Felt Agency – going Deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
The card has a picture of people doing participatory budgeting. Participatory budgeting is used all over the world, in hundreds of cities. The official city government takes a section of the budget and turns it over to the community and says: “You figure out what to do with this piece of the budget and whatever you figure out, we will do that.” In public meetings people talk about it and come up with project ideas. They research what it will take to actually do those projects, the costs and all that and then they vote. The community votes on which projects they want to do, within the budget they’ve been given. The people in this pattern’s picture have done that and you can see how they feel about having done that and having money to spend on things that they want to see in their community.
In the Wise Democracy Venn Diagram – where power, participation and wisdom are moving into integration – Felt Agency would be found in the overlap between participation and power. Is the power being shared so it is participatory? Does participation have a sense of power in it?
I have watched a number of citizen deliberations with a dozen or two dozen randomly selected people spending several days together talking about some issue or situation in their community. They come up with something that gets announced and discussed in a community meeting and turned over to government people or stakeholders to do something with.
They say things like “I didn’t know citizenship could be like this!” There is a whole different feel to this kind of activity. That’s why it’s not just agency, it’s FELT agency. And that feeling that “I can have impact!” changes what people do in the political and government world.
On the other hand, if they spend a bunch of time doing some public deliberation and nothing happens, then they go: “Forget this! I have other things to do. This is a waste of time!” You come back later to organize another deliberation and you discover you don’t have the participation that you need. People don’t want to bother.
One of the dynamics you run into when you’re trying to get participation is people in government saying things like: “We were elected or appointed to do this work and we are the specialists.” They’re feeling the expertise, the status, the whole narrative that goes along with being a government person. And you’re going to bring in ordinary people to deal with situations in the community or the country or whatever?! You wish!…
Because there is a lot of demand for participation and because many governments are not eager to give up power to ordinary people, there is a lot of “fake participation”. People are going through the motions but the government is not paying attention. You have a public hearing and the legislature decides to do what they were going to do anyway. Or there is a months-long public engagement investigating something and doing a big report – and that report sits on a shelf and nothing gets done with it. Then officials and pundits talk about “public apathy”. Well, there is a lot of public apathy because people don’t have a sense that their activity, their engagement, their investment of their life energy is going to come up with anything that is heard, respected and actually used.