Learn from Iceland’s Deliberative Constitutional Change

We want to encourage our NCDD network, especially those in California, to consider registering to attend an intriguing event this June 3 at UC Berkeley called A Congress on Iceland’s Democracy. This international gathering aims to explore new approaches to democracy inspired by the deliberative process that Iceland used to create its new constitution through a mock legislative process, and we’re sure many NCDDers would take a great deal of inspiration from participating.
You can learn more about the gathering in the invitation letter below sent to the NCDD network from our friends at Wilma’s Wish Productions, whose Blueberry Soup documentary on Iceland’s constitutional transformation we previously posted about on the blog, or learn more at www.law.berkeley.edu/iceland.

A Congress on Iceland’s Democracy

We are writing to extend an invitation to an event we believe would interest you. On June 3rd, 2017, we are hosting a citizen’s gathering at the University of California, Berkeley.

This event will translate participatory discussion into concrete action proposals by organizing as a mock legislative body to develop, debate, and decide on proposals for moving forward with Iceland’s constitutional change process. The event’s structure takes inspiration from the 2010 Icelandic National Assembly and Robert’s Rules of Order.

This powerful summit will revolve around discussions on how to address the current political and social climate in the United States, using Iceland’s constitutional reform process as an example. Iceland’s new constitution was written in perhaps the most democratic way possible and we want to model this methodology and learn how it can be applied in communities across the United States and the world. Our goal is to create a non-partisan environment that will foster new approaches to democracy and a shared vocabulary.

Many prominent political figures from Iceland will be in attendance as well as many of the authors of the new constitution. Furthermore, academics, activists, startups, and journalists from all over the United States and Europe are also coming to participate in this “Icelandic National Assembly” style event.

This gathering of citizens has piqued the interest of people from all around the globe – a mass exodus of Icelanders and Europeans are flying in just to sit at these tables because they know real change is possible through dialogic methodologies. We hope this historic gathering will shape the way Americans think about democracy with a focus on the impact that dialogue can have on the democratic process on a local as well as global scale.

This conference aims to achieve exactly what many of you have dedicated your life to – reimagining democracy and the way we converse with one another about tough issues. Your passion for dialogue and democracy in addition to your excellent facilitation skills makes me believe you would be a valuable asset to this event and an excellent voice for others to engage with.

We want a broad range of perspectives present at this event, so we invite you to register to attend this citizens gathering and participate in history as it is being made.

You can learn more about the Congress on Iceland’s Democracy at www.law.berkeley.edu/iceland.

2017 Frontiers of Democracy Conference Call for Proposals

We are happy to announce that once again, the Frontiers of Democracy conference organizers at Tufts University are accepting session proposals for their annual gathering. The 2017 conference will take place, as always, at the Tufts University downtown campus in Boston, this time from June 22nd – 24th.

The annual Frontiers of Democracy conference is a key gathering for our field that brings together leading deliberative democracy thinkers, public participation practitioners, and civic educators to explore ideas at the forefront of advancing democracy. NCDD’s leadership attends almost every year, and many of our members are staples of the conference, so mark you calendars to join us!

This year, the Frontiers gathering’s framing statement highlights the global rise in authoritarianism and the challenge it poses for continuing to expand democracy:

In 2017, the frontiers of democracy are threatened around the world. Leaders and movements that have popular support – yet are charged with being undemocratic, xenophobic, and illiberal – are influential or dominant in the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, South Africa, France, Britain, and the United States, among other countries. Meanwhile, many peoples continue to face deep and sustained repression. Social movements and networks are confronting this global turn to authoritarianism. Please join us for a discussion of what we must do to defend and expand the frontiers of democracy.

If this theme speaks to work you do or conversations you are eager to have, consider applying to host  workshops or learning exchanges of your own! You can find the form to submit proposals by clicking here.

More details about the 2017 gathering are forthcoming, so make sure to check back frequently to the Frontiers of Democracy conference website at http://activecitizen.tufts.edu/civic-studies/frontiers for news and updates. We look forward to seeing many of you there!

Missed Our “Democracy Machine” Confab Call? Hear it Now!

NCDD hosted another one of our Confab Calls last week, and it was one of our most engaging calls yet! We hosted a conversation with the dynamic duo behind the concept of the “Democracy Machine” and had a very lively discussion with nearly 40 participants about the possibilities and practicalities of building a massive, integrated, deliberative online commons. You really missed out if you weren’t there!

Confab bubble imageOur presenters were John Gastil and Luke Hohmann, who have been working together to outline the technical, organizational, and collaborative process that would be needed to begin to link and integrate the many existing online D&D tools and platforms to create a functioning digital public commons that could facilitate sustained deliberative engagement and send ongoing feedback to both government and citizens to improve how the public interfaces with the public sector. It’s hard to understate the enormity of this undertaking, but the Confab Call presentation and discussion with John and Luke was a great opportunity to wrap our heads around the idea and discuss its pros, cons, and potentials.

If you missed out on the call but still want to see and hear the presentation and conversation, then we encourage you to watch the recording of this Confab Call by clicking here. This Confab Call also had one of the most active discussions we’ve had in the accompanying chat box, and the great back and forth is also worth reading along with the presentation, so you can find discussion from the Confab Call’s chat by clicking here.

NCDD is proud to have supported John and Luke in taking another step in making the Democracy Machine a reality by hosting this first broader conversation on our Confab Call. As you can hear in the call recording, there is still a lot more work to do to make the idea feasible. But the next step that John and Luke have planned is to use their interactive session on building the democracy machine during our NCDD 2016 conference in Boston this October 14th-16th. They’ll be using the session to collect more feedback and ideas from leaders in the field and also to enlist collaborators for the future, so if you’re interested in being involved in their project, be sure to register for the conference today so that you can continue the conversation in person!

Source: Challenges to Democracy blog

If you are looking for a bit more background on the idea of a “democracy machine,” we encourage you to read about the basic concept in John’s recent post on the Challenges to Democracy blog or read his full essay, “Building a Democracy Machine: Toward an Integrated and Empowered Form of Democracy,” by clicking here.

Thanks again to John and Luke for relying on NCDD to help advance their ideas and for collaborating on this Confab Call! To learn more about NCDD’s Tech Tuesday series and hear recordings of past calls, please visit www.ncdd.org/confabs.

Innovations in Am. Government Award Accepting Applicants

We want to make sure that our members are aware of a great opportunity for recognition in public participation from Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation – one of our NCDD member organizations.

Ash logoThe Ash Center operates the Innovations in American Government (IAG) Awards Program and the Bright Ideas Initiative, both of which are aimed at recognizing creative and effective governance models and disseminating ideas about promising government practices or programs. We are positive that many of the programs and initiatives that our NCDD members work on every day would make great candidates for these honors, so we encourage you to nominate a program you know about or apply yourself!

The winners of the IAG Award are eligible for a $100,000 grant, and even the finalists are eligible for a grant of $10,000, so what do you have to lose? The deadline to apply is April 15th, so make sure you get started soon!

Both of these prestigious awards have a long history of recognizing leading innovations in governance. Here’s how the Ash Center describes the Innovations in American Government Award:

Since its inception in 1985, Innovations in American Government Awards has identified and celebrated outstanding examples of creative problem solving at the state, city, town, county, tribal, and territorial government level. In 1995, the Innovations Awards were expanded to incorporate innovations in the federal government. The Awards program accepts applications in all policy areas; from training employees to juvenile justice, recycling to adult education, parks to the management of debt, public health to e-governance, Innovations applicants reflect the full scope of government activity.

And here is how they describe the Bright Ideas Initiative:

…[I]n 2010 the Innovations Program launched a recognition initiative called Bright Ideas that serves to further highlight and promote creative government initiatives and partnerships so that government leaders, public servants, and other individuals can learn about noteworthy ideas and can adopt those initiatives that can work in their own communities.

Beginning with these Bright Ideas, the Innovations Program seeks to create an open collection of innovations in order to create an online community where innovative ideas can be proposed, shared, and disseminated.

For more details on eligibility requirements, selection criteria, or to apply for these awards, visit https://innovationsaward.harvard.edu/IAGAwards.cfm.

Good luck to all the applicants!

Good Engagement Can Be “Preventative Civic Health Care”

Long-time NCDD supporting member Larry Schooler penned a wonderful piece for the Challenges to Democracy blog run by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance & Innovation – an NCDD member organization – and it was too good not to share. In it, he points to the opportunity presented in the President’s recent call for more engagement and aptly compares our work to preventative health care for our democracy. We encourage you to read Larry’s piece below or find the original here.

Is The President’s Call For More Public Participation Within Reach?

Ash logoThis is America. We want to make it easier for people to participate.

Beyond the partisan divides around some of President Obama’s policy proposals lies a compelling thought: regardless of the policy outcome, give ordinary people safer access to the process. That is an achievable goal – as demonstrated by the many governments who have made it so.

For too long, government has made unrealistic demands of citizens when it comes to their participation. Initially, whole segments of the population could not vote or faced significant obstacles to registration – still an issue in some states. Meanwhile, the only choice many citizens had was to speak for no more than three minutes at a podium – often on live television, after hours of waiting, minutes before a vote.

At one city council meeting in Texas, a speaker at a public hearing asked (in a nearly empty chamber at 11 o’clock at night), “Will there be an opportunity to weigh in on this issue? “I believe you’re doing so now,” replied the mayor. “With any power?” she asked, to applause from fellow citizens and befuddlement from her elected officials.

At work, we don’t limit input to those who can make a speech right before we make a decision, and we shouldn’t impose that limit on the American people, either; that helps “the most extreme voices get all the attention,” as the President put it.

What do we expect when we ask citizens to sit as they would in church, court, or a college lecture, listening to elected officials opine from a dais on high? Only the bravest would openly and brazenly challenge a pastor, a judge, or a professor in those settings.

The changes in attitude the President describes may be hard for government to achieve, but that doesn’t prevent changes in process that would help produce rational, constructive debates, enabling us to listen to more than those who agree with us, and to give the average person more of a say. We should strive to ensure, after all, that those affected by a public policy decision can affect that decision. That’s not the case now in much of our country.

A multi-organizational coalition that included the American Bar Association, the National League of Cities, and the International City County Managers Association produced a set of tools to help make the President’s Dream a reality. Called Making Public Participation Legal, it sought to replace archaic regulations that drive governments to host public hearings rather than facilitate dialogue.

In cities across the country, governments have either replaced or complemented hearings with conversations.

Neutral facilitators help smaller groups of citizens with differing points of view talk to each other respectfully, with discussion guidelines that encourage people to respect points of view other than one’s own, focus on understanding rather than persuasion, and suspend judgment. Moderators even manage to get thousands of people into civil dialogue online through forums set up by local governments to discuss policy challenges.

Some communities even empower ordinary citizens to be the change they want to see in our process – by training them to host dialogue. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, citizen hosts from Portsmouth Listens held small conversations in people’s homes and resolved major political conflicts through constructive and structured dialogue.

Rather than expecting elected officials both to hold a point of view and to stay neutral among competing interests, many cities have empowered teams of citizen volunteers to facilitate policy discussions at cafes, schools, and houses of worship.

Perhaps most importantly, governments where these changes in public participation have taken hold have laid a solid foundation for change through guiding principles and, in many cases, dedicated personnel. Several organizations, including the International Association for Public Participation, have given governments templates for public participation principles, and more and more cities have community engagement coordinators, offices of neighborhood engagement, and the like.

Ultimately, this paradigm shift can yield more than just warmer feelings among Americans. Governments often spend millions dealing with the consequences of poor public participation – holding off-cycle recall elections, defending against lawsuits filed by aggrieved policy opponents, or even policing protestors.

In an age when we are trying to focus on preventive, ongoing health care rather than the much more expensive emergency room, shouldn’t we do the same for our politics?

Perhaps when Americans demand that their elected officials, from Congress to city council, give them chances to converse, rather than contend, we will achieve the President’s vision. Our civic health is ailing; most Americans don’t vote, let alone stay active in public life away from the ballot box, and many young adults are not leaving home with a firm understanding of civics or with the tools needed to engage in meaningful civic dialogue.

The cure will require all of us – and is well within our reach.

You can find the original version of this piece on the Challenges to Democracy blog at www.challengestodemocracy.us/home/is-the-presidents-call-for-more-public-participation-within-reach/#sthash.jWbgAiMZ.dpuf.

Davenport Launches Tool for Evaluating Gov’t Engagement

We were excited to hear the news last week that the team at the Davenport Institute – one of our NCDD member organizations – is launching a powerful new platform for government agencies to evaluate their own public engagement efforts and compare them to other cities or agencies. We commend the Davenport team on creating this needed tool. You can learn more about the tool’s launch in the press release below that we found on Business Wire, or read the original here.

The Davenport Institute Launches New Public Engagement Evaluation Platform

DavenportInst-logoThe Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy is pleased to announce the launch of a new tool to help cities and other local public agencies evaluate their public engagement efforts, the “How are WE Doing? Public Engagement Evaluation Platform.”

In a 2012 survey of California public sector officials regarding their views of public engagement, 85 percent of respondents said their “views on public engagement have changed since their careers began,” and 77 percent were “interested in hearing more about public engagement practices that have worked in other places.”

For almost a decade, The Davenport Institute has been researching, training, and consulting with public officials to improve the ways in which governments involve their residents in making tough policy decisions. This work has taken Institute leadership throughout California and across the country, learning about and teaching the latest techniques in effective participatory governance.

With a growing awareness of what constitutes effective public engagement, we continue to hear from many public leaders seeking a way to take a “30,000 foot view” of their government’s practices in this area. The “How are WE Doing? Public Engagement Evaluation Platform” is the product of these conversations, and of the committed participation of an esteemed group of California leaders.

It is designed to offer governments a lens through which they can evaluate their agencies public processes, and to give them the opportunity to apply for recognition of successful engagement. Cities, counties, special districts, agencies, and departments can apply for recognition at one of three levels of engagement:

  • Silver Engagement – the government is making genuine efforts to improve its engagement with residents and successfully meets at least 12 of the 20 criteria listed.
  • Gold Engagement – the government has successfully institutionalized resident engagement as part of its operational culture, meeting at least 15 of the 20 criteria listed.
  • Platinum Engagement – the government is a leader in the engagement field, earning this designation by meeting at least 17 of the criteria listed.

“How are WE Doing?” also offers a way of gathering data on how governments across the state, and eventually around the country, are doing collectively in their attempts to involve residents, data the Institute will make available to all participants in the platform.

The Davenport Institute would like to thank the following Advisory Council members who devoted their time and expertise to developing this platform:

  • Artie Fields, City Manager, City of Inglewood
  • Rod Gould, City Manager, City of Santa Monica
  • Ken Hampian, City Manager, City of San Luis Obispo
  • Dennis Donohue, former Mayor, City of Salinas.

To learn more about “How are WE Doing? Public Engagement Evaluation Platform” visit the homepage here or view the platform here.

For more information about The Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University, visit http://publicpolicy.pepperdine.edu/davenport-institute.

You can see the original version of this announcement on Business Wire at www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160215005664/en/Davenport-Institute-Launches-Public-Engagement-Evaluation-Platform.

Adding Finesse to Online Engagement Transitions in Gov’t

We encourage our members to check out this post from NCDD organizational member the Davenport Institute and their Gov 2.0 Watch blog on the ongoing transitions that local governments are making toward more online and responsive engagement – an important trend for our field to keep tabs on. Read more below or find the original post here.


Gov 2.0: Still A Head Scratcher

Eric Gordon of Governing’s City Accelerator lays out the challenge and opportunity that technology presents for public engagement:

This gradually building expectation that government should be responsive to residents is connected to much larger social trends: increased distrust in public institutions, a culture of connectivity prompted by the social Web, and increased expectations of social and responsive systems (think of all those apps in your pocket). In short, technology is motivating new expectations in customer service, and government is being called upon to meet those expectations. 

Recalling the journey newspapers like the New York Times made into Web-world in the late 1990s, he compares governments’ situation vis-à-vis technology today:

The big problems of e-government or Gov 2.0, despite not being fully realized, are relatively straightforward – take what is done offline and shovel it online so it can reach a baseline of efficiency. There is huge value in this, just as there was value for newspapers in initially moving content online. But the challenge now is getting beyond the shovel, and being able to recognize and confront that underlying mutation. We need to understand anew what people’s expectations are, what networks they exist within, and where and how people are empowered to take action. As the call to “do engagement” grows ever more intense, it is imperative that we not automatically reach for the shovel, but instead reach for the tool that’s right for the job (which may in some cases include a shovel).

 Read more at Governing.com, here.

You can find the original version of this Davenport Institute blog piece at http://gov20watch.pepperdine.edu/2015/12/gov-2-0-still-a-head-scratcher.

Open Gov’t Action Plan Holds Promise for D&D, Civic Tech

Just over a month ago, the White House released the third version of its Open Government National Action Plan that includes upwards of 40 initiatives to advance its commitment to “an open and citizen-centered government,” and we encourage NCDD members to take a look at it. While the plan covers a lot of ground, some of that ground is in our field, and that could mean opportunities to grow and deepen our work that we won’t want to miss.

The Open Government Action Plan is part of the White House’s involvement in the international Open Government Partnership (OGP), in which 66 countries participate as a way to “increase public integrity, enhance public access to information, improve management of public resources, and give the public a more active voice in government processes.” All of the goals of the OGP can be a boon to both the field of dialogue & deliberation as well as civic tech, so we encourage folks to take notice of the parts of the Open Government Action Plan that may pertain to your specific niche or even create new funding streams or partnerships that you can take advantage of.

For example, the White House’s plan includes a promise that it “will work with communities, non-profits, civic technologists, and foundation partners to develop new commitments that will expand the use of participatory budgeting in the United States,” so if you are thinking about trying PB as a part of your D&D work, now is the time!

For some more of an idea of what’s in the plan, read this snippet from the White House’s recent blog post on its release:

In the third Open Government National Action Plan, the Administration both broadens and deepens efforts to help government become more open and more citizen-centered. The plan includes new and impactful steps the Administration is taking to openly and collaboratively deliver government services and to support open government efforts across the country. These efforts prioritize a citizen-centric approach to government, including improved access to publicly available data to provide everyday Americans with the knowledge and tools necessary to make informed decisions.

We see this commitment to open and “citizen-centered” government as a direct result of the years of our field’s work and as a sign that now is the time to keep stepping up our contributions to better, more democratic governance at all levels. We encourage our members and others in the D&D and civic tech field to use this White House plan as a platform to continue moving forward in bigger and better ways!

You can find all the specifics of what’s in the report by downloading the PDF version of it at www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/final_us_open_government_national_action_plan_3_0.pdf.

We also encourage you to read the full version of the White House blog post on the report’s release at www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/10/27/advancing-open-and-citizen-centered-government.

$2.5M Grant Will Support Participedia & Democratic Innovation Research

NCDD is proud to be part of an international partnership of researchers and organizations that was recently awarded a $2.5 million grant that will be used to support Participedia – a democracy research project which is headed by two NCDD members – and the international coordination of research on global democratic governance innovations. Our own director Sandy Heierbacher has been advising the project, and this is great news for our field! We encourage you to learn more in the Participedia announcement below or to find the original here.

Global Research Partnership Awarded Significant Grant to Support Participedia

participedia-logoWe are in the midst of a transformation of democracy – one possibly as revolutionary as the development of the representative, party-based form of democracy that evolved out of the universal franchise. This transformation involves hundreds of thousands of new channels of citizen involvement in government, often outside the more visible politics of electoral representation, and occurring in most countries of the world.

In light of these fast-moving changes, a new global partnership has been awarded a significant grant to support the work of the Participedia Project. The Participedia Project’s primary goals are to map the developing sphere of participatory democratic innovations; explain why they are developing as they are; assess their contributions to democracy and good governance; and transfer this knowledge back into practice.

The 5-year, $2.5M Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) was awarded to the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions and the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. The SSHRC Partnership Grant will support the collaborative work of an extensive community of academic researchers, students, practitioners of democratic innovations, design and technology professionals, and others.

The project partners include eight Canadian universities and seventeen additional universities and non-governmental organizations representing every continent on the globe. (Please see below for a list of the project partners. Full lists of the project’s collaborators and co-investigators can be found here.) More than $1M of the Partnership Grant funds will be split among project partners to support student research and travel that will further the students’ learning, while also advancing Participedia’s mission. For their part, the project partners have collectively pledged an additional $2M in cash and in-kind contributions to the initiative.

Professor Mark E. Warren, the Harold and Dorrie Merilees Chair for the Study of Democracy in UBC’s Department of Political Science, co-founded Participedia in 2009 together with Professor Archon Fung, Academic Dean and Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Warren serves as Participedia’s project director and as principal investigator for the SSHRC Partnership Grant.

Shared online research platforms will make it easy for both experts and non-experts to gather information. The current beta platform at www.participedia.net has already facilitated the collection of close to 1,000 entries cataloging case examples of participatory politics; the organizations that design, implement, or support the cases; and the variety of methods used to guide democratic innovations.

Warren emphasizes the project’s ambitious goals, noting that “By organizing hundreds of researchers, the Participedia Project will not only anchor and strengthen the emerging field of democratic innovations, but also develop a new model for global collaboration in the social sciences.” Expectations for the Participedia Project’s outcomes include:

  • Innovative research platforms to enable extensive, decentralized, co-production of knowledge;
  • A deep and voluminous common pool of knowledge about participatory democratic innovations that will support a new generation of research and practice; and
  • Global and diverse communities of research and practice focused on participatory democratic innovations.

Partner organizations include the University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, InterPARES Trust, McGill University, McMaster University, Université de Montreal,  Simon Fraser University, University of Toronto, University of Toronto-Scarborough, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, Harvard University, the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy, Nanyang Technological University, the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, Peking University, Pennsylvania State University, Research College / University of Duisburg-Essen, Syracuse University, Tsinghua University, Universidade de Coimbra, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais,  University of Bologna, University of Canberra, University of the Western Cape, University of Westminster, and the World Bank Institute.

You can find the original version of this Participedia announcement at www.participedia.net/en/news/2015/10/01/global-research-partnership-awarded-significant-grant-support-participedia.