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Sender: "Bruce Schuman"
Subject: The Uninvolved Citizen and Transpartisanship
Date: Mon, Mar 24, 2014
Msg: 100820

From: List for transpartisan leaders and innovators [mailto:TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG] On Behalf Of Charles Wisoff Sent: Thursday, March 13, 2014 10:26 AM To: TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG Subject: Re: [TRANSPARTISAN] The Uninvolved Citizen and Transpartisanship

Hello Fellow Transpartisan people,

I've found this thread to be very thought provoking, and I would like to share a few reflections. Beforehand, I want acknowledge the email Sandy just sent and follow the groundrules by sharing a little bit about myself:

My name is Charlie Wisoff. I'm a Research Assistant at the DC offices of the Kettering Foundation where I study public deliberation, citizen engagement, and the dynamics of how communities work. I have a particular focus on how public officials engage (or don't engage) with the public. I also have experience with a number of dialogue organizations, as a volunteer and trainee. Most recently, I volunteer my time doing trainings and advising for the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. I have a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Brown University and I wrote my undergraduate thesis on a stakeholder engagement process. I'm also a trained and formerly practicing mediator.

My reflections: my first impulse after reading Michael and Rick's comments was to come to defense of public deliberation and to argue against the relevance of studies that show the general public is "politically ignorant". However, I hesitate to do so for the following reason: from what I gather about the members of this listserv, both from seeing the list of founders and reading threads, it is probably unlikely that we are all going to come agreement about issues like the best tactic/strategy for achieving transpartisanship. We all are coming to this issue from diverse backgrounds, careers and mindsets. For example, in the recent exchange you can see tensions between those who were focusing on structural causes of hyper-polarization (i.e. Rick's "cap-and-prioritize" suggestion) and those who focus on the nature of how we communicate and make decisions-collectively (the dialogue and deliberation folk). There was also a tension regarding who are the relevant political actors, elites or every-day citizens, or "sports fans," which I assume are somewhere in between.

Now, it is useful to flesh out the reasoning and perspectives behind these tensions, but I doubt it will be productive to try to convince each other that we're right or one of us is more right than the other (not to say that this is what everyone was doing, I just fear that it is a danger). I argue this for two reasons: 1) We live in an extremely complex world where problems like polarization have a plethora of causes that are all intertwined. It is probably not possible to untangled them and take care of each one in a piece-meal fashion. Nor is it likely that there is a silver-bullet that will fix everything. 2) I'm guessing that most of us on this listserv are emotionally invested, not only in this problem, but in how we've come to see the problem. We like our models for fixing the world, and when people challenge those models our gut reaction is defend those models.

This brings me to what I find so promising about this listserv and my hopes for it. Transpartisan ship is a difficult goal to achieve. Many of us have been tackling it from difficult angles. Dialogue and Deliberation people trying to provide space for people to have more transpartisan conversations. The people at No Labels, for example, take a more traditional advocacy approach to the issue. I'm sure there are people from a number of other fields as well. The great potential of a listserv like this is to help us act and think together in a COMPLIMENTARY way. This is not the same as deliberative practitioners promoting a specific policy (which is relatively un-deliberative); nor is it getting advocates to hold forums. Rather, it is understanding each others' different modes of thinking so that when we act, whether individually or collectively, we act in a way that maximally utilizes our resources and draws on the strengths of each other.

Those are my two cents.




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