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IJP2 Article Part 8: Establish your own definition of success

In many ways, the Systems Challenge overlaps with the Evaluation Challenge and the Action & Change Challenge (these are three of the five challenges we focused on at the 2008 NCDD conference). Embedding dialogue and deliberation in our government and other systems is next to impossible if we are not able to assess the effectiveness of these processes, and to show how they lead to concrete outcomes. Since there are many types of outcomes of this work and much of what is being done today is still experimental, practitioners can and should identify and clearly communicate what “success” means to them.

In the online dialogue we held at CivicEvolution.org before the conference, planning team member Joseph McIntyre wrote about his experiences with the Ag Futures Alliance project, which focuses heavily on dialogue to drive change in food systems. He emphasized how important it is for local Alliances to identify their own concepts of success, as numerous impacts and outcomes can usually be demonstrated. McIntyre listed a number of outcomes the Alliances have produced, from creating farm worker housing to new laws being enacted.

McIntyre pointed out that although the project can boast numerous outcomes, if someone asked him if they were closer to a sustainable food system, “I’d have to say no.” He continues, “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.”

DD Goals GraphicIn a new occasional paper published by Public Agenda (2009) titled “Beginning With the End in Mind: A Call for Goal-Driven Deliberative Practice” (Summer 2009), workshop presenter Martin Carcasson outlines three broad categories of goals for deliberation. Carcasson points out that although the “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.

Note: The text in the graphic pictured here is a slightly adapted version of the paper’s “Goals of Deliberation” figure. Click on the image to see a larger version, or click here for more detail on why I created the graphic and why I feel practitioners should familiarize themselves with Carcasson’s framework.

In his 2008 book Democracy as Problem Solving (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 goals (first-order outcomes) 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 measurements of success.

Even funders at the 2008 NCDD conference emphasized 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.

Next section (coming soon): Cultivate and support public engagement practitioners

Note from Sandy:

SandyProfilePic80pxThis is my eighth 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.

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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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