This week we focused on ‘The Who’ of environmental engagement. This encompasses a wide variety of considerations, but is primarily focused on who is taken into account in the policy decision-making process. The article by Luyet et al, 2012 it explores how engagement is practiced within a framework that optimizes stakeholder participation based on their varying interests. The study aims to clarify the classification of stakeholders, by identifying their interests, as well as important recommendations for how to identify stakeholders in the first place. Healthy Democracy is an organization in Oregon and beyond that works on projects to promote democracy throughout the state and ensure that voters have access to information and promote community across differences. This is hugely relevant to and dependent on ‘the who’ of engagement. The best way to promote democracy and increase understanding in a state is to ensure that you are representing as many people as possible within your engagement. This is what Healthy Democracy has aimed to do through multiple different programs that we have outlined in this post.
The Citizens Initiative Review, or CIR, of Healthy Democracy, aims to include registered voters in the community that are willing and able to participate in a questionnaire. Meaning the ‘who’ of this style of engagement includes any registered voter with any political affiliation and who has completed the questionnaire. The demographic data of the participants is made so that it is representative of the state’s demographic. Using a broad data set allows Healthy Democracy and research partners to ensure a more accurate depiction of stakeholder interests on different ballot measures. Additionally to data, Healthy democracy offers participants a daily stipend and accommodations for travel and other expenses to minimize their cost by participating in the CIR. This eases the burden of the potential economic loss from spending 4 days on the deliberations and review process. They also provide liaisons to stand up for their perspectives and help facilitate the healthy conversation of the topics discussed in the CIR. The end result of this collaborative discussion is a one-page review that is factual and written in easy-to-understand language detailing the important issues people in the CIR feel voters need to know. This helps engage across a larger scale statewide to help inform voters in a concise and easily understood message. This process has been implemented in a number of different states to inform voters across statewide scales.
The CIR offers a wide scale at which people across differences can engage through voter information, but the broadness of the study seems to benefit people on a larger scale neglecting smaller communities. It’s important to note that other branches of Healthy Democracy, such as Community Oregon, may be more inclined to incorporate the small scale representation of political diversity in this issue of; ‘who’ is included in engagement?. Nonetheless, the CIR process lacks these traits which ultimately benefit a broad audience. For instance, using state demographics for the deciding panel of the CIR is one shortcoming to the process because although it’s true in representing beneficiaries of the majority populous in an area, minority voters’ voices should also be used to express different stakeholder interests. The main beneficiaries of a broad scale are the people that identify or are in the category of the majority populous of that region. The CIR is meant to inform voters on the key points in voting for or against a ballot measure, with information from citizens, and a panel representative of state demographics voting on the information included in the voter pamphlet. This identifies key issues of the community, which aims to appeal toward a larger voter audience as compared to appealing to minority voter groups.
Although Healthy Democracy is most famous for its Citizens Initiative Review, they have other programs like Community Oregon. The goal of Community Oregon is to bring people together who come from a variety of experiences and knowledge backgrounds and helps them build skills to communicate effectively both with each other and people they encounter in their day to day lives. The program consists of three different parts: camp, exchange, and expo.
The camp is structured in a retreat-style, with the intention of providing “a fun and challenging experience for participants,”(Here). This camp is led by both people who come from rural and urban parts of the state. A lot of emphasis is put on ensuring the people from both of these backgrounds are involved in this process. The second portion is an exchange, the program is designed so that “each urban participant will host a rural participant in their home and vice versa”. The exchange follows the retreat and its goal is to help participants experience a lifestyle that differs from their own so that they can grow their understanding of each other and other ways of life. The last portion of Community Oregon is the Expo. This is a single-day event that includes participants and invited guests. It gives participants that opportunity to share what they learned. The presentations “will showcase what has been learned and to invite support for initiatives and projects that participants wish to develop or support as a result of their experience in the program,”(Here).
Healthy Democracy’s Community Oregon program is a great example of taking ‘the who’ of environmental engagement into consideration. It is evident in this program–and their others as well–that having a diverse representation of opinion and experience is important. They make efforts to accommodate participants, for travel expenses, and cover the costs of the events themselves. This is an important aspect of the who because it accounts for some of the barriers to participation that may exist. They outline specific criteria for participants in addition to wanting to represent multiple identities from across the state, they say that ideal Community Oregon participants are “active community members who have an interest in and the courage needed to engage in the sometimes difficult but rewarding process of re-building a sense of community across the state,”(Here).
Another one of Healthy Democracy’s programs is their Democracy Salons. The point of the Democracy Salon is to bring small groups with diverse thinkers together and discuss the issues facing modern democracy. Similar to the CIRs, the who in this program is a diverse group of people that are meant to be representative of the rest of the US. However, unlike the CIR, the Democracy Salons are a bit more selective about who participates. Participation is by invitation only, “to ensure that the group is small and the conversation focused,”(Here). They specifically mention that they curate the groups so that there is variation in races, ages, and political perspectives. However, given that the group can only be so big to allow for a richer conversation, it’s likely that some people are not included in the conversation, despite Healthy Democracy’s focus on including many different perspectives. However, it is a little unclear how Healthy Democracy decides who they invite to their conversations.
Again, like the CIR, the point of the program is to inform citizens and to allow for deliberation about controversial topics. However, the beneficiary of this program is unclear given that there isn’t something that is physically produced by the end of the conversation. In the case of the CIRs, it’s clear that the voters benefit because they are getting information from other citizens that they weren’t getting before. In comparison, Democracy Salons engage in conversations focused on practicing our ability to communicate with one another in a civil manner. So perhaps everyone benefits from having more of these conversations because we are able to learn more about important topics by discussing them both with people we agree with as well as people we disagree with. Each perspective brings something valuable to the table to discuss. Maybe the “benefit” people receive from participating in these Democracy Salons is simply learning something they didn’t know before from someone with a different set of values.
Healthy Democracy does an incredibly effective job of taking into account a variety of perspectives in their work. While it is difficult for any process to be entirely representative of multiple groups, it is evident that this is a priority of their organization. When trying to represent the interests and perspectives of an entire state’s population on any issue, this diversity of opinion and experience is important to prioritize. While ‘the who’ of CIR, Community Oregon, and Democracy Salons are all different, they are all based on this same idea. CIR attempts to include many perspectives so that they’re able to provide a comprehensive overview of legislation that provides perspectives that voters across the state can trust. Community Oregon focuses primarily on the rural and city divide and facilitating understanding between these groups. Lastly, democracy salons are more exclusive and aim to think more critically about the way in which all programs can function the best and what else can be done to further promote a healthy democracy. In this case study of Healthy Democracy does an excellent job displaying different methods to incorporate various stakeholders at different levels.
Luyet, Vincent, Rodolphe Schlaepfer, Marc B. Parlange, and Alexandre Buttler. 2012. “A Framework to Implement Stakeholder Participation in Environmental Projects.” Journal of Environmental Management 111 (November): 213–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.06.026.