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Bridging the gap between public officials and the public slides with video - compressed version


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How can legislators and other leaders help create more productive, healthy civil discourse? A new slideshow from the DDC summarizes recent research on legislators’ attitudes, and compares those findings with evaluations of deliberative projects. In these new materials, we ask whether public deliberation projects can create the kind of communication legislators say they want with their constituents. Finally, we provide a set of recommendations for public officials, funders, and the field of public engagement.

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Bridging the gap between public officials and the public slides with video - compressed version

  1. 1. Bridging the Gap betweenPublic Officials and the Public:What legislators need and what adeliberating public can do
  2. 2. The ProblemPublic meetings and publichearings often don‟t workfor officials or citizens.Why not? What can be done?
  3. 3. New sources of information 24 Interviews*  State legislators  Staff for federal legislators Evaluations of 3 deliberative projects  One national project  Two statewide projects in Oregon and Michigan* Supported by The Kettering Foundation
  4. 4. Legislators spend time andenergy to engage citizens… Constituent service Newsletters, e-bulletins, websites Informal district gatherings Communicating through the media Public hearings Town hall meetings Meetings convened by advocates or nonprofits
  5. 5. Legislators value communicationwith constituents… They want to hear the concerns of „real people‟ –not just lobbyists and special interests … but they are frustrated with traditional formats for public engagement.
  6. 6. In town halls andpublic hearings, citizens: Seem uninformed Are increasingly uncivil or disrespectful toward officials Disagree with one another and are unwilling to compromise Do not understand the economic, political, legal, and other constraints on government
  7. 7. Is there another way?“What drove me to try structured,planned public engagement was myawful experience with unstructured,unplanned public engagement.” – John Nalbandian, former mayor of Lawrence, Kansas
  8. 8. An alternative:Public deliberation Reaching out to recruit diverse groups of citizens – not just the usual suspects Structuring discussions to allow people to be heard, to learn, and to consider a range of views and options Gathering input for public officials Sometimes, facilitating action planning by participants
  9. 9. Coverage of public deliberation project in MI
  10. 10. When interviewed,most legislators: Had no experience or knowledge of public deliberation – and didn‟t understand how it differs from what they already do Said that extremes dominate the discussion and control political outcomes Questioned why public deliberation would be any different
  11. 11. Legislators said that to becredible, deliberation must be:1. Demonstrably neutral and balanced2. Diverse demographically and politically3. Civil and informed4. Able to foster civic skills and dispositions5. Successful in getting participants to address tough choices
  12. 12. Does public deliberation deliver?Findings from: 24 Interviews  12 state legislators  12 national staff for federal legislators  12 Democrats, 12 Republicans Evaluations of Deliberations in 2010  National “Our Budget, Our Economy” project  “Oregon Citizens‟ Initiative Review”  Michigan “Hard Times, Hard Choices” project
  13. 13. Image from “Our Budget, Our Economy” project
  14. 14. “Our Budget, Our Economy” United States, June 2010 “National conversation on our fiscal future” Organized by AmericaSpeaks with partners from across ideological spectrum 19 primary sites; 38 smaller ones Diverse group of 3,500 people Participants asked to make tough choices on budget deficit and economic needs After discussion, conservatives more likely to accept tax increases, progressives more likely to accept spending cuts Positive reactions by participants
  15. 15. “Citizens’ Initiative Review” (CIR) Oregon, June 2010 Deliberations used to develop “Citizen Statements” on 2 ballot measures (minimum sentences and medical marijuana ) Statements distributed to voters in 2010 election CIR process approved by state legislators, organized by Healthy Democracy Oregon Randomly invited citizens (2 panels, 48 people) Deliberations were respectful and rigorous Voting results went against CIR Statements In 2011, Oregon legislature created agency to continue CIR process
  16. 16. “Hard Times, Hard Choices” Michigan, November 2010 “Deliberative Poll” on tough state policies: taxes, school funding, health care, transportation Organized by By the People, with range of stakeholders 314 randomly invited, demographically representative residents Discussion found to be of high quality and represent diverse perspectives After deliberation, more residents supported raising income and sales taxes, reducing business taxes
  17. 17. #1: Neutrality and Balance Participants, observers, evaluators find facilitators and process to be neutral Example: Oregon CIR - Satisfaction with process neutrality
  18. 18. #2: Diversity and Representation Participants can reflect make-up of relevant population Example: Hard Choices project a “true slice of Michigan”  On age, race, gender, education and geography, participants were indistinguishable from random sample  29% of the participants non-white, including 17% African Americans  12% between 18 and 24 years old
  19. 19. #3: Civility and Respect Participants feel they are given a chance to express themselves Participants exchange information and reasons, and hear each others‟ feelings & experiences Example: Oregon CIR  Equal chance to participate: “A” grade  Consideration of different views: “A” grade  Mutual respect: “A-” and “A” grades
  20. 20. #4: Civic Attitudes Participants emerge with a greater sense of political efficacy – that they can “have a say” Participants feel that they have behaved like responsible citizens Example: Our Budget, Our Economy
  21. 21. #5: Facing up to Tough Choices In all three projects:  Participants confronted constraints, disagreements  Participants often moved toward „middle of the road‟ compromises  Deliberation diminished the role of ideology in participants‟ views
  22. 22. #5: Trade-offsExample: Our Budget, Our Economy – Opinionchange on deficit reduction options, by politicalidentity
  23. 23. Public deliberation can producethe kinds of discussionslegislators say they wantNeutral organizers can recruit diverseparticipants who: Interact in a civil, respectful way Learn about issues and develop better civic attitudes Are willing to consider tough trade-offs Arrive at and articulate a sense of the „common good‟
  24. 24. BUT…this necessaryevidence is not sufficient Legislators have trouble imagining what public deliberation looks like Legislators say they need to experience public deliberation directly Legislators doubt the viability of public deliberation – especially its political feasibility and relevance
  25. 25. The “political logic”of public deliberation Legislators see little political incentive for public deliberation:  The system forces them to cater to the loudest voices & most powerful or wealthiest interests  The system “is itself not civil and deliberative” To influence a legislator, deliberation must occur in her/his district, on her/his issues, with her/his constituents. To influence a whole legislature, has to reach multiple districts simultaneously and at scale Deliberation could be useful for “politically inconsequential” or “politically unwinnable” issues
  26. 26. How to bridge the gap? Recommendations for: Funders, the Field and Legislators
  27. 27. What funders can do: Provide resources to elected officials‟ umbrella organizations to enable members to attend relevant deliberations Require organizers to work with locally trusted intermediary organizations Select issues for public deliberation with a view to political logic Enable targeted advance work: presentations to elected officials that frame value of public deliberation in terms that make sense locally.
  28. 28. What funders can do: Expand „ripple effect‟ of deliberations through consistent, opportunistic, and locally driven follow-up, using media and local institutions (e.g., higher education) Explore methods of evaluation that will gauge direct and „ripple‟ effects of deliberation on voters Identify and fund innovative attempts to „scale up‟ public deliberation
  29. 29. What the field can do Partner with locally trusted intermediaries to engage individual legislators Approach legislators well in advance, and solicit their input on topics and objectives Motivate legislators to attend deliberations - frame the value in terms of local and political priorities
  30. 30. What the field can do: Take the political concerns of legislators to heart:  Involve a diverse group of constituents  Reach a critical mass directly or indirectly  Deploy deliberation on issues and in contexts and at a scale that makes political sense despite polarization
  31. 31. What the field can do: Structure local deliberations as a building block for state/federal deliberations Develop innovative ways to „scale up‟ deliberations, e.g. using online tools Design documentation and evaluation to convey value of deliberation as a politically rational and viable tool for governance Conduct an education campaign that captures the character of deliberations -- especially neutrality, and civic behavior
  32. 32. What legislators can do:LEARN more about public deliberation: Suspend your disbelief! Contact deliberative conveners and organizations to learn about their processes and get their evaluations Look closely and objectively at the evidence Work with trusted organizations to identify and attend a deliberative event
  33. 33. What legislators can do:TRY public deliberation:• Incorporate deliberative elements into the engagement work you already do• Work with a neutral organizer to launch a small-scale trial or pilot• Use “best practice” in process design• Use your convening power and work „across the aisle‟ to help recruit diverse participants
  34. 34. What legislators can do:SUPPORT deliberative efforts: See local deliberations as a building blocks for large-scale state/federal deliberations Foster “deliberative desire” among constituents and colleagues Collaborate with trustworthy organizations and build bi-partisan coalitions to advocate for deliberation Use your communications capacity to create a „ripple effect‟ from deliberations
  35. 35. Resources