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Heading to Sydney for R&P meeting–and welcome your thoughts

Hi, everyone!  I’m leaving for Sydney, Australia on Monday for an exciting 3-day workshop Lyn Carson at the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy (UWS) is holding–as well as an IAP2 summit I’ll also blog about and 3 days of actual vacation!

The workshop, titled Deliberative Democracy: Connecting Research and Practice, is an “invited workshop for leading researchers and practitioners from Australasia, Europe and North America.”  I believe there will be about 70 attendees, most from Australia but a few coming from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

We will be working together to achieve five workshop outcomes, including “build mutual understanding between researchers and public participation practitioners” and “determine priorities for further research and recommend proposals for funding” (and yes, there is some funding in place).

I wish I could take the whole NCDD network with me to this meeting!  In order to help me do the best job I can representing you, please consider responding here to either of these questions.  I’d really appreciate your suggestions, ideas, and stories!  I’ll also be posting these questions in the NCDD facebook group in the “discussions” section, in case you’re more comfortable participating there.

1.  What are the most recent developments (exciting or disappointing) in deliberative democracy?

2.  What are the most important unanswered / underexplored questions in our field?

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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. From NCDD member Tree Bressen (via email):

    One of them [the unanswered questions] is something about how to build resilience against public participation set-ups that are essentially fake. How do we root these out as practitioners, how do we educate the public to demand real, genuine public engagement and not settle for pseudo-engagement that doesn't result in real change, etc.? To me this is a cornerstone of creating democracy. In Porto Allegre, Brazil the citizens actually create the budget: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_budget… –now that's engagement with power. (Note the deliberative aspects, it's not just a simple voting mechanism.)

  2. From NCDD member John Kelly (via email):

    To me one of the most important, not unknown but not satisfactorily resolved questions is in the context of a brain numbing flood of non-parallel, non-equivalent proposals from the empowered diversity of participants– what mechanisms besides collaborative clustering and renaming work best to ensure that the highest, and not the lowest, common denominator of proposals can be discovered, clairfied and shared. I know that is very general. If I get a sharper take on it later I'll send you an updated email. Have a great trip down under!!!

  3. Tom Atlee (director of the Co-Intelligence Institute) sent me a thought-provoking response. It's a bit long for this comment field, but I wanted to keep it in one piece…

    The kind of research I'm interested in involves improving our ability to generate a coherent, informed, inclusive, trustworthy, legitimate Voice of the Whole. Various deliberative methodologies (and various partisan groups) claim to provide the voice of We the People. Such claims are often dubious, sometimes inspiring, but never verified with anything remotely as rigorous as the research that demonstrated the efficacy of scientific polling — i.e., if you survey a thousand people with a particular survey approach, you will get the same results (within a small margin of error) if you survey a different thousand people with the same approach. To truly transform democratic politics, we need to establish whether it is possible to generate a deliberative, coherent voice of the whole society and, if so, how.

    I don't know of anyone outside the Co-Intelligence Institute who is even talking about this as a serious line of inquiry. Serious research on the subject would require courageous, determined possibility-oriented efforts and considerable funding. The Whole System Summit Initiative at http://co-intelligence.org/WSSI.doc was an early effort (20 months ago) to articulate such a research project.

    More broadly and briefly, below are five lines of research inquiry that I wrote up for a recent FAQ on my latest vision of "empowered public wisdom" (which is predictably grounded in my respect for citizen deliberative councils like Citizens Juries, Citizens Assemblies, and Consensus Conferences), so it is to them I refer when I speak here of "citizen councils". The five lines of research involve information, legitimacy, expense, wisdom and public engagement.


    (1) INFORMATION. Rigorous methods have been developed to provide citizen deliberators with balanced briefing materials. These include making sure that 3-5 competing perspectives are fairly presented — a process called "framing an issue for deliberation" — often overseen by a mixed-partisan advisory council. However, no briefing can ever be complete, and additional checks on bias would be desirable. One intriguing possibility is that after one round of briefings and expert interviews, members of a citizen council would split up into research teams to surf the web for information and alternative solutions beyond their briefing materials, and compare the results. They could then call on old or new experts to answer questions about what they found. WHAT WOULD BE THE COSTS, BENEFITS AND SHORTCOMINGS OF SUCH A PROCESS? ARE THERE BETTER PROCEDURES TO BRING INFORMATION INTO A DELIBERATION BEYOND THAT GIVEN IN PREPARED BRIEFING MATERIALS AND EXPERT WITNESSES?

    (2) LEGITIMACY. Random selection, balanced briefing materials, and high quality group process give such citizen councils good claim to being a fair voice of a whole society or community. However, little research has been done to see if comparable citizen councils come up with comparable results. For example, three Citizens Juries could be convened simultaneously and separately on the same issue. If they came up with fairly similar results (as has been demonstrated with research on public opinion polls but not yet on citizen deliberations), their claim to full legitimacy would have more weight. If they came up with different outcomes, experiments could be done to test new designs, in search of ways to generate reliably similar coherent outcomes without manipulating the content of the conversations. HOW CAN WE FIND AND DEMONSTRATE A WAY TO PRODUCE A LEGITIMATE DELIBERATIVE VOICE OF A WHOLE COMMUNITY OR SOCIETY? (THE WSSI proposal suggested doing 3 comparable Citizens Juries and 3 comparable stakeholder dialogues — all on the same issue, separately but simultaneously, with full records kept. If, as expected, there were significant differences, WSSI proposed mixing and matching the members of those six groups into 4-6 new groups which contained several people from each of the first-stage groups — and then facilitating them with Dynamic Facilitation towards consensus statements — and then comparing the outcomes of those six groups. If the results were similar across all those groups, then a second identical round would be needed to see if that same process produced comparable results with totally different people. If it didn't, then a new protocol would be tried. The point is that a success in this line of inquiry would profoundly change SO MUCH of political thought that it would be worth intense work and investment.) (Another branch of this research would be to include the recommendations of citizen deliberations re an issue on equal footing with mainstream proposals regarding that issue, to measure the level of agreement between the public and the council. If the deliberative recommendations prove unpopular with the public, focus group research could clarify what caused the discrepancy, and experiments could be designed to narrow that discrepancy, possibly including public engagement modes described in (5) below.)

    (3) EXPENSE. Most of these citizen councils cost tens of thousands of dollars to complete. This is small compared to the savings possible through implementing their broadly supported, sensible policy recommendations. But it is an obstacle to their rapidly expanding acceptance and use. Research could be done to see if 80% cost savings could be achieved with no more than a 20% reduction in quality — for example, by using
    * volunteer pools (from which deliberators could be randomly and/or demographically selected),
    * asynchronous online deliberations,
    * sophisticated conference calling technologies (like Maestro and videoconferencing),
    * crowd-sourced briefing materials (e.g., an expanded form of Debatepedia — see e.g., http://debatepedia.idebate.org/en/index.php/Debat… — to create "framing for deliberation" on various issues), and
    * online interviewing of experts (via video conferencing or even email).
    Another approach might be to use a gradient of increasingly expensive methods — opinion polling, deliberative polling, online deliberations, and face-to-face citizen councils — and use the cheaper methods for less important issues, saving the more expensive approaches for the most important issues (as proposed by international pollster Steven Kull. This approach would benefit from research comparing the policy recommendations resulting from all four approaches on the same issue, to see how well they can substitute for each other.). HOW CAN WE REDUCE THE COSTS OF CITIZEN DELIBERATION WITH MINIMAL LOSS OF QUALITY (PROBABLY USING THE INTERNET)? CAN THE DEVELOPMENT OF MORE ACCESSIBLE, PARTICIPATORY FORMS OF QUALITY CITIZEN DELIBERATION ENABLE GRASSROOTS, SELF-ORGANIZED CAPACITY FOR COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE IN THE POLITICAL SPHERE?

    (4) WISDOM. Wisdom can be defined as insight that takes into account the big picture, the long term, the nuances and underlying dynamics of life and translates that into something sensible that helps people's lives right now. More than ever before we need that kind of wisdom in our public decision-making because so much is at stake in how we handle our 21st century problems and crises. Three wisdom sources are particularly relevant to creating a wiser democracy. (1) Widely shared religious moral principles — from the Golden Rule to humanity's responsibility to care for Nature. (2) Insights from the leading edge of science — from systems thinking and ecology to complexity science and evolutionary understandings. (3) Practical, common sense wisdom that arises simply from having diverse ordinary folks learn about an issue, talk together, and see what solutions they can come up with to serve their community well. We usually depend on experts to enlighten us about spiritual, moral and scientific wisdom. Such expert wisdom should be on tap, not on top of public decision-making. Ideally, it serves as a resource for ordinary citizens and their representatives, to help them understand the moral and scientific dimensions of whatever issue they're considering. Ultimately, though, it is up to the public to consider all that specialized information through the lens of their community values and their daily lives and aspirations. Elegant combination of these sources of wisdom produces "public wisdom" to guide public policy. SO: HOW CAN WE ENHANCE THE WISDOM OF CITIZEN COUNCILS BY INCLUDING NOT ONLY ISSUE EXPERTS BUT RELIGIOUS LEADERS, ETHICS EXPERTS, SYSTEMS THINKERS, AND OTHER SPECIALISTS IN BIG-PICTURE CONSIDERATIONS — ESPECIALLY WITHOUT RAISING CHURCH-STATE ISSUES OR REQUIRING LENGTHY LESSONS IN ABSTRACT CONCEPTS?

    (5) PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT. Even if a group of dozens of randomly selected citizens develops wise policies, the public may not understand how the citizen council came up with those recommendations, resulting in lack of public support for their "public wisdom". Furthermore, the public may have useful information, insight, or solutions that could inform a citizen council. HOW CAN WE ENGAGE BROADER PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER A CITIZEN DELIBERATIVE COUNCIL SUCH THAT THE BROAD PUBLIC BOTH CONTRIBUTES TO AND BENEFITS FROM THE "PUBLIC WISDOM" GENERATED BY THE COUNCIL. Possible approaches include
    * online forums where citizens can present, rate, and deliberate on policy options;
    * public hearings and channels for submitting white papers (as was done by the BC Citizens Assembly);
    * online and phone voting on emerging citizen council recommendations;
    * in-person public dialogues like World Cafes and Conversation Cafes in which all citizens are invited to discuss the issues and citizen council recommendations; and
    * thorough media reporting on the participants, conversations, and outcomes of citizen councils (as Macleans did with their Peoples Verdict effort in 1991 http://co-intelligence.org/S-Canadaadvrsariesdrea… allowing vicarious public experience of the deliberative process).
    (Note that large one-day media events involving thousands of people in deliberations can seldom match the deliberative quality of multi-day events involving a few dozen randomly selected participants. However, such mega-events can powerfully serve public engagement needs.)

  4. Here is a thoughtful response from Joe Raelin:

    For me and the space in which I work, I would like to answer your query #2 by suggesting that the most unexplored question is the relationship between D&D and leadership. If dialogue were to become the paramount means of discourse in organizations (whatever sector – private, public, community), how would it impact the authority structure in those organizations? Indeed, is there a form of leadership that is necessary to encourage the emergence of dialogue?

    It is my view that leadership would have to change in a most dramatic way and be reconstituted as a collective and relational (“leaderful”) practice than as an individual property. To me this is the most fundamental shift required in our thinking and behavior to inaugurate the ultimate institutionalization of dialogic practice.

  5. As for #2, one of the most unanswered aspects of our field is shared vision, shared power. Much like the first comment from Joe, this type of communication and decision making model (broadly defined), does change the way we operate, expect and perform within a collective. Simply saying it's about people having a voice, without looking at distribution of power misrepresents the work. Also, basic skills of deep listening, suspending judgment etc. often derail a process because participants don't always want to do the self awareness work to make a coherent whole. I would love to explore more ways to bring diverse groups to the same level of engagement. When you have people running their agendas, unconsciously,(much less consciously!), it's tough to make progress with short time frames given for deliberation and dialogue.

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