Identifying Community Needs and Preferences: Community Forums as an Emerging Option
Local issues forums are a new way for communities to identify their needs and preferences in relation to growth and the quality of life. Traditional methods used by decision makers include personal relationships and political networks, constituent mail and phone calls, sample surveys, media coverage, reactions of people at public speeches and appearances, and public hearings. These approaches tend to focus on the opposing positions of different interests and interest groups. Such methods tend to be adversarial, pitting individuals and groups against each other. Theorists call this a zero sum game, in which the winnings of one group are offset by the losses of another.
Deliberative democracy is an emerging movement that advocates a new way of acting which emphasizes areas of agreement among different parties. It is based on the democratic ideal of a "common good," which balances the different interests for the good of the community. Instead of debate, a deliberative process is used to allow the parties to identify policy choices based on their mutual interests. The different sides are asked to focus on areas of agreement, not areas of disagreement. Deliberation is a way to engage participants in a process through which they discover their "common ground" and work toward a consensus for action among what are otherwise conflicting interests. Theorists call this a variable sum game, in which all can benefit.