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IU prof turns to ADR to encourage public participation in government

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The laws designed to allow members of the public to have a voice in their government are actually stifling the conversation, according to an Indiana University Bloomington expert.

Lisa Blomgren Amsler, professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is the lead author of, “Making Public Participation Legal,” a report by the National Civic League with support from the Deliberative Democracy Consortium. The study warns that in local and state proceedings across the country, “democracy is dwindling, three minutes at a time.”

Amsler and her colleagues note that the decades-old public meeting format where officials make a presentation followed by citizens having three minutes to ask questions or make comments provides little opportunity for interaction or deliberation.

“When combined with other kinds of engagement opportunities, traditional public hearings can work, mainly by providing a sense of closure and validation to public debate on an issue,” the report stated. “But since our legal framework supports only the bare minimum of deliberation, the pressure of dealing with contentious policy issues falls squarely on a format that isn’t up to the task.”

In turn, the relationship between citizens and their public institutions can fray, which can undermine the legitimacy and financial stability of government.

A working group that included representatives from the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the American Bar Association and the National League of Cities developed new legal tools for public participation in local and state governments. Amsler said the tools drew inspiration from the alternative dispute resolution laws.

“Simply by authorizing public agencies to use mediation, facilitation and other ADR processes, those laws resulted in a dramatic proliferation of these practices at every level of the legal system,” Amsler stated in the report.

Key recommendations from the study for improving public participation include:
• Giving residents, decision-makers and other stakeholders regular opportunities – in a variety of places such as online forums, public meetings, and gatherings in neighborhoods, schools and workplaces – to build relationships, discuss issues and celebrate community
• Inviting people of all backgrounds and viewpoints to participate so the same citizens don’t dominate meetings
• Ensuring participation has a tangible and readily apparent impact on policy decision, public plans and public budgets
• Appointing a “public participation coordinator” within City Hall and setting annual participation goals
 

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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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