MosaicLab Monthly Community Engagement Myth - Decision Makers and deliberative engagement processes

Welcome to MosaicLab's first ever #MonthlyMyth post.  There are a number of myths and misconceptions that often surface in relation to facilitation, deliberative democracy, outrage management, conflict management and community engagement more broadly. 

As part of our work to promote quality engagement practice and share information and learning we are addressing some of the most common myths and misconceptions each month on our blog.  We hope you find this series interesting, informative, and perhaps a little surprising!

We're kicking off with a myth that often surfaces in relation to deliberative processes.  This misconception can be a barrier to leaders and decision makers embracing deliberative engagement, and is commonly held by those who haven't experienced this type of process before and fear loss of control.   


Decision makers have no role in a deliberative process.


Deliberative engagement is an engagement approach where a randomly selected group of people that are affected by an issue or decision come together to deliberate over an issue.  Together, the group prepares a report that details their response to the question (remit) before them and details their recommendations.   This report tends to hold 'weight' in the decision making process, meaning that, ultimately, the community has a higher level of influence over the outcome or decision than the they generally would in a standard engagement approach.   Naturally, this can sometimes cause concern around the role of the 'decision maker'. 

Decision makers need to commit to the process and the promise being made to their stakeholders or community.  However, in most cases, the report is sent to very senior decision makers for consideration or final approval.  When referring to the IAP2's Public Participation Spectrum,  the level of engagement is collaborate rather than empower.

These processes intentionally try to give more influence to citizens.  They require the decision maker to be brave, but not to give up total control, and the decision maker certainly doesn't become obsolete.

So how are decision makers involved in a deliberative process?

When designing a deliberative process, it's important that decision makers have considered input into the strategic elements of process design.  Ultimately, they are making a commitment to  seriously consider and directly respond to the recommendations of the panel or jury - so they need to be brought in from the early stages of the planning process.   Their support must be gained before any engagement commences. 

For a range or reasons, some organisations try to keep decision makers at an arms length from the engagement process.  However, its preferable that they are part of the action where possible as observers and listeners.   For example, deliberative processes are often one phase of a broader engagement process.  During wider engagement activities, decision makers can attend or observe a range of different face to face events.  There's lots of meaningful ways they can take part and inviting them into into face to face sessions and activities helps them to see, understand and appreciate what's happening on the ground.   

In addition, when the deliberative phase rolls around, decision makers are invited to observe and potentially speak with the jury or panel during the group's deliberations.   The speakers a jury or panel hears from a usually a combination of organisation, speaker and participant nominated individuals, and the organisation can choose put forward a CEO, councillor, board member etc. as part of that mix.  

Decision makers are also in the room on the final day of deliberations, and they receive the group's final report in person.   Importantly, leaders and decision makers then need to prepare a response to the this report.  This response will detail how they will implement the group's recommendations, and if there’s any they can't implement, a clear explanation of why. Generally, decision makers then have ownership over how they implement those recommendations. 


Engaging decision makers in your process before you engage with your stakeholders or community is key to a successful process.  Check out this related monthly myth on avoiding decision maker engagement.  We highlight most common mistakes made in this space and provide 8 top tips for upping your decision maker engagement game.



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