Book Club Week 7: Sustaining Public Engagement

For this week’s NCDD book club discussion on Democratizing Deliberation, Jan Inglis offers a summary of the chapter Sustaining Public Engagement: Embedded Deliberation in Local Communities by authors Elena Fagotto and Archon Fung.

Jan has a background in applying research in adult development and complexity science to designing public deliberation and decision making processes in response to complex issues, especially connected to climate change and commons management of resources. She has recently been appointed to the board of NCDD’s sister organization, the Canadian Community of Dialogue and Deliberation (C2D2).

I was very motivated to put my name forward as a chapter leader on this chapter when the book club was announced. I find that the concepts shared in the chapter very relevant to the kind of “big world” change that many of us are grappling with and know is necessary. The authors say this requires building upon, and going beyond, the skills developed in one-off deliberative processes regarding single issues. This implies commitment, skills, institutionalization and financial support at many levels.

Discussion Question 1:

How do we pragmatically transform the culture and structures through which we collectively engage, so that as the authors says, “a habit of deliberation among citizens” is embedded? (p.129)

Elena and Archon share their investigative methodology and interpretations gathered from nine communities they researched. They offer the reader analysis of why these communities showed success in adopting deliberative interventions. The authors’ definition of a community that has embedded deliberation is one that “utilizes methods of more or less formally organized deliberation, to consider a range of public issues or problems, over a period of several years.” (p.130)

Discussion Question 2:

What do you think are prerequisites for institutionalizing the practices of public deliberation? Do you know of other examples where these practices have become embedded?

Beyond describing how these communities dealt with specific problematic issues, Elena and Archon inquire more deeply into how organized public deliberation may also address foundational deficits in democratic practices that they name as: current weak social fabric, unstable public judgment, gaps in communication and accountability between officials and communities, and insufficient government resources to tackle social challenges.

Discussion Question 3:

How would you characterize limitations in current democratic practices that make it difficult for us to respond to complex issues?

The authors divide deliberative practices into two levels: deliberative reflection and deliberative public action, describing how they think that “The first level of embeddedness is a necessary condition for the second.” (p.131) The second they say requires institutionalization for its implementation. I appreciate that they have made these distinctions and feel that many public processes are designed to build skills for the first level, but fewer are designed to support the latter.

Discussion Question 4:

Do you agree? Do you think these levels have to be sequential, or can they be achieved simultaneously? (i.e. can engagement in the shared analysis of issues, and deliberation required to decide on actions, actually develop reflection amongst those who might not otherwise come to reflection easily?

I look forward to responses to these questions or any other thoughts that people have in reading this chapter.

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