Grassroots Public Policy

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Michael Maranda

Policy essentially a question of governance … how we shall live together in a complex society and how we shall deal with the problems of our time, and how we come to define what those problems are.

Will that governance be of the people, by the people, for the people? Or will it succumb to the defects resulting from a concentration of power and wealth?

1. Unpublic policy process … power and wealth lead to exclusion (by a variety of strategies … need to be enumerated: silent, hidden, process rules, standing)
2. Policy imposed on the public rather than achieved by the public
3. Policy undertaken in the name of the Public but not reflective of their will (significant on international and domestic scene)
4. Policy as lip-service to public (ideal) but not followed in practice
5. Method … (at times) disconnect between disciplined knowledge and decision process (seemingly arbitrary dimension to decision - power decides) (example: FCC staff may be sharp, but power is vested in commissioners who may ignore reports of the staff… )
6. Policy/Governance Institutions are (sometimes) designed with purpose of "not knowing" (cf. Jamie Kalvin) = avoid rocking the boat… working hard not to know…
7. Deleterious Effects: weakening of the public bonds, alienation of the people from the public … alienation from process, poor policy results (favoring narrow interests, blocking of progress)

Who gets to do it, who is taken into account, what attitudes (respectful v. paternalistic v. domineering), in whose name … on what basis (research), whether enforced or neglected, whether to serve a function or to look like it …

Power concentrates with wealth, and in institutions. Local voices are not heard, people feel disempowered and disengage further from the political process. People feel isolated and are unaware that others are striving towards positive change. Successes are not shared. We reinvent the wheel.

Public policy is very unpublic. It's silent, invisible. Moreover, "ordinary" people generally eschew the public policy arena. The wrong people are often the ones most directly involved.


(Navigating the) Our Lifeworld is more and more complex. Therefore governance is more complicated and sound policy more essential.

Whatever the policy issue at stake there are new opportunities for grassroots political engagement in new media and with the development of the Internet.

Absent the involvement of the public, partisanship reigns


(This is pretty much a mess ... I'm trying to winnow my notes and meld with your material, and to move material in to other sections as appropriate)

We're forced to qualify public policy with the prefix grassroots in an attempt to re-appropriate public policy for the public. Grassroots public policy development pattern contrasts with the dominant pattern of policy formation. In a critique of this long dominant pattern … we examine the ways in which public is excluded from the process. It is these techniques of exclusion that must be turned on their head.

Scope of grassroots Public Policy development: the problems of the polity, which is to say that of living and living together [as our lifeworld has increased in complexity or] in an increasingly complex world

People are approaching similar problems from diverse perspectives (and hence in different languages). People working on similar problems may not find each other or be aware of the efforts and intentions of the other.

There are sociological and psychological dimensions at play. We advance our individual development in this social exercise.

Grassroots is about local engagement and is generally contrary to top-down approaches. Problem and solution are defined by the active parties rather than imposed from outside or from above.

People often do not know how to get involved and have limited experience of being effectively involved. They therefore require context or channels in which to get involved, and an invitation to involvement. They require opportunity for meaningful action, and some sign of relevance.

Tools of the Internet Era facilitate new modes of organizing:

Face to Face remains important.

Grasstops coordination is another dimension of this process. Grassroots efforts may also be co-opted or otherwise deployed in such a way that replaces one power/policy assemblage with another.

Open space for dialogue, engagement. Facilitate the space. Continue dialogue in the polis.

Move decision-making power towards smaller/local assemblages.

Maintain flexibility and freedom to connect in local assemblages.

Organize on these principles/values.


Public policy is and has been a misnomer … functioning as policy imposed upon the public rather than policy achieved by the public. Public policy should reflect cultivated public wisdom. The discipline required of policy work must be distributed through the body politic: civil discourse, research, and inclusive creative deliberation. The exercise of grassroots public policy development is the ongoing work of (re)constituting the public (sphere).

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