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Deliberative Agility

[The post below was originally written a couple weeks ago…but it appears to be even more relevant now as Congress edges closer to a vote on raising the debt ceiling. Can we make our deliberative community even more agile and responsive in these times when critical decisions are moving so quickly?]

Boston 2010 dialogue groupThe TV ad said it well, “Life comes at you fast.” Well, these days…politics comes at you fast too! It was just last week that Rep. Paul Ryan debuted his $6 trillion budget plan…and today the House of Representatives voted on it. Whether you like the proposal or not…that’s really fast! My concern is ‘deliberative agility’…the capacity to bring public deliberation into our political processes on a timely basis to give lawmakers the results of carefully-framed and neutrally-moderated local conversations. Of course, we’re not always going to be faced with a one-week turn-around time…but, how can we make our dialogue and deliberation community more agile…in order to provide a more timely and relevant response to our increasingly fast-paced political landscape?

Last week, I shared a brief SurveyMonkey poll with a number of my deliberative colleagues and community contacts. One question focused on this dilemma for the dialogue and deliberation community…even though I didn’t know at the time that a vote on the Rep. Ryan proposal would come to the House floor so soon. Here’s the relevant response from my unscientific sampling to this moment:

“The public has a right to expect an on-going engagement to impact specific policy choices with their legislators EVEN IF lawmakers have promised to be uncompromising on certain issues during their election campaigns.”

  • Strongly Agree: 58%
  • Agree: 31%
  • Disagree: 7%
  • Strongly Disagree: 4%

Of course, the people I have in my limited sampling are probably going to feel lawmakers should be responsive to public feedback as a rule. But…is that really a liberal and conservative divide these days? I’m really not trying to pick on Republicans on this, because I had no clue they’d feel the need to push this vote on the Rep. Ryan initiative so soon. I am wondering how our political system is supposed to work well…when public input is deemed unnecessary in legislation where we’re talking about a dramatic change in Medicare and a $6 trillion debt reduction plan.

Those of us who believe deeply in dialogue and deliberation as a legitimate and important component of our political fabric need to step up to make the case for public input in legislative decisions. Yes, we also need to be engaged in campaign finance reform…and we need to make sure our elections are fair and inclusive. But equally important…we need to remind our elected officials often that we expect them to listen to the public between elections too. Is that too much to ask?

‘Deliberative agility’ requires us to be ready to respond quickly and effectively with deliberative tools and public networks. Politics comes at you fast! We literally cannot wait for 6 months as a carefully researched and tested conversation framing is created. The public needs many entry points for public engagement on fast-moving political decisions. Agility means attentiveness…it means responsiveness…it means a willingness to be engaged…it means an inclusiveness of all voices. Unfortunately, we have some liberals and some conservatives who feel the public needs to sit down and shut up after each election. But…politics comes at us too fast for this option to be very popular with people who expect to have their voices heard more often than every two years.

Serious proposals deserve serious consideration. I know that literally thousands of people are ready and eager to talk about the legislative agendas being proposed…federal, state and local. They need 21st century agility from the dialogue and deliberation community. I don’t believe they will get a fair and inclusive opportunity to discuss these critical and fast-moving issues by relying on the 24/7 popular media or the raft of political pundits. In order to address serious proposals with the consideration they deserve, we need to address our own deliberative agility. Politics comes at us fast…how fast can we respond with fair, non-partisan and accurate deliberative discussions?

– Craig Paterson

Craig Paterson PicI’m the primary researcher-writer-project manager for the California NIF Network, living and working in Fairfield, CA. I’ve worked in community deliberative efforts for over 30 years…and with National Issues Forums (NIF) deliberative projects for 12 years. Recently, I’ve been investigating and planning deliberative conversations in the virtual world of Second Life…with connections in real-life settings. For all of my ‘Deliberative IDEAS’ blog posts, visit http://delibcaideas.org/

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Craig Paterson
I am the primary researcher/writer/project manager of the 'California NIF Network' for face-to-face deliberative work in communities, and the creator and coordinator of 'Deliberative IDEAS' for online deliberative work, particularly in the virtual world of Second Life. I've done extensive work in deliberative theory and practice, including many issue framing projects.

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