Monday, June 18, 2007

Can Philanthropy be Citizen-Centered?

It may seem a contradiction in terms, given the very thick veil of secrecy that has long surrounded philanthropic institutions—and the lack of incentive to lift that veil—but let’s explore it anyway. As some have argued vociferously, philanthropy has become a cadre of elites whose decisions are rarely, if ever, made with the involvement of real people in real communities—other than using consultants to interview people for input as part of expert-driven and written reports that recommend what funders should do...

An anecdote illustrates how entrenched this view is. At a meeting of several foundation officials a few years ago, the issue of “accountability” emerged (one of many buzzwords—along with “evaluation,” “logic models,” “theory of change” and “strategic planning”—that are the focus of much pontificating but are rarely demonstrated through actual practice and results).

Much back-slapping ensued, with participants their commitment to transparency, demonstrated through their willingness to produce annual reports and host web sites. But I had a question. Is that really transparency when the information that grantseekers and the public really want is how the funder makes decisions. What criteria do they use? Whose opinion matters most?

I was met with stony silence. Then an uproar ensued.

“We don’t have to tell people that,” one foundation president said. “We’re private!” Another averred that “we don’t have to be accountable; we do good work.” Still another said that “opening this up to the public would prohibit us from being efficient.”

Is it true that foundations have no responsibility to be more transparent than they are to the public? What’s the incentive to do so? What responsibility do they have, actually, to the public?

Determined to find answers to these questions, the Case Foundation has launched a new pilot grantmaking program that tests whether it’s possible for a private foundation to involve real citizens in all phases of this program—from developing guidelines to it to vetting applications to making grant decisions. Read the recent New York Times story about it and stay tuned for ongoing progress reports.

In the meantime, let us know if you’ve heard about other funders who have tried to involve “real people” on their boards, in their grantmaking decision-making or in activities that go beyond attending meetings or responding to interviews. We’re interested.
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Are Legislators Finally Getting It About Working With Citizens?

A friend of who lives in a mid-sized town in Massachusetts was concerned that the sidewalks in her neighborhood were becoming so full of potholes that her kids couldn’t ride their bikes on them anymore. With a group of equally concerned neighbors, she marched down to City Hall to meet with her City Council member. “We want to help you do something about this situation,” she said to the member. The member kindly thanked her for her offer and said: “But that’s our job. Why are you here?”...

A true story that’s hardly unique. It underscores that even when there are citizens willing to step up and “get engaged,” they may meet with downright hostility when they try to access legislators who seem to have forgotten that they’re supposed to be listening to and working with a public they’ve sworn to serve.

So says Matt Leighninger in his new book, The Next Form of Democracy: How Expert Rule is Giving Way to Shared Governance…and Why Politics Will Never Be the Same.

According to Leighninger, legislators may finally be getting it that they aren’t going to have much success if they continue to ignore citizens’ desire to help solve problems that are increasingly difficult to solve without some new and fresh ideas. And who better than to provide these ideas than the real people who face these issues everyday? In short, legislators, especially at the local level, are realizing that to be successful, they not only need public buy-in, they need public weigh -in.

That realization is the result of a convergence of two trends. The first is citizens’ frustration with their legislatures. The second is legislators’ frustration with the constant bashing many of them get from citizens, as well as a lack of public trust overall in what they do or say.

The auspicious outcome is that some legislators are now going beyond seeing citizens as mere constituents or asking them for “input” about legislative decisions. Instead, they’re working in partnership with citizens to craft and pass legislation and policies that respond to what people say they need. And both citizens and legislators are doing it through public deliberation—civic spaces that convene cross-sections of communities to talk, hear different ideas, explore options, make decisions, and take action on issues that will benefit the common good.

This isn’t some Kum-bay-yah picnic party. It’s real democracy at work and Leighninger provides a surfeit of examples of it in the book.

Take Eugene, Oregon, where City Council members confronted with an $8 million budget shortfall sent “budget worksheets” to every household in the city to get peoples’ input as to how they should allocate funds. Residents brought the worksheets to community workshops and told the city what they would do and why. The city took that information and developed three options that they presented to residents for another set of deliberations. The result was a brand new citizen-crafted new budget that emerged from a process that was so successful, it’s being considered for replication in the state capital.

Do you have others? Post them here.
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Friday, June 15, 2007

The Flattening of Politics Through Technology

I’ve long believed that the incessant focus on “getting people to vote” is a bit short-sighted and ignores the fact that, today, there are little real incentives for people to vote, let along participate in other political processes that are equally important to our democracy. As Bob Herbert wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, the system’s broken...

Today, there is little substance in campaigns, with spin passing for political discourse, much of which is driven by poll-obsessed consultants who balk at the hint of candidates having an original thought and expressing it. Even when there are political “debates,” the questions lobbed at candidates are usually those that have been vetted by party leaders and then posed by celebrity journalists, rather than by citizens. Campaigns are also dominated by big money and there’s a real dearth of interesting and inspiring candidates, due to ballot access requirements that keep third-party and independent candidates—those are, arguably, more interesting—off the ballots. The United States, in fact, has some of the most stringent ballot access requirements of any democracy in the world. Add to that antiquated redistricting rules and a Byzantine maze of electoral rules and regulations across every state, and you’ve created a real disincentive for people to “get involved” in politics.

But the answer isn’t to walk away. It’s to change it.

Auspiciously, that’s what some are trying to do, and they’re using technology to do it, which may be leading to the flattening of politics. Take the Vote Different video—the “most famous video of the election cycle thus far,” according to the Globalist. Although Hillary was bashed (literally) in the spot, which was produced by a self-proclaimed Obama fan, the overarching message was powerful: It’s time for real people to take back campaigns from the media pundits, pollsters, consultants, party fundraisers who’ve bollixed up the process. And it’s helped spread the word about a relatively new concept—citizen-generated content—to nearly 3 million people who’ve viewed the spot on YouTube.

So is this the wave of the future or just a fluke? The 600-plus participants who converged on New York City to attend the Personal Democracy Forum’s recent conference argue that technology is changing politics, like it or not, so we all better get used to it and see it as an opportunity to transform our democracy in ways that encourage, rather than limit, participation. This was PDF’s fourth conference, which brought together the country’s leading technologists, campaign organizers, politicos, bloggers, activists and journalists high-level conversations about the new tools, sites and practices that are transforming elections and government. In an array of tight and compelling presentations, speakers warned that politicians and others who aren’t getting it about technology will soon find themselves left in the dust—maybe not during this election cycle but certainly, the next one.

They also underscored how technology is pushing out the traditional media as the arbiters of what gets discussed regarding political campaigns through social networks and user-created media through which information flows from the bottom-up, rather than top-down. This is particularly true among young people, said danah boyd. In one of the most interesting presentations, boyd called on politicians to start understanding that, to young people, digital spaces are just as important as physical spaces and is where they tend to live their lives. To that end, she said, politicians need to start “giving digital handshakes on virtual receiving lines” by logging on once in awhile and participating interactively with young people, rather than just putting up a website and pushing out “messages” to them.

Politicians, boyd noted, aren’t doing this yet. Yes, they’re rushing to Facebook to put up a profile, but they’re still using these sites as platforms and “broadcast media like TV,” rather than interactive, civic spaces whose hallmark is interactivity and reciprocity. “Simply having a profile on MySpace,” she warns, “does not convince the under-30s to vote for you.” What will is making time to “shake hands” with young people digitally the same way politicians make time to shake hands with voters in public forums.
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Does Citizen-Centered Work Have to be Nonpartisan?

Of all the critiques of Citizens at the Center, the charge that it is “yet another ideological attempt to promote a liberal (or conservative) agenda.” Yes, both have been levied at the concept, which, in practice, is neither, ironically, proving the adage that people will see what they want to see, despite a cigar sometimes being just a cigar...

One of those discussions took place in Washington, D.C. this past December with a group of citizen-centered practitioners and scholars. Part of the group strongly believed that nonpartisanship is essential to deliberative processes if the goal is to create civic cultures built on mutual respect. That can only happen, one person said, “when a diverse group of people feel that their views – all views – are ‘heard’ and valued.” This does not preclude, he added, people having strong political views or engaging in more targeted efforts based on similar political interests or views, but to ensure that this kind of engagement is sustained and supported, “communities must first start from an equal platform to get everyone’s input and see where there are areas of mutual agreement.” Having pre-determined agendas is “antithetical to the deliberative process.”

Others disagreed, saying that what appears to be the approach’s “deep neutrality” may turn off would-be supporters. There was also concern that some may view the approach as not taking seriously enough the political, ethnic, racial, economic, and other differences that tend to divide people, especially during discussions between traditionally disenfranchised and privileged constituencies. Moreover, if people are expected to “take action together,” this implies a sense of efficacy or power that some groups of people do not have or to which they lack access.

Still others argued that citizen-centered work shouldn’t be synonymous with civility or consensus, stressing that deliberation implies ultimately making decisions. The emphasis is on the process through which communities get to those decisions, especially whether it’s done collectively with all people’s input or whether some are left out or not valued. As Peter Levine, one of the participants, noted: “People’s discussions and work should be open-ended, but when we ask why citizens have been sidelined and what to do about it, their answers reflect their political view. That’s fine; there are many valid flavors of civic renewal. Nothing could be more useful than a competition or debate among political parties and candidates who vied to put ‘citizens back at the center.’” Will Friedman, another participant, added that “this work should not be viewed as a replacement for partisanship but as a complement to it. It’s about having voices in the mix that may all be partisan but there are more of them and from a broader swath of groups.”

What do you think?
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Issues: Catalyst for or Results of Citizen-Centered Work?

Some research has shown that people, especially young people, are more inclined to be civically engaged when they become interested in a specific issue or cause. I know that was certainly true in my case.

This has raised questions about whether citizen-centered processes, which are deliberately cast as more open-ended or as public meetings that do not have a narrow or pre-determined issue focus, will be effective in inciting more civic engagement. As one colleague who’s a staunch believer in the power of issues as catalysts for longer-term engagement put it: “Who wants to come to a public discussion in which you have no idea what’s going to be discussed?”...

Well, maybe some of us would. In fact, I know many people who are tired of complex issues or problems being labeled in ways that immediately shuts off discussion or exploration. Think of abortion. Most Americans are decidedly moderate on this issue; yet, most public forums about it tend to be defined as either “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” Where do those who lie somewhere in between go to talk about the issue in ways that respect what they have to say?

Not to mention that there are always a swath of people who are just genetically wired to be interested in issues or causes. And there’s always a group of folks who want to volunteer. But are there spaces for the rest of the community who may not be interested in specific issues but who may want to weigh in on the larger health or well-being of their neighborhoods?

So, there are interesting questions about the role of specific issues in citizen-centered processes. Do issue-specific efforts among a smaller set of players who are interested in them lead to the likelihood that the larger communities in which these issues play out are more connected and interested in working together—across ideological differences—for the larger common good? What happens after the issues is resolved, won or lost?
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The Power Equation in Citizen-Centered Work

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of community organizers to talk about the citizen-centered concept. A rich conversation ensued but what stood out was the concern some organizers had about where the concept of power fits in public deliberation and problem-solving. Echoing a common critique, they said that public deliberation can seem elitist because it tends to attract the kind of people who are already interested in talking about these issues in a very intellectual way, namely “white, educated, and already-engaged people.” Others agreed that to get disenfranchised populations to these meetings requires much more than putting up a sign in the grocery store. “Lots of work is needed to get the people we work with to be interested in larger public deliberation,” they said, and “it starts with engaging them around issues that affect mostly them and their own communities--like discrimination--rather than larger issues that may cut across other groups."

Inattention to the above, they added, inevitably results in "the same people who already have power being those who are going to be more inclined to participate in public deliberation," perpetuating the problem such work is trying to solve......

Is this true and if so, what can we do about it? Alison Kadlec and Will Friedman of Public Agenda recently decided to tackle those tough questions in a thoughtful article that appeared in the Journal of Public Deliberation. Specifically, they respond to the characterization of public deliberation as a process that disregards the presence of structural inequalities and entrenched notions of power that can undermine the development of meaningfully inclusive deliberative forums. Instead, they argue that public deliberation work, if done right, can actually be enhanced when practitioners and participants acknowledge power imbalances and structural inequities.

They recommend three areas in which greater awareness of these issues can serve as a driver for more inclusive, meaningful and egalitarian public work: control, design, and change. First, awareness of power issues should lead to the development of deliberative processes that are not controlled by any “single entity with a stake in the substantive outcome of the deliberation will be the main designer or guarantor of the process.” They recommend two possible interlocutors: nonpartisan intermediary organizations or multi-partisan deliberative leadership coalitions (a variety of groups with cross-cutting agendas joining together to check provide checks and balances to one another).

Second, these processes need to be carefully designed. Who will be recruited to participate and how, for example? How will the process be facilitated and structured? What are the goals of the process? To deliberate and hear other perspectives? Or to decide on action to address a specific issue?

How issues will be framed is another key consideration, delineating between “framing for deliberation” (an open process) versus the more traditional “framing to persuade” (defining an issue in ways that attempts to encourage people to do “what I want them to do”). The latter has been the more prevalent practice, which Kadlec and Friedman believe precludes opportunities for people with diverse views on issues to have those views heard on a level playing field.

That doesn’t mean, however, that deliberation should necessarily lead to consensus among participants but rather, confluence. The authors define this as a “gathering together at a juncture [such as a] common problem around with alternative views may be voiced…and that encourages participants to reach across boundaries to explore multiple perspectives by focusing together on the examination of an issue from as many vantage points as possible.” This problem-oriented approach “seeks ongoing input…from a range of possible stakeholders in a process that clarifies serious differences as well as potential common ground, and suggests ways of moving ahead on an issue that are, if provisional, nevertheless practical and dynamic.”

Finally, practitioners should be clear about whether they are seeking a change in the substance and tone of civic discourse (civic capacity-building through open inquiry, discussion, and exploration of options) or whether they are seeking change toward a specific action or event (civic problem-solving). They argue that both are important. While achieving public policy change can affect the lives of many people across communities, there is also value in having civic spaces in which people feel they are able to voice their concerns, hear others’ points of view, and gain a sense of civic efficacy. It can also be a forum through which to bring professionals, experts, legislators and others with more traditional power together with grassroots citizens to share decision-making about larger community issues and direction.
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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ships Passing: Technology and the Civic Engagement Field

While the civic engagement domain scurries to ramp up civic engagement through volunteering, voting, community service, organizing and other tactics, there’s another group of people attempting to do likewise, albeit through different—and some say more efficient—means. These are the Tekkies, the NetRoots folks, the Internet users, the geeks, and technologists—a rapidly growing swath of the population who are using the power of technology to create new forms of public spaces that connect people around the world to take action on issues that matter to them...

These sites are engaging millions of people everyday, but for some reason, they continue to be overlooked by the civic engagement field. In fact, the service and civic engagement conferences I’ve attended have nary a mention of how technology could or should be used for civic purposes other than a throwaway line or two about “technology’s really important” and then it’s back to the discussion about more traditional programs.

What’s going on here? Why aren’t there more opportunities to merge and leverage the enormous brainpower, talent, enthusiasm and savvy of both those using technology for civic purposes and those working “on the ground” to increase engagement?

Perhaps we could begin by nudging the service and civic engagement field to start incorporating more serious and substantive discussions and planning about the role of technology in their efforts and, most important, how to use it effectively. On the other side, technologists could be gently reminded from time to time that not everyone is IM’ing and blogging 24/7 and that a surfeit of citizens are, let’s face it, still a bit daunted by the Internet. Rather than exclude these folks or dismiss them as Luddites, the tekkies might ratchet down their esotericism and get a bit more real with real people who could and should learn more about this democratizing medium.

Luckily, there are some of these efforts afoot, including one led by the folks at Compumentor who recently sponsored the second NetSquared event in San Diego. More than 300 nonprofits, tech practitioners, innovators, philanthropists and visionaries participated in the conference. Prior to the event, participants were asked to vote online to select projects -- from a larger applicant pool -- that they thought had the greatest potential to leverage the social web to create social change.

But we need lots more of these kinds of gatherings that bring together the civic engagement and technology communities. What could be developed to make this happen? Post.
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BUT, the Luddite Asks... technology a magic bullet for engaging citizens more deeply in public problem-solving? Critics argue that face-to-face deliberation will always trump “faceless” emails when it comes to real engagement. Moreover, given evidence suggesting that the Internet tends to be better positioned as a tool for convening like-minded people, rather than those who disagree, is it possible that technology could ultimately prohibit citizen-centered work, given that one of the keys to this concept is involving a wide cross-section of people in communities, including those with very different perspectives…?

What do you think?
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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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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Participatory versus Deliberative Democracy: You Can’t Have Both

One of the glaring gaps in this area is the lack of hard data (or at least any data that’s been more rigorously culled) as to whether citizen-centered efforts enhance the civic proclivities and engagement of entire communities over the long-term. In Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy, Diane Mutz, A. Stouffer Professor of Political Science and Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, attempts to close this gap by combining political theory with empirical research on how and whether deliberation among groups of people who disagree enhances or quells democracy. She concludes that the two lofty goals of active citizenship and careful deliberation are incompatible...

This conclusion dovetails with questions raised above about whether civic engagement is spurred by an interest in specific issues or causes or whether it is diminished by activism that is generated by self-selected groups of advocates who may have little or no interest in hearing different opinions, even moderate views. At the same time, it questions whether public deliberation is any better, given her assertion that only 23 percent of Americans say they could recall having a political conversation with someone who disagreed with them.

Is it really true that we have to choose between one or the other?
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Friday, June 1, 2007

Citizens Go Back To School

One of the most fertile grounds for citizen-centered efforts is school reform. Today, in scores of communities, citizens are coming together to rally around better schools but in ways that are now getting the rapt attention of the people in charge of their schools. Why? Because the people in charge are starting to realize that to be successful, they need public involvement—not just input—in what goes on in schools.

And that starts with giving taxpayers the chance to come together with school leaders to hunker down and figure out how to improve public schools in ways that not only improve education but the communities in which schools are located...

Education Week writes that in several communities, civic groups are going beyond fundraising and “boosterism” to play significant roles in constructing and driving their districts’ improvement agendas. These reform-support organizations (RSOs) have been established in Boston, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Mobile, Alabama, where they engage the public, conduct research on district initiatives, and/or analyze and report district performance data. In Mobile, public engagement was the catalyst for effective public education reform through the “Yes We Can” initiative, through which more than 1,500 community members convened in nearly 60 discussions “around living rooms, kitchen tables, churches, and community centers about what type of community they wanted and what type of public schools they needed to fulfill those goals.” From this came the PASSport to Excellence, a strategic plan for the district and community outlining five priority goals for the system, followed by nineteen benchmarks.

These organizations are becoming essential to improving schools and school performance because they help monitor processes that can too often “fall prey to politics and leadership turnover,” writes Norm Fruchter and Richard Gray of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. They say that this kind of engagement can help transform the relationship between the public and schools from one in which the former “seeks permission” to one that is a “negotiated partnership” between the two in pursuit of developing a shared agenda to achieve better education for all young people. With a more equitable distribution of power and resources, the public is then better able to “challenge the power imbalances that have imposed and maintained poorly performing schools….”

Randall Nielsen agrees: More educators have come to recognize—or have been forced to admit—that the success of their work requires active collaboration of parents and other community actors” and that public schools “need to be more deliberately connected to their communities.” Programs that link communities with schools, however, are not enough; equal attention must be paid to building the public’s capacity to participate in this kind of engagement, says Michael Briand.

In a recent article in Harvard Educational Review, Arnold Fege, director of public engagement and advocacy for the Public Education Network underscores the importance of parental and public engagement in sustaining equity in education by tracing the history of this engagement in the United States. Fege also proposes that NCLB data can be used by citizens as a tool for encouraging parental and community-based involvement in decisionmaking, resource allocation, and assurance of quality and equity in schools.
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Citizen-Centered Deliberation is Alive and Well in California

We’ve mentioned Common Sense California (CSC) previously in this blog space, but it deserves another mention because it’s helping to fuel one of the most striking examples of citizen-centered work in the country—and one of the few occurring at the state level. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, on August 11, 2007, CSC, along with CaliforniaSpeaks, will convene more than 3,000 Californians—selected through random telephone lists so that they will represent the state’s diversity—at eight sites across the state to deliberate on one of the most pressing issues facing residents: health care reform.

The events will help open up the closed doors that have previously greeted people wanting to weigh in on this issue with their state legislators in Sacramento. Sitting at tables of 10-12 people each, they’ll discuss whether everyone get health coverage or some; whether there should be an "individual mandate" requiring every Californian to buy insurance; and whose money should pay for the system. Each table will have a wireless laptop, which will be linked by satellite to other meeting sites, and each participant will use a key pad to vote on various aspects of the health-care reform package. The goal is to pull together a set of recommendations to present to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature.

The event will cost $4.2 million, which is being subsidized by the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation and the Blue Shield of California Foundation. That’s a drop in the bucket, says Joe Goldman, a vice president at AmericaSpeaks—the sponsor of the event—compared to the billions of dollars California spends on health care, and the tens of millions of dollars various special interests will spend on advertising and lobbying to shape the outcome of the health-care debate.
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Tough Love: What Is Citizen-Centered Stuff Anyway?

What do people think about the citizen-centered concept? In March, we got a chance to find out when I was asked to moderate a plenary panel discussion on citizen-centered work for the Hands On Network's annual conference. One of the stars of the nonprofit sector, Hands On has engaged thousands of people across the country in volunteering in their communities, including New Orleans where the conference was held...

To introduce this rather complex concept, which, admittedly, isn’t exactly the stuff of witty tag lines and captivating anecdotes, I prepared some opening remarks. Three panelists were on hand to respond: Diana Aviv, head of Independent Sector; David Eisner, head of the Corporation for National and Community Service; and Ben Binswanger, CEO of the Case Foundation.

Diana and David supported the gist of the paper but had some specific questions and concerns about the approach. David cautioned against making citizen-centered work “yet another program” that would merely replace other programs out there. Diana asked about the incentives for nonprofits, already strapped for time and funds to do their work, to engage in public problem-solving. And she and all the panelists had questions as how—and even whether—this kind of approach could be “scaled up” in a bigger way.

Some in the audience saw public deliberation as “too much talking” and “not enough doing.” Still others saw it as a critique of volunteering, which, to my dismay, led to yet another round of the tiresome and interminable “service versus civics” debate. It’s a bit troubling when a concept that deliberately attempts to transcend this kind of “which is better” argument by stressing that it is citizens themselves who should be making the decision about how they want to be civically engaged, rather than experts or program directors, is still grist for the service versus civics debate.

Nevertheless, these are important concerns to address if citizen-centered work is to move forward. How can we explain this more compellingly? What are the incentives for nonprofits to use these approaches? Are they really just another “program”?
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Citizens Give Their Ideas for A New and Improved D.C.

We all could probably think of ways to improve D.C., but who better to ask than the people who actually live and work there? That’s what D.C. Appleseed, a social justice advocacy group, thought, too, so they decided to asked people to give them their ideas. Specifically, they said, tell us what your biggest concern is, suggest a way to fix it, and then say how doing so would benefit the entire city.

The project began in 2006 during the months leading to the local 2006 elections to “provide residents of the National Capital area with a mechanism for bringing their ideas for solving city problems to the attention of city decision-makers”—-a mechanism that was missing.

Evidently, lots of other people felt similarly. Nearly 1,500 ideas were submitted by residents located in all eight of the District’s wards and surrounding states. In late December 2006, DC Appleseed issued a book presenting a summary of the nearly 1,500 ideas submitted during "Solving DC Problems Campaign 2006." The book, which includes a foreword from the mayor and mayor-elect, was presented to all of the District's top officials.

Now, DC Appleseed is working with the District government to create an ongoing collaboration that will give residents ongoing opportunities to present ideas directly to top officials as part of the City's strategic planning process. Read more about the book, Solving DC Problems, as well a piece about the initiative that appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Read the rest of the post