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The Changing Landscape of Public Engagement

Pat Bonner
In 2006, Network News urged readers to look at “Public Deliberation: A Manager’s Guide to Public Engagement,” Exit EPA Disclaimer by Carolyn Luckensmeyer and Lars Hasselblad Torres, of AmericaSpeaks . In the Introduction (page 7) the authors state: “In this guide we hope to make the case for two key shifts in public administration. The first is a shift from information exchange models to information pro­cessing models of citizen engagement. The second is a shift from citizens as consumers to active shapers of government policies and programs [Note source: Cornwall and Gaventa, 2001. From Users and Choosers to Makers and Shapers: Repositioning Participation in Social Policy. Brighton, UK: Institute for Development Studies]  We believe that these two basic adjustments toward viewing citizen engagement as fundamentally knowledge building and necessarily influential within the administrative process can have profoundly positive benefits to the substance, transpar­ency, legitimacy, and fairness of policy development as well as the general view of government held by citizens.”

The authors conclude (page 44) that: “Rethinking public engagement is a critical challenge for federal agencies in the 21st century.  In an era of declining trust in public institutions, public flight from politics and urgent issues that require collaborative solutions, we encourage federal managers to rethink the way government engages with the public. We want to stress in particular the emerging role of govern­ment as convener, and to think about ways agencies can contribute to the growth of an infrastructure for engagement.”  The authors recommend a series of six internal reforms that agencies can begin implementing on their own (page 45) and five external reforms (pages 45 -46) that may require “substantial, nearly government-wide reforms” to create the “infrastructure for engagement.”

In November 2006, The Work Foundation, a London-based research and consultancy organization, released “Deliberative Democracy and the Role of Managers,” Exit EPA Disclaimer by Louise Horner Rohit Lehki and Ricardo Blaug. 

The researchers propose that “people who receive public services…should not be seen as passive consumers, but citizens with democratic rights, whose wishes need to be respected through a serious, renewed and continuous focus on their refined preferences and priorities.  Honoring what the public values most, rather than hitting centrally imposed targets, should be the principal aim of all public servants.”   In essence, they say that “the job of the public manager is to maximize public value.” 

In March 2007, IBM’s Center for the Business of Government released “Reflections on 21st Century Government Management,”Exit EPA Disclaimer the first publication in its 2008 Presidential Transition Series.  In it are essays by professors Donald Kettl (University of Pennsylvania) and Steven Kelman (Harvard).

Professor Kettl’s discussion focuses on “five imperatives for the performance of American government in the 21st century:

He notes on the last point (page 15) that:  “effective 21st century government requires a new role for citizens, one that requires them to rethink their connection to – and involvement in- the pursuit of the public interest” 
Professor Kelman suggests five trends -- if there is a focus on performance (page 40): 

On the trend of collaboration he notes (page 46):  “For interorganizational collaboration between government and the private or voluntary sectors, the main driver of collaboration is the view that organizations outside government possess resources in terms of capacity and/or legitimacy that help in solving public problems, so collaboration enhances the ability to achieve public purposes.  For interorganizational collaboration inside government, the main driver of collaboration is to try to overcome inevitable tensions and trade-offs among different organization-design departmentalization decisions.”           
Professor Kelman suggests that collaborative governance across sectors is the newest and therefore the trend most likely to change and develop in the next decade.   Among the policy and research areas needing work as the trend expands he includes (page 48):

The Center has launched an interactive, web-based conversation Exit EPA Disclaimer and invited readers of the essays to offer their reactions. The Center has asked the following questions to encourage response: 

Most recently, on April 4, 2007, the Working Group on Community Engagement in Health Emergency Planning of The Center for Biosecurity (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Baltimore, MD) released recommendations to mayors, governors, and health officers on why and how to involve local civic networks in preparedness.Exit EPA Disclaimer

The Working Group notes that: “In the context of a health emergency, strong partnerships between authorities and local civic networks can augment officials’ ability to govern in a crisis, improve application of communally held resources, and reduce social and economic costs”  

Three of the findings directly relate to the changing relationships between government and the public:

One of the Working Group’s recommendations is that:  “Federal authorities should make a sustained national investment in local health emergency preparedness systems that collaborate with civic groups and incorporate citizen input.”

Current examples of intergovernmental collaborations, multi level public/private collaborative problem solving partnerships in public engagement and new partnerships to support collaborative work follow.

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