Certain moments in history require dedicated and focused attention to critical decisions. I believe we’re living in one of those moments…when deliberative work can be incredibly important for short-term and long-term well-being of our neighbors and our country. This is the moment for which we’ve been prepared in our experiences, our research and studies, and our professional practices. Carpe diem, my friends! ‘Seize the day’ to revive our democratic resilience through thousands of networked, small-group conversations to inform our leaders with the values, hopes and expectations of all Americans.
Last November and again in May, research workshops at the Kettering Foundation focused on how online digital strategies could encourage and effectively network greater public engagement in our most critical political dilemmas. In both of these workshops, we reaffirmed our confidence that great strides have been made in dialogue and deliberation during the past quarter century. We have a remarkably rich and deep deliberative infrastructure in place for in big cities and small towns across the country. Our biggest challenge it seems is to coordinate highly diverse efforts and then to make sense of a huge and nebulous cloud of deliberative data.
As we consider dialogue and deliberation as a wide-spread national strategy in light of our rancorous political environment, I want to reiterate my belief that the National Issues Forums (NIF) and National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) communities are already well prepared for these conversations…with a diversity of practices giving many entry-points. Each practice is specifically suited to approach issues in a unique way, so participants with different personalities and small-group comfort levels can add their values, hopes and expectations to a composite view of public opinion. It’s like a room with many doors…it doesn’t matter how you get in, it matters that you’re included in the deliberative room.
Some conversations among NCDD practitioners recently seem to be leaning toward a one-methodology approach to a national conversation. While I don’t really want to be a wet-blanket about this approach, I do believe the development, management and coordination requirements of such an effort would make it too costly, too slow and too complicated, when we already have a wealth of deliberative professionals and volunteers who are trained and ready in their preferred disciplines.
I believe we need to encourage all deliberative disciplines to focus their attentions on our economy, jobs, wealth distribution and long-term economic sustainability. Each discipline can frame and conduct these conversations in whatever ways they find to be appropriate. It would probably be healthy to have many different frameworks for these deliberative conversations, so many people from all political, ethnic, geographic, and ideological backgrounds can find a place in a small-group somewhere.
But then…here’s a huge need, but one I’m sure we can meet with imagination and innovation: once these diverse disciplines inspire conversations across the country on these topics, how can we then gather the highlights and agreements in a meaningful and persuasive cloud of values and desires? This is already a huge challenge with deliberative efforts working at just a tiny fraction of its true capacity. If we can somehow increase this capacity to meet the needs of our current political environment, we’ll clearly need some new technological tools to make sense of all the data we’ll need to process.
Any thoughts? How should we encourage and inspire participation in public engagement at this critical time? How can we network all disciplines in some semblance of focus as the public hopes for more opportunities to speak? How can we recognize the patterns of common ground that already exist but elude detection? It’s time to meet these challenges…as we embrace our deliberative ‘carpe diem’ moment.