CRITICAL REFLECTION ON POLITICS OF CONSULTATION CLASS

INTRODUCTION This critical reflection is aimed to explore my learning experience as an adult learner in Politics of Consultation class. It is very interesting to have this assignment to evaluate what I have learnt from the class and to plan the application of the knowledge in the future.

I constructed this critical reflection in a way that can represent my learning experience, such as my expectation, critical thinking, and motivation to have real application of the knowledge in my future job. Therefore, I put several strategic questions to analyze my learning experience and to get better understanding of my reflection as a whole (Peavey 1994: 94-98). The questions are:

1. What interested me in joining the class? 2. How did the class fulfill my expectation? 3. How did the class expand my knowledge and make the learning experience interesting? 4. How did I relate my learning experience with my working experience? 5. How did the class transform and develop my thinking? 6. What will be my next step for the future?

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STEP BY STEP TOWARD MY CRITICAL REFLECTION

1. What interested me in joining the class? At first I was interested to join the class because of its title and description, which basically highlighted participatory democracy and effort to enhance community involvement in policy-making process. The class’ problem-solving approach would enable students to implement consultation practice based on the participatory theory (The University of Sydney 2002:194). It is challenging to know how politics of consultation is broader than public-private networks and efforts to increase public participation. It also highlights the fact that in democratic system, people have equal opportunity to get involved in the policy process, whose policies affect their life (Dienel & Renn 1995: 120).

In addition, I have planned to balance my studies by having units on international relations and governance to comprehend interconnection between internal and external factors, and how they affect each other. My working experience in an NGO also made me excited to learn more about consultation both in theory and practice.

2. How did the class fulfill my expectation? It was an enthusiastic experience to attend this class. It had fulfilled my expectation to have deeper understanding of politics of consultation in theory and practice. This can help me to have practical wisdom by knowing the relations between thinking and doing regarding consultation itself (Lander 1994, cited in Duke 2000: 145), which will result in

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reflective action that illustrates dynamic relations between thought and action (Mezirow 1991, cited in Duke 2000: 153). Consequently, I will apply the knowledge based not only on my views on democracy, but also on the learning and working experience, not to mention realities of the democratic practices themselves within different contexts of political life.

It is worth to note the arrangement of the class by Carson made it consistent with the idea of consultation because Carson also involved significant degree of students’ participation throughout the processes, which was not limited to discussions, but also determining the weigh of the assignments.

It had been a new learning experience in such a deliberative atmosphere, where I had opportunities to express my critical thinking, especially in the critical evaluation and critical reflection’s assignments. The consistency of the class and Carson’s high spirit had motivated me to learn more, to share, to do better, and to apply the knowledge in the future.

3. How did the class expand my knowledge and make the learning experience interesting? The guest lecturers, readings, video presentations, workshops and discussions had provided various examples of consultation, especially in Australia. At first I found it difficult to follow, as I am not familiar with Australian politics. Nevertheless, I believe that the message was universal, which was the importance of public participation, even

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though the implementation would depend on various contexts, such as political system, issues, and actors involved. These had expanded my knowledge about other country’s practices of consultation. It was also interesting to learn the increasing demand for public participation and dedication of NGOs and government in undertaking consultation processes in Australia. These encouraged me to promote the knowledge in my country, Indonesia, as the demand for public participation also happens in developed countries. This has made public participation a universal idea in the democratic system.

I learnt many things from different formats of learning processes developed in this class. It was interesting to learn new ideas, such as the importance of transformative learning (Mezirow 1991: 167) and the inquirer role to create genuine democracy (Carson 2001: www). These have increased the importance of public awareness and how crucial it is to be an expert learner, especially when I related my learning experience to my expectation to apply the knowledge. In this case, expert learners do not only posses certain amount of skills or knowledge, but also ability to implement strategies to pursue academic goals based on their control and reflection of their action (Ertmer & Newby 1996: 1). Reflection can help to understand my strengths and weaknesses in solving problems apart from the knowledge possessed (Ertmer & Newby 1996: 6). It enables me to learn from past know-how to have better performance in the future (Smith 1991: 13, cited in Ertmer & Newby 1996: 17). Being an expert learner itself makes me more organized with planning and self-management. Moreover, I am getting used to check and re-check, and evaluate my thinking and doing, through self-efforts and by asking inputs and helps from others (Ertmer & Newby 1996: 2). Therefore, expert learners are about people who are

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cautious, hardworking, considerate, and wise, and have better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They also have ability to indicate relations between things they have learnt and experienced, expand their analytical and critical thinking before taking strategic actions to pursue their goals.

4. How did I relate my learning experience with my working experience? As mentioned above, my working experience was one of the reasons why I was interested in joining the class. I was working as a program assistant for legislative strengthening program (LSP) in National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in Indonesia (NDI 2002: www). This field highlighted the importance of consultation to strengthen the function of parliamentary body and to empower the people by increasing political awareness. In this case, consultation can be a mean to preserve democratic institution, such as the parliament itself (Elkin 1999: 14).

For a country that is still undergoing reform process like Indonesia, consultation is not an easy thing to do, especially when in it is not broadly practiced and institutionalized regarding different methods, such as random selection for equal participation of wider public; and different models, such as people’s panel and citizens’ jury. Most of the time, ordinary models, such as protest and meeting with Member of Parliaments (MPs) are quite common. On the other hand, the consultation practices are more familiar for NGOs, who undertake it through lobbying, seminars, etc. This is to say that consultation is not well rooted in the people’s political awareness, as they are also skeptic on both NGOs and politicians’ interests. Yet, they should consider other means of participation to pursue

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their demands effectively, rather than keeping the hostile relations and relying only on the ordinary models, such as unorganized protests as they can create more conflicts rather than solving problems.

This class has rung a bell to my mind, that consultation should have been used effectively in Indonesia with a huge population, where it is the people who have the say and where the legitimacy comes from. It is amazing how the politicians can ignore these facts by manipulating the public through coercive power and pressures. I believe that in the mid of the democratization reform, it is necessary to promote consultation practices to increase the people’s awareness. It is their responsibility as citizens to be critical towards the government. It is also their rights to be involved in the policy process and to ensure accountability of the government.

These took me back to my experience when LSP planned to help the endorsement of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the House of Representatives, Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR). It was and is a long process where NGOs Coalition for FOIA tries to press the DPR and increase public awareness through posters, seminars and lobbying the MPs. It is also hindered by the existence of State Secrecy Bill that limits the space for freedom of information itself.

From LSP meeting with the Coalition, we found out their difficulties to get information from the DPR. It happens because NGOs have been seen as being too demanding, hostile, and do not have clear representations, thus interests. LSP also met the DPR Public

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Relations and Legal Bureau to balance the information. The DPR have different values that are at stake, which are integrity and trust, as they are afraid of political risks if they raise people’s expectation through FOIA, when they cannot guarantee that people will get everything they want even though they follow certain procedures. Another hindrance is the fact that the procedure to get information itself is made by the DPR leaders in closed meetings. This makes it difficult to endorse the FOIA without these leaders’ approval and support.

It is confusing how the DPR tend to protect politicians’ interests than the people whom they are supposed to represent. It makes consultation significant to involve the people in the policy process and inform the policies before taken into practice. Politicians should have realized it a long time ago. Time is changing and also the people, who get more critical and demanding. The DPR must be ready to deal with these facts by starting to consult the people the policies that affect them. Consultation means involvement, which leads to sense of ownership of the people on their rights and responsibility as citizens. Consequently, consultation can be a mean to pursue legitimacy and support from the people in undertaking public policies. It will also bring good image for the DPR as it is able to cope with the people’s demands of freedom of information.

Consultation must play important role as a bridge to explain the rule of the game regarding FOIA, such as for information that is related to state’s security. Consultation will be useful as a media for different actors to speak their concerns and listen to others, and reach common ground based on understanding of different roles of each participant,

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who represents different interests. Yet, it is crucial to inform the people how much influence they can have on a decision during consultation process. Once it is agreed, relevant information can be given to the public (IAP2 2000: 35). Finally, the FOIA will be a good way of political education to get better understanding of democracy, which should be about, from, and for the people.

5. How did the class transform and develop my thinking? Throughout the processes, I thought that the class had developed my thinking roles. I moved gradually from a red hat to yellow hat, and finally a green hat. I would like to illustrate these transformations like the traffic lights. It made me realize that emotional spirit was not sufficient to support my action. It only created empty awareness, as there was no real involvement. However, the learning experience through discussions, workshops, and guest lecturers had provided me with more assets to apply the knowledge. They had opened my mind to take out the red hat and start to be optimistic by thinking constructively to pursue my visions and dreams to practice consultation in my country and empower the people by enhancing public awareness (De Bono 1985: 82-83). The emotion had transformed into something logical for further evaluative and analytical thinking. This made me confident enough to apply the knowledge, as the analytical and critical thinking had directed me to reflect my learning experience, which I believe is not limited to descriptive or narrative explanations. It is also about actual learning experience through creative thinking and formation of alternatives that have been built throughout the learning processes. Consequently, the new me appear with the green hat, which I

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associate with green light, has made me confident to move on and comprehend the knowledge and the application of consultation in the future.

6. What will be my next step for the future? So, what next? One thing for sure, I am interested to work in area related to community development and people’s empowerment, where public participation is an important key, apart from people’s awareness and public learning in the context of democratic government and good governance. I will do my best to keep my consciousness on public participation. I believe that I can be more than an effective citizen. I do not want to waste my time, energy, spirit, and knowledge to become effective change agent or even reformer whatever my roles in the future will be. I will promote the importance of public participation by understanding and collaborating with different sides (people, government, etc) and using formal or informal ways (Moyer 2001: 28-29). In the long run, public participation will be able to overcome lack of communication and misunderstanding problems between the people and the politicians. I realize that we cannot expect absolute friendly and harmonious relations between the two because democracy is about check and balance and respecting human rights and duties, in which clash of interests and views happen.

I would also like to have an inquirer role to make evaluation and reflective practice (Carson 2001: www) before taking strategic action in continuing my journey to participate in democratization processes in Indonesia. It is not an easy thing to do, but I believe that public participation is a better way to highlight the values of cooperation over

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conflict. Besides, it is better to prevent the conflict rather than curing it when we know that preemptive step such as public participation can overcome that. As diplomacy recognizes momentum during negotiation process, I also do not want to lose the momentum, spirit and ideas based on my reflection of what I have learnt by applying the knowledge. I will need to find a media to pursue it. Now that I have my green hat and consultation knowledge key with me, I just cannot wait to continue my journey to the exciting and challenging land of people’s democracy.

CONCLUSION I really enjoyed my learning experience trip to this reflection. There were some sentences that I took from my previous assignments’ diary to remind me of my values and beliefs in democracy, which is not only about integrity, but also trust and cooperation.

Democracy is about opportunity for citizens to have their say. Consultation as a public learning is only one spectrum of public participation. There are various means to increase policy activism and public participation (IAP2 2000: 49). These will depend on different level of understanding on politics, which is related to different educational backgrounds, interests, and how people view politics, as well as their willingness to be involved in the policy processes. Finally, democracy should, and must empower the people as rooted in its basic virtues of the government of the people, by the people and for the people.

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REFERENCES Carson, Lyn (2001) Innovative consultation processes and the changing role of activism, http://www.hydra.org.au/activedemocracy/articles.htm (last updated 2001, accessed 24 September 2003). De Bono, Edward (1985) Six Thinking Hats, Little Brown and Company, Boston. Dienel, Peter C. & Renn, Ortwin (1995) “Planning Cells: A Gate to ‘Fractal’ Mediation”, in Renn, Ortwin, Webler, Thomas and Wiedemann, Peter (eds) Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation: Evaluating Models for Environmental Discourse, Kluwer Academic Publishers, The Netherlands. Duke, Sue (2000) “The Experience of Becoming Reflective”, in Sarah Burns and Chris Bulman (eds) Reflective Practice in Nursing: The Growth of the Professional Practicioner, 2nd edition, Blackwell Science, Oxford. Elkin, Stephen L. (1999), “Deliberative Democracy and Deliberative Polling”, The Good Society, 9(1): 14-16. Ertmer, Peggy A. and Newby, Timothy J. (1996) “The Expert Learner: Strategic, Selfregulated, and Reflective”, Instructional Science, Vol. 24: 1-24. International Association for Public Participation (2000) Module 1: The IAP2 Foundations of Public Participation, International Association for Public Participation, Denver. Mezirow, J. (1991) “How critical reflection triggers transformative learning”, in Mezirow, J. (ed) Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. Moyer, Bill (2001) Doing Democracy, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, Canada . National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (2002) NDI Worldwide, Asia: Indonesia, http://www.ndi.org/worldwide/asia/indonesia/indonesia.asp (last updated March 2002, accessed 26 September 2003). Peavey, Fran (1994) “Strategic Questioning: An Approach to Creating Personal and Social Change”, in Peavey, F. By Life’s Grace. Musings on the Essence of Social Change”, Philadelphia PA, New Society. The University of Sydney Faculty of Economics and Business (2002), Economics & Business Faculty Handbook 2003, The University of Sydney, Sydney.

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