It is often assumed that dialogue should be an open forum in which everyone gets to speak their mind. Not everyone though is comfortable with this sort of dialogue and thus fail to bring their concerns to the table. Not all who do come to the table are informed or interested in learning. Yet, the myriad and pressing problems we face today require public dialogue that is both informed and inclusive, and that builds the understanding needed to create a broad-based political will to change.
We might make more progress by creating more dialogues with boundaries – that is, dialogues, whether in person or online, that are focused by mutual understanding and acceptance as to their purpose, moderated for civility, and organized into discernible threads that help new ideas emerge in coherent ways.
How do we create an inclusive dialogue on major policy issues and still have boundaries? One way might be to have multiple dialogues at different levels that are networked. People enter dialogues at many different levels. The Office of Science and Technology Policy has recently started a blog that is working to develop a national conversation on how we approach policies, and other groups like The Right Question Project have started dialogues that help citizens learn basic skills needed to participate in everyday democracy. Citizens have also been encouraged to host house parties to discuss health care and other issues. How can such efforts be linked? How do we build and share knowledge? What would help us to better understand the intersections between issues? To what extent does blog technology allow us to have the sorts of dialogues that can lead to real and productive policy changes, and what are its limits? One of our commentators, commenting on the post below titled “what makes discussion meaningful or productive” suggested fielding panels of speakers on key topics of interest to help citizens become more informed about issues. Could we build “information gateways” – attendance at an event, reviewing written materials, or viewing on-line videos — for participation in a moderated blog? Are there other approaches we should be taking to gather our resources and make the best decisions possible?
Here is a quote to consider from Woodrow Wilson:
I not only use all the brains I have, but all the brains I can borrow.
Our primary question is, how can we best use all of our brains?