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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Deliberative Democracy and Civic Engagement

Deliberation is a distinctive theme of our book, and many posts have examined ways in which officials try to engage citizens in the deliberative process.

The most fundamental problem in our civic life is the disengagement of citizens from their governments. The vast gulf between ordinary people and the elites who dominate our politics is well documented. Less often explained and articulated is that without restoration of at least a little public trust in government, we cannot manage any of the mounting crises we face. "Bringing Citizen Voices to the Table: a Guide for Public Managers," a recently published book by Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, is a detailed instruction manual for public officials who understand the importance of this challenge and want to take it on.
Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, is a pioneer in the deliberative-democracy movement who has spent her career working to rebuild the public's ability to govern themselves. She has a doctorate in organizational behavior, ran her own organizational-consulting firm for a dozen years, and served as chief of staff for Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste, as a deputy project manager on Vice President Al Gore's reinventing-government task force, and as a consultant to the White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration.
In her book, Lukensmeyer devotes a chapter to each of seven strategies for bringing citizen voices into governance, explaining why each specific tactic it is important and what will go wrong if it isn't attended to. Using these strategies, Lukensmeyer and her team have tackled some of the wickedest problems in public policy, from how to rebuild Ground Zero after 9/11 to reforming health care in California to rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
In New Orleans, for example, more than 4,000 people participated in two "community congresses" that Andy Kopplin, who was then the executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, credits in Lukensmeyer's book with turning the rebuilding efforts around. "There's no doubt that the Unified New Orleans Plan developed by citizens was the foundation for the city's final recovery plan and that it has had a significant, lasting impact on governance ever since," says Kopplin, who now is the city's chief administrative officer and a deputy mayor.