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Input from NCDD and DDC for Open Gov Action Plan

The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC) submitted a joint statement to Aneesh Chopra, US Chief Technology Officer, on January 2nd–and we’d like to invite you to show your support of the submission if you’re interested.

As we previously announced, Chopra posted a request on the White House website on December 6th seeking input and recommendations on how to help improve, facilitate, and evaluate public participation in government for the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan.

Despite the brief timeline and holiday deadline, NCDD and DDC – two large, allied networks that represent practitioner organizations and academic researchers working in the field of public participation and democratic governance – decided to work together to formulate a joint response. We sent an 8-page statement to Chopra on the 2nd, which you can download in full at https://ncdd.org/main/wp-content/uploads/DDC-NCDD_stmt_opengovplan.pdf.

Below is a sampling of text from the statement, which includes a constructive critique of the White House’s open gov efforts, as well as direct responses to the questions in the White House request.

Though we didn’t have the time to put a draft out to the whole field before the deadline as we would have preferred, we welcome you to add your feedback here via the comments field.  And if you or your organization support what we submitted in the joint statement, please add a comment signing on with your support!  We’d love to show the White House that groups in our field are indeed “seconding” the statement.

Public participation is the area where the Open Government agenda has made the least headway, and that holds the greatest potential benefit for communities and the nation. It is also the realm in which other countries are advancing beyond the United States, turning us from a leader to a follower in democratic innovation.

Planned, structured participation has been shown to have the following benefits (see the document for links backing up each item):

  • Raising the level of civility and trust in public discourse;
  • Reducing government costs through closer public oversight and better understanding of citizen needs and attitudes;
  • Creating more realistic budgets, either by raising “tax morale,” building support for spending cuts, or both;
  • Generating new policy ideas and tapping the problem-solving capacity of citizens;
  • Breaking through legislative gridlock on high-profile policy questions.

Participation has different benefits and challenges at the local level, which is closest to citizens’ daily concerns and goals, and the state and national levels, where it has a much broader potential impact. Evidence suggests that participation is most compelling to people when it allows them a range of opportunities and reasons to engage, on different issues and different levels of governance. Beginning by “going where the people are” – in neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, on social media, and in existing online forums – is a foundational premise of successful public participation.

But unlike some countries such as Brazil and India, the United States lacks an established national participation infrastructure to facilitate the kind of multi-faceted, citizen-centered engagement that links citizens to local, state, and federal issues. Instead, at the federal level a variety of face-to-face and online tools have been developed and used, usually in a piecemeal fashion. (For a comprehensive assessment of the public participation plans of federal agencies, see http://bit.ly/oS66Rk). Local examples of public participation tend to be more robust, but are not linked to one another, let alone state or federal policymakers. Agencies and communities alike need a sustainable, widely supported infrastructure for public engagement that accommodates a range of participation tools and methods (http://bit.ly/rWeHaU).

One of the primary weaknesses, therefore, of the Administration’s work in participation is reflected still in this latest call for input: it treats participation as a discrete, federal, agency-delimited activity; it assumes that participation is merely an input-gathering exercise; and it makes no mention of the possibility of cross-agency collaboration or connections between federal and local government.

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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. Kenneth N. Cissna says:

    Although the statement evidences somewhat more confidence in online formats than I am comfortable with, this is a clear, concise, and thoughtful response that I highly support.

    Kenneth N. Cissna
    Professor and Chair
    Department of Communication
    University of South Florida

  2. Tobin Quereau says:

    I applaud the efforts of NCDD and DDC in creating this joint statement on essential elements for public participation and urge those in the administration and Congress with the power and influence to put its recommendations into practice to do so. Our democracy is intended to be a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” and effective and comprehensive public participation is the best means to keeping it so!

  3. Speaking personally, and not for any organization, I’m wondering if there should have been mention of the efforts of various federal agencies? Two that I personally participated in were http://americaswildlife.org/ and http://www.state.gov/opinionspace/ I found them interesting but perhaps too complex and technological.

  4. You have my support.

  5. Commendations and appreciation to the NCDD crew et. al. that took on this big task on such short notice. I concur that there is a great need for an infrastructure and culture that supports effective, on-going, cross-agency and multi-level collaboration – face to face/ real time and virtual/on-line. Hopefully the report will be well-received and perhaps even acted upon! Do you have any idea of what to expect in the way of feedback and/or next steps?

    • Hi, Laurie! Thanks for your kind words. As far as what to expect in terms of feedback/next steps, I’m afraid that in typical White House style, all we were told is “We will consider your ideas and input as we continue to implement the U.S. National Action Plan and develop this best practices guidance on public participation.”

  6. John W. McDonald says:

    You have my support.

  7. Nicely done! You have my support.

  8. Tree Bressen says:

    Good job under tight timeline. Thoughtful and succinct, covers a lot of territory.

    The chart “10 Tactics for Engaging the Public” jumps out with its color formatting, and that seems unfortunate since it only covers one segment of engagement–the chart should probably be retitled “10 Tactics for Easy, Online Public Engagement.” I worry about effective and exciting forms outside that subset getting lost; for example, citizen deliberative councils (such as the one recently enacted in Oregon: http://healthydemocracyoregon.org/citizens-initiative-review) appear nowhere in the entire document.

    Overall, my urge would be to keep on nudging them up the ladder of participation, putting things like “solving real problems, making real decisions” at the top of every list of ways to involve the public. I think we should do this consistently over time, reinforcing the message of making democracy as real as possible.

    Again, thanks to both organizations for all your work on this and for carrying the torch of public participation forward.


    –Tree Bressen

  9. Lucas Cioffi says:

    Hi Sandy, we at OnlineTownhalls.com are in full support.

  10. John Backman says:

    Well done, Sandy and Matt. You have my support on behalf of The Dialogue Venture.

  11. Dennis Boyer says:

    I support the basic framework of the statement.
    Dennis Boyer, Attorney and Fellow of the Interactivity Foundation

  12. Harry Awolayeofori Macmorrison says:

    I support this important framework.Its one that will go a long way to assist the D&D work move further and better.

  13. We are pleased to inform you that you have our full support

    Dimabo Lucky Gaibo

  14. This is to inform you that you have our full support.

    Dimabo Lucky Gaibo

  15. Vern Herr says:


    Applause for your efforts!
    This is an ambitious vision that has much potential.
    Take a bow for a job well done.

    I’d like to add 2 clarifiers

    There are some important examples where Federal and State agencies that have made better, more informed decisions with the active participation of stakeholder groups. Highlight positives where you can and build on the lessons learned from them. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, TVA, and the State of Florida are a few agencies I’m familiar with that have success stories to tell. There are many more.

    I’d like to see some more examples of the cost/benefit of linking multiple agencies, especially from a stakeholder perspective. How do the global best practice examples get relevant feedback to multiple layers of government without placing an undue burden on Agencies that are probably stretched to the breaking point? How do stakeholders benefit? Just curious.

    Let me know if I can be helpful in any way

    Vern Herr
    Group Solutions

  16. Great job with the summary statement–I’m happy to support it.

    With respect to the full statement, I have a couple of comments. First, when you list things that are likely to make agencies and communities more participatory and effective (p. 3), I’d add something about ensuring adequate information for and education of participants about the issues. Second, I agree with the comment from Vern Herr about a need for certain kinds of examples, and I’d add that the examples in the full statement seemed a little unclear to me, in terms of what they were intended to illustrate. The last example in particular seemed like a great illustration of the kind of local nonprofit activity that is common in communities across the country (happy to supply references) and is a critical element of our civic society. But the link to participation in public decision-making–which I think is central to the point we’re trying to make–isn’t clear. I see two ways to address this: clarify what is meant by public participation/open governance, perhaps listing differing kinds of activities that fall under the general heading OR make a stronger link between public decision-making and the illustrations.

  17. This is a strong and articulate piece of work. Consider your statement “seconded.”

  18. Jennifer Wilding says:

    Really nice work on this. You have my support.

    Jennifer Wilding
    Director, KC Consensus

  19. Hopefully the US government will move into web 3.0 eventually, with your help! Great summary of leading approaches to consider.

  20. Good job. Well conceived and expressed. You have my support.

  21. Bill Corbett says:

    The NCDD/DDCjoint statement to the Open Gov Action Plan has the support of the Center for Voter Deliberation of Northern Virginia.

  22. Nancy Thomas says:

    Nice statement. You have the support of the Democracy Imperative.

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