In-depth public participation in policy-making

I spent this morning at GovCamp, discussing transparency, public participation and open-data initiatives.  It was interesting to have public servants interacting with the more political people on the outside.  The openness advocates don’t necessarily  understand that there are legislative, as well as cultural, reasons why bureaucracy is so risk-averse.

The most intriguing talk was from Peter MacLeod of MASS LBP.  He pointed out that the fashion for brief public participation activities (opinion polling, online commenting, town halls and Facebook forwarding) is not making for a great democracy.  He gave an example where a group of citizens volunteered to spend a few entire weekends in meetings, learning about a topic in depth, to make good recommendations on a complex policy matter.  I love it!   Public policy really is complicated, and the best decisions are not made by voting for Slogan A or Slogan B.