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IJP2 Article Part 9: Cultivate and support public engagement practitioners

Here is my final post excerpting my IJP2 article on the Systems and Framing challenges. Although I got sidetracked and should have posted this weeks ago with the others (sorry about that!), I think this segment is actually the most important one for practitioners, funders and community leaders to take note of…

Cultivate and Support Public Engagement Practitioners

In Sustaining Public Engagement, Archon Fung and Elana Fagotto (2006) credit much of the success of embedded public engagement to deliberative or civic entrepreneurs – highly skilled and capable individuals who understand there is a market for public engagement. Civic entrepreneurs know “the general public favors more opportunities to participate in public discussion and provide input in policy-making,” and that public engagement is a much-needed tool for problem-solving. Fung and Fagotto acknowledge that, “like other voluntary and private sector initiatives, the uptake of these novel practices inevitably depends upon the tenacity, expertise, and persuasiveness of the individuals who introduce them.”

In their case study on a decade of public engagement work in Bridgeport, Connecticut, our challenge co-leader Will Friedman and his co-authors contend that “the evolution of key actors from the role of deliberative entrepreneur to that of deliberative maven” (p. 14) can be a vital factor in embedding deliberation in communities. Not only do such “deliberative mavens” bring deliberation to a community, but they also inspire and support the emergence of other practitioners and entrepreneurs and serve as information banks and deliberative resources for the community. They begin, the authors say, “as importers of deliberation and become, over time, catalysts and resources for further deliberative practices across the community” (p. 14).

Organizations that focus on building civic capacity in the region rather than importing talent temporarily from outside the community are more likely to create local deliberative mavens, and thus to facilitate embedding public engagement. The authors suggest the more user-friendly and affordable the approach or method of public engagement used, the easier it is for local civic entrepreneurs to “master it quickly, adapt it to their needs, and make it their own.”

Dialogue and deliberation cannot be embedded in our systems at the local level if the capacity to organize and convene public engagement efforts cannot be maintained. Local civic capacity includes trained moderators and facilitators, the capacity to mobilize and recruit participants representing a cross-section of the community, and the know-how and initiative required to organize programs and events.

Note from Sandy:

This is my ninth blog post featuring content of an article published in a recent 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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