Beyond the Sound Bite – Deliberative Democracy in Action

By Alyssa Sittig

Deliberative democracy in San Francisco government

Of the people, by the people, for the people. It’s what our Democratic system is all about. But in a time when more and more San Franciscans are feeling a growing disconnect with our city government, it’s only fair to ask – are we doing democracy right?

Democracy is a 2,400-year-old practice – and sometimes it can feel like San Francisco city government is that outdated. The ancient Greeks were the first to harness the power of civic participation, calling on citizens to engage in the democratic process.

But can deliberative democracy work today?

The Million-Dollar Question: What’s Next California?

The answer is a resounding YES, according to Dr. James Fishkin, Communications Professor at Stanford University and Research Director for the Center for Deliberative Democracy. Fishkin and colleagues hosted a two-day long deliberative democracy test-run in Torrance, CA, where 412 Californian voters were asked to weigh in on the future of California’s ballot initiatives. Quite simply, what’s next for California?

The Benefits of Deliberative Democracy in San Francisco

People recognize that there are some pretty big problems in our city. But when we come together as citizens to discuss, deliberate and listen, there are also big solutions.

Cynics said the project would be a huge over-reach, that people today are ill-informed about the issues, and are too busy to care about politics. But in fact, it was a huge success.

Eighty-eight percent of participants reported learning new information that helped them better understand the lives and situations of other Californians. And many, no matter their political ideology, walked away with a renewed appreciation for civic participation.

With balanced information at their fingertips, small group deliberation, and policy experts available for consultation, participants were empowered and engaged in the issues at hand.

So how do you keep the energy of civic participation going? The answer, says Dr. Fishkin lies in social media and web 2.0 technology.

Our Reset San Francisco team could not agree more.

Web 2.0 Tools Give Power Back To The People

Citizenship should be a powerful thing. And we at Reset San Francisco know that the more voices involved, the more innovative the solutions. We have the collective wisdom to make our city government run more efficiently, to make MUNI run more reliably and to close our budget deficit. What we need are the tools to tap that wisdom and turn it into real solutions.   

And the tools do exist to engage all San Franciscans in democracy. But we need to make sure all citizens have access. That’s why we support Phil Ting’s initiative to guarantee universal Internet access to all San Franciscans. Online tools give San Franciscans the opportunity to close the political divide - by sharing ideas, crowdsourcing solutions and taking charge of the political dialogue in City Hall.

Should San Francisco embrace deliberative democracy?

Would you want to participate?

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Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137