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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.”

In his new book, Democracy as Problem Solving: Civic Capacity in Communities Across the Globe (2008: MIT Press), Xavier de Souza Briggs shows how civic capacity—the capacity to create and sustain smart collective action—is crucial for strengthening governance and changing the state of the world in the process.

Valuing shorter-term first-order goals and the overall development of civic capacity may be more practical – and satisfying – than solely emphasizing second-order goals like collaborative action and policy change, since such goals usually depend on many decisions and factors outside the scope of any one project. Practitioners should consider all three types of goals when determining project design and when measuring their success.

NCDD plans to promote Carcasson’s essay and the Goals of Dialogue & Deliberation framework widely, as we think it has great potential to create much-needed clarity about the link between public engagement, civic capacity building, and shorter-term goals. We feel that it is a great complement to NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework, which we and our members have used since 2005 to help people decide which engagement methods best fit their goals and resources.

In a forthcoming article for the International Journal for Public Participation, I include the adapted framework in a section on the importance for practitioners to establish their own definitions of success. At the 2008 NCDD conference, even funders were emphasizing the need for practitioners to (1) own the definition of success and then (2) demonstrate their success. At a breakfast John Esterle and Chris Gates hosted for a cross-section of NCDD leaders to discuss funding challenges and opportunities for this work, Esterle, Executive Director of The Whitman Institute and board chair of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), implored those present to empower themselves regarding impact. “Let funders know, ‘this is how we measure our success.’” Be proactive and able to articulate your impact in a compelling way.

We hope this framework helps practitioners do just that.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher is the Founding Director of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD). Sandy has an M.A. in International Management from SIT Graduate Institute, and also serves as a Research Deputy for the Kettering Foundation. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Linda Blong says:

    I love how you have built upon Martín's terrific paper and framework Sandy, and I look forward to your forthcoming article. Making this framework explicit as a logic model articulating theories of change and on-going impact assessment methods would be a great stride in the work to "let the funders know." The framework, rich in its simplicity, would also seem a good tool for working with communities and organization to develop and implement participatory and collaborative evaluation methods that contribute to those 3rd order goals and hopefully interest funders. Balancing democratic forms of evaluation inquiry with logic models that funders can support of front is an interesting dance that we can work on learning to do gracefully.

  2. Ken Bausch says:

    We should examine how these three orders of goals can be accomplished efficiently in our dialogic decision making.

  3. Here's a great comment Jay Leighter added to this post on FaceBook:

    "I have been finding great utility in these ideas. Communicating these broad goals has been something of a go-to strategy in two different projects: a community visioning project in Columbus, NE funded by Hometown Competitiveness money and, now, an extension of the Nebraska P-16 education initiative in Nebraska's Panhandle. The latter has a unique twist in that the organizers have decided improved education in rural communities can only be achieved through better regional cooperation on all sorts of policy issues. Though very different in structure, process and goals, in both projects when darkness and uncertainty looms, I have directed the groups back to some version of these goals as guiding principles for action. Most often it leads the groups away from darkness and uncertainty and toward clarity of purpose. The full report to Kettering has been very helpful."

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