#MONTHLYMYTH - EVERYDAY CITIZENS & COMPLEX TOPICS

#MonthlyMyth MosaicLab - Citizens and complex info

Welcome to our February #MonthlyMyth post!  Today, we're exploring a commonly held belief that prevents many organisations from engaging in a meaningful way with citizens around complex, technical or information-rich issues. 

This one misconception can reduce an engagement process to a surface exercise without any real outcomes, create unintended and less than desirable consequences down the track and even prevent a potentially valuable engagement process from happening altogether. 

So let's get into it - what can everyday citizens REALLY handle and should we ask them to handle it?

MYTH:

Everyday citizens can't grapple with or wouldn't be interested in complex topics or in-depth information.

IN REALITY

Often our 'usual processes' (those familiar ways of proceeding that many organisations feel most comfortable with) are the most risky.   Commonly, organisations don't give the people they engage with enough time or information when they ask them to provide input or feedback.  It is common to 'ask people what they think when they aren't thinking' - i.e. when you conduct a quick poll or instant survey sent out to an audience that has been provided with no prior information or time to consider their response.

This approach can result in a range of unintended consequences.  At best you might be left with poor quality, uniformed outputs.  At worst, you run the risk of damaging relationships and disengaging your stakeholders and communities who feel disconnected from the topic or issue.  People may even feel that the process lacked transparency, and that important information has been withheld. 

At MosaicLab, we are lucky to work in the exciting realm of deliberative democracy.  Deliberative processes follow a number of important principles, including that participants will have access to the information they need to have an in-depth conversation and sufficient time to consider that information.   Because of this work, we are constantly surrounded by first hand evidence that everyday citizens can and will grapple with big issues if they are given the opportunity to really think about them.

This 'deliberative principle' can be integrated into any engagement process, increasing participants’ levels of knowledge about issues which results in:

  • more informed, considered views being shared,
  • cultivating trust between authorities and communities,
  • building civic capacity and capability, and
  • increasing general levels of civic engagement and political participation.

Examples of processes where people successfully grappled with a difficult issue include:

  • The award-winning VicHealth Citizens' Jury on Obesity project: Obesity is a contentious, complex issue, and,  despite the ongoing efforts of public health organisations, the obesity crisis continues to worsen.  This process was designed to put everyday Victorians in the driver’s seat and allow them to grapple with this 'wicked' problem, mobilise communities and individuals to take action, encourage industry to initiate change and create an enabling environment for stronger government action.
  • The City of Melbourne's People's Panel for a 10 Year Financial Plan: The panel was a full scale, fully informed, deliberative process.  The panel met for six half days and participants were able to request information from the Council and trusted external experts.  The Council opened their books and panel members were provided access to comprehensive information on financials, municipal demographics, plans, strategies and challenges.

MOSAICLAB'S MONTHLY MYTHS

WThere 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!

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