Friday, March 16, 2012

Trust and Inclusion: A look into Motivators of Civic Involvement


By Lisa Bauman

On Jan. 29, 2012 our class voted to make a declaration statement based on methods from the PBS television series By the People: Citizenship in the 21st Century (Werner, 2008). The statement represented what we believed being a citizen meant to us. This decision was not easily made. Students searched their hearts and votes were cast. Ultimately there was a tie and our professor cast his vote to end the debate. Our decision finally landed on this statement:
Citizenship is the choice to commit to the well-being of a group, from one's local community to the global web of life. The rights of citizenship come with the responsibility to meet collective needs through dialogue and deliberation, and the willingness to protect one's fellow citizens when threatened.

For ten weeks we continued to seek meaning in this mutual responsibility and benefit of being a member of a community. Although our declaration alluded to civic commitment, I felt that it lacked the acknowledgement that a citizen may also have the ability to detach himself from the whole in essence. My goal was to find the motivating factor that causes a citizen to claim commitment to the community. Using several methods of research including reading, online discussion, and attending public forums, I have concluded that commitment stems from trust. This trust can only be gained when citizens feel that they hold and equal "stake" in the community; acknowledging ones interdependence and ability to contribute to the well-being of the whole.

First, I studied and discussed works and excerpts from authors including Virginia A. Hodgkinson, Michael W. Foley, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Paine, James Madison, J.G.A. Pocock, David Truman, Gabriel Almond, Sidney Verba, Peter Berger, John Neuhaus, and many more. I found myself most influenced by four works: Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block (2009); Community and the Politics of Place by Daniel Kemmis (1992); Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink (2009); and the peer-reviewed journal Public Administrators’ Trust in Citizens: A Missing Link in Citizen Involvement Efforts by Kaifeng Yang (2005).

Block (2009) helped me to understand the value and need for connectedness and responsibility in community. He said that citizens must claim their stake in society, find what makes them interdependent, and understand how they are a member of society weather passive or active. Citizens must stop looking to leaders for change and see the change and possibility of the future within themselves. A citizen needs is to feel like part of the whole and to claim his stake. "The social fabric of community is formed from an expanding shared sense of belonging" (Block, 2009, pg. 9).

Kemmis (1992) used vivid childhood stories and examples from the world to show exactly how taking stake in the community is purely logical and mutually beneficial. He called this "the politics of cooperation" (Kemmis, 1992, pg. 72). My favorite example he used was a story about his family's need to raise a barn on their property when he was a child (Kemmis, 1992, pg. 70). The task could not be completed without help and they had no money to pay for the extra support. His contrastingly boisterous and colorful neighbors came to help. Both families depended heavily on each other despite their differences. Their only connection was a stake in their community. Without this help, neither family could accomplish tasks like the barn raising. Much like this relationship, our civic relationships are formed by mutual benefits. Denying this connection looses the possibility to take hold of these beneficial moments. Kemmis (1992) quoted Robert Neelly Bellah in his text "… the virtuous citizen was one who understood that personal welfare is dependent on the general welfare and could be expected to act accordingly" (pg. 72).

Pink (2009) looked deeper into human motivation. He said, "We were born to be players, not pawns. We're meant to be autonomous individuals, not individual automatons" (Pink, 2009, pg. 106). He argued that using rewards and punishments to encourage civic leadership could only de-motivate real civic action. This type of motivator sends a signal that citizens have no real stake in outcomes because no real choice is available to them. Only when a citizen is given autonomy and the right to dissent can he claim his stake. He must be self-driven and given the ability to claim his own reasons for being a member of society.

Yang's (2005) article Public Administrators' Trust in Citizens: A Missing Link in Citizen Involvement Efforts finally brought these ideals together for me. Since bureaucrats are given material incentives, Yang claimed that bureaucracy was designed to be impersonal and calculating. Therefore, trust between citizens and bureaucrats is not authentic and durable. Bureaucracy lacks the ability to produce trust. Both leaders and citizens are denied autonomy and inclusion. Yang came to the same conclusion that Pink, Kemmis, and Block did: to gain inclusion and trust, members of a society must take stake. He wrote that instead of focusing on economic incentives, administrators’ trust in citizens may be improved by:
Encouraging and supporting community building efforts; promoting and managing citizen involvement processes; establishing an organizational culture that emphasizes the value of citizenship; reforming the traditional, procedure-oriented bureaucracies; and embracing a more diverse, just, and deliberative society (Yang, 2005, pg. 275).

Besides research from reading and classroom discussions, I spent approximately ten hours observing civic participation of public forums in the community. I attended six public meetings. Three of these I will discuss in this essay. On January 24, 2012 I attended the Beaverton School District Community/Superintendant Listening Session from 7pm to 8:30pm at the Aloha High School. The meeting was attended by mostly teachers, school officials, and several involved parents. Here budget cuts were discussed in gritty honesty. All members of the meeting supported any effort to continue educational goals, but few had answers. Each person related their stake in the community and Superintendant Jeff Rose expressed value for complaints as much as praises. I believe that this is the very reason that the meeting was approached with a since of possibility rather than conflict. All speakers acknowledged a mutual stake in moving forward and the necessity for more community involvement.

On February 2, 2012 I attended an exhausting 5.5 hour City of Beaverton City Council Meeting that was in stark contrast from my experience weeks before. Several issues were discussed, but the main issue that prolonged this meeting was a zoning disagreement with Beaverton's Planning Commission and the residents and citizens concerned with the Cedar Mills and Cedar Hills neighborhoods. The issue was very complex and difficult to understand. What was most relevant was the consistent complaint from community members about feeling excluded from the planning process and denied the ability to voice their needs. Citizens felt so strongly about this issue that approximately $50,000 was raised to pay agenda appeal fees.

Damage occurred to relationships not on this Feb. 2nd, but months before when citizens attempted to participate in the planning process, but were undercut by government process. The meeting concluded with a heavy tone from all board members and the mayor. Counselor Catherine Arnold acknowledged the situation saying: "It’s a disappointment that people feel left out of the process …" (personal communication, February 3, 2012).

Council President Cathy Stranton was the only council member who seemed to understand the importance of allowing the time necessary to include community insight for the project. She admirably refused to support the motion to deny the appeals expressing that opposition in the meeting clearly showed that the bill did not reflect the desires of the residents who worked on the plan and the current residents living in the area. She said:


The compelling [evidence] for me is the appellants' statement: 'the changes proposed are radically different from what the community expected and had every right to expect when the county adopted the station community ordinances in October of 97.' … For me it's just too difficult to say: 'We don't use the same language, so we're creating something new and you'll end up loving it.' without letting those people who committed their time and energy to creating the Cedar Hills/Cedar Mills Community Plan an opportunity. …There has to be a better way. … (personal communication, February 3, 2012).

Unfortunately, even after five hours of arguments and a large financial investment from community members, no compromises were able to be made. All three appeals were denied, but two-thirds of the appeal fees were graciously forgiven and a vote passed to repay the amount. Mayor Denny Doyle insisted that the planning commission and city would not do anything to harm a neighborhood (personal communication, February 3, 2012). His statements seemed to fall dead in the room. Here Yang's (2005) research rang true. Officials did not identify with and involve the community and trust had been broken.

On March 5, 2012 I attended another City of Beaverton City Council Meeting. I was delightfully surprised at the lighthearted tone of the meeting. The room echoed with soft murmurs and quiet laughter as people settled for the meeting to begin. Several people approached me and shook my hand wearing warm smiles. Soon I discovered why the situation was so incredibly different from my previous experience in this room. Beaverton officials and planners negotiated and consulted with great care as they planned to restructure a section of land nicknamed "the round" that had burdened the community and disappointed investors. In 1997 Beaverton made a plan for this section of land that turned out to be a large disappointment. President and CEO of Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce, Lorraine Clairno stated that "For nearly 10 years the development known as the round has fallen short of its potential… Westgate and the properties around it have not been developed as we had expected and the central district has not materially improved over the past decade. … the deteriorating round has failed to meet our expectations" (personal communication, February 3, 2012).

Essentially, the city voted to rezone land in a favorable way that enabled the Portland-based Scanlan Kemper Bard Companies (SKB) to acquire the majority of the property. This transaction will cause the complete elimination of all $991,000 worth of debts owed to the city by all developers and all prior actions related to the round since its inception in 1997. Everyone felt included and proud to pursue the strategy. It seemed to benefit everyone involved. There was both optimism and relief in the air as community members stood one by one to express the reasons they supported the agenda bill. Additionally, one community member mentioned that the original plan did not plan to contain a civic element and this new, improved plan provided opportunity for it. Mayor Dennis Doyle said “We are attempting to lift a very dark cloud that has been hanging over Beaverton’s head for far too many years, and are absolutely thrilled that a Portland based company, SKB, has stepped up to join the city in a collaborative solution” (personal communication, February 3, 2012).

As you can see in these examples, inclusion and a sense of membership in the community is the key to generate trust and self-directed, genuine civic involvement. We must acknowledge our interdependence and value each other's contributions as the city of Beaverton did with the round. We must be able to converse, communicate, and even dissent as attendants and leaders of the Beaverton School District could. When we change our inward thinking and these things are achieved, possibilities for a better future will become attainable. As Daniel Kemmis (1992) proclaims "… in most of these cases there is more common ground, and higher common ground, than people involved ever succeed in discovering. The common ground is there (just as in the stock sale or the trance race), but our prevailing way of doing things blocks us from realizing it" (pg. 64).

References
Block, P. (2009). Community: the structure of belonging. (1 ed., pp. 1-225). San Francisco, CA: Berrrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

By the people: citizenship in the 21st century. iCitizen forum By Colonial Williamsburg, Retrieved from http://www.icitizenforum.com/primary-links/resources/dialogues-democracy/dialogues-democracy-life-liberty-and-pursuit-happiness?

Hodgkinson, V.A., & Foley F. W. (2003). The civil society reader. (pp. vii-xxiv, 1-347). Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England.
Kemmis D. (1992). Community and the politics of place. (pp. 3-142). University of Oklahoma Press.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: the suprising truth about what motivates us. (pp. 1-234). New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Pocock, J. G. A. (2004). America's Foundations, Foundationalisms, and Fundamentalisms. Informally published manuscript, Johns Hopkins University, Retrieved from https://d2l.pdx.edu/d2l/lms/content/viewer/main_frame.d2l?ou=120505&tId=914595

Turrant, H. (2003). Plato: the last days of Socrates. (pp. xvii-xliv, 1-251). London, England: Penguin Group.

Wells, S. (2012, Feb. 29). City ponders purchase at the round at Beaverton central. The Beaverton Valley Times. Retrieved from http://www.beavertonvalleytimes.com/news/print_story.php?story_id=133056457306716700

Werner, D. (Producer). (2008, January 4). By the people: citizenship in the 21st century [Television broadcast]. Washington D.C.: Public Broadcasting Service.

Yang, K. (2005). Public Administrators' Trust in Citizens: A Missing Link in Citizen Involvement Efforts. Public Administration Review, 65(3), 273-285. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6210.2005.00453.x

** A Final Paper for PA311U, Civic Leadership, Portland State University, Winter Term, March 2012 **