Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Is Citizen-Centered Work “Scale-able”?

I’m not a fan of the phrase “going to scale.” In addition to sounding a bit dated, it assumes that small, grassroots organizations or initiatives can and should be replicated to become part of a larger and more bureaucratic institution down the road—a notion that’s somewhat antithetical to citizen-centered work, which I believe is more a mindset than it is a model, project, or program.

Perhaps the better question would be: Is citizen-centeredness a mindset that can be incorporated into more broadly into existing programs, projects, or models? Unfortunately, that question hasn’t been posed as much as: “Is this citizen-centered work really able to ‘go to scale?’”...

Common Sense California is trying to show that it can. As one of the few organizations engaged in public deliberation on a statewide level, CSC recently held its first Conference on Deliberative Democracy at Pepperdine University. With nearly 100 participants representing all corners of the state, the conference featured a deliberative process that resulted in a set of practical citizen-centered projects that will be pursued in California.

One of the most intriguing was building support for a California version of the Citizens Initiative Review, a process through which groups of citizens review, evaluate, and make recommendations about pending ballot proposals that are often written in ways that are deliberately confusing to voters. The process is now being proposed for Washington and Oregon, and now, through CSC, it may be explored for use in California.

CSC’s Board Co-Chair Steve Weiner is confident that these projects will be successful because of CSC’s deep reach across a variety of constituencies, organizations, and sectors throughout California and, most important, because of its commitment to bringing together citizens and legislators to solve problems.

Like Matt Leighninger (see "Are Legislators Finally Getting it..above), Steve has noticed that legislators’ interest in reaching out to and involving citizens has increased markedly in recent years. As evidence, he points to the standing-room-only status of an upcoming meeting of the Association of Bay Area Governments that’s focusing on “collaborative government.” “Hundreds of these folks are coming,” Weiner said, “because they now know that they need and want public involvement in their processes.”

Are there other efforts like this? Let us know.

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