Democratic Norms to Deliberative Forms: Managing Tools and Tradeoffs in Community-Based Civic Engagement
PAM, Vol. 15 No. 1, (2010)
Deliberative democracy derives its moral urgency from universal ideals, but relies on tools that pose practical tradeoffs stemming from the particularities of place and time. I argue for transcending a technique-oriented mindset focused on single methods, using examples from a foundation project to engage lesser heard voices into policies for young children and their families. Case study data from eight California counties are analyzed to identify frequently used civic engagement tools and their strengths and limitations. Drawing on this evidence, and on democratic and administrative theory that envisions citizens and experts as co-creators of public work, I develop strategic understandings for improving deliberative practices. The managerial wisdom needed has less to do with being au courant with the latest promising technique and everything to do with learning how to coordinate multiple civic engagement tools amidst organizational complexity and cultural diversity, while nurturing citizens as partners in policy making.