This is something we frequently reflect on at DemocracyCo, as it is essential to the work we do.
In our work, which is a special privilege, we see democratic citizens being willing to spend time on an issue that matters to their community. We see them talking, questioning, listening and thinking – and we see them creating solutions together. Deliberative engagement processes bring out these skills and enable us to see how communities can work together when drawing on these democratic skills – true deliberation is something to behold!
Over the last 20+ years of running deliberative processes, we have been observing the qualities of democratically active citizens. The majority of everyday people we see in our work share these qualities naturally, although they might be a little rusty! Deliberative democracy is designed to draw these out and provide a perfect platform for people to demonstrate and develop these skills, giving facilitators a platform for witnessing active citizenship at its best. We have identified eight qualities:
In addition to the ‘qualities of the mind and character’ that we have described above as essential for a healthy democracy, we also need to cultivate ‘habits and commitments’ that support our democracy. In a recent article for The Atlantic, “We’ve been thinking about America’s trust collapse all wrong”, Purdy discusses the significance of habits and commitments. Think of any change you want to make in your life… you might want to save money, eat healthier food, go running everyday – it is crucial to be committed to the change and to develop the habits to make the change happen. So too with a democracy…. Its not enough to simply have the qualities we outline above, they then need to become part of what you do more often than not.
Deliberative practices help us cultivate these habits and commitments. We can use them to create more chances for people to learn and apply these skills and traits, and to assist government with the policy deadlock they face, as well as to strengthen our democracy for the future. There is also no doubt that practicing our democratic skills also impacts other parts of our lives – that strengthen our capacity to communicate and work with others in any situation.
Democracy is in peril. Globally we are seeing democracies crumble and fragment – at a time where we arguably need stronger and more robust democracies than ever before.
The challenges ahead for our societies and communities are overwhelming, and scary. But we can work on ourselves and strengthen our democratic muscle – by working on these qualities of mind and character and implementing them as everyday habits in our lives. Be curious, turn up, don’t judge, work together for the common good and be comfortable to disagree!