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Taking the Goals of Deliberation Seriously: A Differentiated View on Equality and Equity in Deliberative Designs and Processes

The 20-page article, Taking the Goals of Deliberation Seriously: A Differentiated View on Equality and Equity in Deliberative Designs and Processes (2016), was written by Edana Beauvais and Andre Baechtiger, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 12: Iss. 2. The article reviews the goals of healthy deliberative systems and the different designs of civic forums, including participant recruitment, nature of interaction, and decision-making. The authors reviews research which shows evidence that the design of a deliberative system affects its outcomes and goals.

Read an excerpt of the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the article…

Deliberative theorists have long stressed that deliberation must be immunized against coercive power by a baseline of equality (Habermas, 1990). But what does the democratic pre-condition of equality mean, in practice, for organizers designing deliberative events and forums? After all, as Bernard Williams (1972) notes, equality is fundamentally about two – at times contradictory – values. On the one hand, the value of universal moral equality, which refers to the fundamental sameness of common humanity, requires abstracting from social circumstances. On the other hand, the value of equity, which refers to just distributions of power and resources, requires attending to social circumstances. Deliberative institutions vary in their capacity to promote one value over the other, or in their capacity to compromise between the two. We argue that negotiating between these twin values should be done with reference to the different goals of the deliberative process, with an eye to the trade-offs that achieving particular goals might require, and to the context within which the deliberation takes place.

In the first section of this paper, we discuss some of the central normative goals that discourse achieves in a healthy deliberative system. In the second section, we review existing empirical research on how institutional designs impact deliberation’s different goals, including the trade-offs different institutional design choices might require. While there are many examples of deliberative sites in political systems, we restrict our discussion to instances of organized, structured deliberation, or “civic forums” (Karpowitz & Raphael, 2014), because these are instances where practitioners can more easily exert direct influence over design.1 Civic forums include a wide variety of deliberating bodies, such as community policing initiatives (Fung, 2009; Karpowitz & Raphael, 2014), participatory budgeting (Avritzer, 2009), civic intergroup dialogue meetings (Walsh, 2004), and deliberative “mini-publics,” such as Deliberative Polls and citizens’ assemblies (Fung, 2003; Goodin & Dryzek, 2006; Grönlund, Bächtiger, & Setälä, 2014; Smith, 2009). We consider three important aspects of design – participant recruitment, the nature of the interaction, and decision-making – and review existing research regarding how different designs impact deliberation’s different normative goals.

We conclude by drawing out the implications of our discussion for practitioners and theorists, arguing against a totalizing view of deliberation where unitary deliberative institutions and processes achieve all of deliberation’s desired outcomes at once (see Fishkin, 2009). Instead, we show that deliberative theorists and practitioners should ultimately accept that various ideals may sometimes form trade-offs that require thinking about which designs and processes are most appropriate for realizing particular normative outcomes.

Achieving Different Normative Outcomes: Understanding the Trade-Offs
Deliberation can achieve a number of distinct goals or functions. One of deliberation’s central functions is to produce decisions that are perceived as legitimate by those who are bound by them. Since democratic legitimacy is predicated upon the inclusion of those affected by decisions in processes of decision-making, those affected by decisions must have equal opportunities to participate, and equal (or fair) influence over the outcomes of discourse. Clearly, these values can conflict. In practice, equal opportunity to participate is often interpreted to mean making civic forums open to anyone who wants to join. But inclusion that abstracts from social differences in this way may not produce diverse or even representative deliberating groups. By contrast, inclusion that is attentive to social differences – such as reserving seats for, or affirmatively recruiting disempowered social group members – can achieve more diverse or representative deliberating bodies, but at the cost of limiting the openness of recruitment.

In addition to legitimacy, deliberation achieves epistemic and ethical goals. Deliberation’s epistemic function refers to discourse’s capacity to encourage learning and produce opinions, preferences, and attitudes that are informed by facts, information, and the full range of relevant arguments and concerns. Conventionally, the ethical function refers to whether deliberation generates mutual respect (Mansbridge et al., 2012). We suggest that other ethical functions include promoting mutual recognition, accommodating ethno-cultural or linguistic diversity, and community-building through developing social bonds, feelings of mutual interdependence, and trust both within and across groups. As we have suggested, achieving one function may conflict with other functions in ways that are relevant for deciding how to organize a deliberative event.

Deliberative venues and forums often cannot achieve every deliberative goal simultaneously, since different functions (or different aspects of the same function) can come into conflict. This is not a problem for the overall health of the deliberative system, since different deliberative tasks are “distributed” sequentially across various component parts, which can refer to different moments in a deliberative event, or to different deliberative forums and actors across a deliberative system (Goodin, 2005). The health of the deliberative system is judged according to how well the variegated, interlocking deliberative forums and actors – informal communication networks, associations, the media, legislatures, and the courts, to name a few – achieve discourse’s various normative goals, in the aggregate (Mansbridge, 2015; Mansbridge et al., 2012). Now we will discuss how, in practice, deliberative design can impact which normative ideals are achieved and which are sacrificed in civic forums.

Download the full article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public Deliberation
Journal of Public DeliberationSpearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol12/iss2/art2/

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