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Democracy Practitioners Under the Microscope?

We are happy to share the announcement below from NCDD Sustaining Member Caroline Lee of Lafayette College, which she submitted via our great Submit-to-Blog Form. Do you have news you want to share with the NCDD network? Just click here to submit your news post for the NCDD Blog!

As I get ready to head to the NCDD conference, I wanted to share with readers of the blog about a symposium on public engagement professionals I participated in at the International Political Science Association conference in Toronto in July. Organized by Canadian and French researchers Laurence Bherer, Mario Gauthier, Alice Mazeaud, Magalie Nonjon and Louis Simard in collaboration with the Institut du Nouveau Monde, the symposium brought together international scholars of the professionalization of public participation with leading practitioners of public participation from the US, UK, and Canada like Carolyn Lukensmeyer. You can find the program schedule and more details about how to access the papers here.

Topics covered participatory methods and strategies in a variety of public and private contexts in North and South America and Europe. The organization of the symposium made use of participatory methods such as Open Space and a dialogic round table format bringing the scholars and practitioners together to comment on each others’ work. There was honest discussion at the symposium over the areas where practitioners and researchers might collaborate with and learn more from each other, and the areas where the goals and aims of researchers and practitioners may diverge. Of course, there was also acknowledgment that some researchers are also practitioners, although there seemed to be near universal rejection of the awkward term “pracademic”!

As I have found in the past, despite some tough criticisms of participation efforts and their results on the part of scholars, practitioners were extremely generous and open to debate – with Simon Burall from INVOLVE and Peter MacLeod from MASS LBP in Canada both inviting interested researchers to study their organizations, practices, and processes in-depth (grad students, take note of this amazing opportunity!). Public engagement practitioners really are willing to “walk the talk” and be engaged on the larger politics and micropractices of the field—even when some of them acknowledged that being subjects of study themselves was an odd, and sometimes uncomfortable, experience.

Despite the overview of exciting international research on participation, I left the symposium with the sense that our work thus far has just scratched the surface of what it is like to be a democracy practitioner in an era of deep inequalities. The opportunities for additional research in the field and dialogue with practitioners are expanding—and even more essential at a time when participatory practices are proliferating across the globe.

I look forward to talking with researchers and practitioners about what these changes mean for the next generation of democracy practitioners at NCDD 2014!

NCDD Community
This post was submitted by a member of the NCDD community. NCDD members are leaders and future leaders in the fields of public engagement, conflict resolution, and community problem solving. You, too, can post to the NCDD blog by completing the Add-to-Blog form at www.ncdd.org/submit.

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