A hat-tip to Martin Woodrow at the Consultation Institute for the pointer to the following publication.
From the Canadian Public Policy Forum comes “Rescuing Public Policy – the case for Public Engagement” (PDF 1.58 MB, 188 pages) by Dan Lenihan. The book is based upon Dan’s practical experience in the Public Engagement Project carried out in a number of Canadian provinces, territories and organizations, and is the final report of that work.
Lenihan takes to task what he describes as the ‘consumer model of politics’, something we should all recognise, where the politicians focus on the small vote-catching issues to the detriment of the big problems faced by nations and economies. He then proceeds to offer an alternative approach to engagement. The document is not about e-participation, or even social media, for as he so clearly recognises, this would be putting the cart before the horse, and there is a need to gain trust through proper participative methods before introducing additional tools.
At the outset Lenihan clearly identifies central government politicians failure to realise the complexity involved in any delivery due to the existing structures and layers within government. He also recognises that the public require a level of consultation and transparency, that is nothing to do with transparency after the event, which seems to be a UK government trend, the citizen wants to be consulted at the outset, even if its to provide their support!
On page 37 Lenihan states “real solutions to complex issues not only require that stakeholders, citizens and communities be fully involved in the policy process; they require genuine collaboration between governments and the public”, unfortunately as he describes earlier Clinton (in his second term), and Blair were only interested in winning and so employed the marketeers to drive their ‘consumer model’ of politics.
At page 52 he describes his “Golden Rule of Public Engagement. It says that, if governments really want citizens and stakeholders to take some ownership of the issues, it is not enough simply to ask them for their views on the solutions. Governments must engage the public in a real dialogue where all parties work through the issues and arrive at the action plan together”. How I wish so many politicians and ‘public servants’ would learn this.
The third chapter is given over to Lenihan comparing some alternative approaches to engagement leading up to the fourth chapter that focuses on joining up services and how a participative approach can assist (co-design). Chapter five then examines some of the difficulties put in the way of the employing participation, particularly by the politicians or policy makers. The remainder of the book carries on to summarise the work, explain how politics might be reclaimed as a result of implementing the approaches outlined. There’s also a brief history of work carried out in New Brunswick. The work concludes with an appendix including an evaluation framework for collaboration with benchmarks outlined.
Given the recent dialogue around participation it will be interesting to see how the worldwide community sees Lenihan’s proposals and whether these can be further developed. However I remain skeptical about politicians and policymakers being truly willing to dilute their own control to the masses, but maybe I’m wrong?