Public meetings are great
In our society we are in a constant war – a war of ideas. Democracy is a never ending battle of ideas. It is messy. It is loud. It’s dangerous, pointy and sharp. It is never settled. If we don’t revel in that, if we don’t take on some risk with courage, we give up our sovereignty as citizens. Democracy is the argument we have with ourselves about the shape of things to come.
The future is about ideas. If we let some group or other control the ideas they will control the future.
A knowledge café or World Café is a type of business meeting or organizational workshop which aims to provide an open and creative conversation on a topic of mutual interest to surface their collective knowledge, share ideas and insights, and gain a deeper understanding of the subject and the issues involved.
For a while now the local bureaucracy has been quietly and professionally replacing public meetings and town halls – citizen’s meetings where individual’s ideas pierce the body politic – with a thing they call “Knowledge Café” or even more Orwellian - "Information Session", which is what most recent press releases call them.
I like to go to public meetings. It's just a thing. I've been doing it all my life but really got interested in the last 10 years or so.
Meetings have changed in that time. MY observation is the "community engagement" is used to control ideas by blinkering citizen thoughts and undermining individual outrage, which our polite society finds embarrassing and unseemly. It reduces the arrows of ideas to nerf. It presupposes macro ideas and encourages citizens to quibble congenially over micro trivialities, wrapping the whole process in a kind of lovebomb that appeals to polite society’s hipster, almost hippie, sensibilities.
Knowledge Cafe, a simple idea, has been hijacked. Ill-used, it is a subversive tool of cult indoctrination used to goad people by using their own politeness and natural fear of speaking out in crowds against them to operate a kind of social control system.
These sessions were once run by external facilitators. Now, as often as not, they are run by bureaucrats. That's a problem in itself related to deviance and social control. The bureaucrat sets the agenda, leads, literally controls the mic, and by extension has way too much power whether they want it or not. In the end the bureaucrat, whose job should be carrying out policy is the professional to whom we deffer making policy. It's a big deal. It's not democracy if we work it this way. Democracy is about systems, like representative government, where citizens set policy and the bureaucracy dutifully carries it out.
Democracy is place where we can't defer decision-making to experts. It's not like the dentist or muffler shop. We got to do the work ourselves. The work is getting informed, forming an opinion and finding the courage to speak out. And speaking out means being responsible for what you are saying.
The Knowledge Cafe, information session is a type of public paralysis. A loss of muscle function.
It's key feature is that it absolutely absolves all the participants, organizers and facilitators of all responsibility for the inputs and outcomes of the process.
In polite society frank speech is discouraged. In the Knowledge Café frank speech is made palatable by trivializing it down to coffee table talk and openly belittling the core building block of democracy – the individual citizen’s ideas – rolling it into anonymous, irresponsible clouds of thought that can be used for any purpose to suit any agenda.
Great ideas aren’t cloudy. They are pointed and sharp. The difficulty is not so much finding new ideas at meetings as it is escaping from the old ones constantly disguised in new wrappers.
But public meetings are really fun, and interesting - often intense, relatable, high stakes, great characters, compelling stories, hilarious, sometimes sad - in other words they are great entertainment for the heart and mind. I highly recommend them as a great alternative to any screen-based thing you might otherwise be doing.
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.