Deliberative Democracy

What is Deliberative Democracy?

Deliberative democracy is a field of political inquiry that is concerned with improving collective decision-making. It emphasizes the right, opportunity, and capacity of anyone who is subject to a collective decision to participate (or have their representatives participate) in consequential deliberation about that decision. “Consequential” means deliberation must have some influence.

In other words, if there is a political decision about to be made, citizens should have some means of having their say. Of course, in many democracies there are already mechanisms for doing this — from letters to local members of parliament, participation in public consultation, through to protesting. What distinguishes deliberative democracy is the way in which communication (or deliberation) ideally takes place and the way that citizens encounter it.

Our view is that deliberative democracy should include pretty much any kind of communication that is non-coercive, capable of inducing reflection, strives to link personal viewpoints to larger principles, and tries to make sense to others who do not share the speaker’s framework.

The most important contrast is with modes of communication that actively attempt to mislead. Political ‘spin’, for example, is manifestly not deliberative because it is strategic, rather than communicative. In other words, it is designed to manipulate opinion, rather than inform.

But deliberation isn’t just about how the communicator should act. It is also important for the listener to engage with the message or argument with an open mind; a willingness to engage with alternative positions, attempting to understand any merit that arguments might have.

And deliberation is supposed to change positions – not in every case, but at the least there is some kind of mutual accommodation. What we know from actually observing deliberation in practice is that, insofar as we can create these ideal kinds of conditions, there is indeed a good deal of change to the positions of individuals. Moreover, there is almost a universal increase in satisfaction on the part of participants, in terms of both the process and the outcome.

Deliberative democracy’s most common practical manifestation has been the emergence of ‘mini publics’ (such as citizen juries) involving relatively small sub-samples of the affected population who come together to learn about and consider ways through a particular issue.

Importantly, these are not a form of focus group — focus groups mainly involve the collection of information from participants during discussion. Deliberation in mini publics involves a multi-directional conversation aimed at improving both understanding and decision making

Deliberative democracy has been endorsed by the founder of conservatism (Edmund Burke, who thought parliament should be a deliberative assembly), at least one president of the United States (Barack Obama, who thinks the US constitution establishes a deliberative democracy), and even figures in the hierarchy of the Chinese Communist Party (who think that local deliberative democracy can be allowed without competitive elections).[1]

 

DemocracyCo Principles for Deliberative Democracy

democracyCo operates under a strict set of principles which define the work we do, and the work we don’t. These principles align with those of deliberative democracy. These are:

  • Transparent – as much as possible we are open and transparent about all elements of our process design and delivery.
  • Collaborative – that policy making (and the recommendations from citizens’ juries) will be better and more likely to be sustainable if a collaborative approach is taken to conducting citizens’ juries. This means meaningfully involving key stakeholders and government agencies in the citizen jury process.
  • Respectful – we are rooted firmly in the belief that members of the public (our community) are smart and that collective groups or jurors are as able (if not more able) to develop good policy responses to complex issues than anybody else; when they have the information, evidence and facts to assess the issues and solutions. It is our role to assist them in getting access to the information they need.
  • Independent – Jury’s need to be allowed to seek their own information / advice and come to their own conclusions without coercion or undue influence. This is the only way that their recommendations will be trusted. Because the jury members are smart and take their role very seriously they are able to intelligently choose sources from which to receive information and advice, and assess this information.
  • Process – we (democracyCo) are entirely focused on good process, we don’t have a view or a position on the issues or problems being discussed. We are advocates for a good process not a particular outcome.
    • Facilitation – good Jury outcomes don’t happen by magic. Our methodologies are anchored in worlds best practice facilitation and decades of expertise in group dynamics. As professional facilitators our role is to support citizens by providing them with the tools and structures they need to deliver their outcomes and to be responsive to their needs.
[1] Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, http://deldem.weblogs.anu.edu.au/2012/02/15/what-is-deliberative-democracy/

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