N. Am. PB Research Board Seeks Input on 2016 Agenda

In case you missed it, the North American Participatory Budgeting Research Board recently announced that it’s seeking input on what topics folks in the field think PB researchers should prioritize next year. The Board was originally launched by two NCDD member organizations – Public Agenda and the Participatory Budgeting Project – and we encourage the rest of our members to weigh in. You can learn more in the Public Agenda post below or find the original here.


What do you want to see PB research address in 2016?

PublicAgenda-logoAs part of their work coordinating research on participatory budgeting processes in the U.S. and Canada, our research and public engagement teams have asked for input on potential tasks for the North American PB Research Board to tackle in the coming year (2015-16).

Below are five suggestions. What would you add or amend? Comment or tweet your suggestions to @PublicAgenda with #PBResearch.

  1. Building capacity for data gathering. This group would focus on the challenges facing local evaluators, such as: the lack of staff and volunteering time; lack of capacity to administer, collect, and enter data from surveys; translation of instruments; increasing survey response rates, and so on.
  2. Making PB data more usable, visible, and powerful. This work would work on ways to improve, facilitate, and institutionalize the collection, storage, and sharing of metrics data from all North American PB sites. There are a number of technological, ethical, logistical, and research challenges to making this happen. The final product would a rich, open data source for local PB evaluators and implementers, other PB researchers, and experts to draw on and share.
  3. Building a better infrastructure to support PB. Around the world, many cities have started doing PB without figuring out what kinds of supports they might need to make PB successful. At the same time, other engagement structures and processes that may already be in place may be far less effective from PB. This group would consider ways to use our research and evaluation efforts to help cities learn about PB, and learn from PB, in order to create a stronger engagement infrastructure.
  4. Organizing the evaluation and research track for the PB Conference in May 2016. This group would develop some interesting and thoughtful ways to present PB evaluations and evaluation data at the May 2016 conference in Boston. The overall goal would be to highlight the efforts, experiences, and insights gained through on-the-ground evaluation.
  5. Designing and supporting a larger research project to estimate the impact of PB in North American communities. This group would review the list of research projects that last year’s board members discussed during the development of the key evaluation metrics as important for further understanding PB in North America but beyond the scope and interest of individual, annual evaluation efforts. This group would focus on one of these project areas, design the study and develop a proposal for funding.

You can find the original version of this Public Agenda blog post at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/what-do-you-want-to-see-pb-research-address-in-2016#sthash.qDecnO6t.dpuf.

“Justice as an Evolving Regulative Ideal”

Journal article published in Pragmatism Today, Volume 6, Issue 2 (2015): 105-116.

Photo of the top of my paper, which links to the PDF file on the journal's Web site.

Logo for Pragmatism Today.I’m happy to announced that my latest paper, as of December 2015, has been published in Pragmatism Today, the peer-reviewed journal of the Central-European Pragmatist Forum. This paper is a step in the larger project of my book in progress, A Culture of Justice.

 

Title: “Justice as an Evolving Regulative Ideal.”

Abstract:

In this paper, I argue that justice is best understood as an evolving regulative ideal. This framework avoids cynicism and apathy on the one hand as well as brash extremism on the other. I begin by highlighting the elusive quality of justice as an ideal always on the horizon, yet which is nevertheless meaningful. Next, I explain the ways in which it makes more sense to see justice as evolving, rather than as fixed. Finally, I demonstrate the value of Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of a regulative ideal for framing a pragmatist outlook on justice. Peirce helps us at the same time to appreciate ideals yet to let go of outmoded understandings of their metaphysical status. Ideals are thus tools for regulating behavior. Each of these qualifications demonstrates that justice is best conceived of as an evolving regulative ideal.

Nomination Process Open for 2016 Brown Democracy Medal

As we look toward 2016, we want to encourage our members to consider submitting a nomination for the 2016 Brown Democracy Medal for Innovations in Democratic Practice.  The Medal and a $5,000 award are awarded annually by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy – one of our NCDD organizational members.

The award is Mccourtney Institute Logodesigned to bring attention to work that is “important to democracy but under-appreciated” – something that we know describes a lot of people in D&D. In fact, the 2014 Medal was awarded to NCDD member organization the Participatory Budgeting Project, so we have high hopes for 2016!

The nomination process is open now, and all initial inquiries are due by February 1, 2016. We encourage you to nominate people, projects, or organizations that you think are innovating in the way we do democracy. Here are some of the guidelines for nominations:

Review Criteria

The democratic innovation selected will score highest on these features:

  1. Novelty. The innovation is precisely that – a genuinely new way of thinking about democracy or practicing it. The award is thus intended to recognize recent accomplishments, which have occurred during the previous five years. The innovation will likely build on or draw on past ideas and practices, but its novelty must be obvious.
  2. Systemic change. The idea, theory, or practical reform should represent significant change in how we think about and practice democracy. Ideas should be of the highest clarity and quality, empirical studies should be rigorous and grounded in evidence, and practical reforms must have proof of their effectiveness. The change the innovation brings about should be able to alter the larger functioning of a democratic system over a long time frame.
  3. Potential for Diffusion. The idea or reform should have general applicability across many different scales and cultural contexts. In other words, it should be relevant to people who aspire to democracy in many parts of the world and/or in many different social or political settings.
  4. Democratic Quality. In practical terms, while the nominees themselves may well be partisan, the spirit of this innovation must be nonpartisan and advance the most essential qualities of democracy, such as broad social inclusion, deliberativeness, political equality, and effective self-governance.

When choosing among otherwise equally qualified submissions, the review panel will also consider two practical questions. Who would give the lecture on campus and meet with the PSU community? Who would write the essay about the innovation? Neither needs to be the nominee, nor the nominator.

Initial nomination inquiries should be sent in the form a one-to-two page letter that describes how the nominee’s work meets the criteria for this award and what distinguishes it from other work on democracy. Both self-nominations and nominations of others are welcomed. In either case, email, phone, and postal contact information for the nominee must be included.

For more information on the nomination process, please visit http://democracyinstitute.la.psu.edu/awards/seeking-nominations-for-the-2016-penn-state-democracy-medal.

Good luck to all the nominees!

“Build the City”: The Critical Role of Art, Culture & Commoning

A new anthology of essays, Build the City: Perspectives on Commons and Culture, powerfully confirms that the “city as a commons” meme is surging. This carefully edited, beautifully designed collection of 38 essays shows the depth and range of thinking now underway.  The book was published by Krytyka Polityczna and the European Cultural Foundation in September as part of ECF's Idea Camp convening

Thinking about cities as commons is so compelling to me because it gives a structured framework for talking our moral and political claims on cities. It helps makes our entitlements as commoners visible, as well as the scourge of enclosure – two concepts that are not particularly welcome topics in respectable political circles.

The essays of Build the City celebrate the idea that ordinary people – tenants, families, artists, the precariat, migrants, community groups, activists – have a legitimate role in participating in their own city.  The metropolis is not the privileged preserve of the wealthy, industrialists, investors, and landlords. It is a place where commoners have meaningful power and access to what they need. In developing this theme, this book is a timely complement to the Bologna “The City as Commons” conference in November.

You can download a pdf of the book here – or you can order a hard copy here. Besides ECF and Krytyka Polityczna, the book is a collaboration with Subtopia (Sweden), Les Tetes de l’Art (France), Oberliht (Moldova), Culture2Commons (Croatia) and Platoniq (Spain), all of whom are partners in the action-research network Connected Action for the Commons.

If there is one recurring theme in this book, it is that commoners must devise the means for more open, inclusive and participatory models of democracy in cities – and that art and culture projects can help lead the way.

“Cultural initiatives that challenge the extremely individualized model of the world are worth closer attention,” writes Agnieszka Wiśniewska, a Polish member of the “Connected Action for the Commons” network, “as they may help us re-esetablish social ties and our trust in others.” The real challenge, then, is how to devise effective new structures that can empower commoners in improving governance, building social connection and democratizing power.

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to a well traveled hidalgo

This will be hard to explain, so please lie
Still and I’ll try to make it clear to you.
It may have been a normal day; perhaps
You were optimistic, out for a hunt.
Something happened, though–a fall from the saddle?
Boils, putrid breath, and fever? An axe?
Whatever it was, you were dead by day’s end.
(Every death comes before a day has ended.)
At least a few people were sorry enough
They had a huge monument made of you:
Sword in your hand, Pepe curled at your feet,
All in gilt and expensive blue tempera.
Come to think of it, they messed up the garments
A bit. Parts hang down as if you were standing;
Other parts lie flat as if you were prone.
Never mind; in all, it was resplendent.

Some of the rest is easy to relate.
Woodworms are responsible for all those holes.
There was a fire once. You would recognize
La Guerra Civil as a peasant revolt
With more than the typical body count.
Napoleon–he was sort of a Lombard
Who got himself crowned Emperor in Rome
And sent a Frankish army to sack Spain.
Columbus–well, let’s just say there’s another
Large country out west across the sea, yes,
Way west of Galicia, and a part
Of that is settled now by a kind of
Heretical Anglian peasant mob
Who like things like your monument. They bought it
Cheap, carted it over, and laid you out
To be labeled, walked around, and looked at.

Honestly, just one in ten look down, for
The pictures all around you are more vibrant
And hang conveniently at eye level.
Still, now and then a whole regiment
Will gather round, women in their midst, and point.
They know more of your time, Hidalgo, than
You did. They know the before and after
And the why of everything. You just inhaled
The loamy air, tasted salt from your lip,
Felt horsehair, and heard the crack of the whip.

A New Frontier: Book Publishing as a Commons

For authors and their reader-communities, has conventional book publishing become obsolete or at least grossly inefficient and overpriced?  I say yes -- at least for those of us who are not writing mass-audience books. The good news is that authors, their reader-communities and small presses are now developing their own, more satisfying alternative models for publishing books.

Let me tell my own story about two experiments in commons-based book publishing.  The first involves Patterns of Commoning, the new anthology that Silke Helfrich and I co-edited and published two months ago, with the crucial support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The second experiment involves the Spanish translation for my 2014 book Think Like a Commoner. 

Whereas the German version of Patterns of Commoning was published with transcript-Verlag, a publisher we consider a strong partner in spreading the word on the commons, for the English version, we decided to bypass commercial publishers.  We realized that none of them would be interested – or that they would want to assert too much control at too high of a price.

We learned these lessons when we tried to find a publisher for our 2013 anthology, The Wealth of the Commons.  About a dozen publishers rejected our pitches.  They said things like:  “It’s an anthology, and anthologies don’t sell.”  “It doesn’t have any name-brand authors.”  “It’s too international in focus.”  “What’s the commons?  No one knows about that.” 

It became clear that the business models of publishers – even the niche political presses that share our values – were not prepared to support a well-edited, path-breaking volume on the commons.

In general, conventional book publishing has trouble taking risks with new ideas, authors and subject matter because it has very small economic margins to play with.  One reason is that commercial book distributors in the US – the companies that warehouse books and send them to various retailers – take 60% of the cover price, with little of the risk. They are the expensive middlemen who control the distribution infrastructure. Their cut leaves about 40% of the cover price or less for the publisher, author and retailer to split. 

This arrangement means that book prices have to be artificially higher, relative to actual production costs, to cover all the costs of so many players:  editors, marketers, publicists, distributors, retailers.

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Democracy Schools — Lessons from Escuela Nueva

Democracy educators in the US have much to learn from the international Escuela Nueva or "New School" movement born in Columbia in the 1970s. This includes the simple -- but hugely disputed --lesson that it is possible to make large scale democratic change from inside the system, working outward to build coalitions.

My conviction grows from research I've done as part of my ongoing Bridging Differences discussion with Deborah Meier on Education Week. In her last blog, "Schools Are Democracy Sites, Not Chain Stores," Meier calls for discussion about what should be a publicly funded school "with democracy in mind."

"A society like ours with vast inequalities of power has trouble even imagining what a full democracy might entail," she writes. "I'm hoping for a conversation that might lead to greater agreement about what kind of democratic processes entitle a school to public funding. Name me a few you'd insist on, Harry (and friends). What's your short list of what shouldn't be allowed or what must be practiced in schools that rest on public resources--in the name of democracy?"

I responded today, December 22, with lessons I see from the Escuela Nueva movement. Meier's question raises related questions. "What is democracy?" Also, "How does the idea of democracy reawaken as an inspiring idea, far more than a trip to the ballot box?" Finally, "How can we achieve democratic change in education on a large scale?"

These are global questions since democracy is threatened around the world and education in many societies, including in the US, is mostly a hypercompetitive race for individual success.

Many are fatalistic, thinking real change just can't happen. I also see a problem in the anti-institutionalism and outside critic stance widespread among academics and intellectuals. Proponents of radical democracy in education from the late Paulo Freire to Henry Giroux and many others today think education is determined by capitalism and we won't get democracy in schools without society-wide revolutionary changes.

That's why the emerging movement for democracy schools called Escuela Nueva, or New School, is so important. It counters fatalism and also the anti-institutional mindset.

We need more details about this but the basic story is that the New School movement was launched in the 1970s by Vicky Colbert working with Beryl Levinger and Oscar Mogollon. Colbert studied at Javeriana University in Bogota and got a fellowship for graduate studies at Stanford. "I was exposed to wonderful theories," Colbert told Sara Hamdan for a New York Times article in 2013, "Children Thrive in Rural Columbia's Flexible Schools." (I'm sure John Dewey was on the list). "When I came back I wanted to work with the poorest of the poor schools, the isolated schools."

She became coordinator of rural schools for the Columbian Department of Education in the 1970s and with Levinger and Mogollon developed the New School model, finding support in rural communities. With growing evidence of its success, it became the main approach for rural education in the country and spread to a number of urban schools.

The New School model is based on democratic decision-making, active learning, and productive community work. Teachers, parents, and students have strong voice. David Kirp reported in another New York Times piece, "Make School a Democracy," last spring on his visit to a school in a low income neighborhood in the town of Armenia, Columbia. The student council was running a radio station, planning what to do with underutilized school spaces, and organizing a day set aside to promote peace.

Hamdan quotes Myriam Mazzo, a teacher in a single room school in Armenia, who says "the student is not afraid to speak or share ideas. He is participative, democratic, knows how to share and work in teams. Most important he can work at his own pace."

Students map their communities and bring their lessons to community members. Teachers use many local resources. Parents are active in the everyday activities of the schools. Their involvement, researchers find, impacts their parenting and their level of community involvement. There are core elements to the New School, such as the idea that teachers are more "guides" than instructors, but the approach adapts to the particulars of local communities and societies.

UNESCO reports the adoption of the approach in 20,000 schools in Columbia. According to the World Bank, students in the New Schools in Columbia outperform better-off students in traditional schools. A UNESCO study found that Columbia, where most rural schools use the model, does the best job of any Latin democracy in educating rural children. The Columbia Department of Education, the Clinton Global Initiative, UNESCO, and many other groups support the approach.

The movement has spread to 40 countries including Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Mexico, Uganda, Zambia, and Vietnam. Though New Schools have many resemblances to Scandinavian folk schools, to Jane Addams Hull House, to Dewey's "Schools as Social Centers," and to Central Park East schools in New York and Mission Hill Schools in Boston, the New School approach is largely unknown here. An exception is Kirp, a professor at UC-Berkeley.

From my perspective, the New School model shows that good organizing can produce large scale democratic change from the inside of systems, not simply from the outside. Colbert and her team built coalitions with government as a partner from the outset. The success of this approach challenges a great deal of conventional wisdom, both on the left and in community organizing.

The website for the organizing heart of the movement, Fundacion Escuela Nueva, has a wealth of resources and information. A web search turns up many more.

We need to begin learning. And debating the implications.