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Author Biography

Lori L. Britt (Ph.D., Communication Studies, University of Colorado-Boulder) is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Co-Director of the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue at James Madison University. Dr. Britt studies public dialogue, deliberation practices and structures, and processes of organizing.

Rob W. Alexander (Ph.D., Public Administration, Cicithe Maxwell School at Syracuse University) is Associate Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue at James Madison University. Dr. Alexander examines the challenges and opportunities facing public, private, nonprofit, and citizen organizations engaged in collaborative governance of holistic, sustainability challenges.

Abstract

How do past experiences of public engagement shape the way communities view the role of public input today? In this article, we examine the case of a community in a mid-Atlantic college town whose civic history is shaped by stories of skepticism and hope regarding past experiences of public decision-making. We use methods of interpretive analysis to surface their stories—the tensions, the plot, the actors, and complicating events—to understand how communities make sense of their roles in civic life, the norms they share, and the values they wish their communities can practice. We argue that being attuned to the storied nature of civic culture provides an invaluable resource for practitioners of dialogue and deliberation to adapt the design of public engagement in a way that speaks to past experiences and brings forth the communities’ shared aspirations.

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