Space Coast Progressive Alliance

The Future of the American Experiment is in Your Hands
Friday, 13 December 2013 12:36

Slow Democracy

Written by  Team SCPA


'Slow Democracy' provides ways to reinvigorate our local democratic processes.

Co-authors community leader Susan Clark and democracy scholar Woden Teachout document the range of ways that citizens around the country are breathing new life into participatory democracy in their communities.



Slow Democracy Rules, from pages 205-208, “Slow Democracy, Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home”, by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout. published 2012, Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT.

TWENTY REMINDERS that can help make slow democracy work in your community.

(1) Start with the assumption that local government is a “we”, not a “they”. The root word of democracy, demos, means “the people”. Your local government is yours to support, assist, or, if necessary repair. We’re all in this together.

(2) Avoid “drive-through” democracy. An inclusive, deliberative process takes time to prepare and to carryout—as it should, if it wields power. If you’re a leader, leave time for preparation and outreach. If you are a citizen, expect well-run democratic processes to take time.

(3) Make strange bedfellows. The more inclusive and diverse your process, the more durable the decisions will be. Keeping in mind the lessons of cultural cognition (see chapter 5), remember to frame for inclusion and consider how you’ll meet the goals of various cultural world views. Some key reminders: (A) Include expertise and sound information; (B) Show how your process will end in clarified choices or even consensus; (C.) Allow and honor dissent, and if necessary create a way for people to participate anonymously (for instance, via surveys and sum online methods); (D) celebrate community. Once you’ve done that, look around and ask yourself: Who’s not here, and how can we welcome them in?

(4) Involvement doesn’t begin with the event. In fact, involvement creates the event. Ideally, people from all interest areas in the community will be involved in every aspect of democratic engagement, from process design and recruiting for events to researching information, making decisions, and implementing of ideas. (see chapter 7.)

(5) Define your purpose, then design your process. Identify and clearly define goals (preferably with a diverse group) before engaging the public in broad-based deliberation. Is this a process of exploration? Conflict transformation? Decision making? Or collaborative action? Choose a process to meet your deliberative goals. (see chapter 9.)

(6) Match the technique to the goals. Don’t make the mistake of becoming enamored with a particular process, then trying to use it to meet goals it wasn’t designed for. Different techniques work for different goals; a good facilitator can help you make the right match. (see chapter 9.)

(7) If you chapter already know the answer, don’ ask the question. In other words: please don’t enlist participation of participation’s sake. Citizen should be include early enough in decision making for them to be able to generate new options. (see chapter 10.)

(8) Some things take a professional. A good facilitator will work with you to define your goals and create a meeting plan to meet those goals. He or she will also have the skills to ensure that no one dominates the meeting and all views are heard. Facilitation skills are particularly important if the gathering will be especially large or divisive. (see chapter 9.)

(9) Develop local abilities. In many cases, a facilitator will work with your to train a team of local people to facilitate small-group discussions, so that you have strengthened your community’s capacity to have more, similar events later. This is what happened in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (see chapter 4), and many other deliberative community events.

(10) Find (or be) a neutral convener. The convener of a slow democracy process may—or may not—be the local government itself. If there isn’t sufficient trust, a multi-person steering committee with representatives from the different community sectors or factions can be a great way to go (see chapter 7).

(11) Choose rules and then follow them. Take your pick—there are many options, from parliamentary procedure to consensus and beyond—but choose a decision-making process and then abide by it. One of the most typical downfalls of community organizations is the belief that because they are founded on common interest, they can operate like a friendship. Don’t underestimate the value of accountability and record keeping if you want to stay friendly. (see chapter 9.)

(12) User your power gauge. Who makes the decision? Make sure you, and everyone involved, is clear about the process and their role in it. (see chapter 10.)

(13) Show the road map of decision making at every meeting. Where are we now, and where is the meeting in the process? This will help participants pace themselves and understand where involvement is most critical. (see chapter 9.)

(14) Tell the story of power and change. Provide open access to information involved in the process—minutes, lists of attendees, informational materials. But don’t just assume that everyone will follow the issue or the process. Keep people posted, either individually or in public communication, and especially show how public participation made a difference in decisions and outcomes. It will all add up to making the process transparent, trustworthy, and empowering. (see chapter 9.)

(15) Open up and let go. Inclusive engagement means giving new participants real responsibilities and sharing power. Otherwise, communities wind up suffering from “STP” syndrome—the Same Ten People doing everything, because new participants did not feel included. (see chapter 10.)

(16) Democracy is a long-term relationship. With every decision, consider the impact that the decision-making precess will have on citizen confidence, once the issue of the day has come and gone. Work to create a diverse coalition made up of people who are as dedicated to the democratic process as they are to any one issue—a coalition that can continue to promote democratic engagement in your community.

(17) Make connections. Productively link the outcomes of your efforts to others’ efforts. (see chapter 4.)

(18) Come full circle. Leave time for evaluation. Both among participants and in the broader community, ask how the process is going and how you can do better. Give yourself a chance to learn from your mistakes. (see chapter 9.)

(19) Require a democratic impact statement. (see chapt 10). Okay, there is no such form, but perhaps there should be. Just as we consider the environmental and economic impacts of all new policies, we should consider their long-term effects on inclusive, deliberative, empowered democracy.

(20) Celebrate your successes, and celebrate your community. After all, as we learned from environmental educators, you have to love a thing before you will work to save it. (see chapter 6.) Take the time to appreciate your community and its decision making. It may be slow but its worth it.



'SLOW DEMOCRACY, Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home'
by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout.
published 2012, Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT.





"How community deliberative processes can provide an alternative to divisive party politics and technocratic expertise.... Clark and Teachout complement their case studies with discussions of useful methodologies to bring people together for common purposes ... A valuable tool for improving the way government operates at the local level."

—Kirkus Reviews


ORDER THE BOOK HERE at Chelsea Green Publishing for $19.95:

Contributed by Eric Anderson.


Last modified on Friday, 13 December 2013 12:50
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