Monday, January 31, 2011

Of Aspirations and Hopes, Part Three

What the longstanding dynamic between residents and City Hall reminds me a bad marriage.

Mostly in the sense of both parties having carried on through the dysfunction. Over the course of time, what's in front of you tends to become what you expect, so that unless there's an impetus to change things, the status quo will remain just that.

Moreover, 'couples counselling' is often predicated with expanding the two parties' skill sets, providing them with deeper understanding by way of improving communication skills. (This includes developing better listening skills as much as those connected to talking.)

In Scott London's powerful essay 'Thinking Together: The Power of Deliberative Dialogue', we have some very good suggestions as to what truly constructive communication looks like within the realm of governance, and under what circumstances it best flourishes.

(I need to say here that the end result of having an 'increased relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors in local governance' is not comprised solely of 'deliberative dialogue', but it is an undeniably important element. For a broader overview, it might be helpful to take a look at 'The Power of Dialogue' as well as this post.)

Here are some choice bits from Mr. London's essay:

"The purpose is not so much to solve a problem or resolve an issue as to explore the most promising avenues for action. Following a usage that traces back to the ancient Greeks, deliberation can be defined as the process of establishing intent and resolve, where a person or group explores different solutions before settling on a specific course of action."

"Deliberative dialogue differs from other forms of public discourse -such as debate, negotiation, brainstorming, consensus-building- because the objective is not so much to talk together as to think together, not so much to reach a conclusion as to discover where a conclusion might lie."

"A problem needs to be solved; a question cannot be solved, but it can be experienced and, out of that experience, a common understanding can emerge that opens an acceptable path to action."

"It is commonly assumed that the only alternatives to consensus are compromise and dissent. But deliberative dialogue offers another possibility by assuming that individuals' views may be to some degree amorphous and indeterminate until they have been, as Madison put it, "refined and enlarged" through the process of reasoning with others."

"But as I listened to these citizens deliberate in community forums, town meetings, study circles and other venues in the early 1990s, I made a significant discovery: people's disagreements on given issues were usually the starting point, not the final outcome, of their deliberations. As people voiced their ideas, their experience, and their opinions, as they took in the perspectives of others and clarified points of tension and disagreement, the emphasis would gradually shift away from ideological differences toward common values."

"The most powerful aspect of a deliberative session is the glimpse it offers of how people "reason" about public issues. Opinion polls and "on the street" interviews — the conventional mechanisms for capturing public sentiment — tell us very little about this process. At best, they give us a snapshot of where people think they stand on an issue; at worst, they offer a distorted and misleading view of how and what people are thinking. A useful opinion, after all, is not a momentary response to an unexamined question but a process of thinking, shaped by the continuous acquisition and rearrangement of knowledge and the activity of inquiring, exploring and evaluating. A question may "invite" an opinion, but it also may modify and recast it. In this sense, people typically do not "have" opinions but are, rather, involved in "opinioning." That an opinion is conceived of as a measurable thing falsifies the process by which people, in fact, do their "opinioning." Polling that relies upon "short form" answers to predesigned questions tends to hide this process from our view and to substitute a "vote" (or checkmark) for a judgment."

"Deliberative dialogue represents a striking contrast to the sort of discussion and debate that too often passes for public discourse today. In our poll-driven and media-saturated political culture — where rhetoric and sound-bites masquerade as serious ideas, and where political and professional elites often presume to speak on behalf of the people — we rarely take counsel of the public. And when we do, it tends to be in the most superficial of ways — through snapshot polls, perhaps, or "on the street" interviews. Deliberative dialogue illustrates that the consent of the governed is not an abstract or elusive democratic ideal. It is a matter of people playing a greater role in shaping the debate and setting directions for public policy not just by talking together but by thinking together."

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I'm always interested in feedback, differing opinions, even contrarian long as they're delivered with decorum...with panache and flair always helping.