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.