Volume IV:  The Role of Narrative Building in Public Deliberation

Storytelling is a basic human skill born of a basic social need.  Literary devices, such as metaphor, dialogue and dramatic tension help us confront the unknown and make sense of the complexity of human experience.  This paper explains how building shared narratives can help governments reframe and solve difficult policy issues, from the tensions between climate and economy to the reform of electoral systems.

The authors see narrative building as an emerging opportunity for public deliberation — a systematic way to establish the common ground that parties need to find acceptable trade-offs on difficult issues.  The paper uses three case studies to explore different aspects of narrative building and propose a basic methodology for it.



Volume III:  Informed Participant Workshop on Designing Public Deliberation Processes

This useful resource contains a toolkit for a two-day workshop on designing public deliberation processes, using Informed Participation.  The course was developed by Don Lenihan, then tested and refined by him over a dozen times with groups of public servants from Canada and Australia.  The kit is in two parts:  A and B.  Part A contains speaking notes for the facilitator; workbooks and exercises for the breakout sessions; and a follow-along guide for the participants.  Part B contains a full set of PowerPoint Slides for the two-day session.

Vol III a Informed-Participation-Workshop-on-Designing-Public-Deliberation-Practic


A Healthy Ottawa Planning Partnership

Eighteen months ago, The Ottawa Hospital launched an innovative community engagement process to support development of its new campus.  This report is the result of ongoing discussions among a group of 23 community organizations, government representatives, and Hospital officials, who are working together to find solutions to contentious issues.  The report defines a vision of the new campus that is integrated into its surrounding community and that will support a healthier Ottawa.  The “narrative” developed in this paper will guide future discussions on the design of the new campus.  The report has been endorsed by The Ottawa Hospital’s Board of Governors.  Middle Ground serves as a principal adviser on the project and was the lead writer for the report.

TOH Narrative


Rebuilding Cohesion and Trust

Major trends are reshaping our society, including sharp declines in both social cohesion and trust in public institutions are especially worrying consequences.  Cohesion and trust can be rebuilt by rallying Canadians around solutions to the issues of our day.  Unfortunately, the trend is in the other direction, increasingly, public debate divides Canadians more often than it unites them.  This new study from Don Lenihan, Rhonda Moore and Laura Edgar (published by the Institute on Governance) argues that the real problem is not so much with the people, the politicians, or even the issues, as the process.  The paper proposes a way for governments to rebuild Canadian capacity for effective dialogue, debate and decision-making through a new generation of engagement processes.



Informed Participation:  A Guide to Designing Deliberative Processes

Volume II of the Deliberation Series is out!  This Guide walks practitioners through the key tasks in designing Informed Participation processes, step by step, to develop an engagement process that matches the issue they want to solve.  Don Lenihan is co-chair and principal writer for the Open Government Partnership’s Practice Group on Dialogue and Deliberation, a body of experts from around the world who collaborated on this paper.  Volume III in the series will be released in September 2019.



Deliberation:  Getting Policy Making Out from Behind Closed Doors

Volume I of the OGP Deliberation Series shows why public deliberation is the cornerstone of any workable solution to falling levels of public trust and the general malaise in government decision-making.  Don is co-chair and principal writer for the Open Government Partnership Practice Group on Dialogue and Deliberation, the body of experts from around the world who collaborated on this paper.


Alberta’s SuperNet:  Connectivity in a High-Speed World

In the very early 2000’s, the Province of Alberta undertook one of the most ambitious and innovative digital infrastructure projects of its time:  SuperNet.  Some 12,0000 kilometres of fiber optic and wireless infrastructure were installed across every region of the province, yet today there is little in the way of a record of the effort.  This paper provides an historical account of the project and analyzes the politics around it.

2018 SuperNet Paper Final Version September 2018 PDF


How Big Data is About to Explode Policymaking as We Know It:  The Rise of Civil Analytics

The Age of Big Data is just beginning and there is no doubt it will be a period of tumultuous, historic change.  In this paper, Don Lenihan and Tom Pitfield assess the opportunities for using this new resource to transform policy making and government.


What is “Open Dialogue” and Is it the Answer to Post-Fact Populism?

This study, based on a Canada-wide consultation, describes two kinds of dialogue – narrative-building and deliberation — and how they can be combined to produce policy solutions that are evidence-based AND supported by a powerful and popular narrative.

2017 What is Open Dialogue



At the invitation of Premier Kathleen Wynne, Don served as Chair of Ontario’s Open Government Engagement Team, a panel of nine distinguished experts who traveled the province to develop recommendations “to make Ontario the most open and transparent government in the country.”  This the Team’s final report.

2014 open-by-default-2


Rescuing Policy:  The Case for Public Engagement

Don Lenihan’s third book lays the foundation for Informed Participation.  Supported by original case studies and years of research in the field, it is also an authoritative and highly accessible guide to the field of public engagement.

2012 Rescuing Policy Final Print Ready Version


Co-Design:  Toward a New Service for Australia

This article was co-written by Don Lenihan and Australia’s former CEO of Medicare, Lynelle Briggs.  It compares Don’s work on public engagement and Medicare Australia’s work on co-design and shows how these two streams converge on a new approach to policy making and service delivery.


It’s More than Talk:  The Final Report of the New Brunswick Public Engagement Initiative

At the request of Premier Shawn Graham, Don spent a year as New Brunswick’s Advisor on Public Engagement, where he designed and ran five pilot project to develop a model and policy on engagement for the government of the day.  This report contains the findings.


Progressive Governance for Canadians:  What you need to know

Don was the lead writer on this book-length study on collaborative governance, and its implicatiobs for a range of important themes, from federalism to shared accountability.

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