On Consultation and Engagement

I’ve just returned from a day long meeting hosted by the provincial Department of Education regarding a controversial decision made by the Minister in this province. Near the end of the day a comment was made that the round table discussion seemed to move us beyond “consultation” into the realm of “engagement“. It is a comment that distracted me all the way home.

Stakeholders at each “level” (province, district, school) have the authority to make certain decisions, as well as the capacity to involve other stakeholders in decision making. Every few years we endure swings from centralization to decentralization and each time we create confusion, lack of empowerment, and dis-engagement of stakeholders at all levels. Our public education system is very bureaucratic and protective and though it often consults the public, it rarely engages the public in collaborative decision making.

A greater emphasis on collaborative decisions made through public engagement would mean better decisions and likely greater satisfaction with the results. So while the Minister would have the ultimate authority for any major decision, support for decisions made via a collaborative effort would be greater and the political price for the decision easier to absorb.

How do we move from schools as factories to schools as community learning centres? How do we foster collaborative decision making? How do we engage reluctant participants? How do we make sure students are full participants in the decision-making process? Which decisions do we need to work together on, and which decisions should each of us be empowered to make on our own?

I have more questions than answers, but I hope that what I experienced today was the beginning of citizen engagement in public education in NB.

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