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IF’s Citizen Discussion Reports*

Sanctuary discussions, which I described in my previous post, need not culminate in a written document.  But if their results are to be made available for public discussion, they need to be put in some communicable form.  This essay describes the one we’ve used up until now: written citizen discussion reports.  (We are working on others, including videos and podcasts.)

Citizen discussion reports can be thought of in the abstract as the potential locus of interactivity between sanctuary discussions and public discussions.  Alternatively, they can be described as a means of conveying to the public the results of a sanctuary discussion in such a way as to stimulate and enhance public discussions.  Like other “staff work,” IF’s citizen discussion reports represent advance work.  But IF’s reports are importantly different from conventional staff work in that they are:

  • conceptual rather than technical or quantitative
  • intended for citizen governance discussions rather than for use in advocacy, debate, or governmental decision-making.

The Purposes of Citizen Discussion Reports

As the locus of interactivity between sanctuary and public discussions, citizen discussion reports can both promote and enhance public discussion.

Staff work reports as promoting public discussion. Citizen discussion report can promote public discussion when they engage or deepen citizens’ interest in public discussion by:

  • raising new concerns for public policy
  • raising new possible questions for public policy about perennial concerns (such as fairness, freedom, security, or the environment)
  • describing new and/or contrasting conceptual possibilities for addressing policy concerns
  • highlighting consequences of conceptual possibilities that may have been ignored in public discussion.

Staff work reports as enhancing public discussion. Citizen discussion reports for can also be used to encourage and enhance citizen discussion.  That is, they can be used not only to get discussion going but to give it a head start by providing other citizens a conceptual “leg up,” a springboard, a starting point or—where citizen discussion reports contain at least four contrasting conceptual possibilities—several useful starting points at once.

Staff work reports for public discussion can enhance public discussion by:

  • helping public discussion focus on ideas rather than on personalities or credentials
  • encouraging the exploration of new questions and possibilities that may relate to an area of concern
  • focusing citizen discussion on conceptual possibilities rather than authoritative pronouncements, answers, or recommendations
  • focusing discussion on governance or the conceptual aspects of public policy
  • drawing attention to the consequences of choices, including those that may otherwise be overlooked or ignored
  • highlighting for citizens the necessity of choosing from alternative policy possibilities.

Contrasts between Staff Work Reports and Other Policy Reports.

As indicated in the summartable below, IF’s citizen discussion reports differ from conventional think tank reports, governmental staff work documents, “blue ribbon” commission studies, and academic papers in many respects.

 

Feature Conventional Policy Reports IF’s Citizen Discussion Reports
Content Governmental (policy action[s])
  • area of concern
  • contrasting conceptual possibilities
  • possible practical consequences
Purpose(s) Close off public discussion with decision and/or advocacy Promote and/or expand public discussion by democratic citizens
Authors Experts and/or stakeholders Experts and non-experts
Setting Public Sanctuary
Discussion Process Open-ended discussion

 

Facilitated discussion, editorial assistance between sessions
Selection Process Compromise, polling, or consensus
  • Convergence
  • Preservation of contrasts

 

* For an earlier, expanded, version of this essay, see essay S-2 at: https://www.interactivityfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Public-Discussion-paper.pdf