Collaborative Dialogue as a Policy Making Strategy
Experiments in collaborative thinking are going on in many arenas, including fiscal reform, school reform, habitat conservation, transportation planning and planning for sustainable development. Collaborative dialogue has been most common at the regional and state levels, where organized interest groups can provide representatives to sit at the discussion table, but various efforts, less visible or documented, are also taking place at local levels ranging across budgetary issue, community visioning and land use conflict. Indeed, around the world communities, regions and even nations are seeking collaborative ways to make policy as an alternative to confrontation or top-down decision making. These methods often produce qualitatively different answers than do the traditional methods of policy making.
We have entered the Information Age. Technological change is rapid, and information flows around the globe in a matter of hours. Power is fragmented and even powerful agencies or individuals cannot produce the results they want by working alone. We have less shared identity with our fellows than we once did. We cannot conduct business as usual, nor can we count on shared values or objectives. Instead, in addressing a problem, we often have to start from scratch in understanding each other and in understanding what is going on in our societies.
In this paper, the authors outline theory, informed by their view of the world as a complex system, to help understand how and why collaborative policy dialogues work in practice and how they differ from traditional policy making.