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Your participation needed in an important survey on disrupting deliberative public forums

Have you experienced organized disruptions in your public engagement work?  At last fall’s NCDD conference in Seattle, we had a great workshop on “Embattled Public Forums – When Vocal Opponents Try to Discredit/Derail the Process” facilitated by Susan Stewart Clark, Janet Fiero and Christine Whitney Sanchez.  Yet not much systematic research has been done to explore and learn from this phenomenon, how it effects our work in dialogue and deliberation, and how we can best handle organized disrupters.

Our colleagues Kirk Emerson, Frank Dukes, Wendy Willis, and Kim Hodge Cowgill (some of whom are NCDD members) are conducting an important survey on these occurrences, and would like all of you who have experienced this challenge to participate.  The researchers will forward their findings back to the network, so we all can benefit from the data gathered.

Please note that the survey is time sensitive, and responses must be submitted by May 10th.


Dear Colleague:

I am writing to you on behalf of a collaborative research team from the University of Arizona, the University of Virginia, Portland State University, and Virginia Tech University that is studying organized disruptions to deliberative discourse. As a member of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, we are very interested in your responses on this issue. All results will be anonymous unless you choose to give us your contact information for follow-up purposes. You can access the survey instrument by clicking on the link below. We ask that you complete the survey by Friday, May 10th. More detailed information about the research project is provided below.

https://arizonacsbs.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_7WilrRnRblMFFBz

Project Description:
Anecdotal evidence suggests that orchestrated activity by organized groups intended to disrupt or shut down forums for public deliberation is occurring in a variety of settings. Even the most carefully designed efforts to engage diverse stakeholders in open public deliberation have been vulnerable to organized strategies to disrupt them.

We are studying organized attempts to impede, delegitimize and shut down deliberative forums that are explicitly or ostensibly designed to foster discussion. By “deliberative forums” we mean government-sponsored meetings or series of meetings to which the public has been invited to discuss issues, opportunities, problems, or conflicts. Such forums are generally designed to include and engage diverse people with a range of different perspectives on the policy matter at hand. Examples of such forums include roundtables, visioning, community planning exercises, public conversations, community dialogues, hearings, etc.

This project does not presume that disruption of deliberative forums per se is inherently harmful. Rather, we are specifically exploring instances in which planned disruptive activity may threaten the ability of others to engage in public discussion or exercise their own rights of free expression and/or of peaceful assembly and petition. Though we acknowledge the existence of disruptions caused by individuals acting independently, we are specifically interested in the occurrence of planned disruptions by organized groups.

We are conducting this survey to explore the extent to which such activities are occurring, the nature and purposes of the activities, the conditions under which they are occurring, and how forum participants, facilitators, and conveners are reacting to them. The distinction between legitimate protest as public participation and activities that hinder democratic engagement is not clear cut, and so we will be asking you to reflect on your direct experiences and consider where you might draw that line.

We will forward the results of our study to you through your member organization. Again, please complete the survey by May 10th. Thank you in in advance for your participation.

Sincerely,

Kirk Emerson, PhD
Professor of Practice in Collaborative Governance
School of Government and Public Policy
306 Social Sciences Building
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721-0027

Phone: (520) 621-3315
Email: mailto:kemerson@email.arizona.edu

Research Team:
Kirk Emerson, PhD and Alexandra Joosse (University of Arizona)
Frank Dukes, PhD
Wendy Willis, JD (Portland State University)
Kim Hodge Cowgill (Virginia Tech University)

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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