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Equity through Learning to Listen: The Case of Public Discussion on Body-Worn Cameras in Madison, Wisconsin

The 17-page article, Equity through Learning to Listen: The Case of Public Discussion on Body-Worn Cameras in Madison, Wisconsin, was written by Katherine Cramer and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 12: Iss. 2. In the article, Cramer discusses the process around gathering public input on whether the Madison police department should implement body-worn cameras on their officers. She gives details around the context for the process and the four lessons learned throughout the whole experience.

Read an excerpt of the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the article…

We expect deliberation to achieve many things—better-informed opinions, tolerance, efficacy, well-rounded decisions, and decisions that have legitimacy (e.g., Barabas, 2004; Fishkin, 1995; Gastil, 2000; Jacobs, Cook, & Delli Carpini, 2009; Karpowitz & Mendelberg, 2014; Mill 1859 [1956]). Deliberation supposedly enlarges our ability to incorporate moral values into governance (Gutmann & Thompson, 1996); enables an enlightened interpretation of the general will (Mansbridge, 1999); and increases the legitimacy of the decisions reached (e.g., Young, 2001). The expected democratic benefits of deliberation are numerous. But each of those outcomes relies on a particular quality: that a range of people and perspectives be included in the discussion. This means that ideal deliberation should involve equality of access as well as equality of who talks and who gets heard (Mansbridge, 1999; Mendelberg & Oleske, 2000).

But ensuring these things is difficult. As with all political participation, people with resources, particularly income and education, are more likely to show up. Also, people within social networks of politically active people are more likely to be recruited to participate (Jacobs, Cook & Delli Carpini, 2009; Ryfe & Stalsburg 2012; Verba, Schlozman & Brady 1996). Even when people representing a wide range of perspectives are in the room, deliberative processes privilege the views of privileged people (Sanders, 1997; Young, 2001).

Nevertheless, the belief endures that democratic governance is best achieved when people inform the decisions that affect them, and so the field of deliberative democracy continues to strive for ways to incorporate marginalized voices into the process to enable democracy to live up to its promise.

This brings us to the concept of equity. If striving for equality of access, and equality of voice and authority within deliberation is not enough, then perhaps it is time to focus on equity—intentional inequality such that those typically marginalized have the opportunity to voice their preferences and perspectives in all of their complexity, and have those concerns, with all of their nuances, enter into processes of democratic decision-making. Perhaps as a society we are still relatively unskilled at listening to one another. In order to input a wider array of perspectives into the discussions that affect our decisions about how to govern one another, we need to first exclude the voices that typically get heard, and then teach those in power how to listen to that who do not.

This possibility seems particularly acute in the United States with respect to issues concerning racial justice. Race has been a powerful line of exclusion/inclusion in the United States for centuries and these categorizations contaminate deliberative processes as well (Cramer Walsh, 2007). How then does a community use a deliberative approach to move toward racial equity?

The case discussed in this article suggests some expansions to our current conceptions of equity in deliberation. It is an example of a government-sanctioned process to gather public input for a policy decision about a controversial public issue involving racial justice. I draw on the insights of two practitioners who conducted a public deliberation process in 2015 to gather input for the City of Madison, Wisconsin, on a proposal for the police department to implement bodyworn cameras (BWCs). Colleen Butler is the Racial Justice Director for the YWCA Madison. The city hired the YWCA to conduct the public input process. She contracted with Jacquelyn Boggess to conduct most of the focus groups that were a part of this process. Boggess is the Executive Director of the Center for Family and Policy Practice, a national policy advocacy organization located in Madison.

The insights of Butler and Boggess reveal four main lessons with respect to equity in deliberation. First, their insights teach us that equity in public deliberation is sometimes achieved by intentional exclusion. Second, they suggest that members of marginalized groups are not necessarily motivated to participate by the potential to impact policy. Sometimes, the potential to be heard may be enough. Third, the case suggests that as we theorize the role of deliberation in democracy, we should recognize that for some people public talk is not about achieving democracy; it is instead about life and survival.

Finally, the case suggests that in order for deliberation to contribute to greater equity in democracy, people in power need to learn to listen differently. For our deliberative system to achieve equity, we may need public discussion practices that reveal previously disenfranchised voices but also advocacy efforts that compel people to listen to these voices. Without lobbying for policy makers to actually hear what previously marginalized voices have to say, the valuable perspectives revealed through an equitable process my continue to be ignored.

Download the full article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public Deliberation
Journal of Public DeliberationSpearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol12/iss2/art10/

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