research & articles

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

Neighbors Online Report Issued Today    

NCDD member Steven Clift of e-democracy.org just sent a message about this to the main NCDD Discussion list

A very important report came out today called the Neighbors Online Report. The report shows that Americans use a range of approaches to keep informed about what is happening in their communities and online activities have been added to the mix. Face-to-face encounters and phone calls remain the most frequent methods of interaction with neighbors, while internet tools are gaining ground in community-oriented communications.

Be sure to check out Steven’s blog post on the report, titled Neighbors Online – What have 27% of Internet Users Discovered? Women Lead the Way. Need More Inclusion, at http://blog.e-democracy.org/posts/858.  Steven also let us know you can join the “hosts” of neighborhood online hosts in a Q&A with the report author at: http://e-democracy.org/locals.

In short:

  • 27% of American adult Internet users (or 20% of adults overall) use “digital tools to talk to their neighbors and keep informed about community issues.” – Steve’s spin: Very exciting.
  • Lower income, rural, and Latino Internet users are being left out -Steve’s spin: We need to fix this.

Call For Papers – 3rd issue of eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Gov    

Thought some of you might be interested in this announcement I saw in one of the Democracies Online groups I’m part of. In collaboration with the European Network for eParticipation, the Centre for E-Government at the Danube University Krems invites you to submit an article for the third issue of the eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government (JeDEM). The eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government addresses the theory and practice in the areas of eDemocracy and Open Government as well as eGovernment, eParticipation, eDeliberation and eSociety. The aim is to impact the quality, visibility, efficiency and use of research and work in eDemocracy, Open Government and related fields. (more…)

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.)

New Report on Creating Spaces for Change    

Matt Leighninger, Executive Director of The Deliberative Democracy Consortium (an NCDD organizational member), recently announced the release of his report Creating Spaces for Change: Working Toward a “Story of Now” in Civic Engagement. Creating Spaces for Change draws heavily on the views and experiences of the people who participated in the Kellogg Foundation’s Civic Engagement Learning Year and the conference convened by DDC and The Democracy Imperative called “No Better Time: Promising Opportunities in Deliberative Democracy for Educators and Practitioners.”

Matt encourages those who see opportunities to use the report in ways that will catalyze future discussions and action to improve civic engagement to contact him (click on his name above for contact details).  Here is Matt’s announcement… (more…)

Conversations that matter…make us feel better?    

This blog post is by David J. Weinstein, Education and Communications Maven for Idealogue, Inc.

In the post “Talk Deeply, Be Happy?” in The New York Times “Well” blog (3/17/10), Roni Caryn Rabin reports on a study of college students suggesting that people who have deeper conversations more often are happier than those who do not.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.

“We found this so interesting, because it could have gone the other way — it could have been, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ — as long as you surf on the shallow level of life you’re happy, and if you go into the existential depths you’ll be unhappy,” Dr. Mehl said.

There are important caveats to bear in mind, including the standard reminder that “correlation does not imply causation.” (For a more humorous exploration of that point)

And the definition of a “deeper conversation” might vary.

But the idea is powerful. One might assume that people who “keep it light” and thus do not engage with challenging or distressing topics, and who do not engage in conflicts when in conversation, would be happier. No one gets hurt. No one has to think about sad or depressing things.

Yet maybe there is something hardwired into us as humans – a craving for meaningful connection, perhaps – a need that must be fulfilled for us to be…fulfilled.

For many of us striving to promote and improve dialogues on challenging issues in challenging contexts, our intuitive sense is that this work is important. And there are situations that arise among people, among nations, within businesses, in schools and elsewhere in which we believe smoothing over or ignoring challenging topics and decisions is not an option.

It is interesting to consider that beyond the practical needs to address problems and resolve dilemmas, there is a deep human need to get real and go deep, and ensuing benefit to our well-being. So this study may be another helpful reference when working with individuals and groups that are reluctant to engage in dialogue. Substantive conversations – even, we might extrapolate, on difficult matters – bring happiness!

Might this perspective encourage people to engage in conversations they would otherwise have avoided because they feared discomfort and unhappiness?

Audio from NCDD Confab with Guest Martin Carcasson    

Here is the audio recording from last Thursday’s (March 18) NCDD Confab call with Martin Carcasson, director of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University. We talked to Martin about his must-read Public Agenda occasional paper titled Beginning with the End in Mind: A Call for Goal-Driven Deliberative Practice (Summer 2009).  We had a great group of leaders on the call, and Martin was asked some quite challenging questions.

Martin’s article, which can be downloaded for free from www.publicagenda.org/cape, 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. Please also check out the July NCDD blog post titled New Framework for Understanding the Goals of Public Engagement, which reflects on Martin’s article and introduces a graphic I created that expands on the article’s three orders of goals slightly.

Press the play button or download the mp3 file to listen to the audio.

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Or download: NCDD Confab – March 18, 2010: Goals of Deliberation (~50 MB)

Note: “NCDD Confabs” are conference calls for NCDD members where we explore dialogue & deliberation’s role in current issues, learn about exciting projects and interesting methods from fellow NCDD members, and encourage new connections among members.

NCDD Project Report for the Kettering Foundation    

I submitted a report to the Kettering Foundation last October that I wanted to finally share with the whole network.  Before the 2008 conference, NCDD embarked on a research project with the Kettering Foundation to learn about how attendees at the 2008 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation see themselves playing a role in democratic governance.  Kettering was also especially interested in two of the five challenge areas we took on at the conference (the Systems Challenge and the Action & Change Challenge).

Many NCDDers are quoted in this report, and I write about a number of your innovative projects and initiatives.  88 of you were surveyed or interviewed as part of this research project, and others contributed through our graphic recording team at the conference, and during the online dialogue we held on the 5 challenge areas at CivicEvolution.org before the conference.

I think this report is worth a read.  It’s 38 pages long, but it’s full of gorgeous photos and graphic recordings from the conference (so it’s shorter than it looks!).

The report represents a snapshot of a specific time in this rapidly growing, maturing field of practice.  An exciting time, when process leaders and networks in our field are being brought into discussions about federal policy, and when our field is exploring how and whether it fits into a broader “democracy reform” movement.  It’s also a time in which we’re seeing clear shifts in approach in the field.  Practitioners, organizations and institutions are starting to think in terms of capacity building and find ways to demonstrate perceptible shifts in civic capacity.  Practitioners are focusing more on developing ongoing relationships with institutions, decision-makers and other power-holders in the communities they serve.  And people are becoming more and more adept at using multiple models, combining elements of different models, and designing unique processes to fit different contexts.

You can download the full report here, download a 3-page overview of the report here, or learn a bit more about the report by clicking on “more.”  Feel free to share this report or the overview with others. (more…)

You’re invited: NCDD Confab with Martin Carcasson next Thurs 7pm    

All NCDDers are welcome to join us next Thursday (March 18) at 7-8pm Eastern / 4-5pm Pacific) for an NCDD Confab call with Martin Carcasson, director of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University. We’ll be talking to Martin about his must-read Public Agenda occasional paper titled Beginning with the End in Mind: A Call for Goal-Driven Deliberative Practice (Summer 2009).

Martin’s article, which can be downloaded for free from www.publicagenda.org/cape, 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.

If you plan to join us on the Confab call, be sure to look over Martin’s article.  I also encourage you to check out the July NCDD blog post titled New Framework for Understanding the Goals of Public Engagement, which reflects on Martin’s article and introduces a graphic I created that expands on the article’s three orders of goals slightly.

“NCDD Confabs” are conference calls for NCDD members where we explore dialogue & deliberation’s role in current issues, learn about exciting projects and interesting methods from fellow NCDD members, and encourage new connections among members.

IJP2 Article Part 9: Cultivate and support public engagement practitioners    

Here is my final post excerpting my IJP2 article on the Systems and Framing challenges. Although I got sidetracked and should have posted this weeks ago with the others (sorry about that!), I think this segment is actually the most important one for practitioners, funders and community leaders to take note of…

Cultivate and Support Public Engagement Practitioners

In Sustaining Public Engagement, Archon Fung and Elana Fagotto (2006) credit much of the success of embedded public engagement to deliberative or civic entrepreneurs – highly skilled and capable individuals who understand there is a market for public engagement. Civic entrepreneurs know “the general public favors more opportunities to participate in public discussion and provide input in policy-making,” and that public engagement is a much-needed tool for problem-solving. Fung and Fagotto acknowledge that, “like other voluntary and private sector initiatives, the uptake of these novel practices inevitably depends upon the tenacity, expertise, and persuasiveness of the individuals who introduce them.”

In their case study on a decade of public engagement work in Bridgeport, Connecticut, our challenge co-leader Will Friedman and his co-authors contend that “the evolution of key actors from the role of deliberative entrepreneur to that of deliberative maven” (p. 14) can be a vital factor in embedding deliberation in communities. Not only do such “deliberative mavens” bring deliberation to a community, but they also inspire and support the emergence of other practitioners and entrepreneurs and serve as information banks and deliberative resources for the community. They begin, the authors say, “as importers of deliberation and become, over time, catalysts and resources for further deliberative practices across the community” (p. 14).

Organizations that focus on building civic capacity in the region rather than importing talent temporarily from outside the community are more likely to create local deliberative mavens, and thus to facilitate embedding public engagement. The authors suggest the more user-friendly and affordable the approach or method of public engagement used, the easier it is for local civic entrepreneurs to “master it quickly, adapt it to their needs, and make it their own.”

Dialogue and deliberation cannot be embedded in our systems at the local level if the capacity to organize and convene public engagement efforts cannot be maintained. Local civic capacity includes trained moderators and facilitators, the capacity to mobilize and recruit participants representing a cross-section of the community, and the know-how and initiative required to organize programs and events.

Note from Sandy:

SandyProfilePic80pxThis is my ninth blog post featuring content of an article published in a recent 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.

Deconstructing Diversity (re-posted from Orton Family Foundation blog)    

Ariana McBride, Senior Associate at the Orton Family Foundation, is a member of NCDD and gave me the okay to re-post this fantastic blog post from Foundation’s Cornerstones blog. See the original post here, and check out the Foundation’s blog here.

Deconstructing Diversity

Published by Rebecca Sanborn Stone on February 4, 2010 | Add comment to original blog post

In Millbridge, Maine, a local non-profit won federal funding to build housing for immigrant laborers. But local residents circled a petition and approved a moratorium on multifamily housing in order to keep immigrants out.

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In Brooklyn, New York this fall, a local Hasidic community objected to safety issues and immodest clothing among cyclists on its neighborhood bike lanes. The Department of Transportation sandblasted the lanes—which guerrilla bicycle activists promptly painted back on.

And in Katy, Texas, when a local Muslim community purchased a piece of land and planned to build a mosque and school, one citizen responded by running pig races next door on Friday evenings, the holiest day of the week for Muslims (see Jon Stewart’s coverage on The Daily Show).

It’s easy to brand these all as examples of intolerance, NIMBYism or downright racism. In our politically correct and increasingly diverse culture, the socially acceptable stance is that diversity is an unqualified good. But in the reams of sociological research on diversity and its impacts on communities, the findings are much fuzzier. In a controversial 2007 study, Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, found overwhelming evidence that diversity corrodes social capital, community cohesiveness and trust—not only between ethnic groups, but within them. (more…)

$1M grant awarded to engage citizens in Alberta around climate change    

A group of top researchers and practitioners in deliberation we’ve been involved in recently got some great news we wanted to share with everyone…

How can collective deliberation by citizens lead to wise and timely action on climate change, including by municipal and provincial governments? Alberta (Canada) will be a testing ground for this question over the next five years. An international team of scholars, NGOs, businesses, and governments will be addressing it, supported by $1 million in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and over $3 million in contributions from other sources.

The research team includes leading researchers and practitioners of deliberative democracy, environmental organizations, energy companies, municipal governments, and Provincial ministries. The project, called Alberta Climate Dialogue (ABCD), will help to convene groups of citizens within Albertan municipalities to shape policies on greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change, and also build province-wide deliberation and dialogue on climate issues.

Learning alongside citizens, the team will investigate how the design of citizen deliberations — how participants are selected, who participates, how the agenda is set, how often the citizens meet and for how long, whether policy makers are involved, and so on — shapes their social and political influence. The team will also explore the sorts of influence that citizen deliberations can have on climate issues, including informing and directing policy makers and processes, as well as shaping citizens’ knowledge, their sense of environmental citizenship, and their political capacities and networks. Through this work, we will seek to show how citizens can lead effective responses to climate change, and how political leaders and institutions can skillfully engage with citizens to develop policy.

This groundbreaking research project was initiated by NCDD member David Kahane (pictured), a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. I am listed as a “collaborator” in the grant application and on the website, and the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) is a Partner of the project.  We plan to be as involved as resources will allow us to be, and to keep the network as informed as possible about project learnings and benchmarks.

The project website is at www.albertaclimatedialogue.ca and email can be sent to [email protected].

Reflecting on NCDD in 2009    

The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) moved in some new directions in 2009, in large part in response to President Obama’s focus on open government and citizen participation. Our work with the Open Government Initiative and on the Principles for Public Engagement both invigorated our membership and raised NCDD’s profile and status in many people’s eyes. NCDD continues to be one of the most trusted organizations in the field of public engagement, and seems to have more respect in the field now than ever before.

We made significant progress in 2009 on several of the priorities identified by NCDD’s Board of Directors in our February 2009 retreat. Namely, we found ways to refocus on what it means to be a “coalition” and to move on things we can uniquely do “in coalition,” and we focused more on moving the field forward, with special attention paid to the five challenge areas we addressed at the last NCDD conference.

The following projects defined 2009 for NCDD:

  1. NCDD’s role in the Open Government Initiative (the White House’s open government dialogue, the collaborative evaluation of that dialogue, keeping the network informed about news and opportunities related to the Initiative, participation in Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy).
  2. Taking the lead in creating the Core Principles for Public Engagement, with prominent partners, many dozens of practitioners and scholars contributing to the drafting process, and over 80 leading organizations endorsing the Principles.
  3. Responding to the fall healthcare town halls by creating and distributing several tools (a flyer and several articles for web and print) to help public officials and community leaders hold more effective, engaging public meetings about contentious issues.
  4. Playing a major leadership role at the September IAP2 conference in San Diego (co-organizing the final day plenary, Sandy’s speech during that plenary, etc.).
  5. Writing about two of the five challenges (embedding D&D in our systems and framing D&D in more accessible ways) for the International Journal for Public Participation (article here).
  6. Writing about members’ perspectives on democratic governance and on two challenges (embedding D&D in our systems and strengthening the link between D&D, action and policy change) for the Kettering Foundation (full report here).
  7. Creating, in close communication with Martin Carcasson, Will Friedman and Alison Kadlec, the Goals of Dialogue & Deliberation graphic based on Carcasson’s 2009 article Beginning With the End in Mind. The graphic emphasizes improved community problem solving and increased civic capacity as longer-term goals of public engagement work, and Sandy’s leadership in creating the graphic and NCDD’s role in distributing it and sharing Carcasson’s insights marked a new direction for NCDD.
  8. Reaching beyond our existing network using social media tools (our FaceBook group currently has 1700 members, and our LinkedIn group has 453, for example).

What do YOU think about NCDD’s projects and accomplishments in 2009?  If you were a member of NCDD in 2009, did these projects make you feel engaged?  Represented?  Bored?  What new or different directions do you think we should be moving in?  We would love to hear your thoughts on this!

New Books by NCDD Members!    

Here are five books by NCDD members which have recently come to our attention that I highly recommend you add to your library…

Standing in the Fire: Leading High-Heat Meetings with Clarity, Calm, and Courage
by Larry Dressler

Focusing on how to stay “cool” during high-heat deliberations, consultant, author, and NCDD member Larry Dressler drew on his 25-years experience facilitating high-stakes meetings and also interviewed 40 other veteran practitioners for this new book, co-published by Berrett-Koehler and ASTD and available this February. To read a description of the book, sample chapters, and free resources visit www.larrydressler.com. You can also pre-order it from Amazon.com.

Who Dialogues? (and when and where and how?)
by the Network for Peace through Dialogue

Network for Peace through Dialogue’s new 51-page book Who Dialogues? (and when and where and how?) provides a solid introduction to the subject through the personal stories of 10 practitioners who use dialogue in their work. Among the variety of uses these practitioners describe are: laying the groundwork for conflict resolution, designing a large UN conference, helping to heal the wounds of the Holocaust, teaching in a university, working with youth and conducting dialogue online. The book is available directly from the Network for Peace through Dialogue and costs $5.00 plus shipping. Ordering details can be found at their website and you can call them at 212-426-5818 for more information.

The Talking Point: Creating an Environment for Exploring Complex Meaning
by Thomas R. Flanagan and Alexander N. Christakis
(A Collaborative Project of the Institute for 21st Century Agoras)

The Institute for 21st Century Agoras is proud to announce an important new book, The Talking Point: Creating an Environment for Exploring Complex Meaning. The authors, Agoras president Tom Flanagan and Agoras founder Aleco Christakis, present user-friendly stories of how Structured Dialogic Design continues to generate significant social innovation. Available at Amazon.com.

Democracy as Discussion: Civic Education and the American Forum Movement
by William M. Keith

Using primary sources from archives around the country, Democracy as Discussion traces the early history of the Speech field, the development of discussion as an alternative to debate, and the Deweyan, Progressive philosophy of discussion that swept the United States in the early twentieth century. Available at Amazon.com.

When the People Speak: Deliberative Democracy & Public Consultation
by James S. Fishkin

In this book, NCDD member James Fishkin combines a new theory of democracy with actual practice and shows how an idea that harks back to ancient Athens can be used to revive our modern democracies. The book outlines deliberative democracy projects conducted by the author with various collaborators in the United States, China, Britain, Denmark, Australia, Italy, Bulgaria, Northern Ireland, and in the entire European Union. The book is accompanied by a DVD of “Europe in One Room” by Emmy Award-winning documentary makers Paladin Invision. Available at Amazon.com.

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