This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Systems of Public Participation - Ideal Design versus Entrenched Reality

The previous post introduced the Designing Public Participation Processes Map which includes all twelve design guidelines cited in the Designing Public Participation Processes article, by John M. Bryson, Kathryn S. Quick, Carissa Schively Slotterback and Barbara C. Crosby, reconfigured into four groups of system's aspects, all of which are interrelated. So far, nine of the twelve design elements have been addressed in the last three posts under Systemic Design of Public Participation.

The last post raised again the complex, inherent tension within a democratic system between an ideal approach to a system of deliberative democracy, having its own constraints and challenges to being effective, against a system designed to produce desired goods and necessary functions in a manner as efficient as possible. Both being integral to the overall system but functioning on two different planes. The Designing Public Participation Processes Map could perhaps be seen as a compass or navigating system for trekking through that democratic system.

The remaining three design guidelines are seen as somewhat different being closer to the interface of design with community knowing and doing. The systems portion of the map itself was titled, “Formal System of Public Participation Design”. The article’s quote that, “design choices are not made in a linear fashion” by Tina Nabatchi can be extended to, “but rather ‘through an iterative and integrative process’ applies to the design of both the internal workings and the overall, evolving public participation system.

Interface Aspects

10. Ensuring that that a public participation process is needed for the specific circumstances, fits the context generally and specifically, and is based on a clear understanding of the challenge.

11. Ensuring that stakeholder analysis informs the design and implementation of public participation processes and involves, at a minimum, key stakeholders in appropriate ways across all the steps or phases. Recognizing that specific stakeholders may be involved in different ways at different steps or phases of the process.

12. Clarifying and regularly revisiting the purposes and desired outcomes of the participation process and design and redesign it accordingly.

Potential connections between various aspects of the design for public participation system have been illustrated. This particular set of design guidelines making up the Interface Aspects of the system also illustrates some internal connections, inclusiveness, co-production, purpose articulation.

The article credits government administrators, officials, and community leaders for having long recognized the value of public participation for a variety of purposes, processes, and decisions. Not so well understood, it seems, is how to design participation processes so as to achieve desirable outcomes, including what those desirable outcomes are and who decides on them. The article turns to what they term design science as the means of accomplishing this.

Conversely, the article asserts that there is currently limited recognition, among public administrators, of design science as a viable means of promoting adaptation and change, likely due to a risk-adverse culture and structural barriers.

The explanation the article makes is that design science purports to involve a shift from typical social science, involving hypothesis to establish general patterns of causality, to a problem-solving approach adapting research-based evidence to context-specific, contingent, and emergent circumstances through a science framework for developing and testing conjectures. Design science principles are situation and context specific, meaning that they are somewhat general by necessity, requiring thoughtful adaptation to specific situations, and readapting in response to emerging conditions. This requires being less averse to ambiguity and allowing for the chance of failure though by design this should be during early prototyping phases.

Considering then the purpose(s) to be served by a design is important. Determining the full final defining purpose of the process at the start may not always be possible or even desirable. One, because the context may change because articulating purpose is not a one-time exercise. Two, coproducing that purpose in collaboration with participants, through the public process may be desirable. The literature on collaboration tells us that it is important to include the full range of stakeholders when the seeking of consensus is the prime decision-making method and a durable solution is sought. These are two independent considerations though and achieving one does not guarantee achieving the other. Still, according to sources of extensive research cited in the article, the chances of a decision-making “blunder” increases dramatically on strategic decisions without first consulting with key stakeholders prior to finalizing purposes and desired outcomes.

Deciding who the appropriate stakeholders should be and what the corresponding approaches to engagement should be can be, according to the article, less clear with more general and less controversial participation processes. A basic strategy for engagement for informing, for collaborating, or for empowering should be based on a clear purpose of participation. Communicating with and involving stakeholders should use different approaches throughout the process even under a new community paradigm model.

Most basic technical or operational issues facing communities don’t require substantial changes in the applicable knowledge or technology base, stakeholder relationships, broad organizational strategies, or governance mechanisms. Reality requires making and living with choices in a world with limited resources and possibilities and not every community based undertaking requires full community participation. It is when problems are more complex and politically divisive as they are with Wicked Problems that changes in the pertinent knowledge or technology base, new concepts, and different stakeholders and different stakeholder networks need to be included.

A common perspective though, raised during LinkedIn discussions, is that the 'public engagement' process is used by government institutions or organizations looking for a rubber stamp of approval of predetermined outcomes and are generally not truly open to meaningful discussion of alternatives or the opening up of new possibilities. Institutional planners are often uncomfortable when new ideas, not their own, are put forward. How can we then design public participation in policy making that is open to new ideas bubbling up? First let's look at what arguably occurs more frequently today.

The Design map serves as a template for possible public participation processes but as actually manifested through different relationships with different social entities in the community environment could take on numerous forms. The Public Participation Designed for Entrenched Incumbents map includes all of the same design guidelines as the Designing Public Participation Processes Map but organized very differently through causal connections. The last post stated that causal connections or loops were not developed for the Design map. The term entrenched, as used in ‘entrenched city hall’ by this blog was also reviewed recently.

A question raised through discussions on LinkedIn was whether the Designing Public Participation Processes Map included institutions or organizations? It does not, except as how they might endeavor to fulfill a role or function within the process. The Entrenched Incumbents map does, though these roles or functions could change under different configurations.

Also different is that the Entrenched Incumbents map involves the design guidelines or elements organized into processes or pathways for the active accomplishment of some objective rather than as system’s aspects serving as a template. Though seemingly an obviously overall beneficial goal, it is not necessary for all processes to serve the same overall purpose.

The Incumbent Control Pathway provides a pathway for approval of projects and policies desired by the incumbents through control over these design elements and over the public participation project management team, in whatever form it may take. There are still other elements of the design elements intended to advance participation but the public participation project management only has to put in a weak or diminished effort creating perhaps not barriers but an Incumbent Restrictions Pathway difficult to pass through. This leaves an Advocacy Intervention Pathway which has positive elements, including Inclusive Processes, but will not prevail unless community resolve overcomes the systemic influence of Participation Goals and Purpose set by the incumbents. All three pathways together do not include the connection between Community and Government which is shown as delayed as the main form of intervention, elections, take place usually only every four years. Next post will take us back to the Amplify the Voices of Community Members map.

Past Posts