Passages 2

Proposal - 7 Core Principles for Public Engagement

by Tom Atlee

Dear friends,

Although I have not sent out any mailings recently, I have been busy. More on that soon.

One of my most intense projects has involved working with process professionals in the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) and the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) to develop a set of core Public Engagement Principles (PEP) that most practitioners, academics, activists, and organizations in the field of public engagement can get behind. We’ve been working on this as transparently as possible within NCDD at and a number of NCDD members on this list have participated.

We started this ambitious project about two months ago. Sandy Heierbacher, NCDD‘s coordinator, gathered up more than a dozen lists of principles, values, and guidelines from major public participation organizations and posted them in an online NCDD forum. Many NCDD members offered critical or creative comments on these and on the direction of our project. After a few weeks, I printed, cut, and sorted all the principles and comments so far into an integrated draft PEP statement. NCDD members then commented on my draft PEP document and also posted other lists of principles from still more organizations. This process was repeated a number of times, finally arriving at the version 3.0 of the PEP document that is included in this mailing. Response to this version has been overwhelmingly positive so far.

I’ve found this a fascinating, fun, and challenging process—and it’s not over yet. In fact, although we are about to come up with a formally endorsed document, we expect it to continue to evolve over time, as our field, our societies, and our circumstances evolve.

The original stimulus for this project was an opportunity to influence President Barack Obama’s Open Governance Directive, due out in late May. This breakthrough directive will instruct federal departments and agencies to take specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration set forth in one of three memoranda President Obama signed on his first day on the job . We feel that presenting the administration with a broad professional consensus regarding basic principles for quality public engagement will increase our chances of being heard—and high standards being promoted—in the crafting of this May directive.

An earlier version of these principles was presented several weeks ago at a small advisory meeting at the White House. Beth Noveck, the woman in charge of crafting the upcoming directive, recently acknowledged and commended our collective effort in a nationally broadcast webinar.

At this critical point, we want to invite and encourage all of you involved in the field of public participation and citizen engagement to do several things…

1. If you are part of an organization working in this field anywhere in the world, determine whether your organization would be interested in endorsing the latest version (“version 3.0”) of the basic principles and their one-sentence descriptions. I’ve pasted a text version below, and attached a formatted PDF version. Let Sandy Heierbacher know if your organization is likely to endorse the principles. We’ll send you the final version on April 27th to make sure your endorsement is official. However, if your organization is not inclined to endorse the principles as stated, please let us know—by emailing Sandy or adding comments to the QuickTopic document posted at —what would need to be changed in order for your organization to endorse them. (It’s super-easy to comment on a QuickTopic document. Just click on the little “c” to the left of what you want to comment on. You don’t even need to log in or register.)

2. Provide feedback on the longer document posted at . This longer document lists the basic principles plus explanatory text about what to strive for and what to avoid. We are not asking for endorsements on this more detailed document, but are interested in continuing to develop and hone it with broader participation, so we appreciate your thoughts.

3. Forward this message (or your own version of it) to colleagues, networks, organizational leaders, etc., who you think should get involved in endorsing—or further honing—these public engagement principles.

4. Share and use these principles in your own work, as you see fit. To enrich your understanding of the issues involved, you can visit the remarkable compilations and comments on the PEP forum that led to this version 3.0.

For more information about the PEP project, our timeline, and next steps, see the detailed post titled “4–1-09 PEP Project Update and Timeline” up on the PEP forum at . Among other things, this post clarifies what to do if your organization wishes to endorse PEP version 3.0 with qualifying comments, or if you feel your work is based on other principles than those expressed in PEP and would like to make those principles clear.

We see this undertaking as a major development in the field of public engagement—both for the field’s emerging and evolving coherence and for its potential impact on a world that so urgently needs the gifts we have to offer. We appreciate any efforts you choose to take to further it and our field as a whole.


with Sandy Heierbacher



Developed collaboratively by members of leading public engagement organizations.

(DRAFT 3.0—04–06-09)

There are many ways that people can come together to deal with issues that affect their lives. We believe that public engagement involves convening diverse yet representative groups of people to wrestle with information from a variety of viewpoints, in conversations that are well-facilitated, providing direction for their own community activities or public judgments that will be seriously considered by policy-makers and/or their fellow citizens.

It is our stance that quality public engagement must take into consideration seven core principles if it is to effectively build mutual understanding, meaningfully affect policy development, and/or inspire collaborative action among citizens and institutions.

The following seven principles overlap and reinforce each other in practice. They serve as ideals to pursue and as criteria for judging quality. Rather than promoting partisan agendas, the implementation of these principles generates authentic stakeholder engagement around public issues.

The Seven Core Principles

1. Planning and Preparation – Plan, design, and convene the engagement specifically to serve both the purpose of the effort and the needs of participants.

2. Inclusion and Diversity – Incorporate diverse voices, ideas, and information to lay the groundwork for quality outcomes and democratic legitimacy.

3. Collaboration and Shared Purpose – Support organizers, participants, and those engaged in follow-up to work well together for the common good.

4. Listening and Learning – Help participants listen, explore and learn without predetermined outcomes—and evaluate public engagement efforts for lessons.

5. Transparency and Trust – Promote openness and provide a public record of the people, resources, forums, and outcomes involved.

6. Impact and Action – Ensure each participatory effort has real potential to make a difference.

7. Sustained Participation and Democratic Culture – Promote a culture of participation with programs and institutions that support ongoing quality public engagement.

This list represents a consensus in the field of dialogue and deliberation, but most practices tend to emphasize or apply these principles differently or to reach beyond this basic consensus in one way or another. To learn more about such diverse understandings and applications, consult the online version of these guidelines at

Finally, we believe the use of technology should be generally encouraged whenever appropriate to enhance and not impede these seven values—and also that these seven principles apply to both online and offline efforts. However, there is not yet consensus in our field on standards for the use of technology that would warrant the inclusion of specific online or electronic guidelines in this document.

The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD), the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2), and the Co-Intelligence Institute are leading this collaborative effort to develop a standard set of principles we hope organizations in the field of public engagement can agree on. With new attention and emphasis on collaboration, participation, and transparency thanks to the leadership and vision of the Obama administration, we feel it is more important than ever to provide clarity about what we consider to be quality public engagement. Please feel free to contact NCDD‘s director, Sandy Heierbacher, at with questions or comments.


Tom Atlee • The Co-Intelligence Institute • PO Box 493 • Eugene, OR 97440
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