Our Tomorrows- A Community Sensemaking Approach


OPSI Case Study: “The Kansas vision for the early childhood system is:  All children will have their basic needs met and have equitable access to quality early childhood care and educational opportunities, so they are prepared to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. In 2019, the State of Kansas received a large federal grant (the Preschool Development Grant) to conduct a needs assessment and craft a strategic plan for the early childhood system where all children can thrive. The grant leadership team of state agencies utilized this opportunity to harness the power of Our Tomorrows’ innovative Community Sensemaking Approach to map families’ lived experiences and create policies and programming adaptive to families’ needs.

In this context, Our Tomorrows set out to achieve three goals:

1. Gather stories about thriving and surviving from families across Kansas utilizing a complexity-informed narrative research approach called SenseMaker.

2. Make sense of patterns that emerged from the stories through Community Sensemaking Workshops with stakeholders at various levels of the system.

3. Take action and ennoble bottom-up change through Community Action Labs.

From a complexity perspective, these goals translate to developing a ‘human sensor network,’ embedding citizen feedback loops and sensemaking processes into governance, and complexity-informed intervention via portfolios of safe-to-fail probes….(More)

10 + 1 Guidelines for EU Citizen’s Assemblies


Blog post: “Over the past years, deliberative citizens’ assemblies selected by lot have increased their popularity and impact around the world. If introduced at European Union level, and aimed at developing recommendations on EU policy issues such first ever transnational citizens’ assemblies would be groundbreaking in advancing EU democratic reform. The Citizens Take Over Europe coalition recognizes the political urgency and democratic potential of such innovations of EU governance. We therefore call for the introduction of European citizens’ assemblies as a regular and permanent body for popular policy deliberation. In order for EU level citizens’ assemblies to work as an effective tool in further democratising EU decision-making, we have thoroughly examined preexisting exercises of deliberative democracy. The following 10 + 1 guidelines are based on best practices and lessons learned from national and local citizens’ assemblies across Europe. They have been designed in collaboration with leading experts. At present, these guidelines shall instruct the Conference on the Future of Europe on how to create the first experimental space for transnational citizens’ assemblies. But they are designed for future EU citizens’ assemblies as well.

1. Participatory prerequisites 

Strong participatory instruments are a prerequisite for a democratic citizens’ assembly. Composed as a microcosm of the EU population with people selected by lot, the assembly workings must be participatory and allow all members to have a say, with proper professional moderation during the deliberative rounds. The assembly must fit the EU participatory pillar and connect to the existing tools of EU participatory democracy, for instance by deliberating on successful European citizens’ initiatives. 

The scope and structure of the citizens’ assembly should be designed in a participatory manner by the members of the assembly, starting with the first assembly meeting that will draft and adopt its rules of procedure and set its agenda.

Additional participatory instruments such as the possibility to submit online proposals  to the assembly on relevant topics should be included in order to facilitate the engagement of all citizens. Information about opportunities to get involved and participate in the citizens’ assembly proceedings must be attractive and accessible to ordinary citizens….(More)”.

When Citizens Decide by Themselves – An Introduction to Direct Democracy


Open Access book by Thomas Benedikter: “Direct democracy, a relatively simple set of referendum rights and institutions, not only derives from fundamental political rights enshrined in international law and most Constitutions, but is the necessary complement to representative democracy. It is the second pillar of a modern representative democracy. The book offers a broad perspective on the most important facets of direct democracy, starting from the basic intentions of referendum rights, their design, qualities, performance, players and effects on politics. In a straightforward approach the book explains why referendum and initiative based on citizen-friendly regulations should be an indispensable part of any democracy around the world in the 21st century….(More)”.

Many in U.S., Western Europe Say Their Political System Needs Major Reform


Pew Research Center: “A four-nation Pew Research Center survey conducted in November and December of 2020 finds that roughly two-thirds of adults in France and the U.S., as well as about half in the United Kingdom, believe their political system needs major changes or needs to be completely reformed. Calls for significant reform are less common in Germany, where about four-in-ten express this view….

In all four countries, there is considerable interest in political reforms that would potentially allow ordinary citizens to have more power over policymaking. Citizen assemblies, or forums where citizens chosen at random debate issues of national importance and make recommendations about what should be done, are overwhelmingly popular. Around three-quarters or more in each country say it is very or somewhat important for the national government to create citizen assemblies. About four-in-ten say it’s very important. Such processes are in use nationally in France and the UK to debate climate change policy, and they have become increasingly common in nations around the world in recent years.

Chart showing citizen assemblies and referendums are popular ideas in all four countries

Citizen assemblies are popular across the ideological spectrum but are especially so among people who place themselves on the political left.1 Those who think their political system needs significant reform are also particularly likely to say it is important to create citizen assemblies.

There are also high levels of support for allowing citizens to vote directly to decide what becomes law for some key issues. About seven-in-ten in the U.S., Germany and France say it is important, in line with previous findings about support for direct democracy. In the UK, where crucial issues such as Scottish independence and Brexit were decided by referendum, support is somewhat lower – 63% say it is important for the government to use referendums to decide some key issues, and just 27% rate this as very important.

These are among the findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted from Nov. 10 to Dec. 23, 2020, among 4,069 adults in the France, Germany, the UK and the U.S. This report also includes findings from 26 focus groups conducted in 2019 in the U.S. and UK….(More)”.

Connecting parliaments: Harnessing digital dividends to increase transparency and citizen engagement


Paper by Julia Keutgen and Rebecca Rumbul: “…The overarching argument of this paper is that parliamentary digital transformation is a relatively underfunded area of work, but a vitally important one in achieving the very common overarching goals of open, accountable, inclusive and participative government. Improvements in how parliamentary digital capacity building can be done better are possible with better strategy, funding and cooperation, and when parliaments are enthusiastic and willing to take the opportunities offered to them to improve themselves.

Now more than ever, digital transformation has become essential for parliaments. Such transformation can have a significant impact in making parliaments more transparent and accountable and can enable them to leverage greater public interest and engagement in the legislative and electoral processes.

Good external digital engagement requires parliaments to review their own internal digital structures, assess where development and investment are needed, and how digital improvement will assist in achieving their goals. Differential priorities in the needs of the parliament or societal actors can form a guide, according to which specific areas for digital development might be prioritised. These steps require long-term investment, which should go in parallel with the digital transformation of the Executive. However, because a country’s digital transformation is primarily the preserve of the Executive, it can bypass the legislature and may be almost disproportionately influenced by the ruling party. Uneven digital transformation between public bodies and the legislature may weaken the profile and legitimacy of the legislature itself. Furthermore, governments that effectively restrict digital development within the legislature are essentially restricting democratic integrity.

Besides the long-term process of building and developing infrastructure, short-term pilot projects can be useful to test approaches and begin building the digital infrastructure of the future. Properly targeted funding, to achieve specified digital transformation goals, agreed in collaboration with the development agencies operating in target areas, can yield significant dividends in improving the digital democracy ecosystem. This approach can neutralise harmful, short-termist and wasteful approaches to digital deficiency, and remove the ability of the more unscrupulous parliaments to play development agencies off against each other to leverage greater rewards or resources.

Digital transformation of parliaments requires better strategy, funding and cooperation on the part of donors and implementers as parliaments are enthusiastic and willing to take the opportunities offered by digitalisation….(More)”.

How ‘Good’ Social Movements Can Triumph over ‘Bad’ Ones


Essay by Gilda Zwerman and Michael Schwartz: “…How, then, can we judge which movement was the “good” one and which the “bad?”

The answer can be found in the sociological study of social movements. Over decades of focused research, the field has demonstrated that evaluating the moral compass of individual participants does little to advance our understanding of the morality or the actions of a large movement. Only by assessing the goals, tactics and outcomes of movements as collective phenomena can we begin to discern the distinction between “good” and “bad” movements.

Modern social movement theory developed from foundational studies by several generations of scholars, notably W.E.B. DuBoisIda B. WellsC.L.R. JamesE.P. ThompsonEric HobsbawmCharles Tilly and Howard Zinn. Their works analyzing “large” historical processes provided later social scientists with three working propositions.

First, the morality of a movement is measured by the type of change it seeks. “Good” movements are emancipatory: they seek to pressure institutional authorities into reducing systemic inequality, extending democratic rights to previously excluded groups, and alleviating material, social, and political injustices. “Bad” movements tend to be reactionary. They arise in response to good movements and they seek to preserve or intensify the exclusionary structures, laws and policies that the emancipatory movements are challenging.

Second, large-scale institutional changes that broaden freedom or advance the cause of social justice are rarely initiated by institutional authorities or political elites. Rather, most social progress is the result of pressure exerted from the bottom up, by ordinary people who press for reform by engaging in collective and creative disorders outside the bounds of mainstream institutions.

And third, good intentions—aspiring to achieve emancipatory goals—by no means guarantee that a movement will succeed.

The highly popular and emancipatory protests of the 1960s, as well as the influence of groundbreaking works in social history mentioned above, inspired a renaissance in the study of social movements in subsequent decades. Focusing primarily on “good” movements, a new generation of social scientists sought to identify the environmental circumstances, organizational features and strategic choices that increased the likelihood that “good intentions” would translate into tangible change. This research has generated a rich trove of findings:…(More)”.

“Civic tech” and “digital democracy” to “open up” democracy?


Clément Mabi in Réseaux: “This paper posits that digital participatory democracy can be seen as a new anchor of participatory governmentality. Conveniently called “digital democracy”, its implementation contributes to the spread of a particular conception of government through participation, influenced by digital literacy and its principles of self-organization and interactivity. By studying the deployment and trajectory of the so-called “civic tech” movement in France, the aim is to show that the project of democratic openness embodied by the movement has gradually narrowed down to a logic of services, for the purposes of institutions. The “great national debate” triggered a shift in this trajectory. While part of the community complied with the government’s request to facilitate participation, the debate also gave unprecedented visibility to critics who contributed to the emergence of a different view of the role of digital technologies in democracy….(More)“.

Dialogues about Data: Building trust and unlocking the value of citizens’ health and care data


Nesta Report by Sinead Mac Manus and Alice Clay: “The last decade has seen exponential growth in the amount of data generated, collected and analysed to provide insights across all aspects of industry. Healthcare is no exception. We are increasingly seeing the value of using health and care data to prevent ill health, improve health outcomes for people and provide new insights into disease and treatments.

Bringing together common themes across the existing research, this report sets out two interlinked challenges to building a data-driven health and care system. This is interspersed with best practice examples of the potential of data to improve health and care, as well as cautionary tales of what can happen when this is done badly.

The first challenge we explore is how to increase citizens’ trust and transparency in data sharing. The second challenge is how to unlock the value of health and care data.

We are excited about the role for participatory futures – a set of techniques that systematically engage people to imagine and create more sustainable, inclusive futures – in helping governments and other organisations work with citizens to engage them in debate about their health and care data to build a data-driven health and care system for the benefit of all….(More)”.

How can stakeholder engagement and mini-publics better inform the use of data for pandemic response?


Andrew Zahuranec, Andrew Young and Stefaan G. Verhulst at the OECD Participo Blog Series:

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“What does the public expect from data-driven responses to the COVID-19 pandemic? And under what conditions?” These are the motivating questions behind The Data Assembly, a recent initiative by The GovLab at New York University Tandon School of Engineering — an action research center that aims to help institutions work more openly, collaboratively, effectively, and legitimately.

Launched with support from The Henry Luce Foundation, The Data Assembly solicited diverse, actionable public input on data re-use for crisis response in the United States. In particular, we sought to engage the public on how to facilitate, if deemed acceptable, the use of data that was collected for a particular purpose for informing COVID-19. One additional objective was to inform the broader emergence of data collaboration— through formal and ad hoc arrangements between the public sector, civil society, and those in the private sector — by evaluating public expectation and concern with current institutional, contractual, and technical structures and instruments that may underpin these partnerships.

The Data Assembly used a new methodology that re-imagines how organisations can engage with society to better understand local expectations regarding data re-use and related issues. This work goes beyond soliciting input from just the “usual suspects”. Instead, data assemblies provide a forum for a much more diverse set of participants to share their insights and voice their concerns.

This article is informed by our experience piloting The Data Assembly in New York City in summer 2020. It provides an overview of The Data Assembly’s methodology and outcomes and describes major elements of the effort to support organisations working on similar issues in other cities, regions, and countries….(More)”.

Mini-Publics and the Wider Public: The Perceived Legitimacy of Randomly Selecting Citizen Representatives


Paper by James Pow: “There are two important dimensions to the membership of mini-publics that are distinct from the membership of conventional representative institutions: the selection mechanism (sortition) and the profile of the body’s eligible membership (‘ordinary’ citizens). This article examines the effects of these design features on perceived legitimacy. A survey experiment in the deeply divided context of Northern Ireland finds no evidence that variation in mini-public selection features has an overall effect on perceived legitimacy, but there are important individual-level differences….(More)”.