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Mar 25th
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Tunisia, the First Arab Country to Implement PB

Tunisia, the First Arab Country to Implement PB

An interview with Bedis Bouziri

by Daniel Schugurensky

Since the Jasmine revolution of January 14, 2011 that sparked the Arab Spring, Tunisian social and political life has changed considerably. After 23 years of the brutal and corrupt regime of General Ben Ali, the people of Tunisia started to experience the basic preconditions of a democratic state for the first time. Among them are freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and political pluralism, including competitive elections. The intense fear that characterized the 1987-2011 period was suddenly replaced by a general enthusiasm to rebuild government at the state and local level and to promote democratic institutions and practices. Some of this enthusiasm was translated into action with the election of parliament and a head of state, the peaceful transition of power and the promulgation of a new constitution that devotes several articles to decentralization and participatory democracy. Decentralization is an important issue in Tunisia. As Bedis Bouziri points out in our conversation, municipalities have so little autonomy that they cannot even make decisions about sewage or speed bumps.

Things are slowly starting to change, one step at a time. In 2014, Tunisia implemented participatory budgeting projects in four municipalities: La Marsa, Menzel Bourguiba, Tozeur and Gabès. The residents of these four municipalities proposed 63 projects, and after a process of deliberation 29 of them were voted for implementation. To the best of our knowledge, with these four projects Tunisia has become the first Arab country to undertake participatory budgeting. On the evening of Sunday, May 17, after the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, Decentralization and Participation celebrated at Carthage University, I had the opportunity to talk with Bedis Bouziri, who volunteered as facilitators of the participatory budgeting of La Marsa in its first cycle in 2014 and again in the second cycle that is taking place in 2015. La Marsa is a coastal municipality of 110,000 people located near the capital city of Tunis. Like most Tunisians, Bedis is fluently bilingual in Arabic and French, but he also speaks Spanish and English. Our conversation flowed from English to Spanish to French, but the final transcript of the text is entirely in English.

Bedis, how did you become involved with the participatory budget of La Marsa?
I have been actively involved in local civil society since the beginning of the 2011 revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Ben Ali.  I am a member of a local association that is devoted to improving the quality of life in our neighborhood. This association is called Action Citoyenne Marsa-Corniche (ACMC), because Marsa-Corniche is the name of our neighborhood. Our association was selected and then invited, along with other associations of other districts, to be part of the first four Participatory Budgeting processes in Tunisia.


Who invited your neighborhood association?
It was a local NGO [non-governmental organization) called Action Associative. This NGO is new. It started in 2012, after the revolution. Its main mission is to promote local development, increase capacity building efforts, and contribute to improve the relationships between citizens and the state, all within a general framework of a defense human rights values. This NGO was in charge of introducing the PB process in La Marsa and in three other cities. I was part of the team of facilitators that worked in La Marsa.


How many facilitators worked in La Marsa?
There were seven of us.


Did you and the other PB facilitators receive any training?
Yes, we were trained by Action Associative to be able to accompany the process with the citizens of La Marsa.  


How long was this training?
There were three sessions that usually lasted half a day, sometimes the entire day, and then we were put into action, to continue developing our skills in the PB process itself, learning by doing.


What was the training about?
We started with general information about participatory budgeting, starting with historical background: how it was born in Brazil in the late 1980s, how it spread to Latin America, Asia, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. We also watched a video on the PB experience of Cotacachi in Ecuador. This film was very inspiring. It showed common citizens -most of them members of indigenous communities- talking about their experience in the PB process. They explained how they were marginalized in the past and how with PB they felt respected by the municipality and included in the national community. This was very relevant to our situation in Tunisia. Another topic of the training was how to cope with uncivil behavior that could prevent good deliberation, such as people speaking loudly on their phones during the meetings. A related topic was how to deal with conflict situations, tense moments that you could experience when citizens are angry against the municipality.


Were there other elements in your training?
We made several role-playing exercises in which we were put in real situations like we are members of the municipality and then some citizens accuse some of us of having been part of the ancient regime, the old nomenklatura…


Do you mean part of the Ben Ali government?
Exactly. Things like that, or as I just said, playing with the phone, and we had to learn how to address those situations to reduce the tension and keep the meeting flowing. Another theme was how to organize the structure of the ideas for projects proposed by citizens in order to avoid duplication of projects and how to present the projects in a way that everybody could see. They also explained to us how citizens were going to elect their representatives to the municipal council. They told us that each neighborhood was going to be three delegates to monitor the implementation of PB decisions: one youth representative, who could be male or female, one representative for women, and one representative for the adults.


What age range was considered youth in this process?
From 18 to 30 years old.


Did you feel ready to facilitate the process after the training?
Well, at the beginning we did not act as facilitators. Once the training was completed we started the process and the folks from the Action Associative facilitated the meetings and we helped as assistants to them, progressively taking more autonomous roles as the process moved forward. Now we are in the second year and we carry out the entire PB process ourselves, because the no longer have the support of the NGO.


Why don’t you have the support of the NGO nowadays?
Because the role of Action Associative is to start PB processes and support them for the first year, and after that we are expected to continue on our own. This way, the NGO can spread PB in other places. In fact, this year Action Associative went to initiate PB processes in three other cities. One of them, Sfax, is the second largest city in Tunisia. That is going to be a big project and they will need to put lots of time and energy there.


Let’s talk about the process. How was the first meeting with the community?
It was held on a Saturday. Citizens gathered in a space of the municipality to listen to the technical explanation about the city budget: how it works, the difference between the investment budget and the operational budget, and how the budget is divided among different items like roads, lights, parks, rainwater, and so on. Then, we explained that for participatory budgeting we were going to focus on public lighting.


Why did you focus on public lighting?
Because the municipality decided that this was the first item to be discussed in PB. Given that this was the first experiment, they thought that this was the easiest topic for the citizens to understand and to manage.

Was this the biggest priority in the community?
Not really. The biggest one – especially in the poorer areas – is sewage, but for some strange reason sewage is not part of the responsibilities of the municipalities. Sewage is the responsibility of a national agency that is under the Ministry of the Environment.


Bedis, are you saying municipalities in Tunisia cannot make decisions on sewage? This is unusual…
Yes, sewage is out of bounds. The same happens with the seashore. Municipalities cannot intervene because it is the responsibility of a national agency of protection and management of coasts. And there is more. Municipalities cannot deal with woods and forests, because this is the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture. I can give you other examples: municipalities have no say on major highways, because they belong to the Ministry of Infrastructure. They have no say on building codes, because this is the prerogative of the Ministry of Interior. Municipalities cannot build new schools, because this is the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education.  Even speed bumps are beyond the control of municipalities; they belong to the Ministry of Infrastructure. For this reason we have a saying in Tunisia that goes “municipalities are good for collecting garbage”.


This saying is telling. Seriously, can municipalities do something else beyond collecting garbage?
They are authorized to do a few more things, but not much. In addition to garbage they can do public lights and minor roads. The truth is that municipalities in Tunisia have little power.


Why is that?
We were a French colony from 1881 to 1956, and we are modeled after the French model that is highly centralized. In the French tradition Paris dominates everything. Since independence, authority in Tunisia has been centralized as well. It was done in purpose, to limit the power of the rank and file. Dictatorships tend to favor authority and control in their governance models.


So, in retrospect, do you thing that lighting was a good choice for the first PB?
Yes, I think so. There were not many other options.

What was the priority for the second year?
Roads, and in this case the citizens themselves chose this theme. The second year, the municipal government decided to leave to citizens the choice of the second cycle.


How did the process work in La Marsa?
We met during weekends, in the afternoon. The meetings were three to four hours long. The Saturday meetings were more technical and informative. The Sunday meetings were more deliberative and decision-oriented. In the Saturday meetings people learned about the issues that would be going to be discussed on Sunday. It was like an introduction to the subject. On Sunday participants proposed, discussed and chose concrete projects for their communities.


What is the general profile of the participants, considering factors like gender, age and social class?
In terms of gender, we have an even participation of men and women.  In terms of age, young people are usually underrepresented, and retired people are overrepresented, probably because they have more spare time. In terms of social class, it depends on the district. In the poorer districts we have a majority of low-income participants, and in more prosperous districts the majority of participants could be characterized as middle class.


How were the first meetings? I ask because it is my understanding that due to the history of authoritarian regimes Tunisia does not have a strong deliberative tradition.
Yes, the first meetings were tense because people did not come to discuss peacefully and engage in public deliberation. They came to complain against the municipality and to attack municipal staff.


What were the criticisms about?
They accused the municipality of mismanagement, of patterns of discrimination in resource allocations that reinforced existing inequalities, and so on.


From your perspective, were those criticisms legitimate?
Yes, because historically the government has tended to favor the wealthier neighborhoods where the affluent people and the businesses are located.


So, the Saturday meetings were originally intended for information but ended up being more confrontational than expected?
Yes, particularly in poor neighborhoods. Instead of focusing on technical information about budgets or about lighting the meetings became a space for citizens to voice their discontent about issues of unfairness and mismanagement, and not feeling being respected by authorities.


Were the Sunday meetings different?
For the most part, the Sunday meetings were more peaceful, collaborative and solution-oriented.
At the Sunday meetings the municipality was not supposed to be present – or at least actively present – because it was expected to be a safe space for the community to deliberate and make decisions. Sometimes there were some members of the municipality, be they elected or appointed officials, but they were in the background, in case there was any question.  Occasionally we had some problems when some residents who came to the Sunday meetings had not attended the Saturday meeting and lacked basic information about the rules of the game. For instance, these residents complained to us: “Why are you choosing lighting as a priority when our main problem is sewage?” They didn’t know that the municipality had no jurisdiction over sewage because they had not attended the Saturday meeting, so we had to explain our institutional constraints again.  Sometimes residents attacked facilitators, accusing us of not being members of the local community; they didn’t know some of us because we live in different neighborhoods. Over time, they started to trust us and learn that we were genuinely interested in helping the community, without any further political or economic interest.  


Did this increase in trust translate in more participation as time passed by?
Yes. During the first year we had relatively smaller meetings, with an average of 30 people per session. This year, which is our second cycle, we have larger meetings, ranging from 40 to 150 participants per meeting.


It seems that many citizens used the rare opportunity of meeting with the municipality to raise their grievances about perceived injustices and vent their anger about unresolved issues. How did you deal with this situation as a facilitator?
It was not easy, but we tended to use the Saturday meetings for the citizens to express all their frustrations, to channel their anger.  It was much like going to therapy. Once they had expressed their frustration and conveyed their criticisms, on Sunday we tried to build something. Our line at the beginning of the Sunday meetings was something like this: “yesterday we dealt with the past, today let’s start to build together our future”.


How did participants respond to that call?
Well, this is an interesting point. Because we have been under a dictatorship for over 50 years, and before that we were a colony, we are not used to make decisions in an associative way. Here in Tunisia we are used to a top-down model of decision-making in which others make decisions for us.  Then, suddenly people were invited by the municipal government to decide which projects should be implemented in their district, and at the beginning it was difficult for people to realize that it was even possible, because it was not part of our past experience in this country. On Sundays we asked them to gather in small groups and propose projects that would be good for their communities, and at the beginning they were confused because they were not used to this type of situation. This was all new for them.


What was the size of the small groups, and what did they do?
Every circle had 5 or 6 people; they discussed different possible projects and then a spokesperson presented their 3 or 4 top projects to the assembly and explained why they believed that those projects were important. Once the small groups presented their proposed projects to the rest of the group, all the citizens who were present at the meeting were invited to vote for the top projects.


What types of projects were proposed, and which ones were the most voted ones?
Although some people proposed lighting projects that would benefit only a few residents in one street, most participants proposed projects that were more oriented towards the common good. One project, for instance, was about lighting in a street near a school building, because children need to walk safely from school when it is dark. Another project proposed to put lights in a park that was unsafe in the evening because there was some drinking and criminal activity going on. Another project was to illuminate a major avenue that had intense traffic and regular pedestrian accidents. I remember another lighting project proposed by a neighborhood that is located in a hill and has long stairs that were dangerous in the darkness. Another group proposed to put lights outside a public bath that women use some evenings. Overall, all of the 15 projects that were approved in La Marsa were common interest projects.  Very few people proposed private interest projects, and very few people voted for them.


What did they do after they voted for the different projects?
Then each district voted for three delegates to follow up on the implementation. This process was similar in each one of the five districts of La Marsa, which means that there are 15 delegates.


Are the delegates there to address issues of mistrust?
To a large extent, yes. The main role of the delegates is to scrutinize that the projects that were approved by the citizens’ assembly are really implemented. This is important because it increases transparency and accountability. In addition, the delegates have other roles, like acting as a link between the municipality and the community, making sure that there is a good flow of communication between them during the implementation phase.


What were some of the main challenges you faced as a facilitator?
I remember a very bad experience in a poor neighborhood where the police killed some residents in 2011 during the uprising against Ben Ali. Our meetings were disturbed by people who come as provocateurs to reject us and to attack us. They were only four or five of them, but they were very angry and very loud. They said that we had a political agenda. They were very confrontational. We let them vent for twenty minutes, and at that time we realized that we needed to come up soon with a creative solution to diffuse the conflict because it could have escalated and turned violent. There was a lot of screaming in that room, and the meeting was jeopardized because some participants who wanted to contribute to the process and improve their communities started to leave the room. It was a difficult situation for us as facilitators.


And what did you do?
We took a stance and said to the assembly that if that dynamic continued we would have to cancel not only the meeting but also the entire process for that district, and that meant that they could not select any project and could not send any representatives to the municipal council, unlike the other four districts which were selecting projects and representatives. After we made that statement, we explained that we as facilitators had nothing to lose, that they were the ones who were going to lose, not us, and that we could continue the process with the other four districts.  Then, we did something that proved to be very effective. We started to ask individually each participant who was listening patiently to all this screaming: do you want to work on this? If they said ‘yes’, we asked them to start forming a circle and begin to work, and then several circles were formed. Once the circles started to work, those who were shouting joined the circles, and after that the process move forward very well, and at the end they selected their top projects and elected their representatives.


How was the voting process?
The vote was secret. We had ballots for the different projects, and a ballot box. Only the people who participated in the meeting were allowed to vote.


What are, in your view, the main accomplishments of this initial PB process in Tunisia?
In my opinion, the first one is the feeling of citizenship, the feeling that your voice counts. At the meetings we had poor people without formal education, we had young people without an understanding of what is a community, suddenly becoming involved in the management of their neighborhood. You see, nobody before asked for their opinion, nobody asked them before to be involved in a decision-making process. They never had any decision-making power about their local community. I think that we initiated a change in mentality and in our culture. We are seeing people becoming involved in the public life of their communities, they not only feel concerned about problems, but they also feel that they are part of the solution. We are sparking more interest in public affairs. This is an important issue, because we had high rates of abstentionism in our last elections.


A second important accomplishment was that the process of choosing the projects and selecting the delegates was predicated on a democratic process. This is important because it demonstrates that democracy is not an abstract concept but something that can be implemented everyday and everywhere. It also shows that democracy is not anymore the privilege of the elites. Participatory budgeting was an exercise that helped people become more familiar with the idea of democracy. If we think in terms of Tunisia, where democracy just started in 2011, this is a significant contribution. Participatory budgeting is a plus for the idea of democracy because it becomes very practical, as it relates to everyday life.  The challenge now is how to make a democracy more sustainable, because citizens are experiencing it first hand.


A third accomplishment is that people are developing a feeling of empowerment because now they know that they can make a difference. They chose the projects and the delegates, and they are following with attention the implementation of the approved projects on the ground. Eventually they can transfer this sense of empowerment to other topics and other settings. I believe that participatory democracy is the best way to institutionalize democracy because it is a bottom up process that starts with the people.


A fourth good outcome is that participatory budgeting is bridging the gap between citizens and the administration. Now there is a more regular and fluid flow of information in both directions. I should clarify that this is happening now, in the second year, but did not happen before, in the first year of PB, because at that time the technical staff was missing, and people did not have the chance to interact with them.


Were only politicians at the meetings representing the municipality?
Yes, usually designated officials attended the PB meetings, normally the mayor and vice-mayor. Their presence was important because it showed the political will of the government to support the process, but during the meetings we noticed the need to have technical staff at hand when people had specific questions about issues like regulations, legislation, or the feasibility of some projects.


Do you have an example to illustrate the contribution made by technical staff?
Sure. Before the technical staff came, citizens chose their projects without any knowledge of technical, legal or institutional impediments. The mayor and vice mayor were there to represent the municipality, but they hold political and administrative positions, not technical positions, and don’t have specific knowledge about potential problems that some projects may face.  Now the technical staff participate in the process and advice on whether projects are feasible or not.  When the technical staff says that a project cannot be done, the delegates engage with them. An example was a proposal to asphalt a road in an area where there is no sewage network. It was not advisable to pave that road because later on we would need to break the road to bring the sewage and pave it again, so it would be double work, and it would be a waste time and money. So the community decided to wait for the sewage before paving, and to make pressure on the federal agency to put the sewage network. The information provided by the technical staff help the citizens to understand the situation and to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. The delegates learn why some projects are not feasible and they inform their communities, and that will reduce frustration and anger. People are becoming more informed and understand better the real cost of projects. I will give you another example. One road that was selected for pavement is in very bad conditions because it is close to a construction company and it suffers the impact of heavy trucks, cement mixers, and construction machinery. Through PB we learned that normally a paved road lasts approximately six years but in this case after only one year it needs to be repaved again. So, in that road we will need to put more asphalt so it can last longer.  The implication is that it will be more expensive to pave this street than other streets, and now people know about these issues. People were surprised about the cost of projects. Well, to summarize my point, PB makes people more knowledgeable and brings closer together citizens and government.


Are there instances in which knowledge flows in the other direction, that is, when government learn new things from the citizens?
Yes, sometimes it happens. One day we invited to the PB meeting some experts on solar energy to explain the benefits of solar energy. The citizens at the meeting learned that the energy that comes from the sun is free, and we all knew that sunlight is abundant in Tunisia, so solar energy seemed like a desirable option to pursue to public lighting. And here is something interesting: at that meeting we learned from the experts that the national office in charge of promoting renewable energy provides incentives for solar energy. This agency subsidizes up to 20% of the projects. This means that the municipality would only pay for 80% of the total costs. I said that this is interesting because the people at the municipality did not even know about the existence of these incentives. So now several projects of public lighting are going to use solar energy.


This example suggests that PB can bring new ideas to the table, ideas that can provide more creative and efficient solutions to community problems. Could this be considered as another accomplishment of PB?
Yes, this can be seen as another accomplishment of PB. City officials themselves have limited information and knowledge, and civil society can make important contributions if we establish the proper channels. The city officials didn’t know about the incentives from the national office, and they learned about them from PB. We never had any project of solar lighting in La Marsa before, and now, thanks to PB, we are going to have some. This is good for the government of La Marsa, good for the people of La Marsa, and good for the environment.


Would you say that now citizens have more trust of the municipal government?
Not yet. Building trust takes time, especially after many decades of mistrust. This will be a long process. This year is the time of implementing the decisions made at last year’s PB. Delegates are checking that the approved projects are under implementation. Trust will increase when people see the real projects on the ground. Until then, people are waiting to see if this is for real. There have been many promises that were not delivered and many funds that have been misappropriated in the past, so it will take time to build trust.


Do you think that the delegates who monitor the implementation phase play a key role in building this trust?
Yes, they do, but the problem is that the administration is not always open to them. For the most part it is impermeable to the delegates. According to the rules of PB there is an expectation that delegates are integrated into the teams responsible for the projects, but many times they are not included in those teams. It may be due to tradition or to other reasons, but the technical process is still controlled by the municipality without much involvement by the delegates. Hopefully this will change in the future.


How are you doing on your own these days, without the support of the NGO?
Well, in the second year we learned to be autonomous, to use the lessons learned during the first year. Now we are on our own, and the success or failure depends on us. We are all volunteers, but we are really committed. Fortunately now the municipality has appointed a woman in the area of communications who is in charge of coordinating the PB processes in the different districts of La Marsa. She is our channel of communication with the municipality, and in the second round there is a good collaborative relationship between the municipality, the facilitators and the delegates. We have an ad hoc committee formed by this woman representing the municipality, some facilitators, and some delegates. This ad hoc committee has a weekly meeting every Wednesday afternoon. At this meeting we make operational decisions and solve basic problems like printing flyers or plan a community outreach with loudspeakers. The nice thing about this collaborative space is that it is horizontal. There is no leader, and we rotate responsibilities.


Any plans for the near future regarding PB?
From a local perspective, we would like to spread PB to other municipalities near to La Marsa. We could invite representatives from the other cities to come to La Marsa to observe our process, and we could also go to those cities to provide advice during the initial stages. From a larger picture perspective, we want to operationalize article 139 of the new national constitution. This article says that all local authorities must implement participatory democracy processes. In addition, in 2013 the ministry of interior circulated a memorandum to all municipalities encouraging them to engage with citizens through participatory initiatives. We would like to have a law based on article 139 to make participatory budgeting compulsory in all municipalities. Now PB is not mandatory; it is up to each municipality to do it or not. Our idea is to convince the assembly of representatives in the parliament that a law for making PB compulsory would be a positive development.  They need to understand that citizens are not a problem; they are part of the solution.


Daniel Schugurensky is a professor in the School of Public Affairs and in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, where he is co-director of the Participatory Governance Initiative.


Deliberative Publicity

Deliberative Publicity

by Chris Karpowitz and Chad Raphael

Why should anyone who does not attend a deliberative forum trust that it was run fairly and that its conclusions are sound? Sure, we know from ample research and our own experiences that practitioners of public deliberation are committed to discovering an authentic public voice and wise solutions to social problems. But even in a world with many more opportunities for deliberation, the vast majority of citizens will not attend any given forum. Those who do not attend cannot directly experience the benefits of deliberation, and they may not fully understand what such forums add to the political discourse or how much credence they should give to what happens there. How do practitioners communicate effectively and ethically to decision makers, stakeholders, journalists, and community members who do not participate in our forums? This is the challenge of publicity.

It is a challenge the field needs to confront squarely. Most civic forums are recent arrivals on the political scene and so their authority and legitimacy are less widely accepted than established kinds of public consultation and decision making, such as polls, hearings, and elections. If the unique kind of civic voice that emerges from dialogue and deliberation is to influence other parts of the political system, we need to find better ways to express and amplify that voice. It is primarily through publicity that policy makers and the public can assess forums’ legitimacy and decide whether to accept their conclusions. In that sense, effective publicity can be the glue that binds deliberative forums to the wider structure of political decision making. And, like other professional and civic movements, the field of dialogue and deliberation needs to distinguish ethical and unethical practice, separating the many forums that genuinely seek the public’s voice from the few that aim to ventriloquize citizens with the opinions of sponsors or organizers.

In our view, the goal should be the practice of deliberative publicity, which ought to be distinct from political public relations, on the one hand, or sensationalistic forms of journalism, on the other. The key is to adapt the principles of good deliberation used within forums to how we communicate with others outside the forum. For example, an important question is whether the publicity exhibits respect for deliberators’ arguments, expressing their conclusions clearly and explaining coherently how their positions were supported by underlying reasons, evidence, and norms. In addition, does publicity present the opposing views that participants considered and treat them respectfully? Does it practice transparency by revealing who sponsored and organized the forum, and their organizational missions? Effective publicity will also share ample details about the design of the forum, its intended influence and audience, how it was evaluated, and whether participants were asked to ensure the fidelity of the publicity to their own experience of the discussion.

As a way of highlighting these important questions, we composed a “deliberative publicity checklist” (seen below) that could serve to remind both scholars and practitioners of important elements of deliberative publicity. The checklist provides guidance about the kind of information that will be needed for those who did not attend the forum to understand its purposes, the processes of deliberation, and the policies that deliberators ultimately endorsed. In our recent book, we elaborate on each element of legitimate deliberative publicity and we explore other possibilities for improving lines of communication between civic forums and other institutions of public decision-making.

We also took a first step toward understanding how civic forums currently practice publicity by examining how well the final reports of a diverse sample of forums met the criteria in our checklist. The sample included large and small forums of long and short duration, well-funded and shoestring efforts, a variety of designs (National Issues Forums, consensus conferences, etc.), diverse organizers (academics, governments, and NGOs), multiple decision rules (voting, polling, consensus), and different levels influence and governance (national, state, and local). While our principles are intended to inform publicity at each stage of a forum, we studied final reports because organizers have direct control over such materials, unlike the content of news media stories, these reports are typically the fullest summary of what happened at a forum, and it is likely that policy makers pay greatest attention to these documents.

None of the forums we analyzed met every criterion in our checklist, and in that sense, our analysis shows considerable room for improvement. Some reports did not clearly express participants’ conclusions, but more reports failed to explain why deliberators supported some policy steps and rejected others. That should be surprising to people who value civic reasoning. Many reports omitted important details about how the forum was conducted, such as who organized and funded it, how issues were framed for participants, decision-making rules, and whether participants thought the process was fair. That should give pause to people who are aware of the potential influence of forum designs on participants’ views. Very few reports shared evaluation data or information about whether the participants approved of how their arguments and experience were presented publicly. That should concern anyone who knows that we need to dispel suspicions, especially among interested stakeholders, that forum organizers stack the deck in favor of our own views.

However, almost every report practiced some element of publicity well, and we found many innovative and promising practices that deserve to be emulated in the future. This suggests that those who value deliberation are fully capable of practicing effective deliberative publicity. Indeed, the spotty coverage we found is in part a result of the absence of common standards and practices for publicity. Given this fact, we are calling for a conversation about the challenge of publicity and renewed focus on sharing best practices among scholars and organizers of deliberative civic forums. We hope the publicity checklist can be a way of beginning this conversation.

Importantly, a commitment to effective publicity does not necessarily require us to write endless public reports that are too daunting for anyone to read. We found no relationship between length and comprehensiveness of reports. In fact, one of the better examples of publicity around today is the Oregon Citizens Initiative Review Commission statements, published in the state’s official voter pamphlet, in which citizen panels advise the public on whether to support proposed ballot measures. These statements fulfill almost every item on our checklist in 250 words or less.

By the way, we did not spare ourselves the scrutiny we turned on others’ publicity. A report of a forum on municipal broadband that one of us conducted and the other evaluated several years before our study scored well on summarizing participants’ recommendations and reasons, but neglected to report even a shred of the evidence that influenced their views. Nostra culpa.

Undoubtedly, we all have more to learn about how to practice deliberative publicity.

How can we build on good examples, like Oregon’s Citizen Initiative Review Commission, to improve publicity by forums that do not have as powerful a means for communicating their work to the public as a voter guide and as straightforward a link to the electoral system? Those of us who are committed to a more deliberative political system would benefit from assembling and discussing promising practices for reporting each phase of our work, establishing common standards such as those in our publicity checklist, and devoting more resources to communicating the public’s voice in ways that other democratic institutions can hear and heed.


Christopher F. Karpowitz is co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University. Chad Raphael is professor of communication at Santa Clara University. They are authors of Deliberation, Democracy, and Civic Forums: Improving Equality and Publicity (Cambridge University Press).


What Does Public Innovation Mean?

By Richard C. Harwood

Recently, I was on the public radio program "Innovation Trail" in Rochester, N.Y. to talk about "public innovation." The station posted the following statement on its website about my appearance: "Two recent interviews by Innovation Trail served as reminders of how often the 'innovation conversation' is framed in terms of technology and economics..." But as we discussed on-air, there's another way to define it.

Rochester is home to Eastman Kodak, the venerable though now long-suffering company best known for making camera film and now feverishly trying to transform itself into a digital technology company. To Kodak, innovation is about developing new product lines that generate high profits. But Rochester also is trying to transform itself from a town once dependent upon Kodak to a community with a more diverse economic base, a revitalized downtown and stronger public schools, among other goals.

Even when talk turns to innovation regarding community goals, the tendency among community leaders, funders, activists and others is to focus on specific education reforms, local tax policy, or maybe infrastructure plans and the like. Other conversations about innovation often center on the use of mobile devices, development of new online platforms, or the launch of new citizen participation processes.

All potentially important. Each possibly necessary. But, I believe, they miss a larger point.

When the public radio hosts from Rochester asked me to define public innovation, I said that it is about how we choose to see what is around us in a community and to make intentional choices and judgments about how to move a community forward. In other words, public innovation isn't necessarily about something shiny or new or complex, but about something that works better, leads to better results and creates a better pathway forward.

It is about how communities generate and re-generate themselves. For example, The Harwood Institute is working with partners in Battle Creek, Mich. – including the local United Way, Chamber of Commerce, Kellogg Community College, Project 20/20, BC Pulse and the city government. These entities are focused on addressing issues concerning vulnerable children in a way that altogether changes how they and others work together in the community.

Indeed, the very output from being innovative may be so simple that it hardly seems to be an innovation. Consider, for instance, the following example: innovation can involve changing the way we talk about a common concern in a community. Is the discussion framed in terms of "problems," which usually degenerates into people pointing fingers and placing blame for what's wrong in the community? Or is it about our shared aspirations for what we are trying to do right?

The public innovation I have in mind starts with an orientation, a mindset: Are we turned outward toward our community? Put another way, is the community our reference point for our efforts, or is our reference point our conference room? This is a vital distinction. The danger here is that we innovate in a vacuum, based on our own wishes, our own beliefs on what we need, our own personal desire to increase our notoriety.

Innovation in a community is about how that community comes to take ownership of a common concern and how strategies are developed that fit the local context of the community. And yet so often we rush to plug-and-play solutions that may have worked elsewhere but aren't right for our particular community. That's not innovation.

Innovation is about how to actively create a community's enabling environment: focusing on what it takes to generate the underlying conditions necessary for productive change to emerge, take root and spread. Such conditions include norms for interaction, layers of leadership, networks for learning and innovation. The civic culture of a community – like the culture of an organization – is critical to whether a community can move forward.

Innovation is about knowing that while creating measurable impact is essential, so too is whether people hold the belief that they and others actually can produce something meaningful together. Engendering belief in a way that is authentic, real, and lasting requires us to rethink how people can feel part of something larger than themselves, how to engage people so that we work together, and even how to celebrate ways that lead to greater confidence within a community.

Innovation is understanding that stories and narratives play a critical role in signaling to people that change is even possible – and that their own engagement is pivotal to that change ever occurring. How to discover and construct such stories, and then weaving them into a naturally unfolding narrative requires innovation.

The type of innovation I am speaking about demands that we each step forward ready to engage in a different way. We must be willing to see and hear people around us, especially those who are different from us and who challenge our own comfort levels. It means that we must be willing to make choices and judgments about where to place limited resources.

Being "ruthlessly strategic" is at the heart of public innovation. We can't be all things to all people. We must be willing to place a stake in the ground about the change we think is necessary, and we must be ready to re-calibrate those ideas as conditions around us change.

Public innovation starts with a turn – of ourselves.  We must be turned outward. Then we must engage differently so that we can move forward together.

----Richard C. Harwood is founder and president of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, an organization that teaches and coaches people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together. Follow Rich on Twitter @Rich Harwood using his hashtag, #turnoutward. You can also join him on Facebook at RichHarwood.


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  • Want training in public participation? Choose the courses you want to see at the IAP2 Skills Symposium in late May – Trainers include Matt Leighninger, Tina Nabatchi, Steve Clift, Anne Carroll, Kyle Bozentko, and Marty Rozelle.
  • If we gave citizens more ways to measure democracy, they would have more ways to improve it – @TechPresident
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  • “If forms of government can be likened to operating systems, current variants of democracy are like early, primitive versions of Windows.” “They are neither optimally functional nor user-friendly – they are buggy, susceptible to malware, and lack desired features.”
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  • Can we fix voting, a part of democracy, without strengthening the other aspects of democracy? Probably not. And why would we, when the more participatory aspects of democracy offer so many other benefits? Unfortunately, none of those are mentioned in this piece, which is another example of why conflating “democracy” with voting doesn’t help.
  • “Rather than blame our leaders for the dysfunction, we need to change the game.” This article includes some examples of how engaging citizens in participatory ways – and treating democracy as more than just voting – can tackle problems like climate change that seem politically impossible to address.

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