ON THE AGENDA | JUNE 22ND, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo and MATT LEIGHNINGER

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation: Part 1

Throughout the summer, we will share key talents to help local leaders engage citizens.

When it comes to local governing, we’re living in a time of great potential and democratic creativity. While the federal government may seem isolated from the needs and concerns of citizens, local officials are experimenting with new ways to encourage deeper and more robust public participation.

This is happening for good reason. Both leaders and residents are frustrated with traditional methods of public engagement, which often exclude the historically disenfranchised and discourage thoughtful consideration of problems and potential solutions.

So local officials are looking for new ways to hold public meetings. They’re integrating apps and other technologies that provide different ways for residents to weigh in with their concerns and insights. And they’re experimenting with innovative processes like participatory budgeting.

This period of democratic creativity has left us with an exceptionally wide array of participation skills, and the number and diversity of these capacities (especially those that rely on technology) continues to grow daily.

Yet most of these processes, tools and technologies have not been seamlessly or even adequately incorporated into the legal, governmental or civic infrastructure for public participation. Instead, as Maria Hadden of the Participatory Budgeting Project asserts, these practices are “civic hacks” developed to bypass our antiquated political systems.

In a supplemental module for Matt’s book, Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy, Matt and his co-author Tina Nabatchi outline 10 skills and capacities foundational to deeper and broader public participation.

These skills and capacities - or talents - also can help contribute to stronger participation infrastructures within our political systems. In other words, they can contribute to a system where public engagement processes, tools and technologies are not just “civic hacks.” Rather, they are qualities and characteristics of a political system in which people have a wide variety of ways to participate on a broader range of issues and decisions.

The 10 key talents for engaging citizens are:

  1. Building coalitions and networks;
  2. Recruiting participants;
  3. Communicating about participation;
  4. Managing conflict;
  5. Providing information and options;
  6. Managing discussions;
  7. Helping participants generate ideas;
  8. Helping participants make group decisions;
  9. Supporting action efforts; and
  10. Evaluating participation.

Throughout the summer, we will dedicate a blog post a week to detailing these talents, including the practical practices and qualities that they entail. For each talent, we identify and discuss the democratic skills and capacities that compose the main areas of expertise in public engagement. We will conclude the series with information about resources participation leaders can access to learn and develop participation skills.

Whether you are dealing with an immediate challenge or building long-term infrastructure, these talents are valuable. But that does not mean that everyone involved with a participation project needs all of these skills. In many cases, participation leaders simply need to know that the skill exists and know where to find people who have it.

The good news is that most participation skills are not rare: there are usually many people within a given community who have learned at least one of these skills, either in the process of an engagement effort or in some other context.

These people may not, however, know that the skill is relevant to public participation work. Finding practitioners with these skills and training others in them is not only helpful for organizing a project or sustaining a process, but also critical for elevating the whole idea of public participation and honoring those who are committed to this work.

Portions of this post were excerpted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy by Tina Nabatchi and Matt Leighninger. Copyright© 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.


Ten Key Talents

Submitted by: Terry Amsler on Friday, July 8th, 2016

This is very helpful and I can use it in teaching my undergraduate public engagement course. As appropriate to their intent, Matt and Tina might add to the list: 1)the capacity for the design of public engagement processes and knowing the options for the means and ends of same); 2) being aware of strategies to embed and sustain public engagement/deliberative processes into ongoing governance, especially when applied at the local level; and 3) in relation to the "recruiting participants" item the might frame it slightly stronger with some reference to demographic representation and inclusion, and to a diversity of views.

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