collaborative action

The “collaborative action” stream is focused on empowering people and groups to solve complicated problems and take responsibility for the solution. Study Circles, Future Search, and Appreciative Inquiry are considered part of this stream.

IJP2 Article Part 6: Share ownership of programs and structures widely    

Now that I’ve finished posting about the “Framing Challenge,” it’s time to move on to the “Systems Challenge.”

Most recent experiments in dialogue and deliberation have been temporary and somewhat isolated programs that lead to few long-term changes in the way people and institutions interact. For the “Systems Challenge,” we explored how we can make public engagement values and practices integral to government, schools, and other systems, so our methods of involving people, solving problems, and making decisions happen more naturally and efficiently.

At the conference, we focused most on institutionalizing public engagement in governance—an area often referred to by scholars (perhaps a bit awkwardly) as “embeddedness.” According to Fung and Fagotto (2009),

Embeddedness is a habit of deliberation among citizens. When that habit is embedded in a community’s political institutions and social practices, people frequently make public decisions and take collective actions though processes that involve discussion, reasoning, and citizen participation rather than through the exercise of authority, expertise, status, political weight, or other such forms of power. (p. 3)

MattLeighninger200pxFive themes emerged in discussions about this challenge area…

1. Share ownership of programs and structures widely

Public problems cannot be solved by government alone. Community assets like volunteers, businesses, churches, schools and nonprofit organizations must be tapped to address most complex problems. According to Systems Challenge co-leader Matt Leighninger (pictured), one problem with some of the existing systems for public involvement is that they were established purely as government entities, like the neighborhood council systems created during the “War on Poverty” in the 1960s and 70s.

“Starting in the early 1970s, local governments in places like Portland, Oregon, Dayton, Ohio, and Saint Paul, Minnesota created neighborhood council systems as a way of engaging residents in public decision-making and problem-solving” (Leighninger, The Promise and Challenge of Neighborhood Democracy: Lessons from the intersection of government and community,2009). Because they were designed as miniature versions of city councils, they have had to deal with many of the same dysfunctions and problems as government—but with less resources and authority with which to work.

Leighninger asserts that our focus should not be on making government bigger, but on creating structures and processes that are jointly owned by whole communities. In his draft report on a Democratic Governance at the Neighborhood Level meeting held in November 2008, one of four main conclusions drawn from the meeting is that “this work has to be jointly ‘owned’ and directed.” Meeting participants seemed to agree that in communities where public engagement is embedded in governance, “a broad array of neighborhood and community organizations and leaders, along with public officials and employees” all have some significant degree of ownership and authority within the system.

That said, the importance of involvement and buy-in of political leaders cannot be overemphasized. In their paper Sustaining Public Engagement, Fung and Fagotto (2009) identify “political authority” as one of three conditions necessary for public engagement principles and processes to become embedded in government systems. Although nonprofits and civic entrepreneurs often initiate public engagement efforts, they are more likely to impact policy and endure over time if local politicians and decision-makers also support them. Hawaii State Senator Les Ihara (an NCDD 2008 attendee) is an example of a public official who has tirelessly promoted National Issues Forums and other deliberative initiatives with legislators for years.

2. Build on and learn from what’s already in place

Coming soon…

Note from Sandy:

SandyProfilePic80pxThis is my sixth blog post featuring content of an article published in the latest edition of the International Journal of Public Participation (IJP2), titled Taking our Work to the Next Level: Addressing Challenges Facing the Dialogue and Deliberation Community. The article outlines our learnings in two of the five challenges we focused on at the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin: the “Systems Challenge” (How can we make D&D values and practices integral to government, schools, and other systems?) and the The “Framing Challenge” (How can we talk about and present D&D work in more accessible ways?). You can download the full article from the IJP2 site.

IJP2 Article Part 5: Cultivate the ability to adapt framings for different audiences    

woman200pxAt the October 2008 NCDD conference in Austin, Texas, one thing people seemed to agree on related to the “Framing Challenge” was that dialogue and deliberation practitioners need to cultivate the ability to adapt framings for different audiences.

How practitioners should emphasize potential action outcomes depends, in part, on whom they are trying to reach. It may not be necessary to attract people from every group to every program. Talking in terms of social justice, social change and racial equity may work well when recruiting people of diverse ethnic backgrounds to a dialogue on racism, while focusing on learning about an issue may welcome conservatives into a conversation about the separation of church and state.

Once we understand how various framings play out with different groups, we can adapt our language to different audiences. On our Reflective Panel, David Campt emphasized the need for practitioners to be able to tailor both their language and their practice to distinct groups.

How the topic of discussion is framed is potentially more important than how the program or process is framed. On the “Conservatives Panel,” Joseph McCormick mentioned framing a discussion on global warming as a dialogue on “energy security and climate change” to draw more conservatives. Theo Brown spoke of a similar multi-partisan initiative that abandoned a “gun control” framing for one centered on “reducing violence.”

The point here is not to encourage practitioners to become masters of “spin,” but to use language that people from potentially underrepresented groups can relate to, while remaining open and honest about the purpose of the program. Whether a program is designed to inform the mayor’s policy decisions, encourage citizen action on race issues, or build understanding among conflicting groups, it is important to be clear about the program’s aims from the start.

It should also be said that although collectively and individually, we seem to be developing more sensitivity to the impact language has on different groups, we try to encourage NCDD attendees not to shame or lecture each other, or worry overly about offending. As Jacob Hess said in his report on the Framing Challenge, “I came to NCDD San Francisco (2006) a ‘closet conservative’ – with most people ignorant of my background. I experienced so much warmth, optimism, and spirit there, that I had no chance of feeling unwelcome.” One of Hess’ personal conditions of good dialogue is the old Biblical emphasis on “being not easily provoked” (1 Corinthians 13) and we should all be a bit forgiving in our use of language.

Note from Sandy:

This is my fifth blog post featuring content of an article published in the latest edition of the International Journal of Public Participation (IJP2), titled Taking our Work to the Next Level: Addressing Challenges Facing the Dialogue and Deliberation Community. The article outlines our learnings in two of the five challenges we focused on at the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin: The “Framing Challenge” (How can we talk about and present D&D work in ways that are accessible to a broader audience?) and the “Systems Challenge” (How can we make D&D values and practices integral to government, schools, and other systems?). You can download the full article from the IJP2 site.

This is the last segment from the section on the Framing Challenge.  Here’s a quick overview of all 5 segments:

1. Develop a common language of practice with more universal appeal
Can we identify common yet compelling language that represents the work we do in dialogue and deliberation? Can we get clear on our theories of change?

2. Consider how different framings affect different groups
Some terms we use in this field turn people away because they are too “new-agey” sounding; others because they are too academic or jargony, or because they have negative connotations or implications for certain audiences. Practitioners are acquiring and cultivating greater sensitivity to the ways that distinct language ‘plays out’ for different groups.

3. Understand the specific concerns of conservatives
Progressives seem to be more drawn to public engagement work than conservatives. Understanding and acknowledging conservatives’ concerns about this work is key.

4. Frame in terms of general goals and desired outcomes
While no single framing works for all audiences, practitioners are finding success in focusing on the purpose or potential outcomes (in general) of engagement rather than focusing on process.

5. Cultivate the ability to adapt framings for different audiences
How practitioners should emphasize potential action outcomes depends, in part, on who they are trying to reach. We must use language to which people from potentially underrepresented groups can relate, while remaining open and honest about the purpose of the program.

IJP2 Article Part 4: Frame in terms of general goals and desired outcomes    

At the October 2008 NCDD conference in Austin, Texas, one theme that emerged in the “Framing Challenge” was the idea of framing dialogue and deliberation in terms of general goals and desired outcomes.

2women200pxMany times, the potential for concrete outcomes or results needs to be underscored in big, bold letters. This often means identifying language that explicitly connects the public engagement process or program to solving a particular problem people are facing. In the online dialogue we held before the conference to explore the five challenge areas, Judith Mowry described learning that an especially effective “way to bring people to the table” is to make clear for them “what’s in it for me?”

Citizens, community leaders and elected officials tend to talk in terms of solving problems and addressing issues, and think in terms of outcomes and content rather than process. Several conference attendees reported more success in drawing people to the table when they framed public engagement work in such terms. Theo Brown mentioned much greater drawing power for AmericaSpeaks events when they are able to highlight concrete action and policy outcomes. Facilitator Lucy Moore described “lofty policy goals” as key in bringing many stakeholders together for her dialogue about Grand Canyon issues.

Of course, it can be tricky to promise even general outcomes like “citizen action” or “impact on policy” for programs designed, by their very nature, to allow the participants themselves to identify specific action or recommendations. In their workshop, Virtuous and Vicious Cycles: Beyond a Linear View of Outcome and Impact, Maggie Herzig and Lucy Moore noted that overly defining outcomes from the start can undermine participants’ ownership of their efforts and underappreciate the possibilities that were unimaginable before the initiative began.

Herzig and Moore pointed out that for some groups, an overly-defined outcome is enough to turn them away. People with more conservative political views, for example, can be quickly turned off by talk of “social change” or “community organizing” that seems inherently progressive. Talk of influencing government policy can also be a red flag for conservatives like panelist Pete Peterson, Executive Director of Common Sense California, a self-identified “communitarian conservative” who would like to see public engagement efforts focus more explicitly on empowering citizens to take responsibility for community problems themselves rather than turning to government for help or demanding government action.

Peterson emphasized the importance of not allowing a more deliberative democracy to replace self-reliance. After all, government is not the answer to many of our problems, and we cannot expect it to be. Similarly, panelist Grover Norquist stated frankly, “I don’t like it when 12 people or 12,000 people get together and tell someone what to do.” Peterson, Norquist, and others on the “Conservatives Panel” suggested framing public engagement around more traditional values like “voluntary, civic solutions to problems” (rather than only political solutions) and “individual responsibility in addition to collective responsibility” in order to attract more conservative participants.

PhilipThomas200pxWhile there may not be a single framing of public engagement that works for all audiences, practitioners are increasingly finding success in focusing on the purpose or potential outcomes (in general) of engagement. Specifically, framing in terms of problem solving and identifying and working towards a desirable future seems to resonate with broad audiences. In the online dialogue, Joseph McIntyre described his efforts to frame public engagement work in a broadly accessible way:

We frame our work leading wisdom circles in sustainable agriculture as reinvigorating local democracy and specifically we create “citizen think-do” tanks that attempt to bring perspective and the common good back into the center of our communities. For us, the call to represent “our best hopes and aspirations for a future worth having” resonates strongly with both the rural conservative and urban environmental members of our alliance.

It is also helpful to consider the way organizations like NCDD member Everyday Democracy (which reinvented itself recently by changing its name from the Study Circles Resource Center) talk about the work they do in communities. Everyday Democracy’s website states simply that “we help your community find ways for all kinds of people to think, talk and work together to solve problems.”

Note from Sandy:

This is my fourth blog post featuring content of an article published in the latest edition of the International Journal of Public Participation (IJP2), titled Taking our Work to the Next Level: Addressing Challenges Facing the Dialogue and Deliberation Community.  The article outlines our learnings in two of the five challenges we focused on at the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin:  The “Framing Challenge” (How can we talk about and present D&D work in ways that are accessible to a broader audience?) and the “Systems Challenge” (How can we make D&D values and practices integral to government, schools, and other systems?).  You can download the full article from the IJP2 site.

IJP2 Article Part 3: Understand the specific concerns of conservatives    

A major theme in the Framing Challenge at the 2008 NCDD conference was the need to understand the specific concerns of conservatives.

menatconf_200pxThe public engagement field and related fields struggle with the fact that many more progressives than conservatives are attracted to this work. The vast majority of practitioners are politically progressive, and it is typically more challenging to recruit people with more traditional or conservative views to participate in dialogue and deliberation programs.

During the conservative panel sub-plenary on the second day of the conference, panelists Joseph McCormick, Grover Norquist, Michael Ostrolenk and Pete Peterson mentioned several words that can turn conservative communities away from public engagement: grassroots, organizing (“I don’t want anyone to organize me”), consciousness and enlightenment (“something you have and I don’t?”).

In their workshop, Attracting Conservative Citizens to Dialogue Events: Liberal-Conservative Campus Dialogue & Mormon-Evangelical Interfaith Initiatives, Jacob Hess and Reverend Greg Johnson explained some of the sources of wariness of dialogue by many social conservatives. One is the fear of being asked to give up truth or absolutes, as dialogue can seem to assume that all truth is relative.

One participant wrote this reflection about Hess and Johnson’s powerful session:

“I had a big, big revelation [during your session]. At 64, I have thought my whole life that to be open-minded, all accepting, non-judgmental toward different people, beliefs, and values was an absolute good thing. How could it be bad to be tolerant, embracing, accepting all beliefs as valid? Wouldn’t everyone appreciate that attitude, since it includes everyone? What I heard from you is that having an absolute truth is fundamentally, critically important to you. It is the most important thing. It may be easier for you to deal with each other, or with others who have conflicting versions of the truth, than to do deal with someone like me who doesn’t seem to advocate any particular truth, but sees it all as relative.”

Others shared similar realizations after this workshop. Often, dialogue is said to bring people together whose viewpoints and experiences contribute important “pieces of the puzzle” for making progress on issues like racial inequity, education reform, and youth violence. But framing dialogue in relativist terms may backfire for some audiences. According to Hess and Johnson, it may be important to reassure conservatives that “truth Capital T is still welcome” – as long as they also agree to be open to learning more.

Another concern brought up in Hess and Johnson’s workshop is the fear of a hidden [liberal] agenda. Pete Peterson confirmed this on the conservatives panel, suggesting people with more traditional views might respond better when dialogue is framed as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. When dialogue is seen as a “tool,” the question arises from all sides “What is the hidden agenda? To change my mind so I agree with you? To challenge my beliefs or values?”

Peterson’s comment echoed another concern Hess and Johnson explored in their session: the fear of being changed. Dialogue can be seen by people with deep-rooted belief systems as something that might require them to compromise their beliefs somehow. Consider how a conservative Christian might feel when asked to participate in a dialogue on gay marriage aimed at “finding common ground” or moving forward in ways that “work for all” among people with disparate viewpoints. Panelist Grover Norquist, Founder of Americans for Tax Reform, likewise pointed out latent fear among some towards events seeking common ground.

There are many theories as to why progressives have shown more interest than conservatives in public engagement work, but the fact remains that the outcomes of public engagement projects cannot be easily categorized as serving left-wing or right-wing agendas. Participants sometimes recommend tax increases or new government programs to address the issue at hand; other times they call for business or nonprofit groups or take over tasks that had been the responsibility of government. Often, they call for citizens to take more direct responsibility for solving community problems.

Note from Sandy:

This is my third blog post featuring content of an article published in the latest edition of the International Journal of Public Participation (IJP2), titled Taking our Work to the Next Level: Addressing Challenges Facing the Dialogue and Deliberation Community.  The article outlines our learnings in two of the five challenges we focused on at the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin:  The “Framing Challenge” (How can we talk about and present D&D work in ways that are accessible to a broader audience?) and the “Systems Challenge” (How can we make D&D values and practices integral to government, schools, and other systems?).  You can download the full article from the IJP2 site.

IJP2 Article Part 2: Consider how different framings affect different groups    

Another clear theme in the Framing Challenge at the 2008 NCDD conference was the importance of understanding how different groups of people respond to the various ways public engagement is currently framed. In the online dialogue and at the conference itself, many pointed towards acquiring and cultivating greater sensitivity to the ways that distinct language ‘plays out’ for different groups.

conversation_croppedblogThe concept of blind spots in our language – terms and phrases that dissuade or confuse without our realizing it – was discussed in the online dialogue. Susan Partnow, a leader in the Conversation Cafe movement, remarked that she had been surprised in the past when her efforts to be inclusive and welcoming fell short. She proposed a need to “assume you are making a lot more assumptions than you think you are.”

“Different language pushes different people’s buttons,” stated Avril Orloff, who led our 5-person Graphic Recording Team for the conference. While many cringe at “touchy feely” terms like heart-work, wholeness, and consciousness, “others [like me] sigh over bureaucratic-sounding language like multi-stakeholder engagement, whole systems change and the dread empowerment.” Kai Degner, Mayor of Harrisonburg, Virginia and founder of the OrangeBand Initiative, summed it up well when he said that people in the dialogue and deliberation community often talk about the work they do in ways that are “either too new-agey or too ivory tower.”

Many anecdotes were shared of instances when blind spots in language unintentionally dissuaded people from participating. Erin Kreeger related how some clients talk in terms of decision making but cannot relate to the term deliberation – “even though their processes are what many of us would call deliberation.”

Another colleague of Kreeger’s “would never use the term democracy because it’s too loaded and manipulative when used in the contexts he works in.” Jim Driscoll, who co-led a workshop with several Iraq-era veterans on his program Vets4Vets, shared how a donor reconsidered a large gift “because the organization had used the word democracy in the proposal… he thought it must be a ‘feel good’ organization and he is a hard-nosed conservative.” Irene Nasser related how even the concept of collaboration can turn people away from participating in Jewish-Palestinian dialogue, since potential participants often see each other as the enemy and have no interest (yet) in working together.

As Framing Challenge leader Jacob Hess wrote in his report on this challenge, the degree to which we can “surface ways in which different terms play out differently across different communities, we can move forward more deliberately to accomplish what we really want in drawing diverse communities together…. The aim is to be mindful about the language we use, being aware that different words that really resonate with us may need some explaining, translation or upgrading for another setting.”

Note from Sandy:

This is my second blog post featuring content of an article published in the latest edition of the International Journal of Public Participation (IJP2), titled Taking our Work to the Next Level: Addressing Challenges Facing the Dialogue and Deliberation Community.  The article outlines our learnings in two of the five challenges we focused on at the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin:  The “Framing Challenge” (How can we talk about and present D&D work in ways that are accessible to a broader audience?) and the “Systems Challenge” (How can we make D&D values and practices integral to government, schools, and other systems?).  You can download the full article from the IJP2 site.

Also, see NCOC’s 2008 Civic Health Index (p. 17-18) for a fascinating summary of people’s reactions to terms we often use to describe public engagement work: democracy, citizenship, civic engagement, service, social entrepreneurship and community organizing. 13% of survey respondents responded negatively to the word “democracy” when asked to share the first thing that came to mind. 20% cited some kind of right or duty, such as voting. 12% mentioned rules of decision-making, such as majority rule, and 9% cited the government. www.ncoc.net

IJP2 Article on Framing and Systems Challenges    

An article of mine was published in the latest addition of the International Journal of Public Participation (IJP2), titled Taking our Work to the Next Level: Addressing Challenges Facing the Dialogue and Deliberation Community.  The article outlines our learnings in two of the five challenges we focused on at the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin:  The “Framing Challenge” (How can we talk about and present D&D work in ways that are accessible to a broader audience?) and the “Systems Challenge” (How can we make D&D values and practices integral to government, schools, and other systems?).

I want to make sure the D&D community sees and benefits from this article (it was a lot of work! – plus I quote and mention many of you)…  so I plan to share segments of the article here on the NCDD blog every few days for the next month as food for thought.  Feel free to add your thoughts and reactions using the comments field.  I would love for the article to spur more conversation in our community about these critically important issues.

You can download the full article from the IJP2 site. Note that the current edition of the Journal also includes great articles from NCDD members David Campt (on using audience response keypads), Janette Hartz-Karp and Lyn Carson (on the Australian Citizens’ Parliament), and others.

framing_graphic_200pxNow for blog post #1…

The Framing Challenge: Presenting dialogue and deliberation in an accessible way

Oftentimes, people’s assumptions, fears or reactions to dialogue and deliberation have much more to do with framing than with the processes themselves. Subtle cues in how we talk about and present this work can put people on the defensive and turn them away. In this challenge area, we explored how public engagement processes can be made more accessible to more communities—not by radically changing the practice itself, but my making sure the “packaging” is as welcoming, accessible and compelling as possible. The crux of this work is to provide the space for people with a wide variety of perspectives and experiences to solve problems together, and the ability to draw in people of all educational levels, ages, income levels, and political perspectives is vital.

Our leader for the “Framing Challenge” was Jacob Hess, a young social conservative who says he has “found a home in the dialogue community.” The first time he was invited to a dialogue at his college, Jacob saw how the ways we talk about, portray and frame dialogue can strongly affect whether diverse groups feel comfortable participating. Conservatives are just one group for whom this challenge matters, but the NCDD community has been particularly concerned about attracting more conservatives to this work since the first National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation in 2002 – when keypad polling showed that a surprisingly low number of conference attendees had voted for President Bush in 2000. (more…)

Three days left to complete survey of dialogue & deliberation professionals    

CarolinePicJust wanted to ask all of you one last time to complete NCDD members Francesca Polletta and Caroline Lee’s survey of dialogue and deliberation practitioners (if you haven’t already).  They’ll be sharing the data they collect with NCDD and others, and the more of you participate, the more valuable the data will be for our field.

Saturday is the last day to complete the survey.  Also- Francesca and Caroline (pictured here, left) wanted me to thank all of you who have completed the survey already!   They are very grateful for your input.

The survey is up at https://opinio.lafayette.edu:443/opinio/s?s=1176 – and here are some more details…

Survey of Dialogue and Deliberation Practitioners

Will you help us to learn more about the field of dialogue and deliberation- and possibly win a cash prize for your favorite charitable organization?

The field of public dialogue and deliberation is growing dramatically- so dramatically, in fact, that no one fully knows what the field looks like:

  • who is doing public dialogue and deliberation work
  • what forms their work is taking
  • what common challenges they face
  • how they would like to see the field develop.

We are two sociologists who want to find answers to those questions by asking you, the experts.

We believe that your insights will help to strengthen the field, and we plan to share whatever information we learn. The survey at the link below will take about 15 to 30 minutes to complete. Your answers will be anonymous, but if you complete the survey we will enter a charitable organization of your choice in a raffle for a $200 donation — a small token of our appreciation for your participation.

Thanks in advance for your help in making the survey a success!

– Francesca Polletta and Caroline Lee

https://opinio.lafayette.edu:443/opinio/s?s=1176

Must-Read Study on Sustaining Public Engagement    

At the last NCDD conference, one of the five challenge areas we focused on was the Systems Challenge: how can we make D&D values and practices integral to government, schools, organizations, etc. so that our methods of involving people, solving problems, and making decisions happen more naturally and efficiently? At the IAP2 conference last month, we asked in the final plenary session, “How can we make public engagement integral to our systems?,” so our work is sustained over time?

SustainPEThis is certainly the question of the day in our field, and Everyday Democracy and the Kettering Foundation just released a must-read research report that provides insights on how public engagement activities can grow into a diverse, ongoing practice in communities. The report, Sustaining Public Engagement: Embedded Deliberation in Local Communities, was written by Harvard University researchers Archon Fung and Elena Fagotto.

In the report, Fung and Fagotto argue that the most successful civic engagement efforts not only address particular public issues such as school redistricting, domestic violence, or racism, but also improve the quality of local democratic governance. “Those who build institutions and practices of public engagement often work at two levels,” according to the authors. Not only do they address urgently felt needs in their communities, but, although they may not have intended it, they also improve the machinery of democratic self-government.” (Also see www.thataway.org/?p=1571 for a new framework I love that helps practitioners think about all three types of D&D goals-including building civic capacity.)

Sustaining Public Engagement features concrete examples of sustained community-led dialogue and problem solving efforts. The report is grounded in case studies of initiatives in Kuna, Idaho; Portsmouth, N.H.; Kansas City, Kan.; Montgomery County, Md.; and communities in Connecticut, West Virginia, South Dakota and Hawaii. The case studies draw upon different approaches to public deliberation, including National Issues Forums, community-wide study circles, and several other locally designed initiatives.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

“We attempt to understand why deliberation in our study communities has successfully spread over time by developing the concept of embedded deliberation. We explain the characteristics of embeddedness and why it is helpful to understand embeddedness on two levels: some practices embed deliberative reflection while others also embed deliberative public action. The first establishes habits of ongoing deliberation to improve community relations, clarifies the understanding of public policy problems, or provides input to policymakers, while the second translates deliberation into action by mobilizing communities and resources to solve local problems.

The first level of embeddedness is a necessary condition for the second. All of the communities that have embedded public action have also developed habits of public reflection. Some communities do not move from reflection to action because the problems they attempt to solve, from limited social trust to the need for public input, require individual transformation or ad hoc involvement, not a sustained mobilization of citizens.

Drawing upon work with researcher Joseph Goldman, we suggest that three factors in communities favor embedded deliberation:

Political authority
Elected officials must support public deliberation and be willing to consider its results and even share authority with bodies of deliberating citizens.

Deliberative capacity
Public or, more often, civic organizations in the community must develop the resources and expertise to convene structured deliberations and to mobilize people to participate in those deliberations.

Demand for democracy
Though rarely evident in our study communities, embeddedness requires a popular constituency that presses for public deliberation when such engagement becomes uncomfortable or inconvenient for local elites and authorities.

We then offer some tentative thoughts about benchmarks and measures of deliberative embeddedness and the kinds of civic leadership and strategies that are likely to sustain local deliberative practices.”

Download the report (for free) from www.everyday-democracy.org/en/Resource.136.aspx.

We Love Kai Degner    

Kai Degner just sent something to the NCDD Discussion list that I wanted to share in the blog. There’s now a great 4-minute video up that captures the energy of his Open Space “Mayor’s Sustainability Summit.”

Kai has been involved in NCDD since 2005, when he wowed us all with his innovative OrangeBand concept which encourages college students to start “conversations that matter” with each other on-the-fly about issues they care about (no tables or meetings needed!). This past year, he ran for city council in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and not only became a city councillor but won the Mayor’s seat as well due to getting the highest number of votes (by far). His campaign was based on smart growth, and on process and citizen engagement.

In his role as Mayor of Harrisonburg, Kai (who, have I mentioned, is not quite 30?!) convenes community dialogues using emergent dialogue methods such as Conversation Café and Open Space Technology. In May, Kai held a successful community-wide Open Space event called the “Mayor’s Sustainability Summit,” involving about 160 people and 120 organizations in an innovative day-long event held in public and commercial spaces throughout downtown Harrisonburg. The cost to the city? $30 for a few supplies (everything else was donated). Visit www.HarrisonburgSummits.com to learn about Kai’s summits.

In an email to the NCDD network after the event, Kai wrote:

“I’m struck how innovative people find the event to be, which is a wonderful reminder to me that no matter how obvious or useful I see these processes, there are still many folks who have no experience with these other paradigms to have community dialogues and deliberations – and this high profile seat is a way to showcase their utility while also realizing their value for our city.”

Kai just wrote to the NCDD listserv today, saying:

“I write from the Virginia Mayors Institute in Roanoke, Virginia. Yesterday afternoon, I was unexpectedly asked to present for 30 minutes in front of 35 mayors about what “citizen involvement techniques” I’m using as mayor, prompted by the statewide organizer having read about it in my local paper. I shared mainly about the Open Space meetings I’m holding, and was impressed with how engaged and interested the audience was – let that be motivation for you in your communities!”

You can also get a glimpse of Kai in this 2-minute YouTube clip of him presenting about reclaiming debate in the “D&D Marketplace” we held at the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin.

Important Survey for D&D Professionals    

Two NCDD members who are respected scholars in this field – Francesca Polletta and Caroline Lee – are administering an important survey of dialogue and deliberation professionals.  If enough professionals in D&D and public engagement respond to this survey, the data gathered will be of incredible value for our field.

The field of public dialogue and deliberation is growing dramatically- so dramatically, in fact, that no one fully knows what the field looks like:

  • Who is doing public dialogue and deliberation work?
  • What forms is their work taking?
  • What common challenges are they facing?
  • How would they like to see the field develop?

Caroline and Francesca are two sociologists who want to find answers to those questions by asking you, the experts.  They believe that your insights will help to strengthen the field, and plan to share the data they collect with the NCDD network.  The survey at the link below will take about 15 to 30 minutes to complete. Your answers will be anonymous, but if you complete the survey they will enter a charitable organization of your choice in a raffle for a $200 donation.

The survey is up now at https://opinio.lafayette.edu:443/opinio/s?s=1176 and I encourage all of you who do dialogue & deliberation work to take the time to complete it asap.

Retooling Democracy (re-posted from John Kamensky’s blog)    

With the blessing of both the author and the blog owner, I am re-posting this excellent piece by my friend Matt Leighninger, director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium. This was originally posted on July 30th, 2009 on The Presidential Transition, a worth-knowing-about blog run by John Kamensky of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Matt’s post provides an overview of the state of play (and somewhat of a list of must-read materials) in the field of deliberative democracy.

The Obama Administration will soon release the Open Government Directive (OGD), the president’s plan for making the federal government more responsive, participatory, and effective. The directive will be the first significant federal attempt in decades to answer a very interesting question: How should we improve American democracy?

The OGD should be an important step forward, but this is not a challenge the administration can meet by itself (a fact that federal officials, following the style of their boss, are happy to acknowledge: they need and expect our help).  Luckily, there are a number of documents, from academic studies on governance to how-to civic engagement guides, which provide essential, practical advice on this question: they are must-reads for any democracy reformer.

Learning from the Locals.  One reason we have so much information is that this question of how to improve democracy is already a hot topic at the local level. For the last fifteen years, local leaders have been dealing with a dramatic shift in citizen attitudes and capacities. This transformation has caused new tensions between residents and elected officials, produced new public actors and problem-solvers, and inspired a new generation of civic experiments. The limitations of the traditional, ‘child-parent’ relationship between citizens and government are becoming more obvious, and we are struggling to establish more productive ‘adult-adult’ forms of governance. (For a brief, humorous video describing this transition, click here). (more…)

11 Draft Items for a Democracy Agenda from SOND2    

About 90 people came together in DC Sunday through Tuesday for “Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy 2” — a working session organized by AmericaSpeaks, Demos, Everyday Democracy and Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Invited guests were leaders in electoral reform, public deliberation, community organizing, and collaborative governance, and we were joined at different times during the meeting by a number of members of the Obama administration. (Click here for background materials, confirmed participants, meeting agenda, etc.)

I shared insights and questions from the event on my Facebook wall so people who were not in attendance could join in the conversation.  I am happy with how that “Facebook experiment” went, as dozens of interesting comments were added to my posts and some good mini-discussions took place.  A lot of people added comments and posts just thanking me for posting about the event, so I think many more were watching.  Andy took the time to paste the comments into several blog posts below if you’re curious and not a Facebooker.

I’ll post a link to the report from SOND2 when it’s available, but here are the headlines of what was presented to administration officials on Tuesday afternoon as the 11 DRAFT Democracy Agenda Items (props to my friend John Godec of IAP2 for these notes!):

1. Draft Statement of Principles (The preamble which will likely carry the definitions, values and ethics we talked about)
2. Democracy Skill Agenda (How to transfer knowledge and ability to do this work)
3. Health of Democracy Report (The state of this imperfect union)
4. National Demonstration Projects (To show the real world value of what we propose)
5. Recognize and Support Engagement by Disenfranchised Communities (To ensure full inclusion)
6. Institutionalize Participatory and Collaborative Governance (Embed it in federal, state and local institutions)
7. Ensure Adequate Resources for Public Engagement (Paying for it)
8. Adopt and Electoral Reform Agenda (Self explanatory — more later)
9. Feedback on Consultation Efforts (Evaluation)
10. Mechanism for Sustaining Leadership (Ensuring that this doesn’t disappear in four years)
11. International Exchange (Learning from our global colleagues)

Expanding “Public Participation” in Hard Times    

Here is a must-read article by NCDD member Tom Atlee, founder of The Co-Intelligence Institute. The piece outlines an expanded vision of “public participation” that Atlee feels is vital in this time of economic crisis and seemingly unsolvable local and global problems.

The article is aligned with some of the things I’ve been thinking about and working on lately, one of them being the Goals of Dialogue & Deliberation graphic I created recently based on Martin Carcasson’s work. (See my article on the new graphic if you’re interested.) Atlee asserts that communities and institutions that best survive this turbulent time will be those that “most successfully create conditions within which their constituents can actively and successfully self-organize.”  To me, he’s talking about building civic capacity — something all dialogue and deliberation efforts (in theory) can contribute to. Atlee advises communities to invest “existing management resources” (staff time, tax money, political capital, etc.) in building internal capacity for citizens and local institutions to work together to solve their own problems.

Expanding “Public Participation” in Hard Times

Most governing bodies today face a situation of rapidly growing governance challenges while resources needed to address these challenges shrink significantly.

In my own networks I hear increasing concern that economic, social, and environmental crises may combine into disasters that overwhelm traditional democratic institutions and leadership.

Public officials seem increasingly interested in public participation — from the Obama administration down to my hometown of Eugene, Oregon.  But I hear complaints about lack of adequate resources to manage it.

It seems to me there are powerful inexpensive approaches — both face-to-face and online — that can be leveraged to engage people in ways that actually lighten the load and expense of government, especially when we tap into people’s existing passion to make a difference. (more…)

New Framework for Understanding the Goals of Public Engagement    

In a new occasional paper published by Public Agenda’s Center for Advances in Public Engagement (CAPE), NCDD member Martin Carcasson of Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation outlines three broad categories of goals for deliberation. The essay explores how a clearer understanding of the goals and purposes we are trying to achieve through public engagement can sharpen our methods and increase our impacts. It offers a practical framework to help practitioners systematically consider both their short-term and long-term goals and the strategies that will set them up for success.

Carcasson’s paper is titled Beginning with the End in Mind: A Call for Goal-Driven Deliberative Practice (Summer 2009), and can be downloaded for free from www.publicagenda.org/cape. I was deeply impressed by the paper and Carcasson’s brilliantly simple “Goals of Deliberation” framework. Carcasson points out that although “first-order goals” like issue learning and improved democratic attitudes are often discounted as we focus on our primary goals related to concrete action and impact on policy, those first-order goals still impact the big-picture goal of increasing a community’s civic capacity and ability to solve problems.

DD Goals GraphicAt the No Better Time conference in July 2009, I spoke to Carcasson about expanding his “Goals of Deliberation” framework slightly so public dialogue for purposes of conflict resolution or conflict management are also emphasized in the framework (he was very interested). In the paper, Carcasson writes about “improved relationships” between individuals and groups as a first-order goal, and mentions that conflict management is another second-level goal… yet his framework figure did not feature those goals.

In close communication with Carcasson as well as Will Friedman and Alison Kadlec of Public Agenda, I expanded on the framework to create the Goals of Dialogue & Deliberation graphic pictured here. Click on the graphic to view a larger image.

Both the original and the adapted frameworks emphasize improved community problem solving and increased civic capacity as longer-term goals of public engagement work. As we work from project to project, we can lose sight of the fact that our work is contributing to the bigger picture goal of more democratic, effective communities and cultures. In the online dialogue we held at CivicEvolution.org on the “Action & Change” challenge before the 2008 NCDD conference, Joseph McIntyre of the Ag Futures Alliance noted that although public engagement work can lead to numerous types of action outcomes and products, often “D&D is simply plowing the field and planting the seeds that will result in the changes needed. In my case, D&D is part of an evolutionary change.” (more…)

4 Great New Papers from Public Agenda    

The team at Public Agenda’s Center for Advances in Public Engagement (CAPE) — an organizational member of NCDD, we’re proud to say — has recently released four great new papers, all examining the latest developments for professionals in deliberative democracy, and all worth reading and freely downloadable from www.publicagenda.org/cape!

Here are the papers: (more…)

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