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Showing posts from August, 2017

One way to avoid public participation nightmares

You're a decision-maker, with some institution or organization, and there's an issue or project where you want to consult with members of the public. How can you get their input in a way that will be meaningful, in a process that will feel inclusive and collaborative? If the issue is contentious, and you want to gather input without delegating your authority to make the final decision, how can you engage participants in a way that won't feel completely disingenuous?

This is no small task, and is the subject of much research, training, and deliberation amongst public participation facilitators and consultants. More often than not, efforts at public participation are a disaster. Participants can feel as though their input is not considered seriously, are frustrated that their proposals and feedback are not adopted, and practitioners are left with more information than they know what to do with. At worst, trust in the institution itself is eroded.

Trust in the public realm is…

Including rational thought in decision-making: novel idea?

The post last week brought up the idea that we need to think about what concepts and ideas are put forward in the public realm. From pop music to sports to local community events, our approach to decision-making is influenced by commonly understood cultural practices. Meaningful democratic decision-making requires that we think about the practices, ideas, and values that percolate throughout society.
More specifically, when it comes to engaging a group of people to get together and go through a democratic decision-making process, practitioners need to think about how participants are being, or have been, educated. By definition, democratic decision-making is not limited to specialists. "Rule by the people" means everyone gets to participate in decision-making, even about issues where we are not experts.
This does not mean, however, that democratic decision-making should be approached from a place of ignorance. Robert Dahl emphasized the importance of enlightened understanding 

Education beyond the classroom: art, football, and rock & roll

Many of the democratic practices that we highlight in our work (control over the agenda, accessible decision-making, the freedom to participate) require some degree of knowledge and understanding on the part of participants. However, as outlined previously, democratic participation does not demand a minimum threshold of education or knowledge. So how do different people, with different skills, education levels, and experiences, make decisions together?

Diversity of perspective is a strength of democracy; it can lead to incredibly innovative and diverse solutions to the challenges that face our communities. Nonetheless, participants who are working through decisions together require some common frame of reference and communication tools to discuss, share perspectives, and express preferences with one another. This goes beyond language. Our social and cultural knowledge, and our comfort with social norms, exerts significant influence over our ability to participate in decision-making.