In this episode I speak to three academics who each take a critical perspective on the operation of deliberative mini-publics. Each of them takes issue with a different aspect of the impact or influence that the recommendations coming from deliberative mini-publics have on public policy.

For Associate Professor Genevieve Fuji Johnson the failure of the democratic innovations she studied (which includes deliberative mini-publics and deliberative polling) was that they didn’t have any real impact on policy and decision-making.
 
Professor Cristina La Font takes basically the opposite view. For her deliberative mini-publics should not have any impact on policy decisions, rather they should be used to support the broader engagement of citizens.
 
Associate Professor Caroline Lee’s critique is that many democratic innovations, including deliberative mini-publics, appear to allow for influence or impact but the issues they are asked to consider are often heavily circumscribed, and deliberative mini-publics are explicitly denied the opportunity to address the challenges underlying the difficult issues they are faced with.

And Roslyn Fuller provides another perspective suggesting that citizens may change how they approach decision-making within a deliberative mini-public depending on whether they believe their recommendations will be implemented or not.

This is the final episode of Season 1 looking at deliberative mini-publics. If you haven’t already listened to episodes 1 – 18 I’d suggest you go back and listen to them all, starting with Professor Carson explaining what deliberative mini-publics are in episode 1.1.

Season 2 will look at the history of democracy, the dominant model of representative democracy, as well as what is working and what isn’t.

Season 2 will commence in mid-March. I hope you’ll join me then.
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In today’s episode, I speak with Professor Graham Smith and Professor Brigitte Geißel about the evaluation frameworks they have each developed to assess the value of democratic innovations.

I ask each of them how their frameworks apply to deliberative mini-publics and they provide quite different assessments of the value and effectiveness of deliberative mini-publics as democratic innovations.

Professor Smith’s framework identifies four democratic goods:

  1. inclusiveness
  2. popular control
  3. considered judgement and
  4. transparency.

Professor Geißel’s analytical framework comprises five criteria:

  1. inclusive participation
  2. meaningful participation
  3. legitimacy
  4. effectiveness and
  5. citizen enlightenment.

As you can see, there are some similarities between these frameworks. However, the conclusions each person draws about the value and effectiveness of deliberative mini-publics is quite different.

In next week’s episode (the final one for Season 1) I talk to three other academics who take a critical perspective on the operation of deliberative mini-publics:

  • Professor Cristina La Font from Northwestern University in the US,
  • Associate Professor Caroline Lee from Lafayette College in the US and
  • Associate Professor Genevieve Fuji Johnson from Simon Fraser University in Canada.

I hope you’ll join me then.

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In today’s episode I speak with four everyday people who have been participants in deliberative mini-publics in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Each person has their own unique take on being a randomly selected participant in a deliberative mini-public, but they all agree they would recommend being part of a deliberative mini-public to family and friends.

First up is Ben McPeek who was a member of the Residents’ Reference Panel for the Davenport Community Rail Overpass project in 2015. This Reference Panel was commissioned by Metrolinx and designed and facilitated by MASS LBP.  I spoke to Peter MacLeod from MASS LBP about their work on episode 6 of the podcast.

Next, I spoke with Lewis Adams who was a juror on the Infrastructure Victoria Citizens’ Jury in 2015. Infrastructure Victoria was developing a thirty-year infrastructure plan for the State of Victoria in Australia and ran a multi-faceted engagement program which included two concurrent citizens’ juries: one in the capital – Melbourne and the other in Shepparton in regional Victoria. Lewis was a juror on the regional Citizens’ Jury. The Infrastructure Victoria Citizens’ Jury process was designed by the newDemocracy Foundation and involved a range of facilitators (including some of the people who I spoke to on episode 11 of the podcast) under Nation Partners who were responsible for delivering the overall engagement process.

I also spoke with Caroline Victor who was a juror on the Cats and Dogs Citizens’ Jury in South Australia in late 2014. This citizens’ jury was established by the Dog and Cat Management Board to advise on measures to reduce the number of unwanted dogs and cats. This process was facilitated by DemocracyCo, whose co-founder Emily Jenke I spoke to on episode 10 of the podcast). Recruitment for this citizens’ jury was undertaken by the newDemocracy Foundation. I was working for newDemocracy Foundation at that time and managed the recruitment for this citizens’ jury. The Dogs and Cats Citizens’ Jury won the IAP2 Australasian Core Values Award in the environmental category in 2016.

And finally, I talked with Andy Holdup who was a member of the Citizens’ Assembly South in Southhampton in the UK in 2015. Unlike the other three processes covered in today’s episode, which were all commissioned by government agencies to get input into decisions they were making, the two Citizens’ Assemblies run in Sheffield (Citizens’ Assembly North) and Southhampton (Citizens’ Assembly South) were commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society with a number of academics interested in democratic reform as a project to demonstrate the value of engaging with everyday citizens on key governance issues, in this case the devolution agenda. In episode 8 I spoke with Professor Graham Smith one of the academics involved in the Democracy Matters project about these assemblies and in particular about the experimental aspect of the process where Citizens’ Assembly South included local politicians as well as citizens. And in episode 10 I spoke to Titus Alexander the lead facilitator for these Assemblies. The Democracy Matters process won the UK Political Studies Association Annual Award for Democratic Innovation in 2016.
There are only two more episodes to come for Season 1. Next week I’ll be talking to Professors Graham Smith and Brigette Gießel about how they evaluate democratic innovations, including deliberative mini-publics and the following week I’ll be talking to a number of critics of deliberative mini-publics to get a different perspective on these democratic innovations. I hope you’ll join me for the final two episodes of Season 1 of Real Democracy Now! a podcast.


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Professor Fishkin developed the idea of deliberative polling in 1998 since then deliberative polls have been held in over 24 countries and once in 22 languages simultaneously. Professor Fishkin holds the Janet M. Peck Chair in International Communication at Stanford University where he is Professor of Communication, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy.

Deliberative polls have been designed to provide the conditions under which people can think about an issue and decision-makers can see how those people’s views change as a result of this process. The conditions Professor Fishkin identifies as optimal include:

  • carefully vetted and balanced briefing materials
  • randomly allocating participants to independently moderated small groups
  • groups work together to identify the questions they want to be answered
  • experts from different sides of an issue provide answers to those questions
  • repeat the previous three steps multiple times.

A confidential survey is administered before and after the face-to-face meeting with the same questions in both plus some evaluation questions in the post-process survey. Generally, participants’ policy positions will change significantly as a result of being exposed to information and having their questions answered. Professor Fishkin and others’ research suggests that people become more ‘public spirited,’ making decisions based on the needs of the community rather than themselves. Fishkin sees deliberative polling as providing what Mills called ‘schools of public spirit.’

Professor Fishkin provides many examples of deliberative polls and their outcomes. One involved eight deliberative polls across Texas on energy futures which lead to Texas moving from the last place in 1996 to first place in 2007 in the US for the use of wind power.

In next week’s episode, I will be talking to four everyday people who were randomly selected to participate in deliberative mini-publics in the UK, Canada, and Australia. I hope you’ll join me then.

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The G1000 model has expanded beyond its home in Belgium and has been particularly popular in the Netherlands. In today’s episode I speak with one of the founders of the G1000 in the Netherlands, Harm van Deijk. Harm has a background in facilitation and used these skills together with the underlying principles of the G1000 to develop a model which has been used in numerous local government areas across the Netherlands as well as being adapted for regional and industry issues.

Harm explains how the G1000 was introduced in the Netherlands as well as providing a detailed description of how 1000 people are able to identify key issues and discuss these in detail in one day. Like the G1000 in Belgium, which we heard about in last week’s episode, in the Netherlands the G1000 is focused on agenda setting. Harm gives an example of how a politician, who doesn’t see much value in the G1000, promotes a new idea for his local area, not realising that it came from an earlier G1000 process.

In next week’s episode (Ep1.16) I’ll be talking with Professor James Fishkin the creator of Deliberative Polling about what this is, how it works and where it has been used. I hope you’ll join me then.

To listen to every episode when it is released please subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher.

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The G1000 arose in Belgium out of frustration with the inability of the political parties in Belgium to form a government. The G1000 began in 2011 and had three broad phases:

  1. public agenda setting,
  2. the Citizens’ Summit and
  3. the Citizens’ Panel.

Unlike many of the other deliberative mini-publics we’ve heard about in earlier podcast episodes the G1000 was explicitly about agenda setting by citizens rather than providing advice to elected representatives on a topic those representatives have chosen. Continue reading

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