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Political Communication and Deliberation, by John Gastil

Chapter 7: Citizens and Officials in Public Meetings

Lindsay Calhoun

on 21 March 2013

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Transcript of Political Communication and Deliberation, by John Gastil

Side B Introduction Big Surprise: Holding a Series of Public Meetings can be a complete waste of time. Why? What is their purpose then? Convening a Deliberative
Public Meeting What would a modern public meeting look like if it were fully deliberative? Archetypal Public Meetings What is an archetype? Hint: Superman The Default Process:
A Public Hearing Public Hearing: One of the basic processes of public meetings is to give the public the chance to be heard in the context of an ongoing legislative deliberation, and the most common form of such meetings is the public hearing. Resolution All six of the deliberative public meeting processes detailed have clear advantages over traditional public meetings, but the question remains whether public officials or agencies will want to incorporate more of these processes into their regular activities.

Why would elected/appointed public officials cede the power and control vested in them to some mix of stakeholders, citizens, and experts? Isn't it their job to deliberate on the public's behalf? Side A Political Communication & Deliberation Chapter 7: Citizens and Officials in Public Meetings British Columbia: A series of public meetings that worked
What was the issue? How did they organize the meetings?
Why did the meetings "matter"? What gave them weight? In the world of deliberative public meetings, some archetypes continue to stimulate (and constrain) the public's imagination to this day...Athenians...

The Athenian assembly, in turn, is the model for many modern forms of deliberative public meetings, many of which also bring a random sample of laycitizens together for face-to-face deliberation. Although, all Athenians could speak before the assembly, "normally members of the elite took the most active part."

The limited time of deliberation in relation to such a large assemblage of citizens required a procedure that could filter out the most important speeches that could influence the assembly's weighty decisions.

professional rhetors The New England Town meeting Athenian Democracy Vermont: In all the other New England states, settlement took place under the auspices of a larger, central government. The lands within the modern state of Vermont, by contrast, were subject to no superior authority because New York and New Hampshire were fighting over them. Only when the independent towns in the area saw an advantage in joining the Union in 1777 did they come together to draw up a state constitution. These towns were the essential political unit in Vermont, governing themselves through regular meetings of the full electorate. In practice, only 20-60% of those eligible actually attended, though as many as 75% might attend during times of sharp conflict. Though townsfolk typically elected boards and clerks to handle the day-to-day business of their community, they also conducted business at the town meetings. Although communities were more highly integrated than they are today, descriptions of the meetings suggest that feelings of duty and concern for the public weal were mixed with the call of private interest. According to Manbridge,, there never was "a golden era" when Vermont towns "could act as pure unitary democracies." Instead, consensus on local policy came only after suppressing "the interests of the least powerful" and asking the larger public to "put their trust in the kinds of men who had always held power in the town." The town meeting remains a vital piece of local government throughout New England. The New England town meeting archetype continues to inspire modern conceptions of deliberation. Often the idea is simply to adapt the historic town meeting with modern communication technology to create an "electronic town meeting" or a "town meeting for the 21st century." Like Athenian assemblies, general publics in New England town meetings retained direct authority but let themselves be steered by influential local elites. Bryan & McClaughry have argued that smaller is better in almost all aspects of policy making. They suggested handing over state, county, and even some town power to newly formed political units they called "shires." Figure 7.1
Assumes the meeting already has an agenda in place, but there is no reason why the same process could not be used to decide what to put on the agenda at a future meeting. The public meeting's analytic process relies both on professional research and personal experiences to establish its information base. This language stresses that there is a role in this process for both the content expert and the laycitizen. Linking Experts and Laycitizens The balance between the role of expert and laycitizen is not unlike the difficult balancing between the local elites and the general public in ancient Athens and colonial Vermont. Moreover, the balancing act becomes even trickier when moving beyond building an information base. weighing values and liberty A successful public meeting facilitates a back-and-forth discussion between citizen and expert that can move both the public and policy makers in attendance to a level of values clarification never before reached. In the same way, this interplay can lead to a rigorous, thorough assessment of pros and cons that yields a well-informed and reflective decision. Bridging the Official With the Unofficial The final decision reached in a public meeting often differs from that of a legislative body because a public meeting is not limited to legislative choices. When public meetings are held within a smaller geographic area, such as a neighborhood, town, or small county, the meeting participants and their extended social networks can represent a critical mass of local residents. As such, they possess the capability of implementing communitywide solutions that rely on social influence and local norms more than legislative rules and formal enforcement mechanisms. A decision that incorporates both official policy and informal social commitments presumes a healthy working relationship between public officials and the larger community. The social process of a deliberative public meeting should strengthen that relationship. Even if experts and officials need to be reminded to listen to the voices of the laycitizens, both elites and citizens often need a reminder to show respect. While many of our negative stereotypes of elected officials at the national and state level are relatively justified, this is definitely not the case at the local level. In turn, public officials must "presume that the general public is qualified to be present, by virtue of their citizenship." Process Design The description of an ideal public in figure 7.1 leaves unanswered an important question: How does one design a deliberative public meeting? Pay attention to: how meetings are orchestrated--who is invited, how the agenda is set, how the meeting's task is framed, and how the discussion is organized. Design concern: ensuring speaking opportunities (fig 7.1)
"Mix unstructured, informal discussion in smaller groups with more structured discussion in larger groups. Create special opportunities for the reticent." round robin format in small informal groups ex. More complex issues:
What are the roles of public officials?
When do experts get the chance to speak, and how will the laycitizens get the chance to query experts and use them as a resource?
How much time in a meeting should be devoted to absorbing information versus engaging in open-ended discussion? Williamson & Fung definition of public hearing:
"an open gathering of officials and citizens, in which citizens are permitted to offer comments, but officials are not obliged to act on them or, typically, even to respond publicly." At its best, the hearing brings together--or at least juxtaposes--opposing views on current issues of importance, such as a proposed piece of legislation or a crumbling bridge that needs to be repaired or replaced. When this exchange of ideas and perspectives is inclusive of different perspectives, and involves attentive listening and clear articulation, it can amount to a kind of public deliberation. In practice, public hearings routinely fail to resemble even a crude form of deliberation. Often conducted as a straightforward way of meeting federal, state, or local public meeting requirements, a typical hearing has citizens take turns speaking before a panel of government agency employees and elected officials. Webler & Renn research suggests that neither citizens nor policy makers value the public hearing process. They also suggested that public hearings usually fail to produce deliberative and influential public deliberation both because of their timing within the policy-making process and the "structure of discourse within the public hearing process." Public officials often wait until late in the deliberative process after they have already more or less decided what they will be doing. The structure of the discourse at public hearings is a more subtle problem. Even when an elected official convenes a hearing before making a decision, the typical public hearing encourages a nondeliberative process by constraining public expression to a series of statements and limiting official response to periodic counterpoints. Hearings also tend to frame issues in an unduly technical manner, making it difficult for well-meaning citizens to address officials in their own terms. One increasingly common variation on the public hearing invokes the New England tradition with the name Town Hall or Town Meeting. On these occasions, officials invite the general public to discuss a particular issue with them. Meetings tend to be either empty or overwhelmingly crowded. Because crowded town hall meetings have become increasingly unruly, meeting organizers tend to implement highly formalized processes, limiting the possibility for open dialogue and discussion. Online formats have yielded little difference in the amount of civility or lack thereof. Who attends public meetings? Who doesn't? p. 191

"I think frequently you get your vocal minority" at public hearings "instead of a balance of opinion." Finally, there is the problem of integrating the perspectives of laycitizens and activists. Deliberative Meetings With Elected Officials Twenty-first Century Town Meeting Innovative Public Meeting Designs 1995 Lukensmeyer founded AmericaSpeaks to find a better way to expose public officials to the values and common sense of the general public. This format is powerful because it can bring together hundreds--or even thousands--of people to develop and record their collective judgment about a specific issue in the course of a single day.

"Listening to the City" forum held in NYC on July 20, 2002
How was it organized? What results did it yield? Sequenced Forums A limitation of the Town Meeting format is that it sometimes happens in something of a vacuum--a one day event that may make a splash but it soon forgotten. Pennsylvania: a team of scholars, city planners, and concerned citizens joined forces to create the Penn's Landing Forums. The forums aimed to inject into city waterfront planning a more clear and influential public voice.


Six Stages pp. 195-196

Assign special roles to experts, citizens, and policy makers. Municipal Council Model A Third approach suggests a way to convene regularly scheduled public meetings to address ongoing policy problems, rather than special issues, such as rebuilding the World Trade Center site or reinvigorating a waterfront. In this third model, the general public not only regularly participates in meetings with government officials, but the public also maintains a degree of direct control over policy. Whereas the 21st Century Town Meeting or the sequenced forum aim to inform and influence duly elected public officials, this 3rd model gives citizens and stakeholders positions of power within government. Brazil: Municipal Health Councils--have responsibility for developing and implementing local health care delivery plans. Over 5000 local health councils in Brazil, directly involving more than 100,000 citizens in setting health policy across the country. Features:
How it balances membership among different stakeholder groups. 50% of the 32 seats on a council go to members of civil society--the network of voluntary civic and social organizations prevalent in democratic societies. These 16 seats include social movement organizations promoting public health, associations representing the needs of people with disabilities or particular ailments, as well as general labor unions. Another 10 seats go to organizations representing professional health care providers and producers. Six seats go to governmental institutions, principally the municipal health secretariat, which is the official administrative branch of the council. The second key feature of the council is its explicit authority.
The law grants them veto power over the plans and accounts of the health secretariat. If the council rejects the plan and budget drafted by the secretariat, the federal health ministry does not transfer funds to the municipal secretariat. The council can exercise full veto power when it gathers its full membership in the deliberative assembly, a body that meets at the secretariat's headquarters each month, as well as any time the health secretary (acting as the council's president) or a majority of its members declares the need for a special meeting. Problems: concerns about the distribution of information among council members. Limited "access to and dissemination of relevant information," she explained, "makes it more difficult to establish the cooperation essential for the exercise of (government accountability to the larger society)." Stakeholders and the General Will Each of these three processes relies to varying degrees on stakeholders as key participants, with the Brazilian muncipal health councils relying entirely on stakeholder representatives. Rousseau's concerns: quotation p. 199 In the end, Rousseau's suggested framework sounds a lot like hte seat allocation in the municipal council model, with interests spread across a wide range of factions and balancing the voluntary sector against the professional and governmental factions. Citizen-Centered Public Meetings Many models have emerged that limit experts and stakeholders to the role of advisors, making the rank-and-file citizenry the centerpiece of the public meeting process. More specifically, these citizen-centered models have all stressed the importance of bringing together a representative microcosm of the public to simulate the assembly-of-all imagined by Rousseau. Even if citizens persist in disagreement, deliberating together can enlarge citizen's perspectives in a way that yields different decisions than had they simply studied the issue privately and then had their views aggregated. Random Samples Random Selection in Politics Carson & Martin efficient way to bring together a microcosm of the general public.

in these experiments, participants were not simply invited but were also paid for their labors.

They found that, on its own, random selection can increase fairness in decision making, but, when integrated with deliberation and consensus building, it can become a powerful means to achieve social justice and genuine democracy. The Deliberative Poll The most famous of all random-sample procedures may be the deliberative poll, which blends conventional large-sample surveys with group discussion. A deliberative poll begins with a predeliberation poll, followed by the distribution of a discussion guide. After participants meet and deliberate face to face (or online), in small groups and in large assemblies with experts and officials, they complete a postdeliberation questionnaire. The main "finding" of any deliberative poll is the change in public opinion that occurs over the course of the deliberative event. Fishkin devised the deliberative poll as a way for the general citizenry to reason through morally complex public problems together. Fishkin argued that a deliberative opinion poll can create "a direct face to face society for its participants and a representative institution for the nation state." The results of a deliberative poll are "something that begins to approximate what the public would think, given a better opportunity to consider the questions at hand." Since its conception, more than 50 deliberative polls have taken place across the globe. One of the most studies was the 1996 National Issues Convention: 450 randomly selected strangers from across the US spent 3 days in small-group discussions on US foreign policy, the economy, and the family. At the NIC, participants gravitated toward a sense of the general will in their discourse, particularly on foreign policy. There was also some convergence in public opinion with, for example, the public developing even stronger support for long-term investment in public education and investment.

only 36% response/participation rate of initial respondents Other findings:

increase in knowledge and accuracy in the beliefs of participants. Other deliberative polls have revealed that participants appeared to change their policy preferences as a result of becoming more informed. Even more striking is the finding that participants in deliberative polls may be tending to move the public's views in a particular direction, even across issues and across nations. Aside from changing their minds on particular policy questions, participation in the NIC made attendees feel more positively about themselves and the government--not unlike the changes shown for jurors in Chapter 6. The NIC proved to be a great demonstration project--showing what a deliberative public might look like in practice. It did not, however, have the intended effect of promoting a more focused, deliberative primary election. What happened with the China experiment in deliberate polling? pp. 203--204 Citizen Juries origin: 1971 Crosby dissertation create a process that would enhance reason and empathy among citizens as they discussed a public policy matter. The process followed a set of design principles that mirrored those of the deliberative poll (gathering a microcosm of a community, providing high-quality information, minimizing staff bias, producing a fair agenda)
major differences: size and duration Whereas the deliberative poll seeks to track how a set of individual opinion statements change when survey respondents are hit by a wave of information, the citizen jury seeks to learn whether a mix of information and in-depth deliberation can bring diverse individuals to a broad consensus on a more narrow set of questions. Given the demands of the jury's task, it is necessary to reduce the size and extend the duration of its deliberation. examples of issues before citizen juries:
Should we pass a levy to improve our local schools?
How should we manage the impact agriculture has on water quality in our state?
Shall we restructure our state property tax system?
Should we support the president's health care plan?
How should we reconfigure the federal budget?
how should we understand and address global climate change? citizen juries can hear testimony from both sides and can participate in direct cross examination of designated witnesses and experts. This turns the tables where the citizens are the one's listening and asking questions while the experts and officials plead their case before the citizen deliberators. The key is that the citizen jurors have control over the proceedings and can call witnesses, alter the agenda, schedule more time, dismiss facilitators and witnesses, etc. Crosby's only real rule was that jurors not have "so much control that they can overturn the fair balance of witnesses worked out in advance of the hearings." Citizens' Assembly Revisited contrast between all 3 forms p. 207 Main differences come from time allotment
assembly more closely resembled an earnest legislative committee with a professional staff at its disposal. It depends on one's conception of democracy
Halvorsen research: one good deliberative experience can be transformative for the public and the agency representing it on an issue. Its "legitimacy" stupid: Without public support, it is difficult for a government to govern. "Giving power away" may actually give public officials greater power to act.
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