Beyond the Town Hall - Engaging Broad Audiences of Citizens

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Involvement in education

Beyond the Town Hall:Engaging Broad Audiences of Citizens

Matt LeighningerDeliberative Democracy ConsortiumChicago, ILMarch 8, 2015

The Deliberative Democracy Consortium

Federal agencies and public participationResearch conducted with Larkin Dudley, emerita, Virginia Tech, and Noel Gniady, PhD student, Virginia TechSupported by the KetteringFoundationInterviews with 17 officials, 4 federal agencies

The context for engagement: How have citizens* changed?

More educated

More skeptical different attitudes toward authority

Have less time to spare

Better able to find resources, allies, information (Internet)* citizens = residents, people

The context: Civic technology

Available free for download at

Map 1

Map 2

Three minutes at the microphoneRetrieved from, July 27, 2012

The status quo and default structureNo discussion outside the agendaOriented to getting comments in the recordEasy to disruptEven the physical layout makes people angry

Three minutes at the microphone

The potentially concerned publicHealth care town hallsHeld by members of Congress in 20009Decrease in engagement since

The potentially concerned publicThe potentially concerned publicJust being responsive to comments and criticism is Old School.- Stan Buch, Dept. of Housing and Urban DevelopmentThe Best Brains AvailableFACA: A means by which the best brains and experience available in all fields of business, society, government and the professions can be made available to the Federal Government at little cost.- House Committee on Government Operations, 1970The Federal Advisory Committee act (FACA)The necessity of formally chartering a committee, announcing its meetings, receiving public input, and then holding a public meeting has led many agencies to avoid the formal advisory committee process whenever possible.- Report of the Administrative Conference of the United States The Best Brains OnlinePeer-to-Patent program of (GSA)Online National Dialogue on Reforming Government Websites We the People online petition siteWho is my public?Im always being told, by people inside and outside my agency, that I need to interact with the publicBut Im not sure who my public really is.- Current DoT employeeTalk with your neighborYes, that part is interesting because _______Huh. Im not buying _______Hmm. I wish we knew more about _______

The need for outside pressureIt is almost impossible for a federal agency to push real participatory work on its ownThere just has to be demand for participation from below.- Hank Topper, EPA (retired)Treating citizens like adultsGive them:InformationChance to tell their storyChoicesLegitimacyChances totake actionGood processFood and fun!

Thick participation: Informed, deliberative, emotional, full of choices for groups to makeThin participation: Fast, easy, full of choices for individuals to make

Refer to Using Online Tools guide22Thick engagement: Small-group processesNo more than 12 people per group;

Facilitator who is impartial (doesnt give opinions); Start with people describing their experiences;

Lay out options;

Help people plan for action.

Give people the information they need, in ways they can use it

Lays out several options or views (including ones you dont agree with!)

Trust them to make good decisions

Thick Engagement: Framing an IssueThick Engagement: Encouraging Citizen Action

The National Conversation went above and beyond any other engagement effort the agency had done before or, to the best of my knowledge, has done since.- Julie Fishman, CDC

Horizons Rural communities in seven Northwestern states

Initiated by Northwest Area Foundation284 towns, poverty rates between 10% and 78%Issues: poverty reduction and economic development3,000+ participants

Thick participation: Informed, deliberative, emotional, full of choices for groups to makeThin participation: Fast, easy, full of choices for individuals to make

Refer to Using Online Tools guide28Thin engagement: Citizens gathering data

Refer to Using Online Tools guide29

Thin engagement: Citizens generating, ranking ideasRefer to Using Online Tools guide30

We the People: A digital public square?Thick and Thin Require Proactive RecruitmentMap community networks;

Involve leaders of those networks;

Who is least likely to participate?

Use online as well as f2f connections;

Follow up!

Thin + thick engagement:Sustaining community connections

Refer to Using Online Tools guide33

Thin + Thick: Oregon Citizens Initiative Review

Text, Talk, and Actpart of the National Dialogue on Mental Health Talk with your neighborYes, Id like to be more involved in _______Yikes! None of this looks appealing.Hmm. Is any of this realistic?

The Open Government DirectiveThe Open Government DirectiveExecutive departments andagencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. - President Obama, Open Government MemoWhat we hear coming down from White House is more about data and transparency than about participation.- Fishman and Van Skiver, Centers for Disease ControlOpen Government: Participation or just data?

Open Government: Participation or just social media?To belongTo have an impactTo have a legitimate voiceThose desires show up in thick and thin engagementand sometimes thick and or thin helps people achieve them

What do people want?

Why sustained engagement?Increases in:TrustEfficiencyEquityConnectednesswhich increases:Economic growthPublic health

Refer to Using Online Tools guide42Lower corruptionLower inequalityLower infant mortalityHigher trust in govtHigher tax complianceHigher completion rates for govt projectsOfficials more likely to be reelected

Long-term Impacts of ParticipationWampler and Touchton 2014, Peixoto 2014, Spada 2012

How could state and federal governments support better participation?Theres not a consistent approach to participation within ATSDRthere is no formal mechanism we use regularly to involve people in our processes. Big initiatives are fine, but it is the regular ongoing processes that need to change.- Ben Gerhardstein, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease RegistryMeaningful agency-wide participation plans

Participation metrics and civic indicatorsKeep track of the basic dataBuild your databaseUse surveys to measure satisfactionBe transparent

Legal frameworks for participation

47Stronger networks, online and off, for recruitment and dissemination of information

Better use of social media to raise interest, discussion before and between meetings

Clear avenues for public to present ideas for the agenda

At the meeting (or as a pre-meeting), a format featuring small-group discussions

Proposed guideline: Electeds cannot vote, act, or make decisions until information from meeting is made publicGuidelines for better participation[maybe cut]48