoughtful and informed deliberation, 3) competent and decisive execution.”

Article on Deliberative Polling published in The Economist    

NCDD member Jim Fishkin was just featured in an article in The Economist print edition. If you aren’t familiar with Jim yet, he’s Director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford and creator of the Deliberative Poll.

The article, titled “Ancient Athens online: Democracy is about discussion, not just voting” can be viewed in full at this link. It begins with a bit of history about the use of random selection for public deliberation…

REFLECTION and representation are not an easy fit. For an individual voter, being well-informed about every twist of public policy is an irrational use of time. But leaving a self-selecting elite of wonks and careerists in charge of policy-making is unappealing. In ancient Athens, which invented both democracy and the dilemma, a machine called a kleroterion picked a random 500 people to make policy from the 50,000-odd polity. The jury excluded women and slaves and the decisions it reached were sometimes dodgy (condemning Socrates was probably a mistake). But the approach is returning in a modern guise, under the label of “deliberative democracy”.

It also included some helpful stats about the impact of deliberative polls in participants’ opinions…

Discussions and briefing often lead to a shift away from populist viewpoints. In a recent poll in Britain support for making party manifesto promises legally binding plunged from 41% to 18%. In recession-hit Michigan a discussion raised support for bigger taxes (from 27% to 45% for income tax, for example). By contrast, support for cuts in corporate taxes rocketed 27 points to 67%: the more people thought about the issue, the more they wanted a better business environment and a lower deficit. But some results are discomfiting (at least for those with this newspaper’s views). A pan-European poll in October 2007 found that support for European Union membership for Turkey and Ukraine fell by a fifth as the discussion progressed. Deliberation counts for something, with a statistically significant shift in opinion on three out of four questions, and the biggest changes coming from those whose gains in knowledge are the greatest.

50-page lit review on citizen participation    

Now HERE’S a resource for you… the 50-page Understanding Participation: A Literature Review covers a wide range of participatory activities that are often viewed in isolation. Download it here.

The review brings together different bodies of literature on participation, including literature on community development, volunteering, public participation, social movements, everyday politics and ethical consumption. It looks at the historical and current drivers of participation, the activities and actors of participation and different theoretical approaches that contribute to a better understanding of participation. It closes with our emerging ‘participation framework’ that we aim to further develop and refine in the subsequent stages of the project.

This literature review forms part of a major national research project called “Pathways through Participation: What creates and sustains active citizenship?” led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in partnership with the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) and Involve. All three UK-based organizations have a history of researching the different forms of participation that will be explored in the project.

(A shout-out to NCDD members Steven Clift and Taylor Willingham, both of whom reached my inbox today with this announcement.)

Nominations sought for Bertelsmann Prize in “Vitalizing Democracy”    

I heard about this through NCDD member Hans Peter-Meister the other day, and then was reminded of it in the DDC’s newsletter…

The search for next Bertelsmann Prize has begun! As one of Europe’s largest charitable foundations, the German Bertelsmann Foundation awards a significant monetary prize every year.  In 2011, the prize will celebrate and recognize governmental institutions (departments, administrations, towns, etc.) that have shown innovative democratic leadership by making a strong and lasting contribution to “Vitalizing Democracy through Participation.”

Any participation project begun in the last five years is eligible for the prize. The strongest candidates will be projects that have made a demonstrable impact on a public problem, influenced policy-makers, and succeeded in engaging previously marginalized and disadvantaged members of the community.

Please take this opportunity to nominate a project, and help the Bertelsmann Foundation highlight the responsibility and capacity of governments to support democratic innovation. The nomination form is brief; contact Christina Hanley ([email protected]) for nomination information.

Three Great OpenGov/Participation Events in DC    

As federal agencies near the April 7th deadline to release their implementation plans, there’s no shortage of energy surrounding the Open Government Directive.

There are two great events in DC that you won’t want to miss if you’re within driving distance: ParticipationCamp on April 17th and 18, and the half-day April Open Government Directive Workshop on April 28th.  Both events are using the Open Space method.  You’ll also see information below about a significant discount to the Politics Online Conference on April 19-20th.


Featured Member: John Spady and the Countywide Community Forums    

Today is our first in a series of NCDD “Featured Member Days.” All day, we will be using our social media tools (our blog, our listservs, our facebook group, our twitter feed, our linkedin group, etc.) to introduce as many people as possible to an extraordinary NCDD member.  Today we’re featuring John Spady and the Countywide Community Forums.

Feel free to add a comment here or respond to a post you see on the listserv or in our social media groups!  John will be responding to any questions or comments you ask him today.

John is the Executive Vice-President and Director of Research for the Forum Foundation in Seattle, and he’s been an active and supportive member of NCDD since the beginning. John’s story intersects considerably with that of his father’s. John’s father, Dick Spady, is the owner of 5 iconic Dick’s Drive-In restaurants in Seattle, and he has been a strong proponent of quality dialogue and citizen engagement for decades.

Last year, at the age of 83, John’s father submitted Initiative 24 — not to the voters of the State of Washington, but instead to King County, home to the largest city in the state: Seattle. After over 80,000 valid signatures were collected, King County (Seattle area) Councilmembers decided to directly enact Initiative 24, which created the Citizen Councilor Network. The Citizen Councilor Network’s first project is called the Countywide Community Forums, which are designed “to enhance citizen participation, civic engagement, and citizenship education in government through a network of periodic public forums….”

With the backing of his family, Dick Spady pledged that his private business, Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants, would underwrite the cost for the first two years of the Countywide Community Forums. This included the cost of the county employee in the Auditor’s Office, and all the costs associated with production, distribution, and website creation: a stated commitment of $350,000. Now in its third year, Dick’s Drive-In has recommitted itself through the end of 2010. This was critically important for the project, as King County Councilmembers stipulated that no tax dollars would be used to establish and maintain the new Citizen Councilor Network.

Our featured member, John Spady, is one of three coordinators appointed by the King County Auditor. His official title is “Deputy Citizen Councilor Coordinator.” (more…)

PCP blog post on the Coffee Party Movement    

NCDD member Cynthia Gibson added an interesting post to the Public Conversations Project’s blog today, titled The Coffee Party: Long Time Brewing.  (PCP is an organizational member of NCDD as well.)  In her post, Cindy writes:

How heartening to see ordinary people coalescing around the notion that the government is theirs and that they have a role to play in ensuring its vitality.  Rather than bash government, the Coffee Party wants to work with it.

What the Coffee Party movement may not know, however, is that there already is a powerful movement rippling across the country that’s doing likewise.  It’s called deliberative democracy, through which people are coming together to identify common concerns and find ways to work together to solve them.

Cindy’s blog post is pretty brief, and I added a comment that may just be longer than her post.  We’ve been discussing the Coffee Party Movement on the main NCDD listserv, and Cindy’s post suggests all those of us interested in democratic governance take advantage of the popularity of the Coffee Party Movement to “join together toward rebuilding a process that’s all but vanished in the halls of our government.”

I included some quotes from listserv subscribers in my comment (anonymously) so people can get a sense of what NCDDers think about how we should get involved in or ride the wave of this progressive response to the Tea Party Movement.  Feel free to add your comments, too, and check out PCP’s other blog posts while you’re at it.

How to Hold a Public Meeting    

Archon Fung (professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government) sent me an email a few days ago letting me know about a short article he wrote that was published in the March/April 2010 edition of Capitol Ideas, the magazine of the Council of State Governments.

Archon’s article can be seen online at, and outlines 5 tips for holding an effective public meeting: be clear on the purpose, get help (he links to NCDD here!), avoid the usual format, go beyond the usuals, and avoid promises you can’t keep.  It’s a nice, concise one-pager worth sharing with public officials and others.

Florida court says “open to the public” doesn’t mean citizens can speak up    

Steve Zikman brought an interesting article to my attention today, suggesting we share it with the network…

In a brief article titled “Appeals court rejects public comment time” at, a Florida appeals court upheld a year-old judgment that, in essence, found that government meetings required to be “open to the public” don’t necessarily have to give citizens a chance to speak at them.

View the whole article here at, but I’ve copied it below so we have an archive of it.  Please comment on this post and share what you think about this judgment and its implications. (more…)

2 great YouTube videos on deliberative democracy    

Check out these two videos on YouTube by Matt Leighninger (pictured), E.D. of NCDD organizational member the Deliberative Democracy Consortium.

The videos feature photos of deliberation, voice-over about how democracy is evolving to incorporate more citizen input, and footage of Matt’s three boys. The videos were produced for the No Better Time conference and the recent Recentering Democracy Around Citizens meeting.  One of the videos is about 6 minutes long and the other is 4 minutes long, and most of the content of the shorter one is included in the longer version.

You can view both videos at

I also added these to a couple of the public playlists I’m managing on YouTube. The 7 playlists organize over 100 videos that either show or introduce people to dialogue and deliberation, and they can all be found at this shortcut link:

The February Open Government Directive Workshop    


This article is co-authored by Lucas Cioffi and Alexander Moll, the two NCDD members who co-organized the February Open Government Directive Workshop in partnership with the US General Services Administration, the National Academy of Public Administration, NCDD, and GovLoop.

Summary and Purpose of the OGD Workshop

The February 17th OGD Workshop in Washington, DC was a blast.  We convened sixty participants working in-person and online, from the public and private sectors, and across agencies.  Third in an evolving four-part workshop series, this workshop was designed to help the federal government implement its recent Open Government Directive.  Fellow NCDD member Kaliya Hamlin facilitated the previous two workshops.

Since federal agencies are currently working on their individual open government plans that are due on April 7th, frontline federal managers needed the opportunity to exchange best practices across agencies.  The purpose of this particular workshop was to provide that opportunity, to synthesize, cross-pollinate, and transform great ideas into actionable recommendations.


Using deliberative polling to identify republican presidential contenders    

NCDD member Jim Fishkin sent this out to the main NCDD listserv the other day…  Jim wrote, “see veteran columnist Walter Shapiro’s musings about whether a deliberative democracy process could be used among republicans to start the next presidential nomination process.”

Shapiro’s article, titled Taking Republicans’ Presidential Pulse at a Political Reality Show appears on Politics Daily.

Help the Federal Government Understand Participation    

We have a simple opportunity to advise the federal government about public participation.  We have so many great ideas that we routinely share with each other on our email list, so let’s spend a few moments to share them with the federal employees that are just now entering this space.  Our NCDD colleagues within the federal government at the EPA and CDC have demonstrated that just a handful of individuals with the right knowledge can make a tremendous impact, so let’s spread that knowledge!


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