I am in Philadelphia working to train moderators for the Great Expectations: Citizen Voices on Philadelphia’s Future project. This project, led by The Inquirer (Chris Satullo, Editorial Page Editor) and the University of Pennsylvania’s Project on Civic Engagement (Harris Sokoloff), will convene a region-wide dialogue about the future of Philadelphia. In the near term, this project will focus on one event (the Mayoral and Council election in 2008) and one activity (the development of seven miles of Central Waterfront).
The questions driving the citizen forums for the waterfront are:
- How can citizens have more of a voice in how this resource is developed?
- How should decisions be made about whether or not to open the waterfront to casinos?
- How can the development be done in a unified way so that expert work – design and development – is based on citizen work?
- What should the values-based criteria be for the design and development?
This will be an iterative process – a conversation between the experts and the citizens.
The dialogue project for the election year will build on what was learned from similar community dialogues done for the 1999 Mayor’s race. This project was documented in Chapter 4 “Electoral Deliberation and Public Journalism” of The Deliberative Democracy Handbook: Strategies for Effective Civic Engagement in the 21st Century, John Gastil and Peter Levine, ed.. The dialogue will include forums with hundreds of civic leaders and ordinary citizens, to identify the key issues the region needs to work on to deliver on its promise as “The Next Great City.” The goal is for citizens to define issues of concerns and possible actions, essentially giving direction to candidates about what is important. Citizens act as a virtual assignment desk. Following the primary, the citizen dialogues will be begin creating an agenda for the election and the incoming city leaders. This project will also involve citizen bloggers and other ways to use technology.
I am joined in the room by respected colleagues from the NIF network: Patty Dineen (“News from the Net” editor, Pittsburgh), Michele Scott (President’s Office Montgomery College, Rockville, MD), Bob Walker (consultant and jazz drummer – which comes in handy, believe it or not, Rockville, MD), and Stacie Molnar-Main, former project director of Project 540 and PhD student). The local training team includes some folks I’ve met and worked with before and some I’m meeting for the first time but know by reputation: Steve Pyser (experienced in Appreciative Inquiry and Virtual Collaboration), Ilene Wasserman (from the Organizational Development field, she brings experience in Future Search and Open Space) and Jean DiSabatini (coming from the Education field, I worked with her on a large school design engagement project for the American Architectural Foundation).
We will be learning about how to use two tools that the moderators will use in their community forums:
1. The Friends Dilemma, which asks participants to articulate the advice they would give a friend consider a move to Philadelphia regarding the pros and cons of the city.
2. The History of the Future, which asks participants to identify the five key issues they think the city and its next leaders must work through to become the “next great city.”
I look forward to some great learning from these esteemed colleagues who come from different dialogue and deliberation disciplines. I’m especially intrigued by how the NIF model which focuses on the deliberation that comes from confronting costs and consequences and the Appreciative Inquiry model, which intentionally applies the generative discourse of hope and possibilities to articulate what gives life to what we desire to create. The key rationale for the NIF “confront the costs and consequences” of policy options is to ensure that forum participants are thinking through what might happen from pursuing various options and what they would be willing to support. The key principle behind Appreciative Inquiry’s “generative discourse” is that what we talk about it what we create. Imagine, talk create!
While we are not teaching either of these processes directly, we are taking from our own experiences to prepare these participants for the community-wide conversations. Both models bring strengths and shortcomings to this process. At the same time, we are using / teaching new processes. so it will be fascinating to see how the dance unfolds!