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Learning with the Citizens’ Accord Forum: Building a Shared Society in a Sustainable Democracy in Israel (Connections 2016)

The six-page article, “Learning with the Citizens’ Accord Forum: Building a Shared Society in a Sustainable Democracy in Israel” by Phillip D. Lurie was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the sixth article of the newsletter, Lurie shares the work of the Citizens’ Accord Forum in Israel which works on bridging divides between Jews and Arabs in order to address issues in daily life through dialogue and deliberation. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

The Citizens’ Accord Forum (CAF) has a daunting mission: to build a shared society in a sustainable democracy in Israel by working to mend rifts between groups in conflict by building bridges, encouraging constructive engagement, and promoting and empowering civic leadership. The Kettering Foundation has been working with this organization for more than three years as they’ve been naming and framing issues for public deliberation among Israeli citizens, both Jews and Arabs. Kettering has experimented with a number of organizations attempting to create pathways for citizens to engage with one another over the problems they face in daily life. In these experiments, one aim is for citizens to see themselves implicated in the work of public life, and thus, take responsibility for it. This project is particularly interesting because it’s rooted in a longstanding conflict among societies characterized, in part, by different cultural traditions. Moreover, CAF is interested in addressing problems that Arabs and Jews face in daily life, in the context of that conflict.

Kettering’s research with CAF is rooted in our concept of joint learning, which focuses on developing shared research questions, exploring these questions through ongoing face-to-face exchanges, and learning. Building on his participation at the Deliberative Democracy Institute, Udi Cohen, co-director of CAF, received a grant from the European Union to convene a series of dialogues among Arab and Israeli citizens to build capacity and trust. CAF has a self-interest in experimenting with innovations in affecting the civic discourse among deeply divided people, and Kettering has an opportunity to learn from those experiences. Together, we want to learn more about:

1. How issue guides can affect the civic discourse among people with different cultures of discussion;
2. How a focus on everyday problems can affect the deliberations and address the underlying issues of conflict;
3. What outcomes emerge from the deliberations;
4. How to convey the outcomes of deliberative forums to policymakers; and
5. How to affect policy decisions. We’ve learned some interesting things from their various reports and from meeting together, including:

  • Anecdotal evidence about the true messiness of practicing deliberative politics. It’s also a good example of how practice and process collide. In fact, it’s worth noting that Cohen is, in a sense, a collector of processes, picking out and melding together the parts that he deems necessary to accomplish the goals he shares with CAF (“a shared society in a sustainable democracy”). This isn’t meant to be a criticism, but rather an explanation of why there are elements of Kettering’s democratic practices, Hal Saunders’ “Sustained Dialogue,” and John Paul Lederach’s “conflict transformation,” among others.
  • The importance of concern gathering. CAF spends a great deal of its effort working with citizen groups to identify concerns, recognizing how crucial this is to ensuring that people can see themselves implicated in the issue, both emotionally and as an actor. The process of identifying concerns is done similarly to how one might begin a deliberative forum with a “personal stake” story, while also allowing for discussion and reflection on that story.
  • The challenges of moving from deliberation to action. The deliberations that CAF convenes are important, if only because they serve as one of the only opportunities for people in this conflict to come together to talk and to be heard. Yet, they recognize that voice alone isn’t enough; people have to act in order to truly have agency. One of their struggles remains in how to move from deliberation to action.
  • Democratic practices challenge participants to rethink and learn from their efforts. It’s interesting to see participants struggle with and push against the incorrect notion that the practices of deliberative politics are meant to be a linear process. This was demonstrated in their desire to continue to go back and examine and readdress the things they’ve already done, suggesting a good example of what happens when this work is thought of less as a step-by-step process and more as practices through which citizens can address problems.
  • Citizens can learn to work together to solve shared problems by working together to solve shared problems. That is to say, the joint work on addressing shared problems, while constantly dealing with the question “what can we do?” is a fascinating and effective way to deal with the ethnonational conflict dividing these citizens. CAF learned that a more sustainable democracy creates and builds the content for a shared society and vice versa: “the shared society,” in which its members find ways to work together on solving shared problems, will in turn create the civic content of a sustainable democracy.
  • While various organizations in Israel are working to advance a shared society in development, economy, and education, the added value of CAF’s work is in the “democratic content and values” that guide the different initiatives they’re involved in. They found that activities that advance joint economic initiatives require joint civic activity, addressing questions including: What is the nature of this economy? What is the proper relationship between the power of the market and the place of the government in economic activity? What is the place in this process for future generations? There is a need to build relations based on mutual trust and recognition and on a shared democratic agenda. This agenda includes the involvement of all citizens making informed choices in joint decision-making processes. The agenda must reflect all citizens of all sectors and social classes. Initiatives that lack these components and that are not built on deliberative practices can only go so far.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Lurie-Connections-2016.pdf

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