Community of Practice & Civic Infrastructure


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  • Excited / 10 th year in operation
  • Story / Strengthening & uniting D&D comm.
  • Coming together across differences to talk to each other civilly and see what we come up with… Seems so basic, but this is hard work. Against tide in many ways and people in our field often feel very alone.
  • We try make sure people who do this hard work feel like they’re part of a larger community
  • 50 organizations who endorsed the first conference
  • Huge show of support from community
  • One of the things our community is able to accomplish together…
  • At first, people had a lot of curiosity about and attachment to particular methods. Lots of confusion about what method to use when, how they were different.
  • Our field had not yet collectively embraced a standard set of principles or criteria for quality public engagement. Worried people would end up pasting the label of “public engagement” on manipulative efforts that were more about public relations than about learning from or empowering the public. Others concerned that the many networks and organizations active in our field would essentially end up competing with each other to be heard by the administration, and that, with our mixed messages, we might drown out each other’s voices in the process.
  • Healthcare town halls in 2009 – tried to organize a collective response in magazines, newspapers, online letting public administrators know that there are better ways to engage people than the traditional town halls and public hearings.
  • Most important – sense that you’re not alone; there are others available to support you
  • Also source for what’s important to know (latest research, books, funding opportunities, shifts in the field’s thinking)
  • One such shift in the field’s thinking… increasing focus on civic infrastructure. The infrastructure and capacities that allow people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions, and be part of a community.
  • This year, we ’ re trying to take things up a notch. Encourage big-picture thinking. Civic capacity/infra, how to sustain it, build on ea other ’ s work
  • “ Every community must focus on developing new strategies and tools to get people to agree on a plan and then work together to achieve it.” Problem solving capacity, social capital, civic capacity
  • What makes some communities better able than others to solve the tough social, political, economic or physical challenges they face? Civic index measures 10 components of civic infrastructure
  • Matt’s guidebook for local officials focuses on the importance of building civic infrastructure in communities
  • Basically, it’s about embedding democratic practices into the way our communities operate.
  • Civic infrastructure: not an end in itself. It’s about building ongoing, sustainable capacity to deal with critical issues. A community with low levels of civic engagement and participation is subject to infighting and gridlock on important issues. Groups and indivs must take responsibility for their communities by stepping forward to share the burden of difficult decision making and challenging problem solving. (Not wait for or expect others to solve their problems – including government)
  • Public managers should ask themselves: “As I return to this community to hold public hearings, what can be done differently this time to help institutionalize the capacity to have this conversation in a more robust and routine way? (Which local orgs can be supported to take on this role? Can more people be trained to facilitate these processes?...) / The infrastructure we need to support and sustain robust citizen engagement in this country is multi-faceted and far-reaching. Should fit together in an interconnected system to support national deliberation on the most important issues facing our country.
  • Two $10,000 awards. Comb of conf work and online work at CE. Hope to catalyze some new ideas and new partnerships, and to learn what projects we should contribute our time/resources to.
  • Universities are increasingly serving as local resources for civic engagement. They are increasingly playing important roles in sustaining and institutionalizing this work. Example: Student Associate program at the Colorado State University Center for Public Deliberation—where students are trained as impartial facilitators and help design, run, and report on projects in partnership with community organizations and even local government.
  • The Citizens' Initiative Review is an innovative way of publicly evaluating ballot measures so voters have clear, useful, and trustworthy information at election time. John Gastil (Univ of WA, now Penn State) conducted the evaluation. CIR was adopted into Oregon law during the 2011 legislative session.
  • Communities of Practice are another means to building strong civic infrastructure. Groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. Can also be working together to build the community’s capacity for quality engagement over time.
  • Facilitators Roundtable in Boston
  • Purpose: support facilitators, train new people, work on projects, deepen your understanding of the work, spread the work, role as thought leader (some combination) Support: staffing, space, fiscal agent, funds, leadership (long-term) Infrastructure: listserv, blog, social media group vs. monthly webinars, large events, forum that no one visits (nurture them regularly by responding, seeding, seeking advice)
  • Example of how NCDD used our existing infrastructure to help our members engage around some in-depth theory
  • Can’t overly control people in this field; go with the flow; be ready to step in to protect the community (establishing and enforcing ground rules when needed); always seed, cultivate, harvest; stay human (be enthusiastic, make mistakes, acknowledge them, when in doubt, ask for help)
  • Community of Practice & Civic Infrastructure

    1. National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation Sandy Heierbacher, Director
    2. Common Elements…• facilitation• ground rules / agreements• safe space, equal footing• small groups• contentious issues and “wicked” problems
    3. Also In Common…• Entrepreneurial spirit• Siloed, isolated• Sense of urgency• Under resourced• No one gets me (even Mom)
    4. You’re Not Alone in This
    5. Pool Resources & Knowledge
    6. What’s the Latest?• Incorporating Facebook Into Online Engagement: A Practical Guide• Localizing Development: Does Participation Work?• Civic Health and Unemployment II: The Case Builds• Democracy in Motion: Evaluating the Practice and Impact of Deliberative Civic Engagement• Bringing Citizen Voices to the Table: A Guide for Public Managers
    7. civic infrastructure
    8. Are we developing theUNDERLYING STRUCTUREneeded to support dialogue & deliberation work?
    9. Are we REALLY leaving people and communities more able to solvetheir own problems and create their desired future?
    10. All Communities are Facing…• Fewer public dollars• Increasing responsibility for communities to solve their own problems• Power distributed widely and thinly• Government key, but only one actor in developing and implementing solutions• Increasing diversity and potential for polarization - John Parr, National Civic League, 1993
    11. NCL’s Civic Index• Civic participation• Community leadership• Government performance• Volunteerism and philanthropy• Intergroup relations• Civic education• Community info sharing• Capacity for cooperation and consensus building• Community vision and pride• Inter-community cooperation
    12. Building Blocks for Civic Infrastructure
    13. Infrastructure for Strong Democracy• A legislative mandate for participation• Safe, accessible physical spaces• Broader access to technology• A sufficient facilitation infrastructure• An organizational infrastructure• A trustworthy, fact-based media• Robust civic education
    14. Universities = Infrastructure • Centers for deliberative democracy • Facilitation training • Convening role, space, mission • Student leadership development • Research and evaluation support
    15. Oregon Citizens Initiative Review
    16. Community of Practice • formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning • shared domain or topic area
    17. Many Specialized CoPs• Fabulous Facilitators group in SF Bay Area• ALA’s Deliberate listserv for librarians who support civic engagement• Texas Forums• Collaboration DC• Local IAP2 chapters, NCDD networks, IAF groups, Art of Hosting groups, etc.
    18. Advice from the Field• Be clear about your purpose(s)• Build on existing assets• Don’t tie too closely with one approach• Affiliate with an institution that can provide support without controlling• Create a self-sustaining infrastructure you can fall back on• Provide at least one open space
    19. Prepare for Cat-Herding
    20. More at: www.ncdd.orgEmail me at: