Public Discourse and Social Capital: An Assessment of Open, Honest and Fair in One Community’s Public Deliberation Processes

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Affairs and Administration


Today in communities across the nation people are expressing concern over the absence of the trusting relationships that lie at the heart of social capital as discontent with government manifests itself at all levels. Current times abound with examples of citizen distaste, discontent, discouragement, and distrust with the very social institutions created to serve people and their goals in our various communities through the connections we create in our pursuit of common purpose. Public administrators and elected officials in some communities, however, are attempting to reconnect with residents through the use of structuredpublic discourse processes that define common purposes and recreate relationships of trust.

The literature appears to support an assertion that in order to create trusting relationships, these discourse processes must embody three primary and underlying principles: they must be open (inclusive), honest, and fair. This study assesses whether the structured public discourse model used by onecommunity embodied the underlying principles when applied in practice in the community. Although there is some support in the evidence for affirming local government's intent to convene processes embodying these principles, the general findings are inconclusive.

The particular model reviewed in the study describes discourse as a process to build agreements and relationships of trust. These trusting relationships are based on clarification of shared values expressed as a public judgment during the discourse process that results in a freely chosen group will to act. The study theorizes that this process both requires and builds social capital if the process is truly open, honest and fair.

The City of Battle Creek, Michigan, worked with a consultant team to encourage greater community participation in policy and program decision making through a structured discourse model designed to embody these three principles. A case study of three of Battle Creek's community decision-making processes is used to test how well the model succeeded in putting the principles into practice.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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