The Route 29 Advisory Panel is, perhaps unwittingly, playing a part in a masterfully orchestrated and expertly conducted illusion of public participation where the questions, concerns and opinions of panel members are being denied or actively dismissed. No votes are taken nor consensus measured. All the while the facilitator is complementing the panel for its incredible positive forward momentum.
And the public is none the wiser.
Please let me explain.
When Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne selected former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner turned consultant Phillip Shucet to lead and facilitate the Route 29 Advisory panel, many thought it was an inspired choice. Shucet had led a massive turnaround at VDOT gaining control of an often dysfunctional agency.
Now that the panel has had two of their three scheduled meetings, Shucet’s facilitation techniques are raising significant doubts about the integrity of the process.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes Shucet is utilizing his own specialized version of The Delphi Technique to squelch dissention and preserve forward momentum absent true public participation.
Author Lynn M Stuter explains the Delphi Technique:
The Delphi Technique is based on the Hegelian Principle of achieving Oneness of Mind through a three step process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. In thesis and antithesis, all present their opinion or views on a given subject, establishing views and opposing views. In synthesis, opposites are brought together to form the new thesis. All participants are then to accept ownership of the new thesis and support it, changing their own views to align with the new thesis. Through a continual process of evolution, Oneness of Mind will supposedly occur.
The theory of the Delphi and the reality of the Delphi are, obviously, quite different — the reality being that Oneness of Mind does not occur but only the illusion of Oneness of Mind with those who refuse to be Delphi’d being alienated from participating in the process.
As one who has been closely following the Route 29 Advisory Group meetings, I have found “The Shucet’s Six” as the primary facilitation techniques being used to impact the outcome:
- Control who is in the group. The number of participants and their representative groups were hand selected by Shucet to provide appearance of balance of perspectives
- Control Content and Release of Decision Data. Detailed materials have not been made available to members of the group until just hours prior to the meetings, Technical data supporting screening has not been available, and several specific information requests have been denied as immaterial including most recently Ms. Kristina Hoffman’s specific request for right of way requirements.
- Reduce/Eliminate Outside Influences. By removing public comment from the meetings and accepting it online, Shucet insulates the panel’s meetings from being distracted by a boisterous critic [AKA Citizen]
- Demurely Dominate Conversation. Shucet’s down home drawl, overzealous compliments and genteel demeanor seem to engage the entire panel in discussion while his voice is most often heard directing the conversation. In addition, strictly limiting the group meeting time to two hours also helps this technique succeed.
- Limit Decision Options. While the Route 29 Advisory Panel was supposedly provided nine options to consider in their first meeting, Shucet brought forward just four options to the second meeting as possibly moving forward based on the “Professional Judgment” [note the word opinion was not used] and screening of the Technical Team.
- Don’t Ask for Consensus. After two of the three scheduled meetings have occurred, how many votes have been taken? None. How many times has consensus been “tested”? Never. The closest is when Shucet indicated he saw a number of heads nodding.
Studer highlights the use of the Delphi Technique in education policy discussions:
In Educating for the New World Order by B. Eakman, the reader finds reference upon reference for the need to preserve the illusion that there is “…lay, or community, participation (in the decision-making process), while lay citizens were, in fact, being squeezed out.”
Regardless of their political stripe, the members of the Route 29 Advisory Panel are smart independent thinkers. This charade of public process serves no one. The Free Enterprise Forum wants to believe the members are biding their time until the final meeting and that they recognize that the process is being manipulated.
While we hope that in the panel’s next meeting members will raise concerns regarding this pseudo-public process, we know better than to bet on it.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org