Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracyby Archon Fung
Every month in every neighborhood in Chicago, residents, teachers, school principals, and police officers gather to deliberate about how to improve their schools and make their streets safer. Residents of poor neighborhoods participate as much or more as those from wealthy ones. All voices are heard. Since the meetings began more than a dozen years ago, they have
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Every month in every neighborhood in Chicago, residents, teachers, school principals, and police officers gather to deliberate about how to improve their schools and make their streets safer. Residents of poor neighborhoods participate as much or more as those from wealthy ones. All voices are heard. Since the meetings began more than a dozen years ago, they have led not only to safer streets but also to surprising improvements in the city's schools. Chicago's police department and school system have become democratic urban institutions unlike any others in America.
Empowered Participation is the compelling chronicle of this unprecedented transformation. It is the first comprehensive empirical analysis of the ways in which participatory democracy can be used to effect social change. Using city-wide data and six neighborhood case studies, the book explores how determined Chicago residents, police officers, teachers, and community groups worked to banish crime and transform a failing city school system into a model for educational reform. The author's conclusion: Properly designed and implemented institutions of participatory democratic governance can spark citizen involvement that in turn generates innovative problem-solving and public action. Their participation makes organizations more fair and effective.
Though the book focuses on Chicago's municipal agencies, its lessons are applicable to many American cities. Its findings will prove useful not only in the fields of education and law enforcement, but also to sectors as diverse as environmental regulation, social service provision, and workforce development.
Archon Fung makes an indispensable contribution to deliberative democratic theory.
"A judicious, thorough, and multifaceted study of important questions in democratic theory. It is well worth reading."William Nelson, Ethics
"[This] book masterfully dissects terms and rebuts claims of the unfeasibility or inadequacy of public participation in policy."Richard A. Couto, Perspectives on Politics
"Empowered Participation provides some much-needed empirical endeavor to a field that is mostly theoretical. . . . [It is] an important work which anyone interested in community organization, civic engagement, community policing, and democratic theory should read."Patrick J. Carr,American Journal of Sociology
"Archon Fung makes an indispensable contribution to deliberative democratic theory."Michael Rabinder James, Political Theory
Mark Carl Rom
Richard A. Couto
Patrick J. Carr
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Empowered ParticipationReinventing Urban Democracy
By Archon Fung
Princeton University PressArchon Fung
All right reserved.
DEMOCRACY AS A REFORM STRATEGY
IN 1996, the parents, staff, and principal of Southtown Elementary School1 executed a coup to make the neighborhood school their own. They won permission from the Chicago Board of Education to change the name of their South Side school to Harambee Academy, after an ancient North African kingdom renown for its scholarly achievements. To the community of the newly dubbed Harambee Academy, the name was the appropriate face of a broad initiative to reorganize the school around a coherent, common, and Afrocentric vision. Of Harambee's some seven hundred students, after all, 99 percent were African-American and 92 percent were from low-income families.2 How better to forge a shared vision than to reclaim academic excellence as a distinctive component of their racial and cultural tradition?3
Changing a name, of course, cannot itself raise test scores, make classes more orderly, build classrooms, or increase children's readiness for middle and high school. In the months and years ahead, the parents and personnel of Harambee would attempt to advance their historical and cultural commitment to scholastic achievement through a variety of programs that included technology labs, prekindergarten programs, physical plant upgrading, curriculum changes, and a host of instructional innovations.
Those versed in education reform will find these projects familiar and recognize that they are by no means distinctive to Afrocentrism. For many low-income urban schools, however, mustering the leadership, organization, staff motivation, and community commitment to imagine and implement such changes is itself more difficult than any particular change. Without commitment to their shared and culturally specific vision, many of these initiatives might not have been launched and perhaps none of them would have enjoyed the support and devotion needed to carry them through.
The school continued to face daunting obstacles-the poverty of its families and decaying family structure, neighborhood migration that resulted in the turnover of 42 percent of its students each year, and a building that was constructed before the turn of the century (Chicago Public Schools 1996). Despite this challenging environment, the staff and community set in place two of the basic components necessary for school improvement: students, parents, staff, and managers were broadly committed to a common educational vision and these groups developed capacities to formulate and implement a variety of promising school-reform strategies.4 Several miles to the north of Harambee, residents of a Chicago neighborhood called Lakeville were plagued by intimidation, narcotics trafficking, prostitution, and suspected gang activity.5 They met with police for several months to understand these problems and develop strategies to mitigate them. In these meetings, they determined that most of the undesirable activity originated in a large park nearby. Analyzing patterns of behavior there over several weeks, they found that most of the illicit activity occurred at night around an unfinished sunken concrete structure deep within the park. They dubbed this area, obscured from the street by trees and elevation, as the "pit."
In the short term, residents and police worked together to mitigate disturbances. Police patrolled the area more frequently at peak times identified by residents, conducted foot patrols, and enforced loitering and curfew laws. Neighbors living next to the park organized themselves to watch for illicit activity and summon police response via a phone tree. In the longer term, residents followed Jane Jacobs's (1993) wisdom that "eyes on the street" can prevent crime and nuisances in public places. They began with simple measures such as trimming tall trees to make the park's interior visible from the street. More ambitiously, residents sought physical improvements to make the park more useful, attractive, and inviting to legitimate users in the hope that they might drive out illegal ones. Through social connections, they contacted an architect who redesigned the park to include a community garden, a multi-use athletic field, and plenty of lighting. Residents secured approval to make these modifications from the Parks Department. They also raised more than $20,000 from the Chicago Cubs and local businesses to implement their new design. After construction was completed, unlawful activities and nuisances all but disappeared and residents used the park more frequently.
1.1. Empowered Participation as an Administrative Reform Strategy
Why were citizens and officials at Harambee and Lakeville able to improve their local circumstances and public institutions when those in thousands of similar urban neighborhoods in dozens of other cities seem unable to move forward? At the most proximate scale of school and neighborhood, local heroes like the principal, committed teachers, police officers, and parents deserve the credit. But the choices, powers, and motives of those inside schools and other local institutions are deeply determined by the institutional terrain around them. Both schooling at Harambee and policing in Lakeville benefitted from an institutional environment that created a certain kind of participatory democracy. Several years earlier, both the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were reorganized to create new channels through which residents could exercise their collective voice and influence. Extensive powers were devolved from their headquarters out to the neighborhoods. These initiatives transformed the CPD and the CPS into the most participatory-democratic public organizations of their kind in any large American city.
In 1988, the General Assembly of Illinois passed a major piece of education legislation that turned the hierarchical structure of the CPS on its head. The legislation shifted governance power to individual schools by creating some 580 Local School Councils (LSCs), one for each elementary and high school in the city. LSCs are bodies elected every two years by members of the school community. Each consists of six parents, two community members, two school staff persons, and the principal. These bodies are empowered to select principals, develop school-governance plans and visions, and spend discretionary funds. These powers and responsibilities enabled the Harambee LSC and school community to develop its Afrocentric educational vision and to pursue a variety of innovations outside the school as well as within it.
The CPD embarked on a similar strategy of reform in 1995 when it rolled out its Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS). While many other cities had experimented with forms of community- and problem-oriented policing for several years (Wilson and Kelling 1989; Sparrow, Moore, and Kennedy 1990; Kelling and Coles 1996), CAPS is quite distinctive for the extent to which it involves ordinary residents and street-level police officers in determining policing priorities and approaches (Skogan et al. 1999). Unlike the situation with respect to local school governance, residents who participate in CAPS cannot hire and fire police officers; however, the police officers in each of the city's some 280 neighborhood "beats" hold monthly open meetings with residents to discuss neighborhood safety issues. In these sessions, police and residents jointly select priority public safety issues and develop wide-ranging strategies to address them. These community-policing arrangements form the institutional structure through which residents, police, city officials, and non-profit organizations rebuilt Lakeville's dilapidated park. Beat meetings created new spaces in which police and residents could together and develop a range of solutions addressing various problems at the park. CAPS's grant of operational autonomy liberated police officers to implement some of these ideas.
These reforms set into place some central features of a kind of participatory democracy that is appropriately called Empowered Participatory Governance (Fung and Wright 2003). In the crucial areas of public education and policing, the CPS and CPD reforms advance the central tenet of participatory democracy: that people should have substantial and equal opportunities to participate directly in decisions that affect them (Pateman 1970, 22-44; Pitkin and Shumer 1982). Despite many complexities and limitations, these reforms have made the CPS and CPD much more participatory in that they invite ordinary individuals to take part in crucial governance decisions about the goals, priorities, and strategies of policing and public education. Furthermore, this participation is empowered because, unlike the case with regard to many advisory panels, public hearings, and discussion groups, decisions generated by these processes determine the actions of officials and their agencies. Finally, decision-making around local education and policing has become much more deliberative in that members of Local School Councils and beat meetings make decisions through a process of structured reasoning in which they offer proposals and arguments to one another. The chapters that follow elaborate these concepts of participation, empowerment, and deliberation; analyze the political and administrative institutions that translate these abstract concepts into actual practices; and explore the empirical experience of those institutions to assess the promise of participatory democracy in these challenging contexts.
Of the many objections to participatory democracy, perhaps the most common and compelling is that the ideal is irrelevant in the face of modern governance challenges. The problems of scale, technical complexity, the intricate division of labor of government, and the privatization of public life all decisively weigh against any straightforward implementation of the New England town meeting (Bryan 1999) or the Greek assembly to most modern political contexts (Cohen and Sabel 1997). This book responds directly to the objection of irrelevance by counterexample. The following chapters show how two large urban bureaucracies, operating under very challenging background conditions, did in fact transform themselves in substantially participatory-democratic directions.6
Even if some version of participatory democracy is feasible, it might not be very desirable as a path of reform. The core argument of this book is that troubled public agencies such as urban police departments and school systems can become more responsive, fair, innovative, and effective by incorporating empowered participation and deliberation into their governance structures. The experiences of Harambee and Lakeville suggest several ways in which neighborhood participation and devolution might improve the quality of public action compared to centralized agencies. Foremost, centralized programs may be effective in some places and under some circumstances but not others. Decentralization, by contrast, allows localities to formulate solutions tailored to their particular needs or preferences (Tiebout 1956). Harambee's effort to develop a school mission and vision suited to the culture and background of their student body illustrates this advantage. Devolution can also free residents, teachers, and police officers to imagine and implement innovations that depart from conventional wisdom and routine, and are therefore unlikely to come from the central office. Police supervisors, for example, were much more likely to offer intensified patrol than environmental redesign as a solution to the problems at Lakeville Park because of their professional training and administrative capacities. Third, residents and officials may have local knowledge that can usefully inform policy strategies but that may not be systematically available to or easily usable by centralized organizations. Residents' and police discovery of the "pit" in Lakeville Park and their knowledge of the best way to reshape its grounds to enhance use and visibility illustrate the importance of such local knowledge. Fourth, citizens who depend on these public services have strong motivations to contribute to their improvement through civic engagement. Given opportunities to participate in school governance or community policing, they can contribute distinctive resources and expertise, as they did in the architectural redesign and fundraising around the park. As we will see, they can also use these opportunities to hold principals and police officers accountable when they shirk, lie, or act incompetently.
1.2. Accountable Autonomy: An Institutional Design for Empowered Participation
If these intuitions about the contributions of participation to public action sound familiar, it is because they stem from a long tradition of those who favor participatory decision-making (Pitkin and Shumer 1982; Barber 1984) in local democratic forms such as New England town meetings (Mansbridge 1980), community controlled public offices (Arnstein 1969; Kotler 1969), and workers' cooperatives (Pateman 1970; Whyte and Whyte 1988; Gastil 1993). Proponents of this view favor local autonomy from centralized authority in part because they fear that central power tends to encroach on local prerogatives, to crowd out civic initiative and engagement, and to disregard crucial local knowledge. The constructive forms of civicofficial action at Harambee and Lakeville suggest that these fears are sometimes warranted. But local autonomy often encounters its own difficulties. Scholars who have examined participatory small-group decision processes have found that they are often no more fair than other kinds of governance and decision-making (Mansbridge 1980; Gastil 1993; Sanders 1997). Voices of minority, less educated, diffident, or culturally subordinate participants are often drowned out by those who are wealthy, confident, accustomed to management, or otherwise privileged. Liabilities such as parochialism, lack of expertise, and resource constraints may impair the problem-solving and administrative capabilities of local organizations relative to centralized forms.
Such pathologies may not be intrinsic to empowered participation and deliberation. Rather, the extent to which such criticisms apply may depend upon the details of the institutions that render the abstract notions of deliberation, participation, and empowerment into concrete practices. In particular, the devolution of authority to autonomous local bodies is frequently taken to be the natural institutional form of participatory democracy (Arnstein 1969; Kotler 1969; Mansbridge 2002). It may be, however, that a judicious allocation of power, function, and responsibility between central authorities and local bodies can mitigate these pathologies of inequality, parochialism, and group-think and so better realize the ideals empowered deliberation and participation. To their credit, the CPS and CPD reformers tried to address the defects of decentralization and localism by developing just such hybrid arrangements.
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What People are Saying About This
Clarence Stone, George Washington University
Mark E. Warren, Georgetown University
Stephen Elkin, University of Maryland, author of "Citizen Competence and Democracy"
Lani Guinier, Bennett Boskey Professor, Harvard Law School, and coauthor of "The Miner's Canary"
Meet the Author
Archon Fung is Associate Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is the author, with Erik Olin Wright, of "Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance".
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