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How and why deliberative democracy enables co-intelligence and brings wisdom to governance

Hartz-Karp, J. (2007) How and why deliberative democracy enables co-intelligence and brings wisdom to governance. Journal of Public Deliberation, 3 (1).

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Over the past decade, state and local governments throughout Australia have focused on how to improve community consultation. Government consultation processes, regulated with the best of intentions to involve the public, have come under heavy criticism as being DEAD (Decide, Educate, Announce and Defend). It has become apparent that the problem community consultation was supposed to fix – including the voice of the community in developing policy and plans – has remained problematic. Worse, the fix has often backfired. Rather than achieving community engagement, consultation has frequently resulted in the unintended consequence of community frustration and anger at tokenism and increased citizen disaffection. Traditional community consultation has become a “fix that failed”, resulting in a “vicious cycle” of ever-decreasing social capital1 (Hartz-Karp 2002). Ordinary citizens are less and less interested in participating, evidenced by the generally low turn-out at government community consultation initiatives. When the community does attend in larger numbers, it is most often because the issue has already sparked community outrage, inspiring those with local interests to attend and protest.

In their endeavour to change this situation, government agencies have created and disseminated ‘how to’ community consultation manuals, conducted conferences and run training sessions for staff. Issues of focus have included project planning, risk analysis, stakeholder mapping, economic analysis, value assurance, standardisation and so forth. Implementation models have illustrated a desired shift from informing, educating and gaining input from citizens, to collaboration, empowerment and delegated decision-making. Although new engagement techniques have been outlined, it has not been clarified how agencies can achieve such a radical change from eliciting community input to collaborative decision-making. Regardless, to reassure the public that improvements have been made, community consultation has been ‘re-badged’ to ‘community engagement’. A new vocabulary has developed around this nomenclature. However, the community has remained unconvinced that anything much has changed.

The question is: Why hasn’t the community accepted these efforts with enthusiasm? The most optimistic response is that there will be a lag time between the announcement of improvements and actual improvements, and an even longer time lag between seeing the results and a resumption of the community’s trust in government. The more pessimistic response (one that also has resonance with many public sector staff) is that in essence, not a lot has changed. The ‘re-badging’ and management improvements have not resulted in the public feeling more engaged or empowered.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy
Publisher: Berkeley Electronic Press
Copyright: Public Deliberation © 2007
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