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Vrai democracy 

To the editor,

Last week's feature "Faux democracy" by Chris Benjamin shows the danger of setting up "consultations" people perceive to be unresponsive or cynically motivated---it breeds more cynicism and squanders the intelligence that concerned citizens can add to the development and implementation of a plan, no matter how brilliant it initially is.

Powerful methods do exist of developing large-scale, genuine conversations and collective insight on issues, although they were not among the options your writer mentioned. Town halls suffer from a debate-style, get-your-two-cents-in approach that does not foster creative thinking or consensus building, while open-house approaches also don't take advantage of visitors' insights to creatively build new solutions that can incorporate and improve the ones on offer. Two techniques that contribute to doing this---World Cafe and Open Space---have been taught in Halifax for a number of years at both the Shambhala Institute for Authentic Leadership and Envision Halifax, and are used around the world to address issues similar to ours. The process used can make all the difference.

The irony is that complex issues that affect different groups of stakeholders cannot be best addressed through a plan created by an individual or small group. It takes players coming together in a format where they can speak honestly and are willing to listen, to see the ramifications, unexpected opportunities and unintended consequences of a plan. Whoever has the ultimate decision-making power has to be willing to let go of any "us vs them" mentality, and realize they have a huge, under-utilized asset in inviting the public in a meaningful way. Done well, this will make both a better plan and better execution.

By Michael Chender


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