For the second time in five years, Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) hosted a four-day workshop for more than 30 U.S. and international participants involved in the Kettering Foundation’s “Centers for Public Life” learning exchange.
The program gathers Kettering researchers with representatives from newly formed and more established national and international deliberative centers to examine how civic organizations, communities, and institutions can strengthen democracy. Each summer, participants meet at an established center, such as the CPD, for one of four workshops that occur throughout the yearlong learning exchange, which otherwise meets at Kettering’s headquarters in Dayton, Ohio.
Throughout the four-day learning exchange participants discussed the core elements of deliberative practice, such as building community connections, designing processes (public meetings), researching tough issues, developing background materials, facilitation and recording, report writing, and moving to action. Participating centers are all exploring practical ways that people can constructively shape the futures of the places where they live.
Mary Wrafter, who works for the local County Mayo government in western Ireland, says she hopes the learning exchange will help her engage her local government with its citizens.
“Rural isolation is a big community issue for us,” Wrafter says. “But who gets to decide what that issue looks like when we talk about it? Whose views get presented?”
Wrafter will take what she learns back to Ireland and propose a process for how the government and its community can better address pivotal issues moving forward.
The community forums that the Center for Public Deliberation regularly facilitates with the City of Fort Collins offers participants such as Wrafter a successful model for studying the deliberative process. According to Dr. Martin Carcasson, director of the CPD and associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, deliberative work is more art than science. “The best way to learn is to talk with smart people about examples and experiences, and this program provides plenty of opportunities for that,” he says.[/paragraph_left][third_paragraph]
About the Center
CSU’s Center for Public Deliberation, housed in the Department of Communication Studies, was founded in 2006. Working with students trained in small group facilitation, the CPD assists local government, school boards, and community organizations by researching issues and developing useful background material, and then designs, facilitates, and reports on innovative public events.
The Kettering Foundation is a cooperative research nonprofit that focuses on answering the question, “What does it take to make democracy work as it should?” Kettering works primarily through learning exchanges and other collaborative research with civic organizations, communities, and institutions that are experimenting with ways to strengthen democracy.
Even though Carcasson has participated as faculty and helped develop the exchange program since it began in 2011, he continues to gain new insights, especially when the group discusses issues the CPD has not yet explored. This year, he says, one of the participants was a state senator and another was formerly a state senator. Their perspective “led to many interesting discussions on the intersections between deliberation and state politics,” says Carcasson.
On the flip side, exchange participants learned from Carcasson how the CPD has tackled tough issues, launched a successful student associate program, attracted dedicated donors, and engaged citizens in issues ranging from improving the local food economy to building safer neighborhoods, addressing senior transportation, and confronting bullying in K-12 schools.
According to Alice Diebel, Kettering Foundation program officer, this kind of shared-learning experience creates a community of practice that can serve as a network for ongoing learning long after the exchange ends.
“The experience I’ve had with the Centers for Public Life program has been particularly useful to think about the links between deliberation and public action,” says Carcasson. “How do we ultimately move from talk to tangible action?”