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Next Coffee Hour Call is at 8pm this Thursday

Last week’s coffee hour was great, with just a handful of people we compiled a great list of resources and notes (these useful notes are also pasted below).

Whether or not you have participated in past coffee hour calls, your feedback on improving the design is welcome through this survey.  If you are interested in participating on this week’s call, please add your name to the collaborative notes page for the September 19th call.

When: 8pm EST (new time) on Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dial-in number: 1-213-342-3000 Access code: 444839 (hasn’t changed since week 2)

Agenda:

5 min – Small talk as we wait for everyone to join the call.

5 min– Very brief intros (Name, organization, and location in one sentence.  The question/topic that you’d like to discuss on the call in one sentence, if any.)

50 min– Free form discussion.  I’ll provide very light facilitation to periodically bring up the questions that the group raised at the beginning of the call.  If there are late-comers, I’ll ask them to introduce themselves when the conversation comes to a natural break.


NOTES FROM SEPTEMBER 12 COFFEE HOUR (link)

Question: What form could an international online dialog event take in the future if it was at sufficient scale to affect the international political conversation about a situation like the present one in Syria?  I recognize that the moment for something like this has passed, now that the world is primarily talking about diplomacy and non-military options, thankfully. (Lucas Cioffi)

  • Answer: Perhaps these are some elements of a solution here: It would have to be large enough so that everyday citizens from various countries thought that the outcome is representative of their views.  It would have to have multiple ways for people to participate, because people are busy and are available at different times of the day; some people are very passionate about particular issues, so they might have lots of time to participate, however people with limited time should still be able to participate in a meaningful way– i.e. it shouldn’t be a “tyranny of the minority that has lots of time on their hands”. (Lucas Cioffi).
    • There are several online tools also working on other ways to mitigate the “tyranny of the minority that has lots of time on their hands”  (Bentley)
  • Answer: What about forming a community of interest that allows for sharing of data, questions, criteria for making decisions at data.gov? Communities of interest can be critical to the solution, and Data.gov is a great example of how these communities of interest are collaborating.  This helps get past they cynicism that people may have about government-initiated dialogue events.  Existing communities of interest generally have momentum and legitimacy.  Exploring the interrelationships between multiple communities is essential to solving inter-disciplinary problems.  (Sarah)
  • Answer: Look at what the World Bank did in getting a discussion started about poverty: http://blogs.worldbank.org/category/tags/poverty (perhaps this is a better link: https://strikingpoverty.worldbank.org/ which was shared by NCDD member Tiago Peixoto who organized this at the World Bank)  How to get one started about peace and security that is hosted by an entity also keyed into the formal decisionmaking process?
  • Answer: The online space should allow for digressions into many sub topics as necessary. One of the challenges is that issues like this are very complex and currently even threaded discussions get confusing after several levels and multiple threads can be on the same topic. This challenge is currently being tackled in several experimental online tools. (Bentley)
  • Comment: Having large numbers of people on an online tool quickly seems to get out of hand (i.e. newspaper comments).  Large numbers of people do need to participate for credibility/legitimacy but that brings up the problem of structure needed for better participation.  (Bentley)
  • Comment: Integration of in-person and online is necessary, because if something was filmed either live or recorded, it would seem much more “real” and can make it into mainstream TV news.  (Lucas)
  • Comment: Need the analogy of a mute button for online dialogue for moderating the discussion.  Also, http://join.me is a great tool for screen sharing with a free option.  The easier the platform, the better the participation.  (Steve)
  • Follow-up question: What organization(s) could host something like this?  How can Americans hear about something like this and believe that it is worth their time? (Lucas)
    • Answer: There needs to be a way for people to find out about public participation opportunities in general– in addition to this large-scale use case.  Once the data for public notices is made available by local governments (coming soon, it seems) then the app ecosystem can take over and app developers can take the initiative and create apps to notify citizens.  (Steve)
    • Answer: It helps if the government says officially “we want to hear from you” or if there is a process for taking the outcomes through an official channel for action in government.  That’s what I’ve noticed at the state and local level in MA.  Skepticism of the public is high, so it’s a barrier to overcome– people may not think that the process is worthwhile. (Courtney)
    • Answer: It can’t seem like a pre-determined outcome; there has to be an expectation that the conversations are open to new ideas.  (Steve)
    • The Manor Labs model which used Spigit was great both at allowing the public to raise issues and at informing the public of what others thought and fiscal or other data driven realities.  So a model with both dialogue, ways of weighting issues an concerns, and moving certain input on for public decision, or returning it to the public with an explanation of why it wasn’t advancing (by posted video after deliberations by dept heads) is a model that might be adaptable.
    • Some system of identifying an issue/question with the corresponding level on the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation would be one way of letting the public know the type of dialogue they were in.

Question: What are some of the alternatives to “town hall” meetings that are being effectively used to engage citizens in conjunction with more formal government decisionmaking processes? (Sarah Read)

  • Answer: Here’s an answer about what doesn’t work… Telephone townhalls (link to a Google search on the topic) seems to be a weak substitution for the in-person event for a few reasons: 1) they are quite expensive– around $3000 for a 90 minute call to auto-dial perhaps 10,000 residents of an area 2) they do not allow for dialogue; they are very similar to press conferences where residents get to ask the questions, however there’s a statistically low chance that any one individual would have an opportunity to get their question asked and 3) the format takes the form of leader at a podium rather than participants around small group tables having a discussion, however if MaestroConference was used, an organizer/facilitator can have a much more dialogic & participatory event.  (Lucas Cioffi)
  • Yet that is a format many seem comfortable with and suspicious of actual dialogue: http://www.deliberative-democracy.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=176:bridging-the-gap-between-public-officials-and-the-public&catid=47:contributions&Itemid=89  And that is a question – how to help elected officials become more comfortable with more productive dialogue models
  • Answer: I’ve seen some different formats used at the state and local level for public officials to engage the public around a project for which they need public input or engagement. Usually these meetings are heavily facilitated (by a third party) and the officials make it clear from the start the purpose of the meeting and what they will do with public input. Or, they take a different direction and allow for the public to primarily engage with one another, with the public officials present and listening. (Courtney)
  • I agree that facilitation, pre-planning, and a clear link to what comes next (even if its more dialogue) all help dialogue!

Question: What is the difference between buy-in and ownership? (David Plouffe) Clarification (Lucas Cioffi): what is the context for this question– are we talking about ownership of a solution that comes out of a dialogue event?

  • Answer: One can buy-in without owning, right? For instance, members of a working group can buy-in to a decided action/next step, but they don’t have to own it – perhaps there is a convenor who owns it (Courtney)
  • Answer: Buy-in can be translated as showing up with some belief that the process will make a difference; ownership means being willing to be responsible for keeping it productive, following through in some way, and showing up again
  • Answer: Buy in can mean will allow the result. Ownership implies a co-creator in the results.

Question: What are some effective ways to handle an unruly participant at a town hall meeting? (Lucas Cioffi)

  • Answer: A lot of this comes down to how the meeting is structured, and how the process and ground rules are outlined at the outset of the meeting. If participants are provided the ground rules and explained the process outright, then those who are not acting in accordance with the rules/process can be reminded of that and there is a bit of pressure from the group (If we can abide, you can abide). There are tools too that can help – taking comments in multiple formats, to allow for more collection of input (e.g. written and spoken input), or focusing the meeting on dialogue in smaller groups, rather than in the larger setting (where there is usually more observed posturing). I took part in a public meeting where following a presentation from state agency staff, the public was invited into small group dialogues to raise questions, concerns, and exchange information that would be shared with the agency. Agency staff also roamed the room and listened in, were available to answer questions. Following, at the request of some members of the public, a more traditional “listening” session was held, where members of the public had two minutes at the microphone. Many people left at that point, because they felt they had been heard. That also quieted the more disruptive people, who no longer had the audience they wanted. (Courtney)
  • Answer: Structuring the participation as small-group discussion rather than audience vs. podium increases peer-to-peer pressure for civil behavior by creating a sense that the space is shared and by communicating from the outset that this is a place for dialogue and solutions rather than just complaints.  (Lucas)
  • Reviewing at the outset “guidelines for discussion” and asking participants if they agree to follow or have proposed additions or concerns, makes it much easier to refer troublesome participants to more civil behaviors.  And something else that I find really helps – if someone is venting (sincerely, not just to disrupt) it can very steadying to say something like “that is clearly very upsetting to you, and makes it difficult to discuss calmly. [Value/concern] is very important to you”.  Once people feel accepted they can often listen and participate more effectively.

Question: Does anyone know of any measurement/assessment tools for classroom deliberations, particularly around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) topics? (Sara Drury)

Question: What online tools are in use by NCDD member? (Bentley)

  • Answer: NCDD members compiled this list of four dozen tools in use by NCDD members in 2010, but there is certainly room for updating that list or improving it by displaying it in a new format.
  • Answer: ICMA.org has a knowledge network related to local gov and some dialogue (Sarah Read)
  • Answer: Two sites that publish useful studies about online platforms that government entities can use for collaboration include the IBM Business of Government site, and the Knight Commission site which focuses on the information needs of communities in a democracy.
  • Answer: ParticipateDB
  • Answer: http://commons.codeforamerica.org/apps has nearly 700 tools for public engagement, and they are categorized.
  • Comment from several folks: Know where you’re starting and what goals you want to achieve, because one can get misguided if they have a tool and are looking for ways to apply it.  The better way is to choose a tool after deciding on the session’s desired purpose (e.g., informational, discussional, etc.)..

Question: Is there anything like a recipe book that can help pretty much anyone become a good facilitator with online tools?  How does one know where to start? (Stephen)

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Lucas Cioffi
Lucas Cioffi graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Having served one year in Baghdad as an infantry officer, he realizes the need for effective dialogue and deliberation in preventing conflict. He is passionate about advanced online deliberative platforms and is co-founder of AthenaBridge.com.

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