Theory and Practical Models for Public Achievement
Public Achievement at Georgia College is lodged in an interdisciplinary relationship among Rhetoric, Political Science, Public Administration, Religion, Interdisciplinary and Liberal Studies. Students from a variety of majors and minors with an interest in citizenship and public work enroll in the courses.
Public Achievement has its roots in the community organizing work that was influenced by Saul Alinsky, author of Roots for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals in the mid-20thcentury. Alinsky's use of the term "radical" suggests an adversarial role for citizens relative to governance. His tactics in bringing about substantive change in community life were, indeed, confrontational and militant. However, his work gave birth to the Industrial Area Foundation, an organization dedicated to organizing inclusive groups of citizens to seek justice for community inequities. "The IAF is non-ideological and strictly non-partisan, but proudly, publicly, and persistently political. The IAF builds a political base within society's rich and complex third sector - the sector of voluntary institutions that includes religious congregations, labor locals, homeowner groups, recovery groups, parents associations, settlement houses, immigrant societies, schools, seminaries, orders of men and women religious, and others. And then the leaders use that base to compete at times, to confront at times, and to cooperate at times with leaders in the public and private sectors." (Retrieved from http://www.industrialareasfoundation.org/who.htmlon July 13, 2010.
Edward T. Chambers, one of Alinsky's IAF successors authored Roots for Radicals: Organizing for Power, Action, and Justice (2003) and conveyed a less "radical" though nevertheless determined approach to what he called "the liturgy of public life." (p. 15) He contrasts the world as it is and the world as it should be and challenges citizens to use "research, action, and evaluation" as the three legs on the community organizing stool. He asserts that the word radical is derived from the Latin word that means "root" and claims that effective citizens get to the root of what prevents their communities from becoming healthy, inclusive, and just and provide well-conceived alternatives for achieving "the world as it should be."
In addition to the organizational tactics required for achieving substantive change, there is an important element involved in bringing diverse people together to address community problems, public deliberation. We live in a technology age of instantaneous access to information and corresponding analysis and opinion making. The media sector, once limited to print and broadcast journalists affiliated with large corporations, has been transformed over the recent past. Corporate media conglomerates are joined by independent bloggers and web sites that fill a variety of outlets with information. Public deliberation represents a more traditional, face-to-face opportunity for citizens to become knowledgeable of complex issues and multiple approaches to solutions and deliberate possible outcomes. Deliberation focuses on decision making that is not limited to voting or ranking policy recommendations; rather it focuses on the formation of consensus or mutually agreed-upon solutions that incorporate well-informed ideas. Mark Button and David Michael Ryfe writing in The Deliberative Democracy Handbook state, "deliberative democracy gives individuals the chance to live (however briefly) and to experience (however artificially) the essential meaning of democracy: free and equal citizens with an equal opportunity to participate in a shared public life and to shape decisions that affect their lives." (p.30)
The National Issues Forum has for the past twenty-five years produced materials and sponsored deliberative dialogue forums throughout the country. "National Issues Forums (NIF) is a nonpartisan, nationwide network of locally sponsored public forums for the consideration of public policy issues. It is rooted in the simple notion that people need to come together to reason and talk - to deliberate about common problems. Indeed, democracy requires an ongoing deliberative public dialogue." (Retrieved from http://www.nifi.org/forums/about.aspx on July 13, 2010.)
The Georgia College Public Achievement course and program draw on the best practices of deliberation and community organization. Citizens are the beneficiaries of the experience and skills that have emerged from these movements.