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Beyond Aggregation: “The Wisdom of Crowds” Meets Dialogue in the Case Study of Shaping America’s Youth

The 28-page article, Beyond Aggregation: “The Wisdom of Crowds” Meets Dialogue in the Case Study of Shaping America’s Youth (2017), was written by Renee G. Heath, Ninon Lewis, Brit Schneider, and Elisa Majors, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 2. From the abstract, “The present interpretive case study examined how an inter-organizational partnership facilitating five large-scale public dialogues on childhood obesity, held throughout the United States, carried out its commitment to engage nonexperts in solutions”. Read an excerpt from the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the introduction…

A handful of leaders across for-profit, nonprofit, and government sectors, including a nationally recognized medical doctor and nutrition expert, and directors from Nike, Inc., and the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, coalesced in a collaborative partnership of decision-makers under the name Shaping America’s Youth (SAY). Given their view that the so-called experts had failed to influence change, they agreed that the solutions to childhood obesity must be found in collaboration with ordinary citizens—“nonexperts.” This assumption led to SAY’s partnership with the nonprofit, public deliberation pioneer, AmericaSpeaks, whose influential 21st Century Town Meeting® model facilitated engaging citizens in solutions. 1 In line with the growing trend of large-scale deliberation meetings, these partners brought together citizens from a crosssection of community stakeholder groups in a series of public dialogues that would ultimately influence changes related to childhood obesity. The mission of SAY was “to assure that the voices of families and communities are integrated into local and national policy to improve the nutrition, physical activity, and health of children and youth” (SAY meeting minutes). The present study commenced when SAY was in its fifth year of organizing, which was devoted to engaging communities toward this mission through a series of town meetings. As scholars and practitioners, we were interested in the organizing question, how would SAY carry out its commitment to engage nonexperts in solutions? What we found was an instructive case study that a) provides a heuristic for eliciting the voices of nonexperts, b) documents perceived outcomes linking dialogic process and product, and c) challenges theoretical assumptions about the wisdom of crowds as simply an aggregate of individually held knowledge.

This paper proceeds with a theoretical understanding of the wisdom of crowds including two schools of thought—one absent of a deliberative communicative model and one inclusive of a communicative model of gleaning meaningful input from nonexperts. The communicative model we introduce is grounded in literature on dialogue, public dialogue, and deliberation. This literature provides the context for our findings. We argue that SAY chose to engage nonexperts in solutions with a meeting method grounded in dialogic principles. After describing the methods of the study, and the findings that explicate how nonexperts were engaged, we introduce several outcomes that participants perceived as a result of the meeting process. These outcomes suggest implications for communicative models of engaging nonexperts in solutions. They demonstrate the how and why leaders of social change may choose to communicatively engage nonexperts.

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

About the Journal of Public DeliberationJournal of Public Deliberation
Spearheaded 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/vol13/iss2/art3/

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