conversation is an engine

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Posts Tagged ‘Oliver Escobar

Scots Deliberate: 61 Minutes of Talk About Talk

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How Our Democracy Fails at Conversation

We all know the September vote for Scottish independence failed and the country remains a part of the United Kingdom. But the conversations and engagement running up to the vote were astounding. One journalist cited 97% of voters were registered and turnout was uniformly high:

The more I think about conversation and the more I look for where it works and where it fails, I cannot help but see that our own (U.S.) version of democracy seems to be largely failing at promoting conversation. There are a lot of reasons for this: from our personal refusal to think beyond our tribe’s talking points to the media’s complicity in monologuing about peripheral issues to our general high levels of distraction and low levels of interest in following an argument.

Two excellent sources that have helped me see our democracy and media with fresh eyes are Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Sheldon S. Wolin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), and Dan Gillmor’s Mediactive. Both books begin to unravel the connections between larger corporate interests and the way news is made. Both books advise healthy skepticism of news delivered. And both books have a story to tell about why we as a nation are so disengaged in our political process (hint from Wolin: those in power stay in power by keeping the electorate repulsed and distracted).

But this video of people talking via Google Hangout—which seems about as interesting as your aunt’s travel slides—is actually quite engaging. If you watch, even for just a short while, you’ll hear journalists and academics cite Twitter as a way people named and combatted the spin the media produced. You’ll hear how many voices were heard rather than the same old standard voices. You’ll hear them calling for an inquest into the way media handles discussion. You’ll hear them talk about “deliberative democracy” and “collaborative government.”

But–that sounds like a lot of work and, frankly, who cares?

The bottom line on all the engagement we witnessed with the Scottish vote was that people felt their voice mattered. Scots turned out because their voices mattered.

I cannot help but wonder when our (U.S.) citizenry will begin to tug our democracy back from the vested interests that constantly monologue. Little by little, we’ve got to find the ways in which our voices matter.



Via Oliver Escobar and Citizen Participation Network

A Word, Please: Convening Strangers to Discuss Your Future

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Oliver Escobar and the So Say Scotland Project

I can imagine a future where the panhandler seeks attention rather than money. But maybe that is already the case. After living in the inner-city we made deliberate decisions about when to give money. But even if no money is forthcoming, just acknowledging a person asking for help is something—as uncomfortable as it feels. And with attention flows different kinds of help, which could also include money.

A word isn’t a dollar. But a word is another sort of currency—and maybe a word is an even more powerful unit of exchange.

Conversation is an Engine tries to tell the story about the stuff that happens when we talk. Decisions get made. Direction gets set. Organizations set out on missions. We learn something from our interactions and see how to move forward. Words are a powerful exchange that moves us forward.

I’ve been a fan of what Oliver Escobar and his colleague are accomplishing in Scotland. In their “So Say Scotland” project, they’ve drawn Scots into conversation around the question of what a Scottish democracy should look like in 25 years. This is conversation writ large and it seems there is much to learn from their techniques and their outcomes. The notion of “deliberative democracy” for one thing might be worth pursuing. I’ve also been intrigued by Escobar’s course “Creating impact through dialogue.”

But I dare you to watch this seven-minute video and then say regular folks cannot be brought together to imagine a different future.


Written by kirkistan

September 10, 2013 at 9:58 am

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