The foundation of the democratic process is the ability and willingness of civic leaders and ordinary citizens to utilize civic discourse as a means to find common ground and broadly based effective solutions. Depending on the diligence of the public agency and the willingness of the print press to cover upcoming meetings, civic discourse was limited. In the “good old days” (I let you decide when this was), the framework for dialogue and the opportunity to speak was limited to a city council meeting or board of education meeting.
However, in the brave new world of increasing access to information, multiple channels of communications (email, Twitter, Facebook) and the rise of participatory media culture (blogs, comments on print media news stories, social bookmarking) the nature of civic discourse is changing. Civic leaders and public agencies can no longer control the framework for dialogue. Now ordinary citizens have multiple opportunities to engage in civic discourse. With the civic discourse moving out of the structured world of a city council meeting/board of education meeting, I offer some principles for civic discourse in the public:
- Focus on issues, not personalities.
- Avoid personal attacks.
- Invite and encourage a variety of perspectives.
- Recognize and value different forms of evidence ranging from testimony to statistical evidence and story telling.
- Seek common ground and consensus whenever possible.
- Resist relying on sound bites and buzz words heard from political pundits or politicians.
- Make your goal to understand rather than persuade.
If we focus on applying these principles, I believe we can find common ground and develop broad base effective solutions for the problems facing our community.
The longest serving Alameda Unified School Board member currently on the Board, Mike McMahon has always been a great community resource for information about AUSD activities. He also blogs about issues affecting education on the state and national level as well.