Experiments in Empowered Deliberative Democracy: Introduction



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II. Institutional Objectives: Consequences for Effectiveness, Equity, and Participation

The procedural features of institutions designed according to the principles specified above may be desirable in themselves; we often consider deliberation and participation as important independent values. However, scholars, practitioners, and casual observers will judge these experiments by their consequences rather than these process values. In this section, we describe how institutions following the design principles above might yield advances in three especially important democratic values: (1) effectiveness of state action, (2) equity, and (3) involved, high quality citizenship. Whether properly designed institutions can advance these values or will instead yield a host of negative and unintended consequences must be settled primarily through empirical examinations, and we offer here a set of optimistic expectations that might guide those investigations.



1. Effective Problem Solving.

The first, perhaps most important, institutional objective of these deliberative democratic experiments is to advance public ends -- such as skill upgrading for workers, good schools, safe neighborhoods, protecting endangered species, and sensible urban budget allocations -- more effectively than alternative institutional arrangements. If they cannot produce such outcomes, then they are not very attractive reform projects. If they perform well, on the other hand, then this flavor of radical democracy has the potential to gain widespread popular and in some circumstances even elite support. Why, then, might we expect these deliberative democratic institutions to produce effective outcomes? (8)

The anticipated effectiveness of these experiments rests on the capabilities of its component deliberative bodies. Investing the power to make decisions and act upon them in these bodies, constituted at the operational level, can produce superior public outcomes for four reasons. First, these experiments convene and empower individuals close to the points of action who possess more intimate knowledge about relevant situations and how best to improve them. Second, the deliberative process that regulates these groups' decision making is likely to generate superior solutions than hierarchical or less reflective aggregation procedures (such as voting) because all participants have opportunities to offer useful information and to consider alternative solutions more deeply. Beyond this, deliberation heightens participants' commitment to implement decisions because they themselves produce it; it is not imposed from above. Third, these experiments shorten the feedback loop -- the distance and time between decisions, action, effect, observation, and reconsideration -- in public action and so create a nimble style of collective action that can quickly recognize and respond to erroneous or ineffective strategies. Finally, each of these experiments creates hundreds of such component groups, each operating with substantial autonomy but not in isolation. This proliferation of command points allows multiple strategies, techniques, and priorities to be pursued simultaneously in order to more rapidly discover and diffuse those that prove themselves to be most effective.

2. Equity

In addition to promising more effective public action, three considerations suggest that these experiments will also generate more fair, equitable outcomes. First, the normative goals of equity and fairness are well served by these experiments if they deliver effective public action to those not accustomed to this good. Since most experiments concentrate on problems of disadvantaged people -- ghetto residents in Chicago and Milwaukee, those from poor neighborhoods in Porto Alegre, Brazil, low status villagers in West Bengal, and industrial workers in Wisconsin facing technological displacement -- sheer effectiveness is an important component of social justice.

A second source of equity and fairness stems from the inclusion in the deliberative process of disadvantaged individuals -- residents and workers -- typically excluded from public decisions. Following a classic justification for democratic rule over paternalist or otherwise exclusive modes, a decision is more likely to treat those affected by it fairly when they exercise input. These experiments push this democratic notion quite far, however, by attempting to devise procedures whereby those most affected by these decisions exercise unmediated input while avoiding the paralysis or foolishness that so often results from such efforts.

These experiments' deliberative procedures constitute yet a third way to advance equity and fairness. Unlike bargaining procedures (in which outcomes are determined by the relative power that parties bring to negotiations), hierarchical procedures (in which outcomes are determined by the preferences of the highly placed), markets (in which money mediates outcomes), or aggregative voting (in which outcomes are determined according to the quantity of mobilized supporters), these experiments establish groups that ostensibly make decisions according to the rules of deliberation. Parties make proposals and then justify those proposals with reasons that the other parties in the group can support. A procedural norm of these groups is that they generate and adopt proposals that enjoy consensus support, though strict consensus is never a requirement. Groups select proposals, or combinations of proposals, that upon reflection win the deepest and widest appeal. In the ideal, such procedures are regulated according to the lights of reason rather than money, power, numbers, or status. Since the idea of fairness is infused in the practice of reasonable discussion, truly deliberative decision-making should tend toward more equitable outcomes than those regulated by power, status, money, or numbers. (9) There will no doubt be some distance between this lofty deliberative ideal and the actual practices of these experiments, and much of the rest of this volume will explore the character and extent of that distance.



3. Citizenship

In addition to generating incentives for broader participation, we might also expect the quality of participation -- as gauged by the degree to which participants' opinions and proposals are informed and the quality of their interactions with one another -- to be higher under these experiments in deliberative public action than under more conventional political forms such as voting, interest group competition, or social movements. Following John Stuart Mill's comment that the success of democratic arrangements can be measured in two ways: by the quality of its decisions and the quality of citizens it produces, (10) we say that the character of participation, quite apart from its level (as measured by voting turnout, for example) is an independent desiderata of democratic politics. Modern critics from both the left and the right seem to be unified in their low opinion of the political capacities of mass publics. Explanations from the left include the rise of the "culture industry" and the concomitant decline of autonomous "public spheres" in civil societies where a competent public opinion might be formed. The political right agrees with this diagnosis, but recommends elite democracy and techno-bureaucratic administration as a solution that does not require healing the public body. Against the background of this alarming diagnosis and even more alarming cure, concern for the public wisdom of private individuals is even more urgent than in Mill's time.

Individuals' capacities to deliberate and make public decisions atrophy when left unused, and participation in these experiments exercises those capacities more intensely than conventional democratic channels. In national or local elections, for example, the massive amounts of information sold to them from many vantage points tempts even engaged, well- educated citizens to throw their hands up in frustrated confusion or to focus on more easily understood dimensions of character, personality, or party identity. These experiments reduce these expertise-based barriers to engaged participation and thus encourage participants to develop and deploy their pragmatic political capabilities in several ways. First, these experiments allow casual, non-professional, participants to master specific areas of knowledge necessary to make good decisions by shrinking -- through decentralization -- decision scopes to narrow functional and geographic areas. Each of our experiments doubly focuses decisions -- training at a single firm, safety in a neighborhood, the effectiveness of a particular firm -- and so allows participants to plausibly master materials necessary to make high quality decisions. Furthermore, citizens have incentives to develop the capacities and master the information necessary to make good decisions because they must live with the consequences of poor ones -- these experiments institute "direct democracy" in the sense that these groups' decisions are often directly implemented by relevant state agencies. Again, this contrasts with most forms of political voice such as voting or letter writing, where the consequences of one's decisions are statistically negligible.

Beyond the proximate scope and effect of participation, these experiments also encourage the development of political wisdom in ordinary citizens by grounding competency upon everyday, situated, experiences rather than simply data mediated through popular press, television, or "book-learning." Following Dewey and contemporary theorists of education and cognition, we expect that many, perhaps most, individuals develop skills and competencies more easily when those skills are integrated with actual experiences and observable effects. Since these experiments rely upon practical knowledge of, say, skill training or school operation, and provide opportunities for its repeated application and correction, individuals develop political capacities in intimate relation to other regions of their professional and private lives. Many participants will find it easier (not to mention more useful) to acquire this kind of "situated" political wisdom and capacity compared to the more free-standing varieties of political knowledge required for, say, voting or interest group participation. Finally, each of these experiments contributes to the political development of individuals by providing specialized, para-professional training. Leading reformers in each of our experiments realized, or learned through disappointment, that most non-professionals lack the capacities to participate effectively in the kinds of functionally-specific, empowered groups described above. Rather than retrenching into technocratic professionalization, however, the reformers have established procedures to impart the necessary foundational capacities to participants who lack them. For example, the Chicago local school governance reform requires parents and community participants to receive training in democratic process, school budgeting and finance, strategic planning, principal hiring, and other specific skills. Each of these experiments not only consists of fora for honing and practicing deliberative-democratic skills, but each also literally establishes schools of democracy to develop the political capacities of participants.



III. Five Deliberative-Democratic Experiments

To clarify these abstract principles and intended consequences of democratic design and to presage the empirical treatments that follow, we now offer brief profiles of each experiment. (11)



1. Participatory City Budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil

Porto Alegre is the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil and home to some 1.3 million inhabitants. Like many other local and national states in Latin America, a clientelistic government has ruled the city in recent decades through the time-tested machinery of political patronage. This system allocated public funds not according to public needs, but rather to mobilize support for political machines. As a result, "the budget becomes a fiction, shocking evidence of the discretion between the formal institutional framework and the actual state practices." Under similar arrangements elsewhere in Brazil, investigators revealed that these patronage-based "irregular allocation of social expenditures amounted to 64 percent of the total [budget]."

In 1988, a coalition of left parties led by the Workers' Party, or Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), gained control of the municipal government of Porto Alegre and went on to win successive elections in 1992 and 1996. Their most substantial reform measure, called "Participatory Budgeting" (PB), attempts to transform the clientelistic, vote-for-money budgeting reality into a fully accountable, bottom-up, deliberative system driven by the needs of the city's residents. This multi-tiered interest articulation and administrative arrangement begins with the sixteen administrative regions that compose the city. Within each region, a Regional Assembly meets twice per year to settle budgetary issues. City executives, administrators, representatives of community entities such as neighborhood associations, youth and health clubs, and any interested inhabitant of the city attends these assemblies. They are jointly coordinated by members of municipal government and by community delegates. These bodies are charged with (i) reviewing and discussing the implementation of the prior year's budget, (ii) setting the region's spending priorities -- among issues such as transportation sewage, land regulation, and health care -- for the coming year, and (iii) electing delegates and substitutes to represent them at in a city-wide body called the Participatory Budgeting Council (COP). The priorities of these fairly large, infrequent regional assemblies are in turn set from below, by many less formal "preparatory meetings" in which "individual citizens, grassroots movements, and community institutions" organize themselves for discussion in the regional assemblies. (12)

The COP, a higher level group of citizens and officials, aggregates the decisions of the lower assemblies into a city budget. The COP is composed of two elected delegates from each of the regions, two elected delegates each from each of five "thematic plenaries" representing the city as a whole, a delegate from the municipal workers' union, one from the union of neighborhood associations, and two delegates from central municipal agencies. The group meets intensively, at least once per week from July to September, to discuss and establish a municipal budget that conforms to priorities established at the regional level while still coordinating the needs of the city as a whole. Since citizen representatives are in most cases non-professionals, city agencies offer courses and seminars on budgeting for COP delegates as well as for interested participants from the regional assemblies. On September 30 of each year, the Council submits a proposed budget to the Mayor, who can either accept the budget or through veto remand it back to the COP for revision. The COP responds by either amending the budget, or by over-riding the veto with a super-majoritian vote of 2/3. City officials estimate that some 100,000 people, or eight percent of the adult population, participated in the 1996 round of Regional Assemblies and intermediate meetings.

This bare description glosses over many important institutional details and the PB's substantial evolution since the first round of Assemblies met in 1989. Nevertheless, all of the institutional design principles discussed in section I above can be seen even in this summary account: more intimate linkages between neighborhood residents and the formal state, the formation of diverse groups of citizens and bureaucrats deliberating as equals to solve the complex problems in municipal budgeting, the transfer of this central government function from old institutions such as the the Mayor's budget office to this new sui generis system, and the sustained engagement of lay citizens in this public process. Some of the essays later in this volume explore whether Porto Alegre's imaginative system achieves the democratic objectives that we have attributed to it -- increased effectiveness though leverage of local knowledge, monitoring, and feedback-learning, more equitable outcomes, sustained political engagement, more competent citizens, and greater solidarity grounded in cooperation.

2. Functionally Specific Neighborhood Councils in Chicago, USA.

Our second experiment concerns public education and policing in another city characterized by great poverty and inequality: Chicago, Illinois, whose 2.5 million residents make it the third largest city in the United States. In the late 1980s, the Chicago Public School system (CPS) suffered attacks from on all sides -- parents, community members, and area businessmen, charged that the centralized school bureaucracy was failing to educate the city's children on a massive scale. These individuals and groups formed a small but vocal social movement that managed to turn the top-heavy, hierarchical school system on its head. In 1988, the Illinois legislature passed a law that decentralized and opened the governance of Chicago schools (13) according to the institutional design principles discussed above. The reform law shifted power and control from a centralized city-wide headquarters to the individual schools themselves. For each of the some 560 elementary (grades K-8) and high schools (grade 9-12) within city limits, the law establish a Local School Council (LSC). Each LSC is a body elected every two years and composed of six parents, two community members, two teachers, and the principal of the school. High school LSCs add to these eleven members one non-voting student representative. The law shifts governance power from principals and central offices to these LSCs: they are empowered, and required by law, to hire and fire the principal; write principal performance contracts that they monitor and review every three years; develop annual School Improvement Plans (SIPs) that address staff, program and infrastructure issues; monitor the implementation of those plans; and approve school budgets. These bodies typically meet monthly during the school year, and less frequently in the summer. Similar to Porto Alegre, program designers discovered that individuals serving on LSCs often lacked the skills necessary to competently execute their responsibilities, and so new legislation requires each LSC member to undergo some 20 hours of training, provided by the central school administration, on topics such as budgeting, school improvement planning, principal selection, group process, and LSC responsibilities.

This reform created the most formally directly democratic system of school governance by far in the United States. Every year, more than 5,000 parents, neighborhood residents, and school teachers are elected to run their schools. By a wide margin, the majority of elected Illinois public officials who are minorities serve on LSCs. As with the local and city-wide budgeting councils of Porto Alegre, LSCs embody the five principles of deliberative democratic design laid out above. They build new bridges between state and society at the operational level by empowering individuals who had previously lacked substantial power over "neighborhood" school decisions -- parents, teachers, and community members -- in diverse governance bodies. School level processes of governance -- composing and implementing School Improvement Plans, reviewing budgets, and finding solutions to the most urgent school wide problems -- are explicitly deliberative and not intended to be adversarial interest-based contests. Furthermore, these new bodies assume functions previously performed by the central school apparatus such as personnel, planning, and setting spending priorities. Finally, the central office has adopted the principle of recombinancy by transforming itself from an organization that issues command directives into one that performs supportive functions -- such as providing training and technical assistance to LSCs. It also benchmarks schools against once another using standardized test results. While measuring school quality quite imperfectly, these initial attempts at inter-school comparison nevertheless begin to provide new accountability mechanisms and diffuse educational innovations.

In a second experiment in functionally-specific participatory councils, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) recently restructured itself along deeply decentralized and democratic lines that resemble (but were conceived and implemented quite independently from) that city's school reform. In response to the perception that conventional policing practices had proved largely ineffective in stemming the rise of crime or in maintaining safety in many Chicago neighborhoods, in 1993 the Mayor's office, several community organizations, and officials inside the police department itself began to explore possible reform directions that fell under the general rubric of "community policing". By 1995, reformers from these groups had implemented a wide ranging reform program, called the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), that shifts the burden of maintaining public safety from police professionals to hundreds of joint-partnerships between police and neighborhood residents.

Consider its basic institutional features. The city is divided into some 280 neighborhood "beats." The beat is the administrative atom of policing; at any given time, one patrol car is assigned to each of the city's beats. CAPS's first major plank opens up beat-level public safety operations to the observation, participation, and direction of neighborhood residents. Interested residents and the police officers serving the area attend "community beat meetings" held monthly in each of the city's beats. CAPS's second major reform redefines the "how" of policing. In these meetings, neighborhood residents and police discuss the neighborhood's public safety problems in order to establish, through deliberation, which problems should be counted as priorities that merit the concentrated attention of police and residents. They then develop strategies to address these problems; responsibility for implementing some of these strategies is assigned to police (e.g. obtaining and executing search warrants) while other strategies are assigned to groups of residents (e.g. meeting with landlords to discuss building dilapidation). At successive meetings, participants assess the quality of implementation and effectiveness of their strategies, revise strategies if necessary, and raise new priorities.

As with the participatory budgeting and school reform experiments, CAPS embodies our six deliberative-democratic principles. It establishes newly empowered formations at the point of contact between police officers in the formal state-public sphere and neighborhood residents in the private-civic sphere. Individuals that come together in these beat groups often harbor suspicions about each other that stem from media-induced prejudices or adversarial histories. Community beat meeting construct opportunities for each side -- say police officers and minority residents -- to test the real intentions and sensibilities of the other and to haltingly build working relationships where none existed before. These community beat groups operate through a problem-solving process that is explicitly deliberative in the way that it sets priorities for the group, develops strategies to address priorities, and holds members of the group accountable for the performance of those strategies. Finally, these new groups assume much of the directive power over patrol officers that previously resided in various levels of the bureaucratic hierarchy.



3. Labor Market Transparency and Skill Formation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Our third experiment moves away from the reconstruction of municipal government to new economic institutions that bring together workers and managers for the common cause of managing industrial labor markets. The Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP) is a consortium of some 40 firms employing over 60,000 workers in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area. WRTP, jointly governed by representatives from organized labor, managements of member firms, and public sector institutions such as area Technical Colleges and the Wisconsin State Department of Labor, aims to improve the health of area industry by joining labor and management to provide modernization and training services that isolated firms would be unlikely to provide for themselves. (14) Though the WRTP is also active in firm modernization and school-to-industrial work transitions, its most distinctive and developed efforts lie in incumbent and entry level worker training.

Against a competitive background that demands continuous modernization of fixed and human capital in the late 1970s and 1980s, many Milwaukee area industrial firms responded to the failure of public and private training systems to keep pace with technological change by attempting to impose compensatory wage reductions or by moving productive facilities to areas of higher skill or lower labor cost. Beginning with an early prototype in 1988, the WRTP attempted to combat this de-industrialization by improving the quality of area skill training through new Worker Education Centers (WECs). WECs are miniature schools located within firms that train workers in the most urgently needed basic or advanced skills. As of early 1998, the WRTP has established more than 40 WECs in the facilities of its member firms and others who have requested technical assistance. Under the WRTP program, each WEC is jointly designed and operated by a labor-management committee that selects skill priorities, designs classes, markets those classes to the incumbent workforce, re-negotiates labor contract terms that may be incompatible with such skill training (such as seniority rules, job classifications, and work rules), and administers the center. WECs sometimes receive their funding through public sources, but most often through firm-side contributions. They frequently employ instructors from area technical colleges to teach classes on-site.

These firm-based, labor-management training efforts promise to succeed where prior efforts had failed. WECs take advantage of worker cooperation first by developing classes and training priorities based shop-floor experiences and perceptions of need. Neither technical college nor management-led training efforts can access this level of high-quality, front-line information about which skill areas deserve immediate investment and whether training routines are effectively imparting skills and knowledge to workers. WECs also use "peer-networks" to market this training to other workers and thus build a degree of worker acceptance that management acting alone could not. Finally, the mutual confidence that comes from this cooperative effort gains management support in the form of resource-investment in training and labor support that is manifest in less adversarial bargaining positions. WECs embody the deliberative-democratic principles by beginning to shift the power of design and implementation of incumbent-worker training from a state-centered technical college system to decentralized, firm-based learning centers. (15)

These centers, furthermore, bring together managers and workers accustomed to operating on opposite sides of a bargaining table in a deliberative effort to solve training problems.

4. Panchayat Village Governance in West Bengal, India (16)

Like the participatory budgeting reforms in Porto Alegre Brazil, a left wing party revitalized substantive local governance in West Bengal as a central part of its political program. Though Indian states have enjoyed many formal arrangements for local self government since independence, these institutions have been doubly constrained. Externally, larger state bureaucracies enjoyed the lion's share of financing and formal authority over most areas of administration and development over this period. Internally, traditional elites used social and economic power to dominate formally democratic local structures. Until 1957, the franchise was restricted on status grounds, (17) but even after the universal franchise traditional leaders managed to control these bodies and their resources. The Left Front Government (LFG), which took power in West Bengal in 1977 and has enjoyed a growing base of support ever since, saw the Panchayat village governance system as a opportunity for popular mobilization and empowerment. In several distinct stages from 1977 to the present, West Begali Panchayats have offered increasing opportunities for members of disadvantaged classes to wield public power.


 

Structurally, the Panchayat system consists of three aggregated layers. (18) The lowest level is an elected body called the Gram Panchayat (GP), which typically covers some 10-12 villages totaling 10,000 residents. Each GP has 15-20 seats of representatives elected every five years. The responsibilities of GPs have changed through time, but typically now include the administration of public health, drainage and sanitation; supply of safe drinking water; maintenance of public utilities, primary education, agricultural development, irrigation, land reform, poverty alleviation, rural industrialisation, electrification, and housing provision. The second tier is called the Panchayat Samity (PS), governs a unit of area called the development Block that usually consists of ten GPs. Each PS consists of 20-30 elected members and is charged with the same responsibilities as the GP but coordinates their activities and combines their village level plans into Block plans. Above this still is a district governance body called the Zilla Parishad (ZP), which aggregates and coordinates the PS level plans.

Since the West Bengal Panchayat Act of 1973, village councils have been responsible for most of the GP functions list above. However, GPs exercised these functions in moribund fashion and elections were treated as non-party affairs and dominated by local elites. After the LFG took power in 1977, they began to organize to win GP elections and used the formal powers residing in those bodies to implement land reform and tenancy measures. The LFG organized at GP elections to self-consciously break the hold of traditional power and, according to many observers, partially succeeded in doing after sweeping victories. (19) The next step in Panchayat empowerment came in 1988, when the state government shifted responsibility for implementing many development programs from state ministries directly to Panchayats. Simultaneous with this expansion in function, their budgets more than doubled to approximately 2 million rupees per Panchayat.

The most dramatic expansion in Panchayat democracy came with a series of Constitutional and state statutory amendments in 1993 that altered the system in three ways. First, it increased the financing capacity of GP by imposing a revenue sharing scheme with the Districts and gave GPs their own taxing power. Second, these measures stipulated that one third of GP, PS, and ZP seats and leadership positions would be occupied by women and that lower caste--Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST)--persons would occupy leadership positions in all of these bodies in proportion to their population in the District. Finally, and most importantly for our purposes, the 1993 reforms established two kinds of directly deliberative bodies to increase the popular accountability of GP representatives. The Gram Sabha consists of all of the persons within a GP area (typically around 10,000) and meets once per year in the month of December. At this meeting, elected GP representative review the proposed budget for the following year and review the accomplishment (or lack thereof) of the previous year's budget and action items. At an even more disaggregated level, a Gram Sansad consists of all of the members of a GP representative's constituency. The Gram Sansads meet twice per year, in May and November, to review the past and proposed programs of their GP and their beneficiaries. Based upon a discussion of activities and expenditures with the GP representative, the Gram Sansad issues a report which will be incorporated into future GP plans.

The most recent wave of reforms to the West Bengal village governance system, then, builds a formal apparatus that potentially contains all of the elements of empowered deliberative democracy. According to some observers, the system has already produced impressive results in both agricultural productivity, wealth, and political inclusion. The percentage of rural population in poverty in West Bengal has fallen much more quickly than the India-wide figure since 1977 and the representation of SC/ST persons on several surveyed Panchayats more than tripled since 1978, to the point where such persons are only slightly under-represented on these governance councils. (20) Whether empowered deliberative democracy can enhance these outcomes or even whether it properly characterizes the substantive activities of Panchayat governance will be explored in the essay by Maitreya Ghatak and Maitreesh Ghatak below.

5. Stakeholder Ecosystem Governance under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (21)

For most the time since its establishment in 1973, the U.S. Endangered Species Act has been the antithesis of deliberative democratic state action. Section 9 of that Act prohibits the "taking" --killing or injuring -- of any wildlife listed as an endangered species through either direct means or indirect action such as modification of its habitat. In practice, this often imposed a bar on any development or resource extraction activities in or near the habitats of endangered species. The main defects of this law are twofold. First, it stopped very productive development projects that may not affect the ultimate viability of an endangered species. Less obviously, the law protects only the those species that have been successfully listed, and so transforms the listing process into a very high stakes political battle between developers and conservationists, with the result that too few species receive protection and some are nearly decimated by the time they do qualify.

In 1982, Congress created an option to escape these deep deadlocks called an "incidental take permit." Under these provisions, an applicant must produce a "Habitat Conservation Plan" that allows human activity in the habitat of an endangered species so long as "take" occurs only incidentally, the plan includes measures to mitigate take, and the human activity does not impair the chances of the species' survival and recovery. For most of its life, this relief option was little used because permitting procedures were unclear and plan production costs high. Only 14 HCPs were produced between 1982 and 1992. Since 1993, however, HCPs and their associated permits have proliferated. By April 1999, 254 plans covering more than 11 million acres had been approved and 200 more were in various stages of development. This explosion in HCP activity grew out of an interest by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and several associates in using the incidental take permit process to construct large-scale, eco-system conservation plans driven by stakeholders such as developers and environmentalists that avoid the lose-lose outcomes generated by strict application of ESA's section 9.

The most advanced HCPs have met these ambitious goals in part by incorporating the design of empowered deliberative democracy. Large acreage, multi-species Conservation Plans in Southern California, for example, were developed by stakeholder committees that include officials from local and national environmental agencies, developers, environmental activists, and community organizations. Though deliberative processes, these stakeholders have developed sophisticated management plans that set out explicit numerical goals, measures to achieve those goals, monitoring regimes that assess plan effectiveness through time, and adaptive management provisions to incorporate new scientific information and respond to unforeseen events.

Beyond devolving responsibility and power for endangered species protection to deliberative bodies of local stakeholders, recent improvements to the national HCP regime proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) create some of the centralized recombinant devices discussed in section I above. (22) It has been widely recognized that high quality HCPs possess common features such as quantitative biological goals, adaptive management plans, and careful monitoring regimes. Yet a study (23) of more than 200 plans revealed that less than half of all plans incorporate these basic features. In a proposed guidance, the FWS would instruct field agents to require these plan features in the development of HCPs and a condition of permit approval. To make HCP provisions and performance a matter of transparent public accountability and enable stakeholders of different HCPs to assess and learn from each other, this same FWS guidance will establish an HCP information infrastructure that tracks the details of HCP permits as well as plan performance.

Thus the preferred method for protecting endangered species has moved from one of the most rigid and centralized commanding regulations to a quite elaborate institutional articulation of empowered deliberative democracy. Craig Thomas's essay in this volume explores the reality of this institutional form and its ability to simultaneously serve the two masters of biological conservation and human developmental.


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