Lessons learned from the National Academy’s National Dialogue — a way to tap into the power of us?
UPDATE: We spoke to Lena Trudeau of the National Academy on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris about the report. You can hear that here.
Back in October, we looked at a interesting attempt to use a power-of-us initiative around a specific topic — in this case, they called it the National Dialogue on Health Information Technology and Privacy. It was was conducted by the Office of Management and Budget partnered with the National Academy of Public Administration, which has been way in front helping provide government with ways to implement collaboration with their Collaboration Project. In fact, I was fascinated enough by it that I nominated NAPA’s Lena Trudeau for Federal Computer Week’s Federal 100 award . She didn’t win, but…
Back then, I said that my hope was that there would be lessons learned. After all, not many organizations have tried this — particularly federal agencies. The EPA conducted it’s own national dialogue … so this is really only the second real case.
On Tuesday, NAPA released its report on the dialogue. You can read the full report for yourself after the break — and it is definitely worth reading.
There are recommendations specifically in health IT and privacy — one of the big issues for the Obama administration and which gets a big boost in the stimulus package signed into law on Tuesday.
But I was particularly fascinated if NAPA would provide lessons learned from the tool itself — and, thankfully, they did.
Here are their lessons:
People Are Willing (Even Eager) To Engage — perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the National Dialogue pilot is that, when asked and presented with a clear value exchange, citizens and stakeholders are eager to engage in the process of governance. The Dialogue had a very meager advertising budget (<$10,000) and took place the week before a major national election. Despite this, the Dialogue garnered 4,413 visits from 2,835 unique visitors, with 420 of those—nearly 15%—going on to create an account on the Dialogue site. The Dialogue produced not only a substantial number of ideas, but also fostered discussions of those ideas in which participants responded directly to each others’ arguments. This demonstrates persuasively the potential value of bringing together a wide range of participants and allowing them not only to respond to a single point of contact, i.e. directly to leaders in government, but to interact with and respond to each other.
Civic Engagement Is a Starting Point — using this type of citizen feedback to effectively guide policy requires a clear-eyed view of what purposes such public engagements do and do not serve. While tools like the National Dialogue are useful for generating innovative ideas and uncovering insights into the concerns and priorities of participants, they are not representative of “the people” as a whole. The Panel believes strongly that this National Dialogue did uncover important insight into the shape of debate on health IT and privacy. The Panel also believes that building on this initiative would continue to provide policymakers with valuable insights and interested citizens with a needed forum to express and debate their views. However, no civic engagement used in isolation, online or otherwise, can deduce consensus where none existed previously. Ultimately, initiatives like the National Dialogue must mark the beginning, rather than the end, of public debate on any given issue.
Timing Is Important — the timing of the National Dialogue presented a unique challenge that, in the view of the Panel, kept this effort from reaching its full potential. In order to better demonstrate the ability of leaders to quickly solicit and analyze large amounts of feedback, and to prove the viability of such methods in advance of a presidential transition, the National Academy and its partners built and ran the National Dialogue pilot, from start to finish, in a time span of about six weeks, and conducted the Dialogue itself over the course of one week. While this quick turnaround limited the extent of the participation, it also demonstrated that even efforts as brief as the pilot can create real value that could not be achieved without the use of the online dialogue method.
The use of this type of method should, although valuable, be distinguished from more scientific surveys of public opinion. It is too soon, in the judgment of the Panel, to claim that the views of the public or any significant subset of it can be ascertained reliably using this method. That possibility would need to be tested in subsequent projects that would include breadth of participation as a primary objective.
It’s this last graph — emphasis added by me — that I’m particularly pondering. I’m not sure these tools are comparable to surveys, but…
I’m reading the rest of the report now… and we’re going to talk to Trudeau Wednesday on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris about some of the lessons learned… and the recommendations.
Again, more on this after I’ve read the full report.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the NAPA report. You can read it after the break.
Here is the full report: