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Abstract

The field of public engagement is experiencing a harmful identity crisis. While advocates of public participation may all agree that our work relates somehow to democracy, we have not established or articulated a common vision of what that really means. This lack of clarity has dire consequences, producing rifts between academics and practitioners, community organizers and deliberative democrats, civic technologists and dialogue practitioners, policy advocates and consensus-builders. Worst of all, the lack of clarity about democracy provides no help to people who are trying to create sustainable, participatory political systems in Egypt, Thailand, Ukraine, and many other countries. None of the participatory tactics and assets we have developed will reach their full potential if we don’t admit, to ourselves and the world, their true significance: these aren’t just props for conventional processes, but building blocks for new political systems.

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