Syndicate content

Are Policy Networks Insiders or Outsiders?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

As readers of this blog will have realized, we have been watching with keen interest the effort to reform the health care system in the United States in order to pull out generalizable lessons for reform efforts elsewhere. As you must also know, over the month of August that reform effort ran into some turbulence, with lively town-hall meetings, and the rise of a blocking coalition. The outcome remains in the balance as I write.

Now, other students of the process have offered one explanation of the current challenges faced by this particular reform effort. They say that much of the effort concentrated for a long time on the Inside Game, that is getting the United States Congress to act, and keeping the discussion within authoritative state institutions. According to these observers, reformers ignored the Outside Game...building a reform coalition within the broader society, and shaping public opinion. That supposedly gave opponents of reform the chance to build what they hope will be a  blocking coalition, frame the reform effort negatively and so on. These observers believe that the Outside Game is now on, but some damage was done.

Quote of the Week

Antonio Lambino's picture

"When real people argue about politics with friends and associates, they probably will not formulate new arguments or articulate reasons entirely by themselves as deliberative theory advocates.  After all, even those pundits who argue as 'professionals' are mostly rehashing preexisting political arguments.  But citizens do need to be skilled at picking among these competing arguments, and at circulating them among themselves, trying them out in informal conversation and discarding those that do not ring true.  The marketplace of ideas will not work properly if political elites are the only ones involved."

                  - Diana C. Mutz (2006, pp. 149-150)
                    Hearing the Other Side:
                    Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy   

 

Photo credit: The Brookings Institution

Citizen Inspectors General to the Rescue

Fumiko Nagano's picture

According to The Financial Times, the U.S. government’s Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board plans to launch in October what the FT calls “the most complex government website in history." The Recovery Board, an independent body headed by Chairman Earl Devaney, is tasked to oversee the outflow of the US $787 billion stimulus package to jumpstart the ailing economy, and the state-of the-art website is intended to engage citizens in tracking the use of taxpayer money.

What caught my attention is the premise behind this initiative—that citizens know best what is happening in their own communities. In an effort to rein in waste, fraud, and abuse of stimulus funds, the Recovery Board is putting into practice the principles of accountability and transparency through partnership with citizens. The Board understands that to carry out its mandate successfully, it needs to equip citizens with information so that they can help the Board do its job. As Mr. Devaney explains, “The website will unleash a million citizen IGs [inspectors-general].”

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing or the Nature of the Beast?

Darshana Patel's picture

Public deliberation as a political ideal represents the next frontier in democracy building. Public deliberation calls for dramatic changes in how political decisions are made. Through deliberative processes, citizens and not elected representatives, make decisions on how to manage their own resources. These decisions are reached according to the exchange of reasons and arguments that appeal to shared objectives or values. Decisions resulting from deliberation are more informed and rational. Under deliberative processes, political truths emerge not from competing ideas but through dialogue between citizens. Deliberative processes produce information as a by-product, not a precondition for participation.

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

On this blog we've seen several posts on the merits of new media in governance - I'm specifically referring to posts from my colleague Fumiko Nagano, from Silvio Waisboard, and from Kristina Klinkforth. All three authors are very careful, or outright dismissive, when it comes to the abilities of new information technology, specifically social networking sites, to aid the empowerment of citizens and to support democracy. Based on research, common sense (and my own addiction to Facebook) I want to challenge my colleagues by saying: On the web, it's all about efficacy and voice.

Building Coalitions: If Not through Mutual Interests, then through Mutual Gains

Antonio Lambino's picture

It’s easy to say that we need to build broad coalitions to bring about sustainable pro-poor change.  Easier said than done.   In a piece entitled “Connecting Nature’s Dots”, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues that

“We’re trying to deal with a whole array of integrated problems – climate change, energy, biodiversity loss, poverty alleviation and the need to grow enough food to feed the planet – separately.  The poverty fighters resent the climate-change folks; climate folks hold summits without reference to diversity; the food advocates resist the biodiversity protectors.”

Why the disconnect?  One of the reasons Friedman and his interviewees offer is that when it comes to environmental preservation, the farther humans are from experiencing nature, the harder it is for us to make the connections among environmental issues and other relevant policy and practice domains. 

Negative Framing

Johanna Martinsson's picture

A reader's response to the blog post "Shock and Awe? The Effects of Negative Framing":

In  political matters, the focus should move away from attitudes; since Robinson (1976) study investigating negative news effects, we have known that low involvement citizens (involvement with the issue) are influenced first by information or cognitive change, which produces behavioral change, which eventually produces attitudinal change. While high involvement citizens move from cognitive change to attitudinal to behavioral. The power of negative information has more to do with cultural expectations, however.  Within western democracies, research has shown that negative information is far more attention-getting than positive information.  In addition, people not only attend to the information, but they talk about the information with others, creating a spiral effect, in that when people talk about negative information with others, they may serve as influentials, bringing news to those who have not attended to the news through the mass media, or they may assist in concretizing the significance of news reports, through their discussions with others.  For this reason, negative information tends to be more suasive, and as a result, people retain the information; furthermore, because of its cued negativity, they are able to access that information far more readily than positive information.  In short, negative information saves time, money and  
effort; it is far more economical, efficient and effective than positive information, within western democracies (see Lau's considerable research).   
 

Social Networking Sites: Getting People to Speak Their Minds

Fumiko Nagano's picture

On Facebook, I have noticed an interesting trend: some of my friends who are normally introverted and shy in person are a lot more vocal and seem to have fewer qualms about voicing their opinions on the site. They post status updates sharing their thoughts on issues, comment on others’ posts, and provide links to websites, articles, photos and videos about topics that they deem important, even creating interest-specific groups to attract those who are keen to participate in online discussions on key causes. Part of this phenomenon might be psychological. Maybe we feel a certain degree of safety on social networking sites because they give us the option not to have to engage in physical, face-to-face interactions with those who might disagree. On these interfaces, there is no need to worry about potentially negative consequences arising from differences in opinion, such as ridicule, humiliation, confrontation, and isolation. If social networking sites can embolden even the shiest of us to voice our true opinions, could they be the answer to breaking the spiral of silence on contested issues?

Sometimes Silence Speaks

Darshana Patel's picture

One of the objectives of CommGAP and this blog is to strengthen citizen voice in the public sphere, particularly of those who are often marginalized in public spaces.  This voice in the public sphere is important for any advocacy effort or social movement and also an essential right for every individual. As one part of the process of building this voice, participation in various decision-making and policy processes is seen as an integral part of development work. In fact, it has been a development buzzword since the late 1970s.  But sometimes participating can be a setback.

Pages