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The Promise and Problems of Online Deliberation

We highly recommend this 2011 working paper by NCDD member Laura Black of Ohio University’s School of Communication Studies. The 50-page paper focuses on digital media’s usefulness and limitations for deliberation. It provides one of the best overviews of how online media can be used for real citizen deliberation that we’ve seen, and is accompanied by a wonderful infographic we hope to see shared widely in our field.

The paper covers important considerations like how issues are named and framed online, the role of facilitators, and the persistent debate about anonymity.  It takes an honest look at some of the online tools that have been designed specifically for deliberative discussion.  And it discusses what’s possible and what’s challenging in using technologies like chat, discussion forums, web conferencing, social media sites, wikis, virtual worlds, mobile devices, and budgeting tools to attempt to engage people in thoughtful discussion about contentious issues.

Many civic and deliberative organizations are working to take advantage of the tremendous potential that new and digital media offer for citizens as they attempt to discuss and address problems at both the local and national levels. We know that many of these media (Facebook, Twitter, online forums) are used effectively for self-expression and organizing.

There are challenges, however, in taking true deliberation—recognizing tradeoffs, considering other people’s experiences, and making choices—online. This 2011 Kettering Foundation working paper by  focuses on the question: To what extent can digital media truly offer potential opportunities for deliberative decision making, particularly the practice of deliberation itself?

To address this question, this working paper assesses features of online deliberation by reviewing online deliberative tools, examples of other potentially deliberative websites, and relevant academic research. Black describes several different design choices that are commonly used in online forums hosted by deliberative organizations, including:

  • discussion boards
  • real-time chat
  • web conferencing
  • social media
  • virtual environments

Black assesses the deliberative affordances properties of the different forum design choices. The report concludes by analyzing the implications these choices hold for designing and hosting deliberative decision making as the Kettering Foundation understands it.

Laura Black is an assistant professor at the Ohio University School of Communication Studies. She works with the Kettering Foundation in their studies of digital deliberation as well as deliberation in everyday speech.

Right Tool for the Job Infographic

Resource Link:  http://kettering.org/publications/the-promise-and-problems-of-online-deliberation/ (free download)

Link for the Infographic:  http://kettering.org/publications/the-promise-and-problems-of-online-deliberation/screen-shot-2012-05-25-at-10-35-45-am/ (great to share on Pinterest or Facebook)

  More Resources  

Add a Comment

  1. Jason Diceman Says:

    Fantastic graphic. Really makes the information accessible for those of us too busy (or lazy) to read the 50 page paper. I wish more papers provided such quick reference sheets. Thanks!

  2. Sandy Heierbacher Says:

    I agree, Jason! I’m in love with this graphic. We need someone on retainer for our whole field who can create these kinds of graphics for our research papers, engagement events, background materials on issues, and so on. It would make sure a huge impact on our field’s general sharability and reach.

  3. Megan Salole Says:

    Enter Loom.io on the scene – for online consensus building. Its very good.

  4. Helene Finidori Says:

    Hello from France & Spain. Glad to find Ncdd. The infographic is very good! And the research paper as well. Is there a place where I can find discussion tools, harvesting tools and discussions around these tools? I am particularly interested with bridging classic face-to-face methodologies and scalable online discussions.

    I had a look at Loom.io, it seems promising and the type of thing I would be looking for. Are there any others that are available? What is commonly used by the members of this community?

    Thank you for your attention.

  5. Annie Quick Says:

    Hi Sandy,

    Echoing Jason’s point about the graphic! It’s great. Is it copyrighted or can I reproduce it in a quick blog about the resources?

  6. Sandy Heierbacher Says:

    Great to see the comments here! Annie – feel free to reproduce the graphic as long as you include credit to the author (Laura Black) and the Kettering Foundation. That’s exactly what they’d love to see, actually!

    Helene – so you’re looking specifically for places where people are discussing these kinds of online engagement tools? I recommend the LinkedIn group on “Online Community Engagement” started by Matthew Crozier at Bang the Table. It’s a great group for those kinds of discussions.

    If you’re just looking for more tools, you can peruse our “Collaborative Technology” category here as a place to start: http://ncdd.org/rc/item/category/collaborative-technology

  7. Helene Finidori Says:

    Thanks Sandy. It is indeed what I am looking for I will explore your collaborative technology section and register to the online Community Engagement group.

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