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Where is Democracy Headed? report

“Where is Democracy Headed?” (2008) is a report published by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC) which summarizes more than four years of the DDC’s learnings about deliberation, decision-making, and problem-solving. The publication was drafted by Peter Levine (Tufts University) and Lars Hasselbad Torres (Global Peace Tiles Project), then revised by DDC members through a wiki. Its findings were gathered from interviews, face-to-face discussions, and the wiki. The report was published with the support of the Kettering Foundation and has two major sections. The first part covers the history of the DDC’s Research and Practitioner Network, while the second part discusses major findings related to general debates about deliberation and democracy.

Matt Leighninger presented about this publication during the D&D Marketplace at NCDD Austin. It was also the subject of a webinar hosted by Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) and Grassroots Grantmakers. The slides used in the webinar are available here.

Below is an excerpt from the executive summary of the publication. The full report can be found here.

During four years of work—meetings, conversations at a distance, collaborative projects, and publications—an international network of researchers and practitioners has strengthened our knowledge of public deliberation. Members of this network have investigated a growing body of practical experience with deliberation that employs diverse methods and tools.

The use of deliberative methods, while still not enormously common, is clearly growing. Often, these methods have been found to have positive effects on the participants and on public policy. One of the most serious challenges remains attracting truly representative samples of people to deliberate. However, when citizens with unequal status, information, education, and communication skills come together, they can achieve reasonable levels of equality.

Today’s cultural and political context is difficult for deliberation. We live at a time of polarization and often nasty politics. This difficult context, however, also offers opportunities to expand deliberation as an antidote to aspects of politics that many citizens and leaders strongly dislike.

An increasing supply of research is now derived from practical experiences in public deliberation. Useful bridges have been built between academics and practitioners, although further attention is needed. The research is increasingly open to alternative forms of communication: not just the giving of reasons, but also the sharing of personal experiences, planning for action, and artistic expressions like storytelling, music, and performance, in relation to deliberation.

We have learned a great deal about how to “embed” deliberation in the life of communities. However, certain types of issues seem more ripe for deliberation than others; and people vary in their predisposition to deliberation.

As next steps, the field must provide hard-nosed evaluations that will be proof-points for practitioners (if the results are positive) or provide an impetus to change our methods. Here is some support for moving away from analyzing the differences among methods and instead focusing on how to institutionalize deliberation, expand its scale, and connect it to other democratic practices, such as advocacy and movement-building. Two critical sources of innovation are the Global South and the Internet.

Deliberative Democracy Consortium, 2008. Online at http://www.deliberative-democracy.net/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&gid=14&tmpl=component&format=raw&Itemid=93

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