There is much comment about “the Big Listen”, recently announced by the Alberta Party. A frequent theme of the comments suggests that the Big Listen is disingenuous, or naive, or meaningless without knowing what comes next.
Time alone will tell if it is disingenuous or naive, but we can be certain that it is not meaningless.
The challenge for every party — Tory, Liberal, N.D., Wild Rose, and AP — is to reconnect with Albertans in meaningful ways. From the citizen’s point of view, I submit that the core understanding of “meaningful” is respectful. Most of the ctizens I hear from feel that most “listening” exercises (engagement, consultation) are patronizing and serve a pre-determined outcome. When our conversation explores this a little bit further, it is often the case that people focus on a complete disconnect between the content of the conversation — the personal and community values, the evidence, the lessons learned from experience, the dreams and intentions — and the decision that later comes out of the black box of political/government decision-making.
Every party needs to listen, respectfully. Respectful listening is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of democratic decision-making.
How will what is heard be shared? How will a community ensure that what is heard is also processed in the open? How will a community ensure that the decision-making process is as inclusive as the Big Listen?
The reality is, these questions can’t begin to be answered until the Big Listen is well underway. Perhaps it would even be arrogant to try to answer the questions at this point. A transparent and inclusive decision-making process should be organic and it should grow out of the process of deep listening and hearing. It should probably be very different from what we are accustomed to. The process of listening and hearing will, itself, make all participants responsible for the outcome, including the invention of the decision-making process.
Citizen juries, citizen assemblies, commissions of the commons, referenda, or one of many other alternatives — all of these will be on the table when the time comes.
But first, let us simply be patient and listen to each other, with respect.