Art of Engagement: Nurturing a shared purpose

by Lee Nellis, FAICP, Wapiti, Wyoming

This column I return to working through the Core Principles for Public Engagement established by the National Coalition for Dialog and Deliberation (NCDD). I explored the first two principles (careful preparation and encouraging diversity) in past columns. The third is collaboration and shared purpose, supporting and encouraging participants, government and community institutions, and others to work together to advance the common good.

I see some readers burying their faces in their hands. I hear others laughing aloud. Western planners know folks who believe the common good is given – eliminating any need to work together to discover it - and many more who are unable to grasp that there might be a difference between the common good and their self-interest. Planners talk to these people every day.

Fortunately, we planners are also privileged to work with elected officials and interested citizens who DO understand that there is an ever-evolving common good or public interest. I think of Jim Kelso, Doc Miller, Dave Hamilton, Jerry Funke, Frank Just, Alfredo Montoya, Dave Yandell, Judy Sassorossi, Shel Clark, Tom Campbell, and so many others I have known. Supporting each other we work - slowly sometimes, awkwardly most of the time - but we work together to create community.

Indeed, without the idea of a public interest (or you may recall John Dewey’s formulation, “The Great Community”) there are no planners. Defining the public interest is what we do, and our professional code is much more specific than NCDD’s principle.

Our primary obligation is to serve the public interest and we, therefore, owe our allegiance to a conscientiously attained concept of the public interest that is formulated through continuous and open debate.

What to Write? Write me an email with your stories of “continuous and open debate.”

Lee Nellis, FAICP, is a pioneer of planning in the rural West, starting his career in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin in 1974. Contact him at

Published in October/November 2013

Print Friendly and PDF Email this page