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Deliberation on the Debt Crisis

We’ve been having a great discussion on the NCDD Discussion list about the role of citizen deliberation in the current debates on the U.S. budget and debt ceiling. Jan Inglis of the Integrative Learning Institute sent a great, concise message today pulling out themes and reflecting on them, and gave me the okay to share it on the NCDD News blog

In the last week, in light of the deadlock regarding the budget debates, there have been several posts from NCDD members regarding the need for some better processes. I wanted to underscore and connect themes of a few of these posts:

Josey Cooper emphasized the need to look beyond commons simplistic broad brush stroke  labels of issues and actually agree on what is being talked about/focused on before we can go further.

Barnett Pearce named the necessity of standing in the tension,

and Geoff Ball stated  that we often attempt to reduce the complexity of the “muddle” into simple either/or camps which in turn creates polarity. And I would add, leaves out important material and perspectives necessary if we want to address the whole picture.

All of the above I see indicate the need to bump up how we address complex public issues if we ever  hope to create comprehensive responses (which of course the recent response to the budget talks has failed to do and just kicked the can, or the “muddle,” down the road).

So incorporating the above comments (and adding a few steps that I see as necessary), I advocate that processes designed to facilitate comprehensive responses to be effective must include:

1. A way for participants to put the multiple meanings of their ‘Hot’ topic on the table. Through shared analysis of this topic, and its interconnected context, they can broaden out their meaning beyond the label and likely come to their own realization that lots of issues are involved and a simple solution just will not work (a good starting point to build motivation to go further).

2. A method for participants to map the interconnections and potentially get some ah ha’s re root causes (always a good place to be looking instead of at the superficial level).

3. Structures for participants to neutrally see that very valid multi perspectives are involved and these are what create the tensions that make the situations difficult to resolve (and will need to be addressed in order to move forward).

4. A well facilitated  deliberation of these tensions through deep consideration of well framed approaches that reflect the validity and naturally occurring different choices of actions, trade offs and consequences.  This can drive the shared thinking into the “metanoia”: the radical reorientation that allows a new understanding to occur, a new understanding that supports new collective actions more adequate than any of the previous approaches offered.

My experience is that this kind of process is met with moans of “too complex,” “too much work” — but golly gosh, the current state of polarity over the budget, and indeed  most complex issues which are facing us now, are taking far more time and results in far less potential.

Jan Inglis
3D Democracy
Director, Integrative Learning Institute
Adjunct Faculty, Antioch University Culture and Conflict Program
Producer, documentary video Crisis of Decision Making

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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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