This came about when we took a Second look at Making Cities Work. One fairly obvious conclusion arrived at is that communities are going to have to cope with far more austere circumstances. Another conclusion is that communities will have to depend to a great extent upon the sweat-equity of their community members. The effort to create new community paradigms cannot work without this regardless of other circumstances such as whether or not City Hall is supporting or opposing the effort.
The more typical scenario is to have one part of a community organize and use resources to oppose other groups competing for the same resources. This has usually been done by getting someone from a particular group elected to City Council or a similar legislative body. The problem has been that in many cases policy shifts back and forth never getting fully implemented because different factions win and lose over time or some factions within the community are often marginalized.
While encouraging greater direct democracy based on resources that can now be found online is seen as an important step to bring about the type of paradigm change desired for a community, it needs to be done within an environment of open Community Governance.
Community Governance is a term that can be thought of as both a process and as a vehicle for the process. People can approach governance through community interaction as in town hall meetings. This means that Community Governance does not have to replace a community's current form of municipal government, it can supplement it. City leaders can feel more confident that they are hearing the voice of the community rather than a few but vocal advocates of special interests. People can also approach governance by community using it to directly seek input from all members of the community perhaps even diminishing the role of elected officials. Either way, what is being sought is a means of deliberative decision making. One organization providing resources on deliberative decision making is the Kettering Foundation, which asks the important question, What Does It Take for Democracy to Work as It Should?
The Kettering Foundation recognizes that as members of a community, We Have to Choose.pdf but does not see deliberative decision making as a means of usurping control from the majority of a community.
Democracy based on public deliberation is not direct democracy or an alternative to representative democracy. Choosing representatives requires the sound judgment that deliberation promotes.
The Kettering Foundation also recognizes that one of the biggest challenges facing communities is developing the capacity of Working thru Difficult Decisions.pdf
The Kettering Foundation has found that sound decisions are more likely to be made when people weigh—carefully and fairly—all of their options for acting on problems against what they consider most valuable for their collective well-being. This is deliberative decision making. It not only takes into consideration facts but also recognizes the less tangible things that people value, such as their safety and their freedom to act.One suggested approach is Naming Framing Difficult Issues for Sound Decisions.pdf
The obvious question is, what would motivate citizens to invest their limited time and other resources in grappling with problems brimming with conflict-laden, emotionally charged disagreements? Generally speaking, people avoid conflict, and they don’t usually invest their energy unless they see that something deeply important to them, their families, and their neighbors is at stake. And they won’t get involved unless they believe there is something they, themselves, must do.
These differences don’t necessarily become divisive, however, especially when people recognize that although they don’t share the same circumstances, they share the same basic concerns. In deliberative decision making, people can see that they both agree and disagree. This encourages them to agree to disagree and lessens the likelihood of polarization.This is likely the most significant step provided so far that can be taken in creating new community paradigms. People implementing it are fundamentally changing their and their community's approach to these issues. This can make some fearful of attempting this because, as said in Working thru Difficult Decisions.pdf, "Deliberation seems like neurosurgery or something only an outsider can do".
Fortunately, the same article makes the case that this is not true and there are organizations out there to help. This help comes at three different levels. The first is a community platform for working together with other members of your community.
The World Cafe Community - Hosting Conversations about Questions that Matter
World Cafe provides a space where practitioners and supporters can share their experiences and learn from each other, a place for those new to the World Cafe to ask questions, and a place for us all to experience deep and meaningful conversations about those things that really matter. The World Cafe cafetogo.pdf provides the Seven Principles of the Cafe that are also explained in the video. The World Café is on Facebook
The second is a coalition of professionals and practitioners in the field of dialogue and deliberations that could be appealed to for further assistance. The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD), which can be found on the web at NCDD.org, actively promotes learning and collaboration among practitioners, public leaders, scholars and organizations involved in dialogue, deliberation, and other innovative group processes that help people tackle their most challenging problems. A useful resource provided by the NCDD is the NCDD 2010 Resource Guide. The NCDD is also on Facebook.
The third are professional organizations that set up these types of venues for specific communities. One such organization is AmericaSpeaks, a non-profit that through innovative deliberative tools such as 21st Century Town Meeting®, provides a platform helping people across the country and around the world have an impact on their communities. By giving the right tools to citizens, it provides an opportunity to have a strong voice in public decision-making within the increasingly short timeframes required of decision-makers. As a result, citizens can have an impact on decisions and those in leadership positions can make more informed, lasting decisions. AmericaSpeaks also has a page on Facebook.