A Deliberative Poll for CA's Future :: Summer 2011

Partner Profile: The Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine

The challenges facing California are myriad, but underlying most of them is a general feeling of disconnection between Californians and our governing institutions – particularly at the state-level.  Last autumn the Davenport Institute worked with the National Conference on Citizenship, California Forward and the Center for Civic Education on the 2010 California Civic Health Index.  The Index identified two broad categories of civic health: "social civic engagement" which includes activities such as volunteering, working with neighbors on local problems, dining with family and group membership; and "political civic engagement" which includes voting, registering to vote and discussing politics with others.

While California compared favorably with other large states across the country, the Index highlighted the need for improvement in almost every area.  Perhaps most significantly, it showed that Californians are less likely to discuss politics with those around them – an issue with a direct bearing on other forms of engagement. We are also less likely to join community organizations and attend local municipal meetings than most states. These results might be excused during more economically stable times as musings for the "good government" set, but in an era where municipal budgets are being slashed by 20-40%, the role of the "everyday" Californian in helping to make tough policy decisions has become more important than ever.

The Davenport Institute works with city governments, special districts, regional governance associations, and non-profit organizations to support and promote legitimate civic involvement in helping to produce more informed public policies.  As a policy institute committed to helping solve California’s public problems by promoting citizen participation, the Davenport Institute is pleased to play a role in the 2011 What’s Next California Deliberative Poll.   

On civic engagement projects from San Diego up to Eureka, we have seen first-hand the importance of both informing and engaging the public on issues that affect them.   But when policy makers invite residents to "participate" in a decision, spending time merely informing them or attempting to convince them of a predetermined outcome, residents quickly become disillusioned.  

On the other hand, when governments or advocacy groups seek public input from people through polling, respondents may have no information or only limited information about the question asked.  In addition, what information they do have often comes from sources that are self-selected – they may never have spoken to someone with a passionate commitment to the other side of an issue. 

Deliberative Polling addresses both sides of this equation by bringing a representative sampling of people together to deliberate.  Not merely to state their opinions, but to receive information, discuss that information with people who may or may not agree with them, and then make their informed opinions heard.  

Ashley Trim is a Research Coordinator at The Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy.