Making Participation Legal

This is pretty much how “public participation” looks when it takes the form of a meeting with officials at the head of the table defending their policies, and their fellow citizens lining up to speak:

The “Parks and Recreaton” satire hits so close to home because public forums usually use awful formats and methods. As Matt Leighninger writes:

The vast majority of public meetings are run according to a formula that hasn’t changed in decades: officials and other experts present, and citizens are given three-minute increments to either ask questions or make comments. There is very little interaction or deliberation. Turnout at most public meetings is very low – local officials often refer to the handful of people who typically show up as the “usual suspects.” But if the community has been gripped by a controversy, turnout is often high, and the three-minute commentaries  can last long into the night. On most issues, the public is either angry or absent; either way, very little is accomplished.*

One reason is the laws that allow or require public participation: they are poorly structured. The Working Group on Legal Frameworks for Public Participation has developed frameworks for better state and local laws. Their model legislation and other materials are presented in a new report, Making Public Participation Legal, available from the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC).

*Making Public Participation Legal, p. 3.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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