Input from NCDD and DDC for Open Gov Action Plan
The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC) submitted a joint statement to Aneesh Chopra, US Chief Technology Officer, on January 2nd–and we’d like to invite you to show your support of the submission if you’re interested.
As we previously announced, Chopra posted a request on the White House website on December 6th seeking input and recommendations on how to help improve, facilitate, and evaluate public participation in government for the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan.
Despite the brief timeline and holiday deadline, NCDD and DDC – two large, allied networks that represent practitioner organizations and academic researchers working in the field of public participation and democratic governance – decided to work together to formulate a joint response. We sent an 8-page statement to Chopra on the 2nd, which you can download in full at http://ncdd.org/main/wp-content/uploads/DDC-NCDD_stmt_opengovplan.pdf.
Below is a sampling of text from the statement, which includes a constructive critique of the White House’s open gov efforts, as well as direct responses to the questions in the White House request.
Though we didn’t have the time to put a draft out to the whole field before the deadline as we would have preferred, we welcome you to add your feedback here via the comments field. And if you or your organization support what we submitted in the joint statement, please add a comment signing on with your support! We’d love to show the White House that groups in our field are indeed “seconding” the statement.
Public participation is the area where the Open Government agenda has made the least headway, and that holds the greatest potential benefit for communities and the nation. It is also the realm in which other countries are advancing beyond the United States, turning us from a leader to a follower in democratic innovation.
Planned, structured participation has been shown to have the following benefits (see the document for links backing up each item):
- Raising the level of civility and trust in public discourse;
- Reducing government costs through closer public oversight and better understanding of citizen needs and attitudes;
- Creating more realistic budgets, either by raising “tax morale,” building support for spending cuts, or both;
- Generating new policy ideas and tapping the problem-solving capacity of citizens;
- Breaking through legislative gridlock on high-profile policy questions.
Participation has different benefits and challenges at the local level, which is closest to citizens’ daily concerns and goals, and the state and national levels, where it has a much broader potential impact. Evidence suggests that participation is most compelling to people when it allows them a range of opportunities and reasons to engage, on different issues and different levels of governance. Beginning by “going where the people are” – in neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, on social media, and in existing online forums – is a foundational premise of successful public participation.
But unlike some countries such as Brazil and India, the United States lacks an established national participation infrastructure to facilitate the kind of multi-faceted, citizen-centered engagement that links citizens to local, state, and federal issues. Instead, at the federal level a variety of face-to-face and online tools have been developed and used, usually in a piecemeal fashion. (For a comprehensive assessment of the public participation plans of federal agencies, see http://bit.ly/oS66Rk). Local examples of public participation tend to be more robust, but are not linked to one another, let alone state or federal policymakers. Agencies and communities alike need a sustainable, widely supported infrastructure for public engagement that accommodates a range of participation tools and methods (http://bit.ly/rWeHaU).
One of the primary weaknesses, therefore, of the Administration’s work in participation is reflected still in this latest call for input: it treats participation as a discrete, federal, agency-delimited activity; it assumes that participation is merely an input-gathering exercise; and it makes no mention of the possibility of cross-agency collaboration or connections between federal and local government.