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Citizen Choicework

Citizen Choicework offers a powerful, proven approach to civic dialogue and action. Too often, “community forums” are merely panels of experts telling people what's good for them. Or they are public free-for-alls, where only the loudest voices prevail. In contrast, Citizen Choicework is based on a deep respect for the public's capacity to address issues when circumstances support, rather than thwart, dialogue and deliberation. Given the right conditions, the public's ability to learn, to get involved and to make decisions is far greater than most realize.

Based on decades of research and experience concerning how average citizens think and talk about issues, Public Agenda's Choicework dialogue materials are designed to help groups and communities talk productively about public problems.

Choicework dialogue materials present alternative perspectives on an issue, highlighting the pros, cons and tradeoffs of going down different paths. They use everyday language, not professional jargon, and focus on the kinds of concerns and values that non-experts can readily engage. Public Agenda's choicework dialogue materials are all available in print versions, and many have corresponding 10-12 minutes videos as well. In many cases Spanish language versions are also available. Print choicework guides are available for free PDF download, while videos may be ordered from Public Agenda for $20.00 each.

Why and how it works

Citizen Choicework builds on the insights of Public Agenda's co-founder Daniel Yankelovich on how the public comes to judgment on tough issues.

It is based on a commitment to helping citizens–individually and collectively–confront tough choices in productive ways. By doing so, people work through values conflicts and practical tradeoffs, and develop a sense of priorities and direction.

While Choicework initiatives are customized for different circumstances and can be more or less ambitious in scope and design, several key principles and guidelines are always at work:

  • Broad-based, nonpartisan local leadership
  • Inclusive participation – "beyond the usual suspects"
  • Unbiased, accessible, thought-provoking Choicework discussion materials that start where the public starts
  • Carefully trained moderators and recorders
  • Strategic follow-up that leads to more informed policies, new collaborations, and innovative initiatives
  • A commitment to helping communities build long-term capacity for this work

Building on these fundamentals, Citizen Choicework can address a wide variety of issues, involve face-to-face and online dialogue in various combinations, and include media partners and leadership networks in a variety of ways.

Public Agenda supports Citizen Choicework initiatives through the tools and materials found in their Resource Center at www.publicagenda.org/pubengage/pe_toolkit.cfm and through technical assistance.

For more on Public Agenda's Citizen Choicework initiatives, see Where We've Worked, Case Studies, and Selected Press Clips. Fuller reports and case studies on public engagement and Citizen Choicework may be found in Public Agenda's Publications section.

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