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Functions and Processes for Community Intelligence

ref: Designing Multi-Process Public Participation Programs



As described in Essay 3, we can envision five functions that serve to generate and sustain community intelligence:

1. Community information

2. Community conversation

3. Community healing

4. Community engagement

5. Public judgment

6. Public reflection

(Underlying these functions are the resources, infrastructure and culture that support them. These include time, space, technology, facilitation, money, know-how, etc. I want to acknowledge here the vital importance of these factors, while leaving for later their analysis and incorporation into the model.)

Each of the functions 1-6 is described below in terms of its purpose and the general process patterns that characterize it. Also included are occasional notes and one or more examples of methods and approaches that serve the function being described. Several of the functions are broken down into sub-functions which are similarly described.

Occasionally a function description will include notes about activities that, though not always characteristic of that function, greatly enhance community intelligence when they are present. They are indicated by "(Enhancement)."

1. The Community Information Function

Purpose: To alert and inform the community regarding public conditions and issues, and the activities being undertaken to handle them.

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Welcome all forms, modes and shades of information and perspective.

b. Make sure relevant information is accessible and known.

c. Facilitate knowledge about information (assumptions, sources, biases, relativity, "media literacy," etc.).

d. (Enhancement) Generate high quality information (e.g., timely, accurate, balanced, relevant, clarifying, empowering, feedback, etc.).

Note: The community information function can include any one-way or non-conversational communication. To the extent communication is non-responsive (as is often true at public hearings), it is at best informational. Even Q&A sessions, if tightly controlled, would qualify primarily as informational. As soon as information begins to be exchanged back and forth responsively, it becomes part of the second function, conversation. Much "public participation" is informational only. Informational activities are vital to any program aimed at community intelligence, especially where there feedback is needed or where informational outputs from one process become informational inputs for another process.

Examples: Briefing materials, much email and web material, Freedom of Information Acts, Sunshine laws, libraries, novels and drama with social themes, instructional activities, whistle blowers, broadcast and print media -- especially civic journalism that provides balanced information and feeds the results and stories of dialogue and deliberation back into the community.

2. The Community Conversation Function.

Purpose: To connect people, share thoughts and feelings, learn together, coordinate lives and activities, and move information, insight and possibility through the community.

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Ensure freedom and safety to speak and associate.

b. People listen - the more fully, the better.

c. People speak - the more authentically, the better.

d. Help others do b and c.

e. (Enhancement) Provide resources, spaces, and opportunities for people to do b and c.

Note: A conversational "field" made up of all informal and convened conversations in the community provides the context within which all the other conversations listed in this study can flourish and benefit the community. To the extent a general conversational environment does not exist (e.g., where people spend all their time in front of their TVs or where there is public suppression), the specialized conversations that follow are limited in their impact. The conversational "field" interacts with the informational "field" generated by the community information function, above, with conversations generating, evolving or moving information, and new information informing the unfolding conversations.

Examples: Conversation Cafés, salons, potlucks, many seminars and educational activities, participatory listervs and online conferences, hang-out spaces...

3. The Community Healing Function

Purpose: To dissolve stereotypes, heal intergroup alienation, and build relationships

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Convene diverse citizens, partisans or stakeholders.

b. Help them hear and understand themselves and each other better.

c. (Enhancement) Help them clarify new ways to relate to each other.

Note: If the participants are leaders or networkers in their communities, they will spread their resulting experience and understanding into those communities, generating impact beyond the forum itself. This factor can be strategically designed in to a process and, since the community healing function is a part of most of the functions that follow (in the sense that those functions necessarily engage creatively with differences), this "leaders as participants" factor is also a factor in all of them.

Examples: Public Conversation Project, Commons Café, Intergroup Dialogue, various approaches to conflict resolution.

4. The Community Engagement Function

Purpose: To engage people in co-creating ways they can work together to improve conditions in their community or world

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Gather concerned citizens.

b. Help them understand the issues and each other.

c. Help them create or connect up with activities to make a difference.

Notes: This can feed into other community intelligence initiatives, as when participants decide to engage in policy-making or lobbying, or decide to draw other people into dialogue and deliberation. Participation in this type of process feeds people's sense of citizenship as informed, effective agents of change.

Examples: Study circle programs, self-replicating living-room presentations (e.g., Beyond War); see also below.

4A. The Community Engagement Function - self-organization

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Help interested people find each other and talk.

b. Let them take any actions together they want to.\

c. Repeat (a) and (b) fractally.

Example: Open Space Technology

4B. The Community Engagement Function - vision

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Gather stakeholders and/or citizens together.

b. Help them understand issues and each other by reviewing what's been happening.

c. Develop a shared vision or purpose.

d. Help them organize for diverse actions to serve that shared vision or purpose.

e. (Enhancement) Help them periodically review their progress.

Examples: Future Search, Community Vision programs

4C. The Community Engagement Function - collaborative management

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Convene key stakeholders across all relevant sectors, including government agencies.

b. Help them uncover and understand each other's interests and needs, capacities and resources, and relationship to the area concerned.

c. Facilitate their identifying and implementing shared management initiatives for the area concerned.

d. Help (a)-(c) become a self-organizing, self-managing, adaptive process.

Example: Collaborative Watershed Management Councils (EPA sponsored)

5. The Public Judgment Function

Purpose: To bring the diversity of the community together to influence the work of governance

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Convene a broad spectrum of people to consider an issue, option, candidate, etc.

b. Help them engage with a broad spectrum of information and perspectives about it -- including each other's.

c. Help them deliberate about it to a collective judgment.

d. Pass on their responses to the public, media and decisionmakers.

e. (Variable) Expect those findings and recommendations to shape subsequent policies and programs (or set up things so that they have impact automatically).

Notes: In step (c) a true consensus -- all parties co-creating outcomes that serve the whole -- is desirable. But if true consensus cannot be achieved, respectfully articulated differences and voting are preferable to compromises resulting in agreements that few like or that don't really deal with the issue. Also, as in the fourth function (community engagement), participation in this type of process feeds people's sense of citizenship, although this time through their sense of impacting their government.


5A. Public Judgment Function - Stakeholder Deliberative Councils.

Purpose: To address hot issues by developing less controversial proposals that diverse partisans can all buy in to.

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Convene a broad spectrum of partisans and/or stakeholders to consider an issue.

b. Have them share their views, concerns and expectations.

c. Help them deliberate about the issue to a collective judgment.

d. Pass on their recommendations to decisionmakers and possibly the public and media as well.

e. Expect those findings and recommendations to influence subsequent policies and programs, since they are politically safer than prevailing alternatives.

Note: If participating stakeholders are formally answerable to constituents, deliberations may be impeded to the extent participants are locked into previously authorized positions. However, the success of any agreements, policies or programs may be enhanced by participants caucusing with or getting feedback from their constituents before deliberations are complete.
     The more anyone has the power to implement or undermine any decisions, the more politically smart it is to include them in the deliberations, one way or another. If all partisans and sectors are "on board" implementation will probably be smooth.

Example: Consensus Councils

5B. Public Judgment Function - Citizen Feedback Forums

Purpose: To provide informed, thoughtful public opinion feedback on official proposals, both to guide public officials and to help the public feel it has been engaged.

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Convene a broad spectrum of citizens to consider an issue or set of options. Preferably select a fair cross section of the community, such as random selection or stratified sampling.

b. Introduce them to the issue or options. (Enhancement: Make additional info or expertise available.)

c. Help them share their diverse reactions with each other and do some deliberation.

d. Poll them on their responses to various options or approaches to the issue.

e. Summarize their responses for the public, media and/or decisionmakers.

Note: These processes tend to engage hundreds or thousands of people. This is particularly important to the extent they involve less in-depth study and deliberation than processes in 5C below. Especially in these circumstances, mass participation improves sampling validity, public visibility and public acceptance.

Examples: AmericaSpeaks, Deliberative Polling, Focus Groups, Televote audiences

5C. Public Judgment Function - Citizen Deliberative Councils

Purpose: To provide trustworthy public judgment on public issues, thereby advising official policy-makers and often the electorate.

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Temporarily convene a broad spectrum of citizens to consider an issue or set of options. Preferably select a fair cross section of the community, such as random selection or stratified sampling.

b. Give them balanced briefings about the issue and access to expert testimony in which citizens can cross-examine and/or dialogue with the experts.

c. Help them deliberate about the issue to a collective judgment.

d. Pass on their findings and recommendations to the public, media and/or decisionmakers.

e. Expect those findings and recommendations to shape subsequent policies and programs (or set up things so that they do).

Note: Public opinion can make or break public policies and programs, and most of the public won't have gone through the full deliberative process above. Therefore, the public may not adequately understand the outcomes in (d). If the citizen deliberative council dialogues with a representative group of the public (as in 5B) during their deliberations, they can adjust their statement to enhance its public acceptance. Pre-publication feedback from experts, stakeholders, and decisionmakers may also allow useful adjustments.

Examples: Citizen Juries, Consensus Conferences, Planning Cells

6. The Public Reflection Function

Purpose: To help the community see itself clearly on an ongoing basis and to find the wisdom it needs to guide itself (see also Appendix C)

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Watch what's happening -- particularly outcomes of the activities described above.

b. Seek out and make available what is not normally welcomed -- what is hidden, nuanced, paradoxical, repressed, emotional, novel, creative, dissonant, etc.

c. Help people fathom, clarify and develop their thoughts, feelings, values, needs, experience -- individually and collectively.

d. Engage them in conversations where they can do a-c repeatedly.

e. Use a-d to develop individual and collective insight.

f. Feed the insight back into a, b, c and d and see what emerges, over and over.

Notes: This process happens, more or less, in and around all successful dialogue and deliberation activities. It affects people's sense of citizenship more quietly than in the other functions, as a feeling of engaging meaningfully with their neighbors or others.
     Also note that particularly wise people and writings can serve this work as long as they are on tap, not on top of the emergent citizen wisdom. They need to be seen as grist for the mill of individual and collective reflection. To the extent any variety of external wisdom colonizes people's reflective activity, it will become harder to do a-e.
     Finally, note that specific reflective methods usually involve high-quality questions or inquiries to invite attention to potentially significant areas.

6A. Individual reflection (often done with help from others)

Examples: Clearness sessions, Strategic Questioning, some psychotherapies and dialogic spiritual practices such as Focusing

6B. Relational reflection

Examples: Nonviolent Communication, Radical Honesty, T-Groups

6C. Group or organizational reflection

Examples: Listening Circle (native Council), World Café, Group Silence, Dynamic Facilitation, Bohmian Dialogue

6D. Community reflection.

The pattern that defines this function:

a. Temporarily convene a broad spectrum of citizens to consider the state and direction of the community. Preferably select a fair cross section of the community, using random selection or stratified sampling.

b. Help them articulate and explore their community concerns, and let those concerns guide the flow of conversation. Help them speak from the heart and really hear each other.

c. Help them discover what they want to share -- as their consensus statement -- with the community at large about how it's doing and the directions it is (and could be) going.

d. Pass on their statement to the public, media and decisionmakers.

Note: As a feedback loop for the community to see itself more clearly, this process is most effective when officially mandated by the People, when done regularly (with a new group) every 3-12 months, and when carried out with considerable fanfare and media coverage. If this is all done, the process tends to increase the identity of We, the People as a self-aware living entity.

Examples: Wisdom Councils, Maclean's magazine 1991 "People's Verdict" process

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