My last post on this blog discussed public deliberation as a political ideal and what happens when that ideal is tested in an actual decision-making space. In a paper about municipal health councils in Brazil, Andrea Cornwall gives a blow-by-blow description of what happens when deliberative spaces stop being polite and start getting real.
Health councils were established in Brazil’s 1988 ‘Citizens’ Constitution’ and empowered citizens with the right to review and approve executive-level budgets, accounts and spending plans on health programs. Although overshadowed by the participatory budgeting process, Brazilian health councils can also provide some important lessons on how to deepen citizen engagement and decision-making. Through the example of these health councils, Cornwall argues that three elements in particular are often “under-theorized” by deliberative democratic theorists. First, understanding political culture is important. Second, how do party politics infiltrate and impact these spaces? And last, how is power challenged in these spaces? (She describes discussions in this deliberative space more as confrontational rather than reasonable.)