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President’s Message – Leah Jaramillo

November 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Leah Jaramillo

There was a lot of fear in the room at a recent community organizing meeting I attended – fear about our political system, the ramifications of the recent election, and more generally, a perceived lack of knowledge on how to engage. As the group discussed ways that people could affect real change in their local communities and more broadly, a woman asked how she could get more involved in decisions that affected her.

Despite having practiced P2 for more than a decade, it was still surprising for me to see just how many people had little to no understanding of the opportunities to influence decisions happening all around them. I was similarly surprised to learn about the large number of Americans (over 90 million eligible voters) who simply did not vote in this year’s election.

In recent weeks I’ve heard a great deal of concern about how the new political climate may cause a potential chilling effect on our practice and on people’s ability to express themselves. I believe the opposite to be true.

This is the time for Americans of all stripes to come together, participate and share their voices. This is a time for dialogue, a time to build understanding, and a time to engage in topics we are passionate about. As P2 practitioners, there is no better time to ensure we are engaging for diversity and inclusion. This is a time to reflect on our own experiences and improve our practice.

I encourage each of you to engage with your chapters and your peers to share stories, compare notes, and find ways to broaden the practice, to make it more accessible, and help all Americans share their voices.

Guest Post: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up

August 6, 2016 Leave a comment

davebiggsDave Biggs, Chief Engagement Officer, MetroQuest
Dave Biggs is an internationally-recognized speaker, author and public engagement strategist focusing on best practices to supercharge community participation for planning projects.

James Hoggan has influenced my work for two decades. I find myself quoting his work in many of my public speaking engagements and the lessons he has articulated have shaped MetroQuest and the best practices listed in our guidebook in numerous ways. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to sit down with Hoggan to discuss his new book, “I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up.” After years of research that included interviewing some of the world’s most profound thinkers on democracy, conflict and consensus-building, Hoggan has cleverly articulated not only what’s wrong with public discourse but also what must be done to fix it. Here’s our conversation.

biggs-hoggan-interview

Image from book launch event courtesy Hoggan & Associates

My interview with Author James Hoggan: ‘I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up’, Published by New Society, May 2016

Dave Biggs: You named your book ‘I’m Right and You’re an Idiot.’ What does that title mean to you?

James Hoggan: The title I’m Right and You’re an Idiot describes today’s warlike approach to public debate. It’s a style of communication that polarizes public conversations and prevents us from dealing with the serious problems stalking everyone on earth.

It is an ironic title, chosen because it epitomizes the kind of attack rhetoric we hear so often today. It reflects the opposite of the real message of the book, which was best said by peace activist and Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who told me to: “Speak the truth not to punish.”

Dave Biggs: It’s clear that you covered a great deal of ground in researching this book. Tell me about that journey? What motivated you to go to such lengths?

James Hoggan: I was driven by curiosity about how we might create the space for higher-quality public conversations. What passes for public discourse these days is little more than antagonistic name-calling, where each side accuses the other of bad faith.

This bitter combativeness has replaced healthy debate, during which passionate opposition and science can shape constructive mind-changing conversations without creating polarized gridlock or deep animosity.

I am interested in why are we listening to each other shout rather than hearing what the evidence is trying to tell us about problems such as climate change.

How have we come to a time when facts don’t matter and how can we begin the journey back to where they do?

No single person has the answers to these complex questions but collectively the experts I interviewed offer incredible wisdom. Many of the thought leaders I spoke to have spent their entire professional lives working to find answers to these tough change resistance questions.

Dave Biggs: Many of our readers are involved in community engagement for planning projects and, as they can attest, it can get quite heated. You describe public discourse as increasingly “toxic” and “polarized.” What do those terms mean to you? Is the situation getting worse? What’s driving it?

James Hoggan: Today’s public square is a toxic mix of ad hominem attacks, tribalism and unyielding advocacy. It’s a kind of pollution that sabotages public discourse and discredits the passion and outrage at the heart of healthy public debate, because it polarizes people and stops them thinking clearly.

Fear is what propels toxic discourse and it is happening on both sides of the Atlantic, in North America and Europe. Sadly, facts do not compete well when leaders whip up primal feelings around fear, whether it’s about immigration, jobs or economic woes.

Rather than confronting the substance of an argument itself, people tend to attack the motives of opponents and stir up hostility towards groups that hold differing opinions.

This dangerous habit of attacking the character of those who disagree with us, rather than focusing on specific issues, distracts the public from what’s really going on.

Accusing opponents of corrupt motives is a highly confrontational technique that deflects attention and makes it easy to dismiss well-founded criticism. This aggressive approach to public debate leaves little room for the middle ground and as Debra Tannen wrote, “When extremes define the issues, problems seem insoluble and citizens become alienated from the political process.”

Dave Biggs: I’ve started a series called “Fiasco Files” to see what can be learned from the wreckage of public engagement disasters. Have you looked at specific case studies where things went off the rails? Does your book point to common mistakes and how to avoid them?

James Hoggan: One of the best example of a fiasco in Canada was in 2012 when the oil & gas industry and Conservative government campaigned to convince Canadians that British Columbians who opposed pipelines and tankers on the west coast were extremists working for American business interests.

A tremendous amount of information was provided, by both government and industry, regarding Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project and TransCanada’s Keystone XL and Energy East.

Despite armies of PR people and volumes of communication materials, the mismanagement of communication around these proposed oil sands developments became textbook examples of how not to achieve social license.

When it comes to public opinion, there’s a common belief among proponents that providing facts is the best way to sell a story. But in the oil sands case, when the companies and government failed to achieve their goals, they resorted to a combative, underhanded style of advocacy.

The Prime Minister’s Office called opponents “foreign funded radicals.” The Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Natural Resources accused environmental charities of criminal activity.

Senator Don Platt said ‘where would …environmentalists draw the line on who they receive money from. Would they take money from the Al-Qaeda, the Hamas or the Taliban…’

This highly polarizing strategy backfired badly as opposition to pipelines grew and community groups and First Nations became better organized. It failed because the government and industry started with a mistaken assumption that anyone who disagreed with them was either misinformed, unreasonable or even a wrongdoer.

Despite assurances from oil and pipeline companies that these projects will create jobs, are safe and will respect the environment, the public continues to see the benefits as small and the risks as unacceptably high.

It’s not that information doesn’t matter, but a growing body of research on how people develop perceptions of risk shows that facts and statistics alone do not change people’s concerns about what is risky. Emotions play a huge part.

University of Oregon psychologist Paul Slovic has studied the various social and cultural factors that lead to disputes and disagreements about risk, and says the problem lies in the diverse ways in which “experts” and the public view risk.

Experts look at risk as a calculation of probability and consequence. The public takes a more personal approach; their perceptions are around personal control, voluntariness, children and future generations, trust, equity, benefits and consequences.

Slovic says the mistake experts (and the companies and governments they represent) make is viewing themselves as objective and the public as subjective.

They perceive the public as being too emotional and having irrational fear. The public’s attitude is then dismissed as laypeople getting the facts wrong and not understanding the evidence.

“Laypeople sometimes lack certain information about hazards,” Slovic says. “However their basic conceptualization of risk is much richer than that of experts and reflects legitimate concerns that are typically omitted from expert risk assessments.”

This is where a company’s decision to “educate” the public to adopt its point of view can really backfire. People aren’t sitting around waiting to be told what to think. In fact, few of us like being told what to think.

Communicators need to be sensitive to this broader concept of risk. Facts aren’t just facts. They aren’t as objective as we assume they are. Facts and risk are subjective for both experts and the public. They are a blend of values, biases and ideology.

The hypodermic needle theory of communication, where we believe we can simply inject information to cure people of their misunderstandings, doesn’t work. Neither does demonizing opponents or polarizing people.

Dave Biggs: I’m always on the lookout for emerging best practices in community engagement. Government agencies are hungry for strategies to improve the dialogue in face to face events as well as online. What lessons can you share to help them broaden the dialogue to a wider demographic and collect meaningful and constructive public input to inform their decision making?

James Hoggan: We often don’t even get the basics right. Learning to engage in emotional dialogue is a good place to start.

 

Curtailing the growth of unyielding one-sidedness begins with the assumption that people who disagree with us have good intentions. They aren’t idiots or evil.

It is important to recognize that in a time when mistrust and polarization have soared to all-time highs, conversations aimed at injecting information into people in order to cure them of their misunderstanding will fail.

The power of emotion is a critical consideration. No matter how good you think your argument is, regardless of how provable your facts, if the public feels its liberty, right to fair treatment or livelihood is threatened, you’re losing the battle to dread.

Opposition is often based on feelings of dread that citizens have about the impact a project could have on their way of life, a mistrust of the companies behind it and skepticism around government regulators charged with oversight.

Fear can grow despite a steady stream of facts and expensive PR campaigns from proponents claiming their projects are built to minimize risk.

Opponents often don’t accept the proponents’ facts, but are instead driven by what Paul Slovic calls the “dread factor” — the prime predictor of a strong reaction to risk.

According to Slovic, risk resides in us mostly as a “gut feeling” rather than the outcome of analytical calculations. The most powerful of these feelings is dread and it is linked with a sense of having no control in a situation, inequality (where others get the benefit, while they get saddled with the risk) and how catastrophic a risk is seen to be.

His research shows that reliance on feelings as our guide to risk causes us, when we see risk as high, to also believe the benefit is low. The opposite is true if we come to believe the benefit is high, we tend to see risk as low.

Misunderstanding the “dread factor” and the possibly legitimate concerns that fuel it, intensifies the problem of unyielding one-sidedness that we see in so many public disputes.

It is also difficult to be seen as authentic in an argument if you don’t understand what Slovic calls the “whisper of emotion.” This is the emotional meaning; the good or bad feelings and gut instinct that can help people make decisions. Sometimes these feelings are misguided, but they are usually a sophisticated compass that directs us through life efficiently and accurately.

We need to be more conscious of emotional dialogue because this is where most risk communication fails. And we need to recognize it needs to be a two-way process where both sides have something worthwhile to contribute.

If you hold your views lightly and remember you could be wrong, people are more likely to trust you and be more receptive. It’s about communicating trust, by having an open mind, open heart and an open will.

Reposted with permission from Metroquest, July 5, 2016

IAP2 Federation Announces New Professional Development Manager

August 5, 2016 Leave a comment

iap2logoAugust 1, 2016

The IAP2 Federation Board is pleased to announce the selection of Cassandra “Cassie” Hemphill as the new Professional Development Manager. Cassie commenced her duties on Monday, August 1, 2016.

 

Cassie Hemphill

Cassie Hemphill

Cassie brings to IAP2 more than 25 years of experience as a communications educator and consultant. As an educator, she teaches university and outreach courses in public speaking, interpersonal communication, intercultural communication, technical writing, and dialogue and deliberation at the University of Montana. She recently piloted a 12-hour “people skills” training for supervisors as part of an outreach to local businesses. For her university’s global leadership initiative, Cassie will teach a first year seminar in deliberative democracy. Prior to teaching, Cassie worked as a communications consultant, primarily coordinating large (>$1M US) commercial and government proposals and serving as lead writer and editor for complex, multi-volume technical and scientific publications.

Cassie’s Ph.D. research focused on the implementation of an innovative government procurement policy by a federal natural resource agency. Her M.A. research examined the decision-making processes used by technical experts in complex environmental cleanup projects. She as a B.S. in management and service leadership and a certificate in natural resources conflict resolution. She completed IAP2’s 5-day certificate course (now Foundations in Public Participation training) in 2004 and has completed training in project management, proposal management, and facilitation of P2 processes. Her current research explores best practices in adult learning and assessment, organizational communication, and deliberative dialogic decision-making processes.

Cassie is active at the national and regional levels of IAP2 USA. She is on the IAP2 USA Certification Task Force and is the Montana state representative for the Intermountain Chapter. She serves on the editorial board of the Northwest Communication Association Journal and has previously served that association as a conference planner. One of the highlights of her year is serving as chief judge for the 8th grade physical science division at the Montana State Science Fair.

IAP2 extends sincere appreciation to Staffing Committee members Jan Bloomfield (Canada), Kylie Cochrane (Australasia) and Ellen Ernst, Executive Manager for their efforts in working through the recruiting and selection process and for their thoughtful consideration of all applications received. IAP2 was pleased with the interest received from more than 30 applicants from around the world. The breadth and depth of experience was quite impressive.

In the coming weeks and months as Cassie becomes acquainted with the organization, key initiatives, and her role, many of you will have the opportunity to meet and work with her. Cassie can be reached at pdm@iap2.org.

Please join us in welcoming Cassie to IAP2.

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President’s Message – Leah Jaramillo

August 5, 2016 1 comment

Leah JaramilloA few weeks ago, I spent a truly enjoyable evening with friends honoring the great work of the Human Rights Campaign in Utah. Just hours later, I woke to find that the worst mass shooting in US history had occurred in a gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando. As more information became available, I began to wonder how the specifics of this event could change the kind of conversations we’ve been having about terrorism, gun-control, religion and human rights in this country. So far, I’ve experienced a range of emotion – sadness, surprise, anger, outrage, confusion, a sense of loss for the victims and their families, hope for the future, and finally determination to make things better.

A hopeful moment in the dialogue surrounding this tragedy surprisingly came from Utah Republican Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox who apologized to the gay community for “not treating them with the kindness, dignity, and respect – the love – that they deserved.” Statements like this give me hope that change is beginning. But, as a P2 practitioner, I believe that all people should be treated with kindness, dignity, and respect – period. Statements like the Lt. Governor’s are appreciated, but I believe what is really needed is a call to action; a call to conversation; a call for the public to participate in decisions affecting Americans.

The issues raised by this tragedy are many, complicated, and intertwined. It is clear to me that some things have to change. Mister (Fred) Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Let us, as P2 practitioners, begin to help by getting involved in these difficult conversations, planning inclusive processes, and engaging Americans in difficult topics to open the way prevent future tragedies.

I’m asking each of you to find out what your communities are talking about related to this event and these issues, engage where you can, and share with the IAP2 USA community via our social media feeds, blog, and newsletter. If nothing is happening in your community, let’s help start the conversation. Let’s support our vision to make the U.S. a country where public participation is deeply embedded and widely applied …to improve the quality of our democracy.

President’s Message – Leah Jaramillo

April 25, 2016 Leave a comment

Leah JaramilloI was always told that it was not polite to talk about politics with anyone except family, and even that can be questionable. But, to me elections and voting have always seemed to be the most fundamental processes by which Americans participate in our Democracy (or not).

Given the tenor of recent GOP debates and political rallies, I can only say that the need for well-planned and executed public participation opportunities are growing at an exponential rate. The American public feels entitled to share their opinions on just about any topic and via any platform. Today you can find videos, memes, and posts voicing just about any stance you could think of. But how do we make sense of this information? How does it become more than noise? I firmly believe that IAP2 members have the skills and passion to lead more meaningful conversations about issues that affect people.

I am pleased to be a member of this organization, which can and is helping people lead better processes to build community. We can be the leaders of processes that bring civility back into public discourse and help to unify communities. There are so many new opportunities for public participation across our nation, not just in politics but in the way we interact with others in our communities. Now is a time to reflect inwards in order to build together.

There is no better time to recognize best practices in our field, celebrate and learn from one another. The Core Values Awards committee recently announced new project categories and a new application process. Let’s build on our practice together. Please consider submitting a successful process you have led or been affiliated with for a Core Values Award by June 10. (Applicant Kit)

If you have ideas or suggestions for the Board don’t hesitate to contact us at info@iap2usa.org

IAP2 Member spotlight: Thao Hill

March 10, 2015 Leave a comment
IAP2_ThaoHill

IAP2 Member Thao Hill

– By Lance Robertson

Member spotlight is a frequent feature of the IAP2 USA newsletter. If you have a suggestion for a future profile, please email Lance Robertson at lance.robertson@eweb.org.

Briefly introduce yourself. Who are you, and what do you do?

I am the Director of Strategic Accounts for GovDelivery. I started with GovDelivery way back in February of 2015 :-). My job at GovDelivery is to consult with its different teams (Sales, Marketing, Product, Implementation, Customer Service, etc.) to help drive more new partnerships with local and state government. So, essentially what that means is that I help government public information officers, communications directors, public participation professionals and others leverage the internet (the cloud, the web, whatever you wanna call it) to execute their successful communications strategies.

Many folks know me because of the work I did from 2005-2014 with another cloud services company – Granicus. Prior to that, from 2000-2005, I was the head technology officer for Public Systems Associates, the IT outfit for the Louisiana Legislature.

So, essentially, I’ve devoted my entire career to helping government agencies leverage technology in the most productive and useful way possible – particularly when it comes to getting information from inside government out into the hands of citizens.

I was born and raised outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in a very, very small town. I received my Electrical Engineering degree from Tennessee Tech University.

How long have you been a member of IAP2? How did you first hear about the organization?

I officially joined last month! I’ve been involved with IAP2 since I attended the North American Conference two years ago in Salt Lake City as a technology vendor.

In your day-to-day public participation or community outreach work, what gives you the most satisfaction?

I get the most satisfaction when I see a press release from one of my customers informing the public about a service they are offering to help the public be better connected to their government. I can say “I was a part of that!”, and that’s super cool for me personally. Knowing I helped them make the decision to do something and it was successful!

What are the biggest challenges you’ve found in doing this kind of work?

I get really frustrated when I talk with someone in charge of public participation or communications and they say, “I’m happy with how we do things today.” They are not being open to doing it better. We should always be open to giving our citizens better services with their tax dollars.

Why did you decide to get more involved in IAP2?

I see how communications and public participation professionals love their jobs, and I have seen how helping government use technology better can make people feel more connected to their government. To use it to help get the public to take part in the decision-making process of government… that’s the most rewarding!

In several parts of the country, there is interest building in re-launching or re-building chapters to connect local folks on the ground. What’s your vision for the Northern California chapter? What kinds of things are going on there?

Too early to tell… but it feels like that we have the unique opportunity here to partner with a lot of tech businesses that want to help engage with the public, and our place will be to bring them together with public participation professionals and guide them so the tools we develop and use are ones that will actually work.

What are your off-work passions and interests? What do you like to do for fun?

I play the piano, and I sing… I do a lot of this for community service to organizations in San Francisco that are in need. I am a part of the San Francisco Ducal Court, which is a group of mostly entertainers that perform to raise money for many LGBT organizations in San Francisco.

Anything else you want to add?

I’m very excited to become more involved in my Northern California Chapter. My life passion has been to help governments utilize technology to achieve a more representative democracy built on trust between citizens and government. IAP2 can be a critical part of this very important goal, and I’m excited to be of service!

Journal of Public Deliberation Moving to Kansas State

September 28, 2010 6 comments

The Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD), an online peer-reviewed journal of contemporary scholarship in the field of deliberative democracy published by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, has found a new academic home.

From the September 24 Kansas State University press release (emphasis mine):

University New Home to Prestigious Democracy Journal

MANHATTAN — Kansas State University has become the new home of the Journal of Public Deliberation, with K-State’s David Procter and Timothy Steffensmeier serving as co-editors.

Procter is a professor of communication studies and director of K-State’s Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy; Steffensmeier is an assistant professor of communication studies and an associate with the institute.

[…]

Procter and Steffensmeier will pursue several initiatives as new editors of the journal. They want it to be the premier, peer-reviewed journal in deliberative democracy. They also want to increase the number of issues published per year, broaden the readership, and increase international submissions and readership.

In addition, Procter and Steffensmeier want to expand the journal’s presence in online deliberation issues, as well as increase essays and articles regarding the value and process of public participation in political governance.

Check out the most recent issue (volume 6, issue 2) of the journal.

JPD is an interdisciplinary effort, and scholars and practitioners from all disciplines are invited to contribute.

The first call for papers from Messrs. Procter and Steffensmeier will be announced November 1, 2010.

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