Deliberative Democracy

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Deliberative Democracy


1. Wikipedia Definition

"Deliberative democracy, also sometimes called discursive democracy, is a term used by political theorists, e.g., Jon Elster or Jürgen Habermas, to refer to any system of political decisions based on some tradeoff of consensus decision making and representative democracy. In contrast to the traditional economics-based theory of democracy, which emphasizes voting as the central institution in democracy, deliberative democracy theorists argue that legitimate lawmaking can only arise from the public deliberation of the citizenry." (

2. Definition by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium

" Deliberation is an approach to decision-making that involves an informed public, thinking critically together and discussing options from multiple points of view. It encourages enlarged perspectives, opinions, and understandings and can result in better decisions and policies." (

3. Participedia definition:

"Deliberative democracy (also called discursive democracy) is a form of democracy in which public deliberation is central to legitimate lawmaking. It adopts elements of both representative democracy and direct democracy and differs from traditional democratic theory in that deliberation, not voting, is the primary source of a law's legitimacy.

"Deliberative democracy" was originally coined by Joseph M. Bessette, in "Deliberative Democracy: The Majority Principle in Republican Government," in 1980, and he subsequently elaborated and defended the notion in "The Mild Voice of Reason" (1994). Others contributing to the notion of deliberative democracy include Jon Elster, Jürgen Habermas, David Held, Joshua Cohen, John Rawls, Amy Gutmann, Noëlle Mcafee, John Dryzek, Rense Bos, James Fishkin, Dennis Thompson, Benny Hjern, Hal Koch, Seyla Benhabib, Ethan Leib, David Estlund and Robert B. Talisse. " (



"Deliberative democracy or deliberative engagement is all about placing people (citizens, residents, affected individuals) closer to the affairs of government and decision makers.

Deliberative democracy emphasises information processing (meaning/sense-making) as much as information exchange (communication of information), and encourages people to critically test, weigh up and grapple with a a range of perspectives, inputs and evidence.

It’s an alternative approach to 'asking people what they think when they're not thinking', which elicits uninformed responses. Instead, deliberative approaches seek to elicit informed, quality, meaningful outputs." (



Deliberative processes are built around a number of key principles including:

The group responds to a clear remit - a plain English question that goes to the heart of the dilemma being shared.

Participants will have access to the information they need to have an in-depth conversation and information will be neutral, balanced and from a range of different sources.

The process is representative. Participants are selected randomly via a random, stratified selection process.

Participants are given the time they need to deliberate, which allows them to consider complex information, grapple with trade-offs and impacts and weigh up options and ideas

The deliberative group is given a high level of influence over outcomes or decisions.

The group starts with a ‘blank page’ report - detailing their own thinking and developing their recommendations ‘from scratch’." (


Lyn Carson

Cited by Lyn Carson [1]:

"it is not enough to vote. A democratically-elected government should confer on its citizens a right to participate in collective decision making. This requires the provision of opportunities to deliberate collectively about the content of political decisions. Because nations have not organised large-scale decision making in quite this way before, innovation is necessary in order to maximise involvement of citizens. This innovation has found expression in a range of interesting collective decision making methods such as citizens’ juries, consensus conferences, deliberative polls and 21st century town meetings."

"Deliberation is not a debate and is more than a dialogue. Deliberations are conversations that matter because they work methodically toward consensus, attempt to build common ground, with an eye to the public interest, rather than self interest. The quality, the depth of these conversations is important and a great deal of effort is expended by convenors, or deliberative designers, to create respectful, educational, purposeful, egalitarian spaces."

Deliberative Democracy Council

From the DDC, at

"What is "deliberation"?

Deliberation is an approach to decision-making in which citizens consider relevant facts from multiple points of view, converse with one another to think critically about options before them and enlarge their perspectives, opinions, and understandings.

What is "deliberative democracy"?

Deliberative democracy strengthens citizen voices in governance by including people of all races, classes, ages and geographies in deliberations that directly affect public decisions. As a result, citizens influence--and can see the result of their influence on--the policy and resource decisions that impact their daily lives and their future.

Why is deliberation important?

Public deliberation can have many benefits within society. Among the most common claims are that public deliberation results in better policies, superior public education, increased public trust, and reduced conflict when policy moves to implementation.

How does deliberation happen?

There is a growing inventory of methods to bring the public into decision-making processes at all levels around the world--from local goverment to multinational institutions like the World Bank. Working in groups as small as ten or twelve to larger groups of 3,000 or more, deliberative democracy simply requires that representative groups of ordinary citizens have access to balanced and accurate information, sufficient time to explore the intricacies of issues through discussion, and their conculsions are connected to the governing process.

Where has deliberation been used?

Government entities around the world, from municipalities in Brazil to the Danish Parliament, have come to rely upon deliberative bodies to provide policy, budget, and planning advice. Countries whose governments have a track-record of involving their citizens in deliberation include Denmark, the UK, Brazil, Australia and Canada." (


Tom Atlee on the Evolution of Deliberation

"The increasing sophistication of dialogue and deliberation methodologies over the past two decades, combined with increasingly sophisticated communication and knowledge-management systems, as well as the spread of holistic philosophies and spiritual practices, suggests that we are rapidly increasing our ability to generate collective intelligence and wisdom through well-designed communications. We now face the task of bringing that capacity into the public trust and into official practice.

To clarify part of that developmental trajectory, we can map a spectrum (below) that reflects the growing empowerment and legitimization of citizen dialogue and deliberation. We can start with a category that embraces all types and qualities of such conversations and public engagements -- the ecosystem, if you will, of democratic discourse within which diverse species of dialogue and deliberation interact and evolve. As the more complex, sophisticated, energy-demanding forms evolve, we find there are fewer of them than of the simpler forms -- just as a forest has more fungi, ants and flowers than it has deer, owls and people. To maximize sustainability and productivity, there need to be rich interconnections between the simpler forms and the more complex forms -- in fact, among all the forms. In this vision of democratic dialogue and deliberation, we find that the most coherent and powerful forms demand a higher level of energy, resources and attention than the simpler forms. So, whereas the simple forms tend to be (at least potentially) cheap, numerous and inclusive of anyone who wants to show up, the more complex forms are more expensive, fewer, and directly involve fewer (and more carefully chosen) people who are given privileged access to a level of information and facilitation help that allows them to generate greater collective intelligence and wisdom.

If we focus merely on mass participation, we cannot afford these more complex and wisdom-generating forums which are too expensive to engage hundreds of thousands of people. However, if we focus only on the complex and potent forms, we get a kind of elite collective intelligence and wisdom which, although still grounded in the citizenry, has not been informed, digested and owned by the broader population, generating a sort of democratic elitism much as has happened with the evolution of representative democracy. To prevent both of these extremes, we need to synergistically weave together simpler, more widely participatory modes with the rarer, more potent and demanding modes of citizen deliberation.

The collective intelligence of the population as a whole needs to be in constant conversation with the wisdom generated by groups of citizens selected to work with especially high quality information and deliberative tools. Thus, the ideal "culture of dialogue" will include forums at all levels of the spectrum outlined below until we reach the most developed stage, where a true cultural shift has happened -- away from fragmented battles, towards collective intelligence and wisdom -- at which point many of these distinctions will become obsolete.

The spectrum below attempts to lay out a progression of forms from the simplest (1) to the more complex and powerful (6), before breaking through to a new culture (7). Note that this spectrum is centered on CITIZEN dialogue and deliberation. Not mentioned, but not excluded, are other forms of dialogue and deliberation, particularly stakeholder dialogues and legislative deliberations. They play significant roles in this vision of a wise democracy, but (from this citizen-centered perspective) the locus of power and collective intelligence is firmly established in the dialogue and deliberation of CITIZENS. Stakeholder dialogues and legislative deliberations serve to augment the collective intelligence generated by citizen discourse."

2. THE SPECTRUM (with examples)

1. Citizen dialogue and deliberation (of any and all kinds) (e.g., conversation cafes)

2. Citizen dialogue and deliberation with a coherent outcome (i.e., whole-group statements, actions or outcomes) (e.g., deliberative polling)

3. Citizen dialogue and deliberation with a coherent outcome that plugs into policy-making and decision-making (usually in an advisory role) (e.g., National Issues Forums)

4. Citizen dialogue and deliberation with a coherent outcome that plugs into policy-making and decision-making where the citizens are selected to reflect the diversity of the community (e.g., citizen deliberative councils)

5. Citizen dialogue and deliberation with a coherent outcome that plugs into policy-making and decision-making where the citizens are selected to reflect the diversity of the community and the whole process is officially institutionalized (e.g., consensus conferences)

6. Citizen dialogue and deliberation with a coherent outcome that plugs into policy-making and decision-making where the citizens are selected to reflect the diversity of the community and the whole process is officially institutionalized and empowered such that it drives policy-making (e.g., B.C.'s Citizens Assembly)

7. A democratic political and governance system that is grounded in 1-6 above at least as much -- or more than -- in the competitive lobbying, voting, litigating modes of politics.

In other words, we can have communities filled with study circles, intergroup dialogues, future searches, conversation cafes, world cafes, and all the other amazing processes listed on such sites as the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation wiki (1-6, above). These can generate a powerful background hum of conversations through which people are connecting up, exploring and learning together, and doing good work together. Some of them help public officials take the pulse of the community on important issues, seeing how citizens think about them. Arising from that hum of powerful democratic conversations are some special conversations among people selected from the community to embody the community's diversity, charged with deliberating or reflecting on particularly important community issues and reporting back to the community (4-6, above). These conversations are sometimes given not just an advisory role, but real power to make decisions.The more all these fit together into a coherent whole, the closer we get to a wise democracy."

Lyn Carson's distinction between Counterpublics and Minipublics

Deliberation pertains to minipublics, not counterpublics:

Collective action is usually birthed in “oppositional consciousness” which is converted to “counterpublics” — i.e. a public that is created outside what we commonly think of as a public. Such counterpublic has a specific sets of interests that differ from the general interest and for which it tries to find influence.

But “minipublics are microcosms of the wider public — a sample (often a random sample) brought together to deliberate to show what the wider public would decide if given access to the information which a minipublic receives, and indicating what the wider public would think if given similar opportunities for deliberation."

Lyn Carson writes that "Deliberations are conversations that matter because they work methodically toward consensus, attempt to build common ground, with an eye to the public interest, rather than self interest. The quality, the depth of these conversations is important and a great deal of effort is expended by convenors, or deliberative designers, to create respectful, educational, purposeful, egalitarian spaces."

(source: L. Carson, Sydney Democracy Forum: The Democratic Deficit and Australia 29 June 2007 [2] )

Yves Sintomer

2. Via Bernard Guibert:

According to Yves Syntomer, it also has four characteristics (or rather, four models inspired by different values):

- 1) the scientific argumentation (the brahmin model)

- 2) negotiation (a merchant model)

- 3) polemics (a warrior model)

- 4) sophistics (a manipulative, rhetorical model)

Modes 1 and 3 are based on a general interest and lead to higher synthesis. Modes 2 and 4 are based on the differential interests of the parties.

The first model combines rational debate in search of truth and a selective elitist principle: it is the liberal ideal of representative democracy.

Deliberative democracies requires that any citizen speaks for himself, in dialogue with others. This dialogue has to be organized according to certain procedures.

In the interplay between egalitarian and elitist principles, with the latter dominating in representation, what has to happen is a reversal.



P2P and Deliberative Democracy approaches compared

Michael Brooks:

"Michel Bauwens, an independent writer and researcher based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, articulates an open peer-to-peer (P2P) politics that extends the practices of open information cultures to a broader political project. P2P politics builds on a model of deliberative democracy, and a culture where there is a dynamic interplay of all three sectors: private, commons, and government. Could this approach transcend an ossified debate on progress by shifting the debate into new terrain?

P2P culture has generated tremendous value in the development of the Internet. Projects such as Linux, open source codes and the open architecture of the net have been built on a communal openness that supports the market transactions found online. Bauwens argues that P2P carries with it an implicit political agenda; a political agenda that protects and expands on the open space created in the P2P economy and a new model of social infrastructures that sustain independent P2P workers.

Bauwens articulates an integrative and transcending progress narrative. He embraces the critiques of Illich and Schumacher and follows many of their political leads, however his P2P theory is grounded in the global information economy; the most current trend in the consumer dream. Bauwens supports many activists, and social and financial innovation movements recognizing that they are in sync with his P2P mission. P2P theory is both a process of re-localization, as advocated by the counter-progress theorists, and deep global integration, as articulated by the most optimistic visions of social and informational technologies.

“Deliberative democracy theorists are fascinated by ways of deepening democracy and turning it into a practice beyond simply voting. They advocate for creating a community context and practice for solving collective problems and addressing policy challenges.”

Deliberative democracy theorists are fascinated by ways of deepening democracy and turning it into a practice beyond simply voting. They advocate for creating a community context and practice for solving collective problems and addressing policy challenges. The deliberative democrats mirror a P2P ethic in the civic sphere. Archon Fung, a deliberative democracy theorist based at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, argues that deliberative democracy is about how communities can best position themselves to sustainably solve problems. Fung contrasts two primary conceptions of democracy with the goal of the deliberative process:

The first is majority rule. On this conception, a society is democratic when collective decisions reflect the views of the most numerous. The second is accomplishment. On this less common view, a democratic society is one that has the power to achieve the common aims of its citizens

Part of this process, according to Fung, is how we establish and agree on what those goals are. Deliberative theorists focus in practice on creating forums where community members can come together in a spirit of mutual respect and engage in substantive policy discussions. For example, some Scandinavian countries have experimented with citizen input on budget and other key priorities. Even China has developed certain receptivity to deliberative decision-making, according to Mark Leonard’s reporting in What Does China Think.

Both P2P and deliberative theorists ask a lot of us. Both approaches want us to play a substantive role in shaping our economic, cultural and political lives. Illich and Schumacher wanted the same. They opposed “outsourcing” value creation and social bonds to large bureaucracies outside of grounded communities. Integrating modes of progress will access a broader range of human capacity and inclination than those proposed by the consumer dream. However, the counter-progress critique is being validated in some of the most globally integrated, complex and abstract aspects of the world economic system. Integrated progress asks us to open our perception of who we are in community, markets, relationships, decision-making and politics." (


Tom Atlee, an overview of the Deliberative Democracy Movement:

"While researching a chapter on citizen consensus councils for my upcoming book on co-intelligence, I stumbled on signs of an emerging, widespread movement for "deliberative democracy" that I had not previously known about. What I discovered was that for at least thirty years ordinary citizens have been formally convened in diverse groups all over the world to reflect on social problems and public policies and come to conclusions designed to inform the opinions and actions of institutions, officials and the public at large. This is happening in many places right now.

In other words, thousands of people have, for decades, been doing citizen councils of the sort I've been writing about. I've not known about most of them, and most of them haven't known about each other. Nor have they realized that they are collectively laying groundwork for a wisdom culture. Although people in these far-flung, decentralized, leaderful networks are just beginning to see themselves as a movement, their very substantial activities have been spreading and evolving in tandem and worldwide for quite some time. In particular:

1) Hundreds of deliberative forums have been held, involving tens of thousands -- if not hundreds of thousands -- of people. Activities are burgeoning in both "developed" and "developing" nations. Here are four examples, just to give you a taste: Poor Indian farmers held a deliberative council investigating approaches to economic development -- and decided they wanted to continue their subsistence farming. Some Britons passed official judgment on whether their local HMO should offer chiropractic services. Australian suburbanites deliberated on what to do about pollution and erosion associated with rainwater that was wrecking their beaches. And eighteen down-home Americans became expert enough in a few days to tell Twin Cities municipal authorities how to deal with the area's solid waste disposal. (Naturally, they wanted more sustainable practices.) In every case, ordinary people reviewed the facts and came up with common-sense solutions.

2) Scores of different deliberative models are being used, and this movement is bubbling with creative experimentation. I was particularly amazed at the widespread use of "citizens' juries" -- a form similar to the Danish technology panels I've written about -- which were used in all the above-mentioned cases. A citizens' jury consists of ten to twenty people chosen so that their collective diversity reflects the diversity of their community or country. These typical citizens study an issue -- anything from housing to environmental threats to democratic reform -- and grill experts on its details and its social impact. Then they craft findings and recommendations which they deliver to authorities, and to the public through the media. In the U.S., Citizens' Juries® are standardized and run very conscientiously by the Jefferson Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In England, they are wildly diverse, regularly generating powerful lessons in how to run (and not run!) such activities. The British have, for example, done a number of citizens' juries where the convening agencies had to agree to follow their juries' recommendations or hold a press conference to explain why they weren't going to follow them!

And here's some remarkable evidence that suggests citizens' deliberation like this is an idea whose time has come: This form was independently invented by three people -- one in Germany and another in the U.S. in the early 1970's, and the third in Denmark in the mid-1980's -- who knew nothing about each other's work! So these creative people join hundreds of other simultaneous discoverors on record, like Newton and Leibnitz inventing calculus -- and Russell and Darwin independently formulating the "natural selection" theory of evolution. Simultaneous discoveries like these suggest that each such innovation is a significant part of humanity's cultural evolution for the era in which it occurs. State-of-the-art citizen deliberative councils are an innovation for our time, brought into being by the conditions we face and the new resources and knowlege at our disposal.

3) Dozens of brilliant investigators and academics are describing, researching and critiquing a wide range of citizen deliberations (for examples, see my mailing of Nov 30 "fascinating articles on deliberative democracy"). They're asking excellent questions about the functioning of these groups and their role in the world. In particular, more and more practitioners, activists and academics are looking at how to increase the power of citizen deliberative bodies so that they actually impact official policy and the behavior of communities and countries. They are setting the stage for the generation of community wisdom to affect how our cultures actually operate.

I could tell you more about all this, but I should keep this short. I want to focus on what this means for my work and for your ability to make a difference in the world.

Needless to say, these discoveries have influenced the co-intelligence book I'm working on. But more importantly, they are going to shape the work of the Co-Intelligence Institute for years to come. Not only do I expect to write another book and create a website about deliberative democracy and citizen councils, but I believe the Co-Intelligence Institute has significant gifts to offer to facilitate the emergence of this movement as a transformational force in the world. The co-intelligence perspective and past research offer insights that could help resolve many of the questions being asked, and could help bring together diverse innovators to craft the next steps in the movement's evolution.

I'm excited. This could make a profound difference. I'm sure you know of dozens, if not hundreds of great ideas that could help create a sustainable, just and wise culture. You and I both know how few of those ideas have made it into mainstream public dialogue -- to say nothing of influencing national policies and widespread cultural practice. It is a real tragedy. In most countries, hardly any issue of any importance is being handled with anything remotely resembling wisdom, or even common sense.

I believe that deliberative democracy of the sort I'm talking about here can get positive alternatives seriously considered and actually USED by our cultures. Experience suggests that the facilitated dialogue of ordinary people can free up a "common sense wisdom" that naturally recognizes healthy options and realigns collective values away from the unjust and addictive materialism and violence that afflict most of our cultures. Promoting, institutionalizing and EMPOWERING that kind of effective dialogue is what the deliberative democracy movement is all about. So our efforts -- yours and mine -- to promote and empower that movement can help every other issue be handled well, so that future generations can have a world that's safe, wise and joyful at last.

Think about it. There's no public issue -- environmental problems, the concentration of wealth, war and peace, human welfare, technology development, you name it -- that would not benefit tremendously by the empowerment of citizen-based wisdom. That's real leverage here for positive change." (

More Information

The tools for deliberation are summarized in those two documents by the DDC:

Matrix of face to face deliberation methods, at

Matrix of online methods to enhance public engagement, at

French-language article on how the internet may actually be a hindrance to deliberation because of its Plural Monocultures, at

Many papers and articles on the concept and practice of `deliberative democracy', by Lyn Carson at ; and links to organizations here at

Key Books to Read

James Fishkin. Democracy and Deliberation. 1991

"James Fishkin's 1991 work, "Democracy and Deliberation" introduced a concrete way to apply the theory of deliberative democracy to real-world decision making, by way of what he calls the Deliberative opinion poll. In the deliberative opinion poll, a statistically representative sample of the nation or a community is gathered to discuss an issue in conditions that further deliberation. The group is then polled, and the results of the poll and the actual deliberation can be used both as a recommending force and in certain circumstances, to replace a vote. Dozens of deliberative opinion polls have been conducted across the United States since his book was published" (

Jon Elster, ed. Deliberative Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 282 pages.

Nino, C. S. (1996)The Constitution of Deliberative Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press

The Deliberative Democracy Handbook [3]


Bibliography from Lyn Carson:

Barber, B R (1984) Strong Democracy, Berkeley: University of California Press

Barnes, M, Newman, J & Sullivan, H (2007) Power, Participation and Political Renewal: Case studies in public participation, Bristol, UK: The Policy Press

Bessette, J M (1994) The Mild Voice of Reason: Deliberative democracy and American national government, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

E O Wright (ed.) Associations and Democracy, London, Verso, pp.7-98

Dryzek, J S (2000) Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals, critics, contestations, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Fung, A and Wright E O (2003) Deepening Democracy: Institutional innovations in empowered participatory governance, London: Verso

Gastil, J & Levine, P (2005) (eds) The Deliberative Democracy Handbook: Strategies for Effective Civic Engagement in the Twenty-First Century, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Ginsborg, P (2005) The Politics of Everyday Life: Making Choices, Changing Lives, Melbourne University Press, p.196

Gunderson, A G (2003) The Socratic Citizen: A theory of deliberative democracy, Lanham: Lexington Books

Joss, S & Durant, J (1995) (eds) Public Participation in Science: The role of consensus conferences in Europe, London: Science Museum

Leighninger, M (2006) The Next Form of Democracy: How Expert Rule Is Giving Way to Shared Governance... and Why Politics Will Never Be the Same, Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press

Uhr, J (1998) Deliberative Democracy in Australia: The Changing Place of Parliament, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press