Commons Lab, Woodrow Wilson Center, October 2012
In the midst of California’s severe budget crisis, essential services faced deep cuts, school years were shortened, and public discontent with the budget process was at an all-time high. Against pressure to make similar, sweeping budget cuts and risk public backlash, the city of San Jose took a novel approach: They gave their citizens control of the reins to help them understand what it meant to run a city. San Jose partnered with nonprofit software company Every Voice Engaged to create a budget simulator game, which groups of citizens would play to express their preferences to the government. While games have often been used by decision-makers to simulate difficult problems and identify an effective solution, the city of San Jose knew that by putting its citizens in the policymakers’ shoes, they could build an appreciation for the tradeoffs that go into designing a budget. This exercise proved highly successful, and elicited levels of civic engagement at the local level that the city of San Jose will continue to leverage for future projects.
For the full text of this interview, please visit the Commons Lab Blog.
A document that might be of interest to the participatory mapping community:
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN ENVIRONMENTAL DECISIONMAKING
A new report from the National Research Council probes deeply into the positive and occasionally negative effects of public participation on the environmental policymaking process.
It is practically an article of faith in democratic societies that openness and public participation are presumptively good, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. On closer inspection, however, including empirical studies of participatory processes, the new NRC report was able to reach some encouraging conclusions.
“When done well, public participation improves the quality and legitimacy of a decision and builds the capacity of all involved to engage in the policy process. It also can enhance trust and understanding among parties,” the report said.
On the other hand, “public participation, if not done well, may not provide any of these benefits — in some circumstances, participation has done more harm than good.”
The 250 page report, including a valuable 50 page bibliography, elucidates some of the conditions for successful participation and those that are likely to lead to failure.
See “Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making” by Thomas Dietz and Paul C. Stern, editors, National Academies Press, 2008:
Source: Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, Volume 2008 Iusse No. 86, Sept 4, 2008