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Deliberation

Deliberation - What?

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The practice of deliberation has had its place in participatory governance, in development and other areas, for some time. What do you think of when you hear "deliberation"? Porto Alegre's participatory budgeting? India's Gram Sabhas? Parliament? America Speaks? It's all that - and so much more.

In the most common understanding, deliberation is some form of interpersonal discussion about an issue of public concern. This can range from everyday talk about political issues at, say, the kitchen table, to formalized group discussions that aim at solving a common problem. One definition comes from Delli Carpini, Cook, and Jacobs*, who state that deliberation is "the process through which deliberative democracy occurs," a "specific, important, and idealized category within the broader notion of what we call 'discursive participation'." The category is ideal because, à la Habermas, it requires a range of ideal characteristics to be truly deliberative, first and foremost openness and equality of discourse.

Beware the Context - Deliberation for Development II

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Earlier this month, CommGAP hosted a conference on "Deliberation for Development: New Directions." The meeting was headed by the World Bank's Vijayendra Rao and Patrick Heller from Brown University and provided a vast and rich overview over the issue of deliberation as it concerns our work on the ground. Here's a little summary of the day, which by no means captures even a fraction of the wealth of information and knowledge that was presented, but may be an appetizer for our forthcoming book gathering all those contributions.

The first speaker, Arjun Appadurai of New York University, spoke about the importance of context: success of deliberation depends on factors outside the deliberative frame, mostly social and political power structures. Individual deliberation events may fail more often than not, especially if it's about allocating resources for the poor. However, while isolated deliberative occasions may be a failure in their own narrow context, in aggregation over time even those failures can alter those very contexts that made them fail at the outset.

Deliberation for Development

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

CommGAP and the World Bank Development Research Group Poverty & Inequality are hosting a conference on "Deliberation for Development: New Directions" on Friday this week. We have a number of high profile speakers and commentators lined up, who have done cutting-edge research on deliberation and how it can increase development effectiveness. The conference will be convened by the Wold Bank's Vijayendra Rao and Patrick Heller from Brown University. Arjun Appadurai (New York University) will talk about "Success and Failure in the Deliberative Democracy," Ann Swidler (Berkeley) and Susan Watkins (University if California) will discuss "Practices of Deliberation in Rural Malawi." JP Singh of Georgetown University will compare the participatory character of the WTO and UNESCO, while the World Bank's Michael Woolcock will examine the link between deliberation and the rule of law. Gianpaolo Baiocchi (Brown University) will talk about "The Global Translations of Participatory Budgeting” and Gerry Mackie (University of California) will address the educational effects of public deliberation.

Not In My Backyard

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

There are so many things in the world that need fixing, don't you think? More people need health insurance - but not from my money! Refugees need space and facilities in order to live halfway decently - but not in my backyard! Religious groups have the right to open their centers wherever they want - but not in my neighborhood!

It's a common public phenomenon - NIMBY, Not In My Backyard. It's a hurdle for many reforms: people opposing reasonable reforms because they don't want to have to deal with the consequences or pay the price. We don't want to pay higher taxes in order to cover a national reform that benefits a large number of people. We don't want certain groups of people in our neighborhoods (might bring property values down!). We do want to help, but preferably without having to do something about it. It's rather understandable - after all, we have our own interests to look after. If we don't, who will?

What the Public Would Want If It Knew Better

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

We have often moaned about opinion polls and their limited value on this blog. You know, those things where people get asked about their favorite toothpaste and that gets sold as public opinion? The question, of course, is how to do it better. Public opinion is an intricate phenomenon. We don't really know how to define the public to begin with, let alone how to figure out their opinion.

There's been a great model around since the mid 90s: Deliberative Polling. Introduced by James Fishkin, Deliberative Polls are designed to "show what the public would think about the issues, if it thought more earnestly and had more information about them,” to provide a “glimpse of the hypothetical public” (Luskin, Fishkin, and Jowell, 2002). It works like this:

Public Budgeting, American Style

Taeku Lee's picture

On Saturday, June 26th, nearly 4,000 Americans from all walks of life participated in an all-day country-wide deliberation on the nation's fiscal future.  Town hall meetings held in 19 sites occupied the main stage for the day, with smaller scale discussions in more than 40 additional communities across the country and online venues for participatory input as well.  The event, organized by AmericaSpeaks had all the markers of political deliberation, American-style: electronic keypads and networked computers that lent a technologically updated verisimilitude to George Gallup's idea of palpating the "pulse of democracy" and, of course, lots of political contestation (more on this below).

Opining at the Speed of Light

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

During a recent discussion on the issue of diplomacy in the information age, hosted by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, I got to mulling over the idea of the transnational public sphere. An interesting recent paper out of Europe by Jens Steffek focuses on the emergence of this transnational public sphere and its ability to successfully pressure public institutions for greater accountability and better governance. I believe new communication technologies have amplified this sphere's scope and scale. 
 
But the question that then arises is this: does the very force that enables and empowers the transnational public sphere also degrade the quality of deliberation upon which it depends to function effectively?  In a globally networked information environment, public opinion can coalesce in the blink of an eye, fed by multiple information sources both credible and non-credible. Can a transnational public sphere truly be an effective force for better governance if it is not backed by genuinely informed debate and deliberation? What separates a transnational public sphere from a transnational mob? 

Quote of the Week

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Photo credit: Wolfram Huke"Only across the system as a whole can deliberation be expected to operate as a cleansing mechanism that filters out the ‘‘muddy’’ elements from a discursively structured legitimation process. As an essential element of the democratic process, deliberation is expected to fulfill three functions: to mobilize and pool relevant issues and required information, and to specify interpretations; to process such contributions discursively by means of proper arguments for and against; and to generate rationally motivated yes and no attitudes that are expected to determine the outcome of procedurally correct decisions."

Jürgen Habermas

Putting Ideals to the Test: Health Councils in Brazil

Darshana Patel's picture

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.)

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing or the Nature of the Beast?

Darshana Patel's picture

Public deliberation as a political ideal represents the next frontier in democracy building. Public deliberation calls for dramatic changes in how political decisions are made. Through deliberative processes, citizens and not elected representatives, make decisions on how to manage their own resources. These decisions are reached according to the exchange of reasons and arguments that appeal to shared objectives or values. Decisions resulting from deliberation are more informed and rational. Under deliberative processes, political truths emerge not from competing ideas but through dialogue between citizens. Deliberative processes produce information as a by-product, not a precondition for participation.

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