How should citizens in a healthy democracy work out their differences? Can problem-solving approaches which work well in small communities be scaled up to address problems on the national stage? How can we make sure that "democracy" is not just a word, and that government action is guided by thoughtful citizen input and complemented by authentic, broad-based citizen participation?
"Toward Wiser Public Judgment," edited by social scientist and public opinion research pioneer Daniel Yankelovich and public engagement theorist and practitioner Will Friedman, revisits Yankelovich's landmark 1991 book, Coming to Public Judgment, on the question of how the public makes up its mind on issues and then zeroes in on what has been learned in nearly three decades of applying this theory to real-life situations.
The editors, who are also among those contributing essays to this checkup on 21st century democracy, have a unique advantage in approaching the subject of how issues work their way through the public consciousness. That focus is at the heart of the work done by Public Agenda, the nonpartisan public opinion research and public engagement organization of which Yankelovich is co-founder and Friedman is president, as well as by organizations like the National Issues Forums and Viewpoint Learning.
With that in mind, Yankelovich, Friedman and the other public engagement practitioners who report in this volume on the practical application of the Learning Curve™ in our democracy take on another very timely question.
Namely: is it possible for the public to move faster toward collaborative, sustainable resolutions of urgent conflicts ranging from education reform, energy and climate change on through to the foreign policy that affects the U.S. role and standing in the world?
The initiatives the authors write about illustrate new models of problem-solving, grounded in how the public really thinks about issues - and show a great deal about what it takes to truly connect and engage with the public.
As a nation, we've got to move both faster and better on all of these challenges, or risk the consequences. The question is: HOW?
"Toward Wiser Public Judgment" is a product of Public Agenda's Center for Advances In Public Engagement (CAPE). It was supported by grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well through collaborative research with the Kettering Foundation.