Skip to main content

Where can you set the agenda?

In a previous post I highlighted the importance of personal relationships and trust for democracy. The implication is that without some degree of personal relationships, public decisions are made without meaningful responsibility or commitment to one another as political equals.  A separate but related concept concerns control over the agenda - a critical but often overlooked dimension to democratic decision-making.

Controlling the agenda is distinct from the power to actually make decisions. The ability to set the agenda entails discretion and power over the issues themselves; deciding what issues matter, and what issues require a decision. Deciding what to decide.

The concept is one of five criteria Robert Dahl put forward in his book Democracy and Its Critics (1989). At first the idea sounds boring and inconsequential, but the power to frame issues has an enormous influence over decision-making. An inability to control the agenda is one reason for much frustration with politics today. Our elected representatives, or civil servants, control the agenda either completely or substantially. Think of a referendum. You do not decide the question to be asked, you do not frame the issue. A referendum delegates the decision to the public, but imparts absolutely no degree or capacity to control the agenda. The agenda is framed and decided by someone else, and we're frustrated that we are not empowered to propose or explore alternative options.

There are, however, places where members of the public do have an opportunity to frame the issues that get discussed. Community associations, community groups, and non-profits. Events in your community and neighbourhood projects. In these settings, volunteer contributors are empowered to frame the issues, to put forward different ideas for what gets discussed, and what options should be pursued. In the public realm, when it comes to voting, we seldom get the opportunity to control the agenda. But community agencies and community groups empower participants to propose projects and ideas for discussion - to control the agenda of what gets reviewed and pursued by the group.

Where in your life might you be able to exert some control over the agenda? Is there a place where you can empower others to frame the issues that get put forward for community review and discussion?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who gets to decide when it comes to Community Amenity Contributions?

This week we're approaching candidates in the upcoming Vancouver municipal election to get their feedback on the city's approach to Community Amenity Contributions (CACs). The Evoke team undertook a case study and research project in this area, and believes these could be better approached. Candidate responses will be posted on this site, meanwhile, here's some background on our perspective. 
The City of Vancouver has a Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) policy, officially established in 2004 with their Financing Growth strategy, where all new development and rezoning applications contribute, financially or in-kind, to community amenities. The CACs are extracted from new development and spent upon Council approval in a number of valuable areas such as: affordable housing, child care, amenities, green spaces, community infrastructure and other public goods.
Our research focuses on a key dimension related to CACs; although they are derived from value created within a neighb…

Where do the candidates stand on CAC's?

After the release of our research paper Who's Counting the Dollars?concerning Community Amenity Contributions, we have asked candidates in this year's municipal election for their thoughts on our recommendations.
We will post responses here as they are received.

OneCity Vancouver, Christine Boyle
One of the big ideas that OneCity Vancouver is bringing to this election is our Windfall Power Land Value Capture proposal (sometimes called a land value tax, or land lift tax). You can read more about it in this Vancouver Sun Op-Ed, and more will be released with our platform soon. 

A land value capture wouldn't entirely replace the CAC system, but it would dramatically scale it back by creating a more transparent system for measuring the impact that upzoning or nearby public infrastructure investments have on land value, and then capturing a portion of that 'lift' in value to spend on community priorities (like affordable housing and more robust public transit). In addition…

Do the Ends justify the Means?

The City of Vancouver, in British Columbia Canada, recently sought council approval for the Making Room Housing Programin June 2018, with a Public Hearing set for September the same year. The program is intended as a new city wide approach to housing and zoning which will purportedly allow for a wider range of housing choices in Vancouver’s neighbourhoods.

Citing a need for more housing choice, the staff report clarifies that the Making Room Housing program will include consultation through 2018/19 to determine the type of housing that will make sense for different neighbourhoods, but also requests an immediate ‘quick start’ action to allow duplexes in all areas currently zoned for single families.

Which begs the question: does a good policy justify a ‘quick start’ approach to implementation? Do the ends justify the means?

Vancouver is in a time of a housing crisis with citizens and stakeholders from different backgrounds having expressed a desire for bold actions. Many would argue that …