Governments convening programs of ‘citizen engagement’ often have separate streams for “citizens” and “organized stakeholders”. Many deliberative democrats focus exercises on individual citizens, sometimes with other ways of involving stakeholder groups (e.g. in developing briefing materials or as expert witnesses). And there are collaborative processes that blend these groups more fully. (Stakeholders are of course also citizens, and citizens bear sectoral interests—but the categories are still powerful in much of our work as researchers and practitioners.)
(1) Our research will inventory different configurations of stakeholder and citizen inputs to policy making processes, keeping the research manageable by focusing on deliberative forms of citizen work, and on policy processes around environmental sustainability at the local level. (2) We will explore the rationales offered by conveners and process designers for particular ways of combining (or separating) stakeholder and citizen participation and deliberation -- for example, goals around bringing in perspectives from across complex systems, enhancing the legitimacy of engagement processes in the eyes of a broader public, and building community and/or cross sectoral capacity to contribute to sustainability initiatives. (3) We will explore how effectively different choices about the configuration of citizen/stakeholder input meets these proclaimed goals, and also how well these configurations align with (different versions of) the principles and practices of deliberative democracy. We also will explore stakeholder and citizen experiences of different configurations. (4) This research will yield observations and guidance that about when, why, and how to combine (or separate) stakeholder and citizen inputs to policy decisions, for different contexts given different desired impacts. In all of the research we will be asking questions about power and social change: e.g. how does the differential power of individual citizens and stakeholder representatives (and of different kinds of stakeholders) present challenges for blended processes, but also for lay citizen processes that do not directly confront the power of stakeholders not in the room.We know of excellent work on how deliberative processes connect (and clash) with activist and interest-based politics (e.g. Young, Hendriks), but less work on processes that blend stakeholder and citizen voices, from a deliberative democratic perspective. From the practitioner side, we also see our research as a way of exploring different dimensions of deliberative impact (i.e. on policy, on individual citizen capacity, on community capacity), and how skillful connection of deliberative citizen exercises to organized stakeholder groups can enhance these impacts. We also see the research as an opportunity to provide insight into how ‘everyday’ and organized forms of citizenship practice can be bridged with deliberative processes. We expect that this research will yield both peer reviewed scholarship and guidance for practitioners; it also will provide information useful in showing bureaucrats and elected officials why more deliberative and collaborative approaches to problem solving may help them to respond more effectively to their own espoused goals around engagement.