Doctor of Philosophy
Department: Public Affairs and Administration
Building Social Capital through Structured Public Discourse
Dr. Robert Peters, Chair
Dr. Peter Kobrak
Dr. Wendy Wintermute
Tuesday, January 21, 2003 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
SPAA Conference Room, Walwood
Today in communities across the nation people are expressing
concern over the lack of the trusting relationships of social capital
as discontent with government at all levels. Current times abound with
examples of citizen distaste, discontent, discouragement and distrust
of the very social institutions created to serve people and their goals
in our various communities of connection through common purpose. Public
administrators and elected officials in some communities, however, are
attempting to reconnect with residents through the use of structured
public discourse processes that divine common purposes and recreate
relationships of trust.
The literature appears to support an assertion that in order to create
trusting relationships, these discourse processes must embody three
primary and underlying principles: they must be open (inclusive), honest,
and fair. The study assesses whether the structured public discourse
model used by one community truly embodied the underlying principles
when applied in practice in the community.
The particular model reviewed in the study describes discourse as a
process to build agreements and relationships of trust. These trusting
relationships are based on clarification of shared values expressed
as a public judgment during the discourse process, forming freely chosen
group will to act. The study theorizes that this process both requires
and builds social capital if the process is truly open, honest and fair.
The City of Battle Creek, Michigan worked with consultant to encourage
greater community participation in policy and program decision-making
through a structured discourse model designed to embody the principles
of open, honest and fair. A case study of three of Battle Creek's community
decision-making processes is used to test the model's applicability
of the principles of open, honest and fair when put into practice.
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