Varieties of Civic Innovation: Deliberative, Collaborative, Network, and Narrative Approaches

Varieties of Civic Innovation: Deliberative, Collaborative, Network, and Narrative Approaches


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Varieties of Civic Innovation: Deliberative, Collaborative, Network, and Narrative Approaches by Jennifer Girouard

In this collection of original essays, empirical analysts and theorists across disciplines turn a critical eye to a variety of recent institutional forms and styles of innovation. They examine lived reality and theoretical underpinning, promise and accomplishment, but also the pitfalls and capacity-building challenges that face virtually all attempts to bring citizen voice, knowledge, and skill to the center of public problem solving. Their analyses are both hopeful and hard-headed and are guided by commitments to help understand appropriate fit and realistic sustainability. Cases include face-to-face deliberation, online networking and citizen journalism, policy forums, and community and stakeholder planning sessions across local, state and federal contexts. Policy issues run a broad gamut from community and regional economic development and environmental sustainability to minority rights and gay marriage.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826520005
Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press
Publication date: 10/30/2014
Pages: 248
Sales rank: 962,022
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 9.80(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Girouard is a PhD candidate in Sociology at Brandeis University.

Carmen Sirianni is the Morris Hillquit Professor at Brandeis University and Faculty Fellow, Ash Center for Democratic Governance, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. His most recent book is Investing in Democracy: Engaging Citizens in Collaborative Governance (Brookings 2009), and he is currently working on a two-volume study, Self-Governance in American Political Development.

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Varieties of Civic Innovation

Deliberative, Collaborative, Network, and Narrative Approaches

By Jennifer Girouard, Carmen Sirianni

Vanderbilt University Press

Copyright © 2014 Vanderbilt University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8265-2001-2


Embedding Public Deliberation in Community Governance


* Public deliberations, meetings where citizens collectively discuss local problems and possible solutions, are a distinctive characteristic of American political life. While America famously has a long tradition of civic participation and self-government (de Tocqueville 2004), some citizens in some communities appear to have developed habits of regularly engaging one another in public deliberations on a breadth of topics. We call this civic and democratic achievement embedded deliberation. We believe that communities with embedded public deliberation are relatively rare; in most places, public decisions and the deliberations surrounding them are left primarily, often exclusively, to elected representatives and those who staff public agencies. By contrast, when the habit of deliberation is embedded in a community's political institutions and social practices, public decisions and collective actions commonly result from processes that involve discussion and reasoning that engages ordinary citizens rather than through the exercise of authority, expertise, status, political weight, or other such forms of power.

But how does embeddedness happen? What are its dimensions? Are there characteristics that make for a more fertile environment for deliberation to flourish? In order to answer these questions, we searched for communities where regular and organized deliberation had taken root and grown. We aimed to understand how what almost always begins as a limited effort to mobilize citizens and convene them to consider a public issue or political problem can sometimes grow into a regular practice that involves many different segments of a community and spans multiple issues that bear scant relation to one another. In this chapter, we use evidence from nine case studies to identify the main characteristics of embedded deliberation and understand the role that individual initiators and institutional sponsors play in promoting public deliberation. We also examine the political and social characteristics that seem to favor embeddedness.

The notion of embedded deliberation lies at a frontier of both understanding and practice of public deliberation. Empirical scholars of deliberation have focused on whether citizens' views change following discussion, whether they become polarized, whether they learn, whether their engagement in politics and civic life increases (Fishkin 1997; Barabas 2004; Sunstein 2002; Mendelberg 2002), whether deliberation and negotiation contribute to the reduction of conflict and ease of policy implementation (Coglianese 1997; Coglianese, Beierle, and Cayford 2002). Both scholars and practitioners have examined the wide variety of designs for procedures of public deliberation and have examined choices such as whether deliberations should be open to all or only to those who are chosen by lot or through some other mechanism, whether deliberation should be "empowered" with actual decision-making authority (Arnstein 1969; Fung 2004), and so on. These remarkable accomplishments in practice and understanding mark real progress in the state of deliberative practice. Embedded deliberation, however, adds to these two threads of literature by focusing on the long-term effects of public deliberation. By examining how deliberation takes root and evolves, we are able to observe the way public and private institutions employ deliberation and respond to it, and how a more deliberative approach affects communities' and institutions' ability to address local problems.


In order to understand the dynamics of embedded deliberation, we researched nine case studies of communities that had developed habits of deliberation. Because we wanted to learn about the conditions under which deliberation becomes socially and politically embedded, our selection of case studies was highly opportunistic. The advice of national experts on community-level deliberations guided us in our process of identifying communities where public deliberation was well-established. We singled out cases where deliberative practices had become fairly widespread and repeated over time and had led to some action around the issues. Hence, we selected mature or relatively mature cases, which enabled us to observe how deliberative practices evolved through time and to understand their embeddedness and impact over a period of several years. Within this category, we also selected for variety of topics, trying to obtain as broad a spectrum as possible of deliberative issues. Although we tried to include different deliberative models in our cases, our selection is by no means representative of the myriad of deliberative practices used in the United States. Since we were interested in cases where deliberation had become well-rooted, inevitably our choice of cases favored models that mobilize communities and institutions over time (such as study circles) or rely on local organizations to regularly promote deliberative methods (such as the National Issues Forums). Therefore, important deliberative formats that are used for specific one-time events (including, but not limited to, AmericaSpeaks-type events or Deliberative Polls) are not represented in our sample.

For each case, we conducted at least one field visit of several days and observed one or more deliberative events. In three cases, we attended trainings on the specific deliberative model used: the National Issues Forums model in West Virginia and Hawaii and the Indigenous Issues Forums model in South Dakota. We also conducted extensive semistructured interviews by phone or in person. In general, we interviewed the main promoters of public deliberation, participants, to register their reactions, as well as activists, policy makers, experts, and organizations that supported deliberation. We also examined all available documents from these sites to understand how deliberation was adopted and matured. Such documents ranged from simple lists of objectives taken down at the conclusion of some deliberation to internal memos, newsletters, web materials and videos, press coverage, formal reports, program evaluations, and scholarly articles, when available.

What Is Embedded Deliberation?

Understanding Public Deliberation

By public deliberation we mean a discussion where a group of citizens collectively reflects on an issue and confronts the views of other participants. Simone Chambers offers a good definition of deliberation as "debate and discussion aimed at producing reasonable, well-informed opinions in which participants are willing to revise preferences in light of discussions, new information, and claims made by fellow participants" (Chambers 2003, 309). The notion of "public" deliberation implies that the discussion happens in the public sphere, with citizens as participants, often with the purpose of gaining a better understanding of a problem and contributing to an agreed solution with ideas and resource mobilization. According to Delli Carpini, Cook, and Jacobs, we can say that public deliberation "is the process through which deliberative democracy occurs" (Delli Carpini, Cook, and Jacobs 2004, 317). Public deliberation is a critical part of deliberative democracy, "a form of government in which free and equal citizens (and their representatives), justify decisions in a process in which they give one another reasons that are mutually acceptable and generally accessible, with the aim of reaching conclusions that are binding in the present on all citizens but open to challenge in the future" (Gutmann and Thompson 2004, 7).

Deliberation is frequently contrasted with aggregative social choice procedures in which conflicting views and disagreements are managed through the voting process rather than through reason giving (ibid., 13–21). Under deliberative democratic accounts, on the other hand, citizens can confront and change their views through public deliberations, and their political discussions originate policies that are more acceptable to all and more legitimate. Far from being an alternative to representative democracy, deliberative democracy can complement it by improving the depth and quality of political discussion, and ultimately the quality of public decisions. But why is a more deliberative approach to policy making and government preferable? First, decisions that are corroborated by public deliberation are more legitimate because they are made not only by elected representatives, the voters' agents, but also by the voters themselves, the principals and the very source of legitimacy of democratic governments. Second, public deliberation may produce more reasoned policies due to the exchange of information and discussion among diverse citizens. Third, public deliberation can defuse polarization and encourage social cohesion because, even if not all citizens reach a consensus, deliberative discussions promote the appreciation of different, even opposing, opinions. Fourth, there are systemic deficits in the democratic policy making process (from unclear public preferences to lack of accountability) that can be corrected through an injection of public deliberation (Fung 2006). Finally, public deliberations can deepen civic engagement and encourage voting, volunteering, and participating in public life, thus strengthening the very fabric of democracy.

Embedded vs. Occasional Deliberation

Now that we have clarified the concept of public deliberation, consider the difference between embedded and occasional deliberation. Court juries and town meetings are perhaps the most familiar forms of public deliberation, but there are many other forms that include neighborhood planning committees, study circles on race, National Issues Forums on poverty, public hearings, and even discussions that occur on the Internet. What distinguishes deliberative meetings from other kinds of meetings are a focus on including a plurality of views by recruiting diverse participants, often the presence of a moderator, and specific rules to ensure mutual respect, listening, and the weighing of all opinions.

Our case studies drew upon different deliberative approaches. Many were informed by the study circles model, which combines public deliberation (and dialogue) with community organizing. Most of the deliberations take place in smaller groups of eight to twelve that meet in a series of sessions to explore an issue with the guidance of peer facilitators. Participants start by discussing an issue, then move on to explore concrete ways they could address the problem, and then come up with specific action ideas. At a National Issues Forum, a diverse group of participants (the number can vary greatly) gathers for a two-hour deliberation about a public policy problem, such as reforming health care or US international relations. A moderator invites participants to weigh different approaches, considering their pros and cons so the participants can deepen their understanding and appreciate the complexity of issues. The community conversations we observed in Connecticut mobilize a large and diverse group for an evening, when participants discuss public education issues in small groups and formulate concrete action plans. The Indigenous Issues Forums use small-group dialogues where participants explore tribal issues and reflect about the characteristics of a healthy dialogue. Finally, the Keiki Caucus (Children Caucus) convenes stakeholders, including legislators, advocacy groups, and public agencies, in monthly meetings to discuss pressing children's issues, prioritize needs, and assemble a legislative package. Most of these deliberative approaches were developed by national organizations. In every case, however, those in local communities adapted the different models to their specific circumstances and needs.

More often than not, public deliberations occur in a community as sporadic events. Participants learn about deliberative methods of dialogue and there may be some follow-up activities, but there is no substantive change in the way local problems are addressed and decisions made. In that case, we have occasional public deliberation. When a community develops a habit of using public deliberation with some regularity, we say it has embedded deliberation in the way it discusses issues or faces local challenges.

No deliberative process is a guarantee for embeddedness; the same deliberative methods can be well-embedded in a community and used repeatedly as a problem-solving tool, and they can be employed only occasionally in others. The community conversations on public education we observed in Connecticut provide a good example of a deliberative format that was used only once in many communities across the state, but became well-embedded in some communities and extremely embedded in one area (Bridgeport, CT). No model ensures embeddedness, but some formats are more likely than others to favor it. Most of the deliberative formats in our sample, for example, are more inclined to take root because they are designed precisely to build capacity and mobilize communities over time, hence present a higher probability of becoming embedded. Study circles, with their series of trust-building dialogues and their focus on action and change, can be effective community-organizing tools to encourage coalition building and mobilize participants. But the National Issues Forums, with their reliance on local institutions to convene forums regularly and provide annual training, also aim to instill regular deliberative practices in communities.

Other deliberative models, on the other hand, are best for occasional deliberations aimed at providing public input and measuring the impact of public deliberation on participants' opinions. AmericaSpeaks, for example, facilitates large town meetings where citizens (often in the hundreds) deliberate for a day or more on public policy issues and provide input to policy makers. In Deliberative Polls, a random sample of participants discuss a policy issue in depth for a weekend, with the aid of materials, experts, and facilitators. Participants are polled before and after the deliberations to measure opinion shifts and show what the public would think if it had a chance to deliberate on issues and be better informed. They are designed to provide informed input from representative samples of the population, in a fashion that is clearly more oriented to influencing policy making than mobilizing communities for public action.

How Embeddedness Happens: Deliberative Entrepreneurs, Organizations, and Theories of Change

We have shed light on the distinction between occasional and embedded deliberation and how different models may be more appropriate for each purpose. But how are deliberative interventions introduced into previously nondeliberative environments? In two of the cases we examined, deliberative entrepreneurs played a key role in introducing deliberative reforms. As we explained elsewhere (Fagotto and Fung 2006), these entrepreneurs identified "markets," or opportunities where injecting public deliberation could improve community relations or policy making. They are often individual activists who have deep personal commitments to citizen engagement and public deliberation. They begin by planting the seed of deliberative practices informally by convening forums in their church or library, and they move on to more structured ways by building deliberative "catalysts," small centers that promote deliberation and assist organizations that seek public input or want to increase civic engagement. In South Dakota and West Virginia, individual deliberative entrepreneurs brought practices of public deliberation to their communities and later created more permanent homes for dialogue.

Other times, deliberative interventions are launched by the leaders of organizations, public or private, who after being exposed to dialogues decide to employ the same deliberative methods to further their organizations' substantive missions. In Hawaii, for example, state legislators sought to improve child welfare policies by involving stakeholders through public deliberation. In Delaware, the YWCA launched dialogues on race to remove social and economic barriers. In most of the cases in our sample, deliberation was the initiative of nongovernmental organizations, local government, or coalitions that brought the two together. This is because we selected cases where deliberation appeared more embedded, and sponsorship from organizations, rather than individual deliberative entrepreneurs, seems to deepen embeddedness. But we shall explain this in more detail in the section that describes the dimensions of embeddedness.

Second, deliberative interventions, be they the initiative of deliberative entrepreneurs or of organizations, operate with different "theories of change." There are at least two relevant schools of thought: some focus mainly upon changing the beliefs and behaviors of the citizens who participate directly in public deliberations, while others simultaneously address citizens and public institutions. The first believe that instilling the principles of deliberation in citizens will increase their tolerance of diversity, make them more reflective and informed, and make them more active and collaborative citizens. According to this line of thinking, in the long run social change is driven by citizens who propagate the principles of deliberation in public life.


Excerpted from Varieties of Civic Innovation by Jennifer Girouard, Carmen Sirianni. Copyright © 2014 Vanderbilt University Press. Excerpted by permission of Vanderbilt University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Jennifer Girouard and Carmen Sirianni, Introduction

Elena Fagotto and Archon Fung, Embedding Public Deliberation in Community Governance

Anne Taufen Wessells, Ways of Knowing the Los Angeles River Watershed: Getting from Engaged Participation to Inclusive Deliberation

Jason Corburn, Civic Innovation, Deliberation, and Health Impact Assessment: Democratic Planning and Civic Engagement in San Francisco

Daniel Kreiss and Laura Meadows, Intramovement Agenda Setting: Nationalizing North Carolina's Fight to Defeat an Anti-Gay Marriage Constitutional Amendment

Lewis A. Friedland, Civic Communication in a Networked Society: Seattle's Emergent Ecology

Caroline W. Lee, Accounting for Diversity in Collaborative Governance: An Institutional Approach to Empowerment Reforms

Robert M. Fishman, Networks and Narratives in the Making of Civic Practice: Lessons from Iberia

Thamy Pogrebinschi, Turning Participation into Representation: Innovative Policy Making for Minority Groups in Brazil

Carmen Sirianni, Bringing the State Back in through Collaborative Governance: Emergent Mission and Practice at the US Environmental Protection Agency

Jane Mansbridge, A Systemic Approach to Civic Action

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