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Report on Brainstorming Phase Mentions NCDD and Lists PEP Principles!

The 13-page NAPA (National Academy of Public Administration) report to Beth Noveck on phase 1 of the Open Government Dialogue is available, and I am excited to say that the Core Principles for Public Engagement we all worked so hard to construct earlier this year were listed in the report in full!

As you probably know, the Open Government dialogue feeds into the Open Government Directive that President Obama called for in his Memo on Transparency and Open Government, which he issued on his first day in office.  The report on the “Brainstorm” phase said the “Grassroots/Local Civic Participation/Deliberative Democracy” group (us!) was “the largest and most well-prepared group in the Brainstorm: they were early to the table and augmented their ranks as the dialogue proceeded.”  Yay us!

Of course, as Tim Bonnemann pointed out in the NCDD listserv, the report does say “Most of the ideas presented by the Deliberative Democracy group do not lend themselves to immediate action; they are, rather, general principles.”  I’m not so sure I agree with that myself, as I know a lot of NCDDers submitted some pretty actionable ideas.

The second phase of the Open Government Dialogue (the “Discuss” phase) launched yesterday, and I was invited by Greg Nelson, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement onto a conference call that’s happening today at noon Eastern about this second phase. This second phase will utilize blog software (the OSTP blog at http://blog.ostp.gov/ to be exact) to dig deeper into topics brought up during the Brainstorm phase.

There is also some limited critiquing of the brainstorming phase going on in a new ning network our friends at IAP2 set up for all of us at http://opengovernmentusa.ning.com/.  Feel free to join the ning group and join in the conversation — or just email me (sandy@ncdd.org) your thoughts on the process so I can share them in the ning group.  Beth Noveck did ask us (me and dozens of other reps of civic organizations) to help critique the process so they can learn as much as possible from this unprecedented experiment.

Here is what the NAPA report (submitted by Lena Trudeau, NAPA VP) said about the two subject areas most relevant to NCDD:

Participant Category: Grassroots/Local Civic Participation/Deliberative Democracy

This was the largest and most well-prepared group in the Brainstorm: they were early to the table and augmented their ranks as the dialogue proceeded.

Comments centered on how to bring together representative groups of citizens to deliberate together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and learning on matters of common concern in which, it is hoped, common purpose might bridge the divides that usually make collective action difficult.

A number of these participants expressed skepticism about the use of voting as a primary means of eliciting opinion in civic participation exercises, viewing it as tending to divide, polarize and create winners and losers. They were much more interested in how to reduce conflict by framing issues in terms of objectives that might be shared, and in helping to foster community feeling.

These contributors focused on achieving diversity and effective universal access to process, seeking to claim the legitimacy that flows from the perception of fairness and respect for individual and minority views.

These contributors suggested methods of educating the public and equipping ordinary citizens to handle issues of public importance. Several of these groups had had experience in conducting local civic participation exercises. Some were well-known facilitators, e.g., AmericaSpeaks. Some were local government officials (e.g., from King County, WA), and a few were international (from the Netherlands and Canada). Much of this work had a strong theoretical basis in social science.

Most of the ideas presented by the Deliberative Democracy group do not lend themselves to immediate action; they are, rather, general principles. One set of such principles that met with general approbation was submitted by Sandy Heierbacher, Director of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation. The proposed Core Principles for Public Engagement are:

  1. Careful Planning and Preparation—Through adequate and inclusive planning, ensure that the design, organization, and convening of the process serve both a clearly defined purpose and the needs of the participants.
  2. Inclusion and Demographic Diversity—Equitably incorporate diverse people, voices, ideas, and information to lay the groundwork for quality outcomes and democratic legitimacy.
  3. Collaboration and Shared Purpose—Support and encourage participants, government and community institutions, and others to work together to advance the common good.
  4. Openness and Learning—Help all involved listen to each other, explore new ideas unconstrained by predetermined outcomes, learn and apply information in ways that generate new options, and rigorously evaluate public engagement activities for effectiveness.
  5. Transparency and Trust—Be clear and open about the process, and provide a public record of the organizers, sponsors, outcomes, and range of views and ideas expressed.
  6. Impact and Action—Ensure each participatory effort has real potential to make a difference, and that participants are aware of that potential.
  7. Sustained Engagement and Participatory Culture—Promote a culture of participation with programs and institutions that support ongoing quality public engagement.

Participant Category: Online Democracy Advocates

These were contributors who were interested in exploring the possibilities of substituting electronic voting methods for processes of policy formulation presently used by the legislative and executive branches of government, or augmenting those processes with electronic plebiscites Although technologies that might enable online surveys of participant opinion are under active development, there were no proposals in the Dialogue for making participation in these surveys sufficiently representative to qualify the results as expressions of the opinions of the whole public. Consideration of adopting these methods should be reserved until they can be combined with some of the insights and methods of the civic participation/deliberative democracy group. The use of these methods will also have to be harmonized with constitutional requirements and administrative law.

There were several proposals for using “crowdshaping” for making administrative decisions. Some of the contributors to the MAX forum agree on the usefulness of enlisting the “wisdom of crowds” for eliciting expertise on particular subjects.

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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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  1. Lars Hasselblad Torr says:

    sandy, congratulations on your leadership in getting this report together and out the door – and of course to all dedicated peeps who were a part of the discussion. its sooo heartening to see this working ripening real time – woohoo!

  2. Thanks, Lars! Can't take credit for "getting the report together and out the door, though." The report on the Open Gov't Dialogue brainstorm phase was written by NAPA and submitted by their VP Lena Trudeau.

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