On the evening of May 1, ten members of Texas Forums participated in a research project for the Kettering Foundation. They watched an unedited version of Public Voice, a documentary filmed earlier in the day at the National Press club featuring panelists who were commenting on videotaped excerpts of National Issues Forums on energy. The panelists participating in this documentary were:
Host/Moderator: Frank Sesno
E. J. Dionne, Columnist, Washington Post
Betty Sue Flowers, Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
Jay Hakes, Director, Jimmy Carter Library
Mike Johannes, U. S. Secretary of Agriculture
Senator Mary Landrieu, Louisiana
David Mathews, Kettering Foundation
Congressman Charles Gonzalez, Texas
Andrea Seabrook, Congressional Correspondent, NPR
Senator Jeff Sessions, Alabama
Jerry Taylor, CATO Institute
Roger Wilkins, Author and Analyst
This is the Kettering Foundation’s description of the research:
“A Public Voice brings together policymakers and policy elites on a panel to react to and discuss the implications for their own work of scenes from publics grappling with a significant national issue, this year, energy. As the publics deliberate, they identify why the issue is important to them, what things highly valued by them they see at stake in the issue, why they cannot get everything they want regarding the issue, and so, in the end, struggle with what trade-offs among things highly valued they may be willing to make, and thus, what kind of permissions for action they would open up for policymakers.
In addition to demonstrating these qualities of public deliberation through A Public Voice, Kettering’s research interest lies largely in seeking to understand the conditions under which policymakers and policy elites come to recognize the contributions that a deliberative public can make to their own work. In conducting this research with policymakers, we bear in mind five underlying questions, greater understanding of which may help us understand better how a deliberative public can more effectively relate to its elected representatives, and how our representative institutions may become more responsive to a thoughtful, deliberative public. “
Below is a brief report filed by Marla Crockett who facilitated the discussion on May 1. We will prepare a longer report and meet in D.C. on June 8 with colleagues from the Ford and Carter libraries and Saddleback Community College who also participated in this research.
“Citizens who watched A Public Voice at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin saw and heard two different discussions Wednesday night. The seven women and three men were virtually unanimous in saying that edited comments from the public forums on energy were deliberative and held their attention, while experts on the panel were at times “dismissive,” and “spoke from a script.” Members of our group praised a few panelists, including Carter Library Director Jay Hakes and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johannes, for really listening to the public state the problem, weigh trade-offs and reflect on leadership. However, the consensus in our group was that too many experts focused on positions and strategies instead of on interests and concerns.
What came through the loudest, however, was an unhappiness with the program’s format. While recognizing that the demands of television might be at odds with a deeper conversation, our Austin panel wanted to see a dialogue between the experts and the public. The exchanges led by moderator Frank Sesno were “jarring,” and too much like “Crossfire,” several people said. One woman felt more optimistic at the end of the program, because it seemed as though public officials and journalists really understood the public’s desire for change. But one of the men said that if citizens had been allowed to participate in the discussion, they would have held the politicians more accountable on issues like the influence of money on energy policy.”