Home  •  Glossary  •  Full Text  •  Flowchart  •  Absolute Pitch  •  Videos  •  Latest News

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CITIZEN PARTICIPATION
by Dick Spady, President, Forum Foundation and Easy Citizen Involvement

Easy Citizen Involvement
4426 Second Ave. N.E.
Seattle, WA 98105-6191
206-634-0420 Phone; 206-633-3561 Fax.


© 1995-2007 FORUM FOUNDATION

You may jump to the following sections directly:

  1. Why should government and schools be involved?
  2. Why does government need this kind of information?
  3. How can citizens make a positive contribution when they are uninformed?
  4. What's wrong with the way government communicates now to it citizens?
  5. Who will set the agenda of the Citizens Councilor network?
  6. Who will participate in the network?
  7. How are cassette tapes and materials prepared?
  8. Is there a role for experts in this process?
  9. Where was this process developed?
  10. Where is this process being used?
  11. What is Futures Research?
  12. What is Administrative Theory?
  13. Why do you spell it Citizen "Councilor"?
  14. What do you mean by "alienation among the people and their leaders"?
  15. What are the citizen functions provided for in this process?
  16. How can these new technologies maximize our human resources?

1. Why should government and schools be involved?

(return to the top of this page)


There are several reasons.

  • First, trust in government has declined from approximately 78% in 1964 to 18% in 1994 (Source: University of Michigan, Newsweek, January 9, 1995).
  • Second, there is the concept of "mainstreaming" in participation theory. Unless people perceive that what they are being asked to do is mainstream, part of the decision-making processes of their organization, and supported by the leader of the organization of which they are a part--they won't get too excited about participating. That is, if one believed a telephone was not working, one wouldn't spend any time talking into it; similarly, unless citizens believe that government truly wants and welcomes their opinion regarding public issues, they won't spend their time together talking about such issues.
  • Third, representatives of governments and school boards are elected by the people--thus they are legitimate; other outside civic, community, religious, and business organizations are not so elected--they just can't do the job. ("No society can function as a society unless it gives the individual member social status (i.e., citizen councilor) and function, (i.e., an official advisor to government) and unless the decisive social power is legitimate power" Drucker, The Man Who Invented the Corporate Society, John J. Tarrant, 1976, p 50.)
  • Fourth, it is essential that governments help citizens in their "pursuit of happiness" which is one of the three fundamental purposes of all governments--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (Governments are not charged with providing their citizens with all the amenities of life they feel they need to make them happy, but governments are charged with enabling their citizens to pursue their own happiness.) This process establishes a new, groupware, feedback, mass communication system for the benefit of governments at all levels. (It was developed from research conducted in Washington state over the last 30 years and can be owned by the people and self-funded by those citizens who use it if desired.)

2. I have been elected by my constituents to be their representative and to make these decisions. Why does government need this kind of information?

(return to the top of this page)


We are coming into a new "information society." Peter Drucker, our most influential and prolific author in the field of management, delivered a speech at the Town Hall of Los Angeles titled "Computer Literacy to Information Literacy" (January 23, 1995, C-Span).

Some of his key points were: "Our job as managers is to convert data into information." "Very few people today are information literate." "Computers are now doing operations better...But, in the future computers will help leaders become information decision-makers."

He concluded with, "The questions leaders must ask today are:

  1. What information do I need?
  2. What information do I owe (others) and others owe (me)?
  3. What is the non-quantitative (i.e., qualitative) information I need?"

We suggest that the answers to these three questions are:

  1. Representatives and officials of government and schools need to be in continual touch with citizen opinions about key issues that affect their lives.
  2. Government needs to provide citizens with information about issues as evenhandedly as possible in a process of citizenship education similar to a State Voter's Pamphlet in order to stimulate constructive public discussion; the public owes government a response to such queries.
  3. Every iterative survey posed to citizens should include some "qualitative" questions such as "How do you feel about this citizen councilor participation process? How do you feel about your community, about your government, and about your schools? How do you feel about the prospects for your continued employment at your present job etc.? Answers can be recorded objectively by using "end anchors" on a five point scale, such as,


"Very poor: 1 2 3 4 5: Very Good", or
"Little Trust: 1 2 3 4 5: Great Trust", or
"Poor Prospects: 1 2 3 4 5: Great Prospects", etc.

Over time, like a balance sheet in a business, we can tell if we are making progress or not and correct as we are going along. The information generated will provide governments with information similar to that received by officials through letters, phone calls, and testimony given at public hearings except that the process more easily accommodates citizens. Furthermore, because the results are expressed in percentages, there is no information overload. Reports never get bigger—they just get better as more people participate.

3. How can citizens make a positive contribution to public and school planning when they are uninformed?

(return to the top of this page)


As people meet together regularly to study public information, listen to cassette tapes or audio files with comments by officials and experts about issues, discuss ideas with their fellow Citizen Councilors, and make decisions as they respond to questions posed--they learn! This is done through the dynamics of the Socratic Method. The organization and society of which they are a part also learn exactly the same amount and everyone moves toward being better able to solve problems in the future. The process won't tell anyone what is "right" or "wrong," but it will tell what the people who are participating perceive is right or wrong, and it is 100% valid for them. Their role is to act as official advisors and a sounding board for public officials and planners and thus to help in the development of public policy. The process initiates some natural dynamics that tend to move organizations and governments participating toward solving their problems and adapting to changes.

As to people being uninformed, George Gallop wrote an article in Reader's Digest in August 1978. "In conducting thousands of surveys on almost every conceivable issue for nearly half a century, I have learned three significant things about our fellow citizens. One is that the judgment of the American people is extraordinarily sound. Another is that the public is nearly always ahead of its leaders. The third is that the electorate has become better educated and more sophisticated politically than ever before." While our experience is less than Mr. Gallop's, we have found that the profile reports generated are always rational, i.e., they make sense.

Our finding is that while people may be uninformed originally and need the knowledge provided by experts and officials, their contribution is "wisdom." This is something different than knowledge. William Cowper, 18th century English poet, has captured one subtlety in his insightful poetry, "Knowledge is proud that it knows so much. Wisdom is humble that it knows not more." Thus, we need to learn how, given knowledge, we can distill it to get the wisdom we need in making organizational and societal policy decisions.

The data generated in this process helps participants diagnose, theorize, and review information, and helps governments and school districts decide and accomplish in the overall administrative process which is defined as: Diagnose, Theorize, Decide, Accomplish, and Review.

4. What's wrong with the way government communicates now to its citizens?

(return to the top of this page)


Government has many public information and public relations personnel to communicate information to the public. But they are usually dependent upon the mass media to assist. Newspapers and television, however, are private enterprises and like any business, they have to provide what their customers want or else they won't survive. "News" has come to be defined as the unusual and often the bad news of wars, disease, murder, rapes, calamity etc. On the other hand the more mundane but perhaps equally important affairs of community and civilization building provided by the releases of governments is often considered fortunate to get anything published even if only on the back page or late telecast. The result is that information frequently comes to citizens piecemeal from the news media. Thus, the public's agenda is nearly always controlled by the mass news media governed by economic factors and not always easily accessible by those elected. For these reasons, our research suggests that control of the public's agenda often falls by default to the mass media and thus to economic forces which are inadequate, in themselves, to build a sense of vision of community among people as to who we are, what we believe, and where we are going.

When governments try the direct approach to get citizen input, they usually resort to big public hearings at often remote distances. The essence of our 36+ years of research in social science is the realization that such big meetings are the Achilles' heel of the democratic process which undergirds our republic in both the public and private sectors. People today don't have time and energy to go to such meetings; they are too busy earning a living. Besides they remember the last time they went, the sheer logistics are such that only a few people can talk and most can only listen. Emotions and disturbances frequently erupt, and then people stop attending. Then others say, "Look at the apathy among the people, they are not coming to our meetings." We think that a better diagnosis is that people simply get exhausted from previous efforts to get their ideas and opinions heard, and they reach a point where they say, "Going to these kind of meetings is not worth my time and energy. " So, they drop out, but that is not apathy, and if the issues are critical enough, they will be there.

Building a citizen councilor network, by enacting this initiative, will enable governments, schools, and planners more "equal time" to access the public's agenda while taking nothing away from the regular news media; they can participate as much or as little as they wish.

5. Who sets the agenda of the Citizen Councilor network?

County officials and volunteer planners working under the supervision of the county auditor oversee the process; the public is encouraged to suggest appropriate issues.

6. Who will participate in the network?

(return to the top of this page)


We hope every civic, community, and school association, every union, every business association, every church denomination etc. will support the Citizen Councilor program. If desired, participants from such groups can be indicated in the demographics to assist in evaluating responses. It is every citizen's political right, regardless of which organization he or she is participating through, to assemble with other citizens, speak about issues, and respond with his or her views. In this case the profile reports generated are somewhat like a petition, which is every citizen's right to give to government and is advisory only to elected officials and the government.

Our research indicates such a symbolic "dialogue" between those who govern and those who are governed will improve the community "mental health" i.e., citizens will be happier (including officials). And again, happiness is one of the reasons we form all governments in the first place—Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

In addition, the new technology through use of the computer, can provide diagnostic data by the personal categories of sex, age, ethnic family, neighborhoods, schools, zip code etc. Officials can more accurately measure differences and similarities among such groups, develop new political strategies to solve our complex societal problems, and pose new questions to continue and widen the "dialogue" reaching for solutions. For example, as a society we will be able to measure the views of the elderly as compared to younger generations. This is very important. The elderly, more than any other group, best represent the quality of "wisdom" in our society because they have lived life to its fullest. "To everyone else, life is only hearsay," wrote Erik Erikson. Their views will be important to those who are younger (their children), yet those who are younger are free to choose consciously a different path if they feel that new circumstances warrant it. Nevertheless, the continuing effort of older people to convey to those who are younger their values and aspirations as well as their fears (which is what "Education" is all about), should be a significant effort toward building and perpetuating the effects of "community" and the principles upon which our American society is founded and has grown. We need a way to allow older citizens to participate more easily in society with their opinions; small groups in homes or workplaces rather than big meetings at remote distances are the key.

We honor older citizens, indeed all citizens, by asking them for their opinions; it is an honor to be asked for one's opinion. The Citizen Councilor's network will provide that honor for every citizen—whether or not they accept; citizens are not elected or appointed but volunteers. The process is open to all citizens—just like the voting process itself.

7. How are the materials prepared?

(return to the top of this page)


A "value reporter" is assigned to organize materials either from volunteers or a professional government or school planner to perform that function. Such assignments will be made only after a specific issue or theme has been recommended by the government and/or school district. A value reporter represents the interests and right of the public to learn and receive information, evenhandedly, about public issues.

The Citizen Councilor's program is an informal public information system. After interviewing people and audio or video taping their comments and preparing objective survey questions for Citizen Councilor response, a value reporter gets approval of the person(s)/ taped of materials prepared for dissemination otherwise their statements are not included. (If the person interviewed is not satisfied with his or her interview, they are invited to do it again. This is unlike an "investigative reporter" who has no such constraints.)

The effort is to provide the public with information as evenhandedly as possible to stimulate constructive public discussion; it is not meant nor can it be an "exhaustive" preparation of information. (It is not possible nor desirable to bring all the information bearing on an issue before the public. They would be overwhelmed.) Only the critical issues helpful to officials and planners need be discussed in order to get the general reaction of the public to new ideas etc. As this process develops, it is up to officials and planners to work out the details. The public's job is to clarify the big picture and set the strategic, long-range objectives for government through our normal political and school planning processes. The Citizen Councilors network will help this function.

8. Is there a role for experts in this process?

Yes. Experts, government staff, and officials offer "knowledge" which is an essential in the planning process. But citizens offer "wisdom" which is something different. We need to learn how, given knowledge, we can distill it to get the wisdom we need in making organizational and societal policy decisions.

9. Where was this process developed?

(return to the top of this page)


It originally came from research conducted by the Seattle District Board of Laity of The Methodist Church from 1965 to 1968 while I was Seattle District lay leader. Large meetings with two hundred or more people meeting together using Robert's Rules of Order to pass resolutions concerning issues in or out of the church, controversial or not, were not working well. It was frustrating for both people and leaders. About every three or four months our executive committee would conduct a forum, however, we were not interested in the issue, we were only interested in the process. Sometimes we would have a panel of experts, sometimes we wouldn't. After nearly three years, we emerged with the prototype of what today is known as the "Fast Forum" technique. There are no Robert's Rules of Order, no motions, no amendments, no win/lose situations, no controversy, no arguments, no talking at the point of decision-making—all talking precedes decision-making, thus there is no heat! Instead, there is just light, that is, swift, silent, rational, synaptic—mind to mind—response to some question or statement posed in writing for objective response such as yes, no, abstain, multiple-choice, value scales etc.

From 1968 to 1970, I was enrolled in the Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Washington concentrating in the field of administrative theory and organizational behavior. In 1970, I designed the first Fast Forum® computer program and contracted for its development at the Academic Computer Center of the University of Washington. Many versions later, the program has migrated to the Web.

The institutions of government, education, and business, as institutions, expend little or no effort monitoring research going on in the field of religion, it is literally their "blind spot." So what has happened as a practical matter is that a whole new feedback communication technology based on new administrative theory has arisen nearly full blown but virtually unknown in the public sector. Thus, the Seattle-area religious community has provided the arena of people and organizations to do the basic research over these past years.

10. Where is this process being used?

(return to the top of this page)


The Bellevue Public Schools used the technique successfully in developing a policy on school-centered decision-making in 1988 that had the potential to be controversial but with the process was not.

Redmond, Washington used this small-group citizen participation process in their "Community Forum" program from 1990 to approximately 1994 in a continual learning environment. Forums completed included: Growth Management, Downtown Redmond, Transportation, Youth Issues, The Future of Redmond, and Water.

A national research project was completed successfully over nine Sundays beginning in January 1994 in The United Methodist Church in a study of their Book of Resolutions covering: Authority in the Church, Families, Children, Aging, Health Care, Racism, Economic Justice, and Evaluation. The project involved over 40 local churches approximately evenly distributed throughout the nation.

In 1995, the Everywoman's Coalition of Seattle conducted multi-language symbolic dialogues at the International Conference on Women in Beijing, China. Their intent was to demonstrate the potential to examine commonalty and differences in values among women worldwide through a democratic process.

In March, 1999, Russian citizens concerned about the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation gathered in remote cities and discovered their common concerns and desire for action. The process was underwritten by a grant from the United Nations Women's Organization (UNIFEM), the Soros Foundation, and in-kind contributions from the Forum Foundation to the Seattle-based MiraMed Institute that conducted the dialogue.

In April, 2007, the Seattle-based organization, CodeBlueNow!, approved the use of a similar process to conduct a national forum on the issue of improving our Health Care system. They are working with the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC) in Washington DC to engage coalition members in discussion and identify consensus which exists now among broad numbers of their participants.

Many more examples exist.

11. What is futures research?

(return to the top of this page)


A number of decades ago some enlightened businesses perceived that there was something more than the "bottom line" to business. Businesses existed in a larger societal context and this context had to be related to in a positive and constructive manner. They organized departments of "public relations" to do this. Later, to become more effective, they upgraded to "public affairs" and began to lobby at the local, state, and national levels. Today billions of dollars are expended in these efforts at all governmental levels.

In the early 1970's there was a reaction by officials. "The only time you show up, it seems, is when you are against something. When are you ever for something?" Thus the more enlightened businesses again upgraded to what are generally called (but may be a misnomer)—departments of issues management. The recognition was that in a democratic setting such as in the United States, there is a give-and-take between the news media and the public out of which arise special interest groups. These groups then lobby and from that come laws—absolutely controlling over business. "If we want to have something to say about our business future, we have to participate from the beginning in the formulation of public policy," enlightened business leaders urged. So they pay for and monitor public opinion. If an issue involves them, they spend money to bring their views to the attention of the public sometimes in full-page newspaper ads etc. This is primarily an educational process which is a win-win situation. But if an issue is much more than 3 to 5 years down the pike for them, they usually don't get involved.

Beyond 3 to 5 years is the domain of futures research. (For example, studies by Hudson Institute, Brookings Institute, American Enterprise Institute, SRI International, etc.) The Forum Foundation operates in the domain of futures research. Further, most people think of futures research as "forecasting," but that is not the definition that has underlain the foundation's research. Here it has been more defined as "the study of ways to improve the sociological and technological future." It is more a process of "forthtelling."

12. What is administrative theory?

(return to the top of this page)


Administrative theory has been a part of futures research as defined above. It is specifically defined as: "the search for those organizational and institutional dynamics that tend to move organizations and institutions, universally, toward solving their problems and anticipating or adapting to changes in their internal or external environments." Administrative theory can be considered as a subset of the larger and better known field of organization development.

13. Why do you spell it Citizen "Councilor?"

(return to the top of this page)


Webster defines "councilor" as: "An official advisor to a sovereign or chief magistrate." The role of a Citizen Councilor is as an "official advisor" and "sounding board" to government and school officials and planners; the title seems appropriate.

14. What do you mean that there is alienation among the people and their leaders in society?

(return to the top of this page)


Lou Harris was commissioned by Congress during the bicentennial to find out how the American people felt about their democratic republic after 200 years. He reported back that the American people were highly alienated and felt that they were not adequately involved in the decisions that affected their lives, public and private. Many officials complain that citizens are "apathetic." We don't agree, but if citizens are apathetic, that is the first sign in the rupture of a political relationship between leaders and people; it is a serious condition, and should not be ignored by officials.

15. You say that the three functions identified by Peter Drucker, (social status, function, and legitimacy) for the individual citizen are provided by this process. How?

(return to the top of this page)


John J. Tarrant in his book "Drucker" states that Peter Drucker, America's most prolific and influential author on management practices in his books, "sets forth the touchstone for the free industrial society of the future: 'No society can function as a society unless it gives the individual member social status and function and unless the decisive social power is legitimate power. Status, function, and legitimacy; the essentials of the new order.'" This process allows every citizen who wishes to do so to become a "public official" i.e., a Citizen Councilor. However, in this case the citizen does not have to be elected or duly appointed—just be a citizen and volunteer to serve. This will provide individuals with social status. Citizen Councilors will serve as official advisors and a sounding board to public and school officials and planners on a variety of issues as desired. This will provide individual citizens with function. Finally, as more and more citizens participate, they will bring vitality and strength to community organizations and institutions and will provide their "authority" to be governed by their organizational and societal leaders. This will provide the legitimacy which Drucker cites is required to govern in the ever-more-complex society of the future in a process of civilization building.

16. How can the new technology of "Many-to-Many" communication assist in the development of a strategy and methodology to maximize human resources in government, schools, and community?

(return to the top of this page)


The "Zeitgeist Principle" in administrative theory states, "To work most effectively, human organizations and institutions (from the smallest--a husband and wife, up to civilization itself--the largest) require a functional feedback communication capability. This is best accomplished in most organizations by a democratic, open, participative, reliable, viable, anonymous, routine, and objective feedback communication system. Most organizations, institutions, and governments in the world today have no such system." 1 Many-to-Many communication technology provides a superior way to get reliable feedback in a cost effective manner. It needs to be studied and applied by all!

--End--

    1. Administrative Theory--Applied (A New Approach to Civilization Building), unpublished manuscript, ©1995 Richard J. Spady and Cecil H. Bell, Jr., used by permission.

 


Home  •  Glossary  •  Full Text  •  Flowchart  •  Absolute Pitch  •  Videos  •  Latest News

© 2006 Forum Foundation

Dick Spady, President of
Easy Citizen Involvement
4426 2nd Avenue North East
Seattle, WA 98105-6191
206-634-0420