What we can expect from deliberation

From The Deliberative Democracy Handbook (chapter 19, Future Directions for Public Deliberation, by Peter Levine, Archon Fung, John Gastil):

What we can expect from deliberation

Although the earlier chapters of this book raise many questions that remain unanswered, they also substantiate several conclusions. First, people are willing to discuss public issues and can sustain serious, in-depth conversations about technical or highly divisive matters. …

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A second conclusion also can be drawn from the previous chapters: when deliberation is well organized, participants like it. In fact, they find it deeply satisfying and significant. …

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Third, the products of deliberation are often excellent. Deliberators may be asked to develop budgets, design rural or urban landscapes, make policy recommendations, pose public questions to politicians, or take voluntary actions in their own communities. When the tasks are realistic, the questions are clear and useful, and the discussion is well organized, deliberators often do a good job. They can absorb relevant background materials, seriously consider relevant facts, incorporate and balance a variety of legitimate perspectives and opinions, and make tough choices with full awareness of constraints. Experts are often surprised and impressed by the quality of the public’s deliberations, judgments, and actions. … [G]iven the opportunity, ordinary people have frequently proven themselves to be capable of generating impressive outcomes across a wide variety of political contexts and policy issues.

Within the community of deliberation advocates there:

… appears to be broad agreement that a successful deliberative initiative has the following features: (1) the realistic expectations of influence (that is, a link to decision makers); (2) an inclusive, representative process that brings key stakeholders and publics together; (3) informed, substantive, and conscientious discussions, with an eye toward finding commond ground if not reaching consensus; and (4) a neutral, professional staff that helps participants work through a fair agenda. Over time, it is also hoped that deliberative processes can (5) earn broad public support for their final recommendations and (6) prove sustainable. Taken together, these objectives are not easily met, but practitioners have found many ways of managing — if not overcoming — the obstacles to deliberation.

The question is: If citizens are ready, willing and able — why isn’t this being done more often?

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