Participedia as a Ground for Dialogue

Participedia as a Ground for Dialogue

Marco Adria (University of Alberta, Canada), Paul Richard Messinger (University of Alberta, Canada), Edrick A. Andrews (University of Alberta, Canada) and Chelsey Ehresman (Medicine Hat College, Canada)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1828-1.ch012

Abstract

Participedia (participedia.net) is a wiki-based library of some 1,000 cases of democratic innovations in their historical and cultural contexts. Public-involvement (PI) practitioners can learn about changes in their field of practice. The relative strength of the five dialogic qualities available in Participedia is important because of the values of communicative understanding inherent in the domain of democratic innovations. The question addressed in the study is, How does a community of practice (COP) augment Participedia's capacity to provide a ground for dialogue about PI? A quasi-experiment was carried out among 13 PI practitioners. COP members met face-to-face over a period of four weeks to learn about, apply, and deliberate upon Participedia's online resources. A focus group was then carried out in which the PI practitioners reflected on the qualities of dialogue available in the COP-Participedia experience. Themes from the focus group support the argument that COP-Participedia can augment the dialogic qualities of mutuality, propinquity, and empathy.
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Introduction

Participedia, the Domain of Democratic Innovations, and Its Practitioners

Fung and Warren (2011) observe that most democratic institutions have failed to keep pace with the demands of citizens for involvement in important policy decisions that affect them. This is in spite of the fact that public involvement (PI) is more likely to lend legitimacy to policy decisions and to build public support for them (Mao & Adria, 2013). A significant factor for explaining the lag between citizen expectations and institutional responses is the change and variation characteristic of the domain of democratic innovations:

Our knowledge of this rapidly expanding universe is shallow, especially when we compare our knowledge of these emerging institutions to those we have been studying for many decades: representative legislatures, executive offices and bureaucracies, municipal councils, and various forms of authoritarianism. What kinds of processes are appropriate for what kinds of issues? What kinds of processes are likely to generate better rather than worse outcomes—more legitimacy, justice, or effectiveness, say—given the characteristics of the issues and the constraints of time and money (Fung & Warren, p. 342)?

Participedia (participedia.net) is a website and research platform that collects crowdsourced data about democratic innovations from around the world. Since its establishment in 2009, Participedia has generated some 1,000 cases, along with other resources about methods and organizations associated with democratic innovations. Openly licensed with Creative Commons, Participedia’s origins were shaped in significant part by the purposes of researchers. Participedia allows researchers systematically to compare data about democratic innovations (Gastil, Richards, Ryan, & Smith, 2017). Participedia is also used by PI practitioners. These practitioners work as advocates, activists, and professional staff in NGOs and government, seeking to identify, apply, and improve methods that are fit for the purpose of involving citizens in decisions that affect them.

The challenge of change and variation in the field for PI practitioners can be illustrated using the example of public transportation. Grossardt, Bailey, and Brum (2003) describe the history since the early 1980s of involving the public in important policy decisions related to how public transportation is planned and designed by a given urban or metropolitan government authority. While research continues to identify PI as critical to the success of major transportation-planning initiatives (Khisty, 1996; Reinke & Malarkey, 1996), input from non-practitioners “sometimes fails to include detailed consideration of [public involvement] while describing thoroughly all other phases of the planning effort” (Grossardt et al., 2003, p. 95). Even when PI efforts are made, significant disagreements may arise among members of the public. These disagreements may eventually be “reproduced” in an advisory committee, whose input may not be as specific and as targeted to an appropriate stage of planning as it would have been. The continuing question for PI in major transportation projects is to determine the level or quality of engagement with the public that allows input to be directed to best effect.

To answer this question, a current and comprehensive map of change and variation in the field of PI, described in various cultural and economic contexts, is required. Participedia provides resources that help create such a map, a “landscape of new participatory institutions,” as Fung and Warren (2011) call it. Participedia’s use extends beyond transportation planning to all major areas of decision-making in which PI has a key function in improving the quality of decisions and strengthening the accountability and responsiveness of democratic institutions.

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