Author Archive

Is Your Public Engagement Benefitting from Good Process Design?

Jacquie Dale, PublicEngagement

181300777-300x199Wendy Graham of the University of Aberdeen says, “Researchers are from Venus, policy makers from Mars. Communicators are possibly from Pluto.” It can certainly seem as though we all come from different planets, and the goal of public engagement is to bring these languages together and hopefully develop some sort of Rosetta Stone of understanding. To ensure this happens effectively and meaningfully, considering the overall process design is crucial. An informed and well crafted process design gives both experts and “non-specialists” the opportunity to engage in dialogue and learn from one another.

Bridging the Gap Between Policy-Makers and Citizens

Jacquie Dale, PublicEngagement

In 2009, the city of Edmonton created a citizen panel to examine ways to invest municipal tax money. The panel was comprised of 49 randomly selected residents who met six times to discuss spending priorities. They had access to in-depth information, including budget documents, growth plans, and infrastructure issues. They really dug into this issue, and after the intensive process, they offered several recommendations to the City Council as they created the 2010-2011 budget. So often we feel disconnected from such high-level decisions. Citizen panels are a way to create a bridge between policy-makers and citizens.

Recognizing the Role, Benefit and Challenge of Emotion and Value Exploration in Deliberative Dialogue

Jacquie Dale, PublicEngagement

In 2012, the City of Edmonton, the Centre for Public Involvement (C PI), and Alberta Climate Dialogue (A BC D) collaborated to create a citizen dialogue and deliberation process focused on energy vulnerability and climate change. 56 citizens came together every Saturday for 6 weeks to provide advice and guidance to the City. This article is part of a seven-part series exploring some of the lessons learned about deliberative dialogue through the Edmonton Citizens’ Panel. The Energy Transition Strategy that incorporated the Panel’s recommendations was passed unanimously by Edmonton City Council in April 2015.

You can find the full working paper, written by Mary Pat MacKinnon, Jacquie Dale and Deborah Schrader, here: Looking Under the Hood of Citizen Engagement: The Citizens’ Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges.

While a critical purpose of deliberative dialogue can be to get citizen input on concrete and technical policy and program actions, it is understood that citizens are not expected to bring expert or technical knowledge to the table. Instead they bring their personal life experience and their values.

The Importance Of Emotion And Value Exploration

In most citizen deliberative dialogues, the role of values is crucial. For example, citizen a policy deliberation, citizens are often invited to deliberate on what values should guide government decision-making and what tensions between values need to be addressed. They then apply those values to the issue(s) at hand, including thinking through the trade-offs that people are willing to make for the collective good.

Deliberation on important issues that engage our values can be emotional (Gastil and Levine 2005; Fishkin 2006). Design needs to recognize this and make space for it. For the Citizens’ Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges we tried to make room for exploration of values and emotions in our session design.

Incorporating Values And Emotion Into The Edmonton Citizens’ Panel

One of the first activities on Day 1 of the Edmonton citizens’ panel asked participants to select a photo that represented their hopes, fears or concerns about being a panel member on the topic of climate change and energy resiliency. This gave a prominent place to feelings and emotions and explicitly made room for people to bring both their hearts and heads to the table.

We were concerned that people might be overwhelmed with the magnitude and complexity of the issues being dealt with (energy and climate challenges). So on the fourth Saturday, we addressed this directly with the help of an expert presentation on climate psychology, to encourage reflection on how emotions around climate change can thwart or advance action (Herr et al 2010; Goleman 2005).

The Challenges Of Incorporating Emotions And Values In The Edmonton Citizen Panel

It was clear that values and the use of values did not resonate with all panelists (though survey responses showed that most saw the benefit). This is not surprising as many of us do not explicitly think about or examine how we are living our values in the course of everyday life, even though the personal and public choices we make reflect different values.

Making values come alive in an authentic way is no easy challenge. Dialogue asks people to reflect on their lives and communities and the impact of the choices they make. This can be an emotional and demanding task, and also a disorienting one, especially when done within time constraints, such as in the Edmonton Panel. With more time to explore and analyze the overlaps between different values and divergent understandings of particular values, the exercise might have worked better.

Keeping the values aspect of the dialogue alive took consistent effort, as the technical nature and content heavy aspects of the Discussion Paper’s recommendations took centre stage in subsequent sessions.
For some panelists, an explicit overlay of values was challenging and led to frustration. However, the early work on values proved its worth, as panelists did continue to link their advice to a framework of values. The Panel’s final recommendations and report included four value-driven principles and a core set of four values: Sustainability, Equity, Quality of life, and Balancing individual freedom and the Public good.

A Balancing Act

The deliberative process needs to involve both the heads and the hearts of the citizen participants. Values guide our behavior and our attitudes, even though we aren’t called upon to examine them every day. During public deliberations it is difficult, but essential, for participant to identify and express the values they hold that are relevant to the issue so that we understand the underlying value code informing public decisions and how those values are reconciled when they pull us in different directions.

Public Engagement: Harnessing the Power of Policy Input and Community Mobilization to Create Change

Jacquie Dale, PublicEngagement

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Is the goal of your project to solicit public input into government policy, or is it to engage a community to inspire action? Which practitioners will be most effective at instigating change for this particular scenario – the one who can engage the public in thoughtful discussions on policy or the one who can expertly mobilize a community? Research shows that public engagement practitioners tend to lean towards one of these two inclinations; understanding the characteristics and strengths of these approaches can help you to match the best practitioner to your project.

Each Person Brings Something Different to the Table

Jacquie Dale, ProjectFacilitation, PublicEngagement

When we enter into any meeting, we are bringing with us our life and work experiences, our agendas, our biases, our hopes and our viewpoints about what should happen and how. This can create undercurrents that make it difficult for people to work productively or converse effectively. A goal of facilitation is to acknowledge these dynamics and create a safe space for individuals to exchange thoughts, ideas and learning.

Finding Clarity in Complexity: Edmonton Climate Change Panel Case Study

Jacquie Dale, PublicEngagement

In 2012, the City of Edmonton, the Centre for Public Involvement (C PI), and Alberta Climate Dialogue (A BC D) collaborated to create a citizen dialogue and deliberation process focused on energy vulnerability and climate change. 56 citizens came together every Saturday for 6 weeks to provide advice and guidance to the City. This article is part of a seven-part series exploring some of the lessons learned about deliberative dialogue through the Edmonton Citizens’ Panel. The Energy Transition Strategy that incorporated the Panel’s recommendations was passed unanimously by Edmonton City Council in April 2015.

You can find the full working paper, written by Mary Pat MacKinnon, Jacquie Dale and Deborah Schrader, here: Looking Under the Hood of Citizen Engagement: The Citizens’ Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges.

The Citizens’ Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges involved a partnership of government, researchers, and practitioners, and it dealt with complicated technical issues surrounding energy use and climate change. This mix of both structural and content complexity represented a “double whammy” of obstacles that called for some innovative approaches to achieving successful dialogue and deliberation.

A Complex Partnership

The Panel was a complex undertaking for many reasons. It was a partnership of three different organizations, with different organizational cultures, constraints, mandates, expectations and operational requirements. In addition, both Alberta Climate Dialogue and the Centre for Public Involvement are embedded and housed in the University of Alberta, meaning that contracting and research have to adhere to technical university practices.

Robust Support Team Needed To Facilitate Sessions

Deliberative dialogue requires intense conversation. The team required to support weekly, meaningful participant dialogue consisted of two lead facilitators, and a team of more than 30 small-group facilitators, note takers and runners, project support staff, resource people, and academic researchers. In addition, speakers, city staff, observers, and video recorders also had to be supported and managed, including the negotiation of conflicting requests and perspectives Coordinating this number of people added to the challenges of rolling out six full-day sessions with 56 citizens over eight weeks.

Appoint Team Project Managers To Improve Efficiency

Working together as a team of equal players sometimes meant that our decision-making processes were not as efficient as they needed to be. About two-thirds of the way into the sessions, we remedied this by having one of the senior Project Team members assume the role of overall Project Manager.

This role meant that one person could “run interference” as needed so that not all issues came to all team members, while ensuring that all essential components were getting done and that those who needed to be involved in decision-making were involved. This improved our functioning without losing the benefits of a multi-party collaboration. Having a single Project Manager, with authority, play this role from the beginning is highly recommended for complex deliberative dialogue projects.

Ensure Complex Issues Are Understood By The Participants

When it came to getting the Panel up to speed on complex environmental issues we employed a diversity of methods. Good design takes into consideration the practices and principles of adult education and citizen participation (Creighton 2005; Schwartz 2002). One key component of this is to recognize that adults learn differently than adolescents. As designers, it was important to incorporate a range of ways for people to work with and process information.

To this end, there was a range or ways used to provide/utilize information including written material, speakers, videos, and graphics. A lot of work was done visually, some of it with words (e.g. flipcharts or Post-it notes), some of it with images (e.g. the use of graphic recording in Session 5) and some of it with physical activities (e.g. getting panelists to position themselves in a physical space to align with the degree of agreement or disagreement on an issue or statement). Electronic keypads were a key visual tool for taking the pulse of the room anonymously on different issues and recommendations, allowing people to see where common ground was emerging. This transparency was important to maintain strong trust in the process and each other. Through strategic adult learning methods, we were able to ensure that the participants had a good enough understanding of complex issues for productive deliberation.

Finding Clarity In The Complexity

This case study revealed the effectiveness of appointing project managers, and using creative presentation methods to ensure that all participants understand complex topics from the outset. Deliberative-dialogue practitioners need to be flexible in both the design and implementation of their projects in order to meet the demands of both structural and issue complexity.

Benefitting from Practitioner and Researcher Collaboration

Jacquie Dale, PublicEngagement

In 2012, the City of Edmonton, the Centre for Public Involvement (C PI), and Alberta Climate Dialogue (A BC D) collaborated to create a citizen dialogue and deliberation process focused on energy vulnerability and climate change. 56 citizens came together every Saturday for 6 weeks to provide advice and guidance to the City. This article is part of a seven-part series exploring some of the lessons learned about deliberative dialogue through the Edmonton Citizens’ Panel. The Energy Transition Strategy that incorporated the Panel’s recommendations was passed unanimously by Edmonton City Council in April 2015.

You can find the full working paper, written by Mary Pat MacKinnon, Jacquie Dale and Deborah Schrader, here: Looking Under the Hood of Citizen Engagement: The Citizens’ Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges.

The Edmonton’s Citizens’ Panel on Energy and Climate Challenges was a team effort among three partners: Alberta Climate Dialogue (ABCD), the Centre for Public Involvement (CPI), and the City of Edmonton.

Both ABCD and CPI consist of researchers and practitioners. The researchers are largely embedded in an academic culture – studying and writing about deliberative dialogue, while the practitioners do dialogue work and are often paid (either as a consultant or as a staff) for this task. Researchers and practitioners have differences in culture, expectations, requirements and motivations. For example, researchers are required to undergo formal academic ethics reviews with specific standards and protocols (including consent forms, data collection tools and process evaluation questions, all of which require approval). Practitioners, on the other hand, typically develop evaluation forms that require clients’ approval but not usually legal or research ethics approvals.

Collaboration between these two sets of interests, expertise and organizational cultures and practices was not a given.

Challenges of Researcher–Practitioner Collaboration

For many of the involved researchers, the Edmonton Panel was both their first substantive public deliberative dialogue and their first opportunity to work with practitioners in implementation. Some challenges were concrete. For example, researchers were stretched when, at the close of sessions, the practitioners asked process-evaluation questions that had not been included in the formal surveys. The practitioners felt that these questions were important to quality design, giving panelists an opportunity to respond to the day’s activities, facilitation and agenda. Researchers did not see the merit of the questions and pushed back against conducting the “additional evaluations.”

Practitioners were challenged by moments when details got lost in communication. For example, at several sessions, practitioners were informed just before the panel got underway of the need to administer a particular research tool during that session. This forced practitioners to rework the session design and schedule in order to respect the commitment to finishing on time.

Other challenges were harder to identify. For example, there were differences in terminology and different understandings of what deliberative dialogue was e.g. theory vs practice. And these were highly nuanced differences that sometimes didn’t even become evident until deeper relationships were built.

Benefits Of Researcher–Practitioner Collaboration

Overall though the benefits outweighed the challenges, given the richness that the collaboration brought to the project. 
Speaking from the perspective of a practitioner, I was pleased to work with researchers who contributed important human and intellectual resources. For example, theoretical, reflective thinking around deliberation and what was being learned about climate change psychology challenged and propelled us, as designers, to refine some processes.

As practitioners, we have limited time to conduct research into these types of issues and questions, and we found it helpful to have access to the researchers’ resources.

The research component also proved to have a positive impact on both the City and the citizens on the panel. This reinforced the seriousness of the undertaking, increasing its value and the willingness of citizens to contribute their time, energy and commitment.

We also think practitioners have something valuable to share with researchers. With decades of practical experience, we have expert knowledge of group dynamics and are able to gauge what methods to use to respond to emergent needs.

An example of strengthened process design was our collective reflection on the value of including more ‘holistic’ methods and the resultant decision to use a technique called “soft-shoe shuffle,” in which participants move to a designated space in the room that aligns with their perspective or values. This technique takes the tension away from the expression of divergent opinions.

Although the differing perspectives of researchers and practitioners stretched everyone and required multiple panel design iterations, the combination of the practical with the theoretical resulted in stronger designs. Research on deliberative dialogue has great potential to strengthen the work of practitioners and improve the field overall but it does take collaboration to identify critical issues and to translate the research into useable practical knowledge.

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