星期日, 三月 01, 2009

Beyond Nu River campaign - Quest for theoretical framework

This year could be the right time to review and move beyond my commitment to the Chinese environmental movement.

In the M-POWER meeting in Kunming, I submitted a short research paper on the Mekong's media space, in an attempt to break through the existing deadlock in the movement. But in the meantime, I came across a bigger framework, which struck me and already assigned a much broader vision to my initiatives.

While my researcher friend is looking into the framing of the Nu River campaign's discourse, I am looking for the existing theories that may be comparable to such discourse. What I refer here is Deliberative Democracy.

I thought one of the reasons why I chose media space is that the media is playing an active role in deliberation and building civil society in the free world's politics, but not yet in the most of the Mekong region.

Will the media play such a role? Are there potential for the media to fully reflect all the viewpoints of various stakeholders in development? Will this happen in the Mekong region? Should I choose other channels than traditional media?

Probably before going into the theory of Deliberative Democracy, I have to answer myself the questions like "Can deliberation lead to better (re)solutions?"

May or may not. I have to admit that I am a beginner to such theory. I believe that many colleagues intentionally or un-intentionally attempt to experiment deliberation in their own platforms, such as the M-POWER meeting in Kunming, the TERRA/FER's Mekong mainstream dam meeting in Bangkok, or even the hydropower consultation organized by Mekong River Commission (MRC).

Several NGO friends join the three meetings, but I only joined the previous two. I can only make very preliminary comparison, according to my friends. M-POWER meeting does not seem to be a good idea for deliberation. I suspect the problem might come from its "pseudo-academic" setting, while the other two are NGO meeting and government consultation respectively.

The first key question that comes to my mind is: How can a deliberation happen where various stakeholders feel meaningful, and feel equally treated? Are there criteria towards a successful deliberation? What kind of setting will help?

In the TERRA meeting, it is basically an NGO meeting, and the officials joined by invitation. Finally, only a few technocrats and MRC officials joined the meeting. As I said, I did not join the MRC consultation, so I cannot comment. But I suppose that the consultation is basically led and dominated by MRC officials.

I believe in either TERRA meeting or MRC consultation, not all the stakeholders feel equally treated. Unfortunately M-POWER meeting has yet to fill in the gap. The NGO friends even think that creation of more similar platforms does not help.

My second question is: do we need more forum for deliberation? Or do we need other forms of deliberation than simply forum? How can we make sure all the stakeholders equally treated?

Another key issue that surrounds Deliberative Democracy is: can development debate be effective throughout deliberation? Are there past success stories? Can deliberation be effective in countries where the development discourse normally dominate, like China?

As my friend indicated, it may be too early to put the existing framework for the Nu River campaign. But we both agreed that there must be places that the existing framework (deliberative democracy?) and Nu River campaign discourse converge.

Definitely there are many questions left unanswered, and many gaps not yet filled. This is perhaps the mission I am going to pursue and complete in the rest of my life.

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