Shortly after his administration began, Pres. Obama issued a document stating his commitment to open government and transparency. In May, the administration invited recommendations to their new website “Open Government Brainstorming”. The organizations who have been involved in the planning of this include NCDD, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, America Speaks, International Association for Public Participation, and others. Anyone and everyone can post suggestions on this website. Here’s my recommendation on “Training for Facilitative Leadership”.
In order to create a program of dynamic public engagement, elected officials and government staff need training in the process and skills required to be successful – and this is a great opportunity to develop such trainings.
In order to support effective public engagement, leaders from federal, state and city government need to learn best practices for engaging the public, to understand:
* Facilitative leadership: they are the conveners of a process, whose purpose is to gather wisdom from many people. They need to identify and include the stakeholders who have a stake or interest, to help solve a problem that no one agency can solve by themselves. Government officials shouldn’t feel the need to have all the answers.
* The need for ongoing support and guidance: it’s not enough to convene a meeting of several hundred people. Citizens bring their skills and energies, and a willingness to work with government. They need ongoing support and resources to carry out action plans – people to help them identify their purpose and goals, help with, or training, on effective facilitation of meetings, funding for materials or professional assistance.
* Bringing citizens together to help solve problems raises their expectations. If the conveners – state, federal or local government – cannot deliver the resources or can’t stay engaged in the implementation, then it’s better not to convene citizens in the first place.
Here are some issues to address in a training on “How to conduct public engagement:”
* Who’s involved in sponsoring the event? Who else needs to be involved? How do we get their buy-in?
* How do we get the right people in the room? Who are the “right” people? How do we get the non-mainstream people, or people who feel marginalized, to participate?
* How do we build bridges and trust before the event?
* What do we need to address so that people don’t shrug their shoulders and dismiss the event as “another misguided effort” by the politicians?
* What is our responsibility to participants? Are we raising expectations that we can’t fulfill?
* What resources do we need in order to support the outcomes that the participants generate? What organizations need to be included as sponsors in order to provide those resources?
* What kind of support and guidance should we commit to providing if we’re going to hold such a summit?
* What are the components of an engaging meeting or summit? How do we make it participatory? What kinds of activities should we steer away from?
* How do we get people to engage with one another? How do we build community in such an event?