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Discussion of stakeholder and citizen roles in public deliberation

Here’s a warm invitation from a team of top deliberative democracy scholars and practitioners (David Kahane and Kristjana Loptson from Canada and Max Hardy and Jade Herriman from Australia) to join in an important exploration they’ve embarked on together…

Some public participation exercises bring together people who formally represent different constituencies, other exercises focus on ordinary or unaffiliated citizens, and others combine these.

We’re a team of deliberative democracy researchers and practitioners who wanted to explore the distinction between ‘citizens’ and ‘stakeholder representatives’, and how these groups are brought into public participation exercises. A conversation that began at a workshop in Australia early in 2011 led into a virtual Australia-Canada workshop, and now to a paper in the Journal of Public Deliberation at www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol9/iss2/art2/.

Here’s the abstract for the article:

This paper explores theoretical and practical distinctions between individual citizens (‘citizens’) and organized groups (‘stakeholder representatives’ or ‘stakeholders’ for short) in public participation processes convened by government as part of policy development. Distinctions between ‘citizen’ and ‘stakeholder’ involvement are commonplace in government discourse and practice; public involvement practitioners also sometimes rely on this distinction in designing processes and recruiting for them. Recognizing the complexity of the distinction, we examine both normative and practical reasons why practitioners may lean toward—or away from—recruiting citizens, stakeholders, or both to take part in deliberations, and how citizen and stakeholder roles can be separated or combined within a process. The article draws on a 2012 Canadian- Australian workshop of deliberation researchers and practitioners to identify key challenges and understandings associated with the categories of stakeholder and citizen and their application, and hopes to continue this conversation with the researcher-practitioner community.

We’re hoping that the conversation can continue here on the NCDD blog: we invite you to read the article and chime in with your stories, questions, comments, objections, and qualifications.

Here are a few prompts, to get you thinking:

  • Do you or others in your practice community distinguish between ‘citizen’ and ‘stakeholder’ processes (perhaps using other terminologies)?
  • The article explores reasons to involve stakeholder representatives in public deliberation and some cautions (pages 9-14): is there anything you’d want to add, modify, or challenge in this analysis?
  • The article does the same for citizen involvement in deliberative exercises (pages 15-18): what rings true to you there, or needs to be added or modified?
  • In the table on pages 18-19 and the text on 19-26, we look at different ways of designing deliberative exercises to include citizens, stakeholders, or both: how does this typology fit with your experience?
  • Overall, what’s helpful to you in the analysis we’ve offered? How could it be made more useful to practitioners or researchers? Is there something that you can add from your perspective?

David, Kristjana, Jade, and Max, the authors of the article, are very interested in your perspectives. We’ll watch this space and add our voices to the conversation (though there may be a bit of a lag to our responses, as we have lots going on!).

If there’s strong interest in this conversation, we may work with NCDD to find other ways of connecting with you and the broader community (e.g. a webinar, a session at the next NCDD gathering); suggestions welcome here too.

We know that our analysis so far is just the beginning of a conversation and exploration with the much broader D&D community. We’re grateful to Sandy and NCDD for this chance to keep talking.

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  1. Tom Atlee says:

    This paper looks fabulous. I only scanned through it, but it covers so much ground I haven’t seen covered in this way before.

    I’d like to add one overall theoretical contribution and one research possibility. Note that the following discussion applies to deliberations designed to produce a coherent outcome — a program proposal, policy recommendations, etc. It is less relevant to approaches designed merely to increase the awareness of the participants — the individual stakeholders or citizens involved, as political agents — rather than to produce any final collective product.


    From my grounding in “wholeness”, I see stakeholders and citizens as two approaches to “cut the pie” of a whole issue.

    Stakeholder-based deliberations derive from a conflict-resolution perspective: There are tensions among various parties with interests in an issue, and well-designed, well-run conversations have the power to resolve or transcend those tensions, helping the stakeholders to co-create agreements that are at least acceptable to (hopefully all) the parties involved. This is politically useful when conflicts among interested parties make the deliberated issue a “hot potato” for politicians and legislators: If someone can get the conflicted parties to agree on a solution, the politicians and legislators can support it with little risk — especially if it is not a hot issue on the public agenda.

    Citizen-based deliberations derive from a democratic perspective: What does the citizenry (the electorate, the public, We the People) want regarding this issue? If we convene a legitimate microcosm of the community (especially that reflect its demographic diversity) to engage in a conversation through which ordinary citizens will see people like themselves fairly involved, they will consider the process and its outcome more or less legitimate. Democracy-minded (as contrasted with interest-group controlled) politicians and legislators will also value the results. This is particularly important when the issue is controversial in the general public discourse and public survey sphere, with ordinary citizens having strong and differing opinions about it.

    Obviously both approaches represent “the whole” of the issue (the topic-centered controversy), although in very different ways. As the report describes, there are many pros and cons to each approach, and many ways to deal with them separately or in combination.


    The guiding inquiry in my work is how can we access the wisdom of the whole on behalf of the whole. I see the stakeholder and citizen-based approaches as offering different sources of wisdom about a given public issue. However, the current state of our field does not allow us to really state with confidence that ANY of the deliberations we convene ACTUALLY represent the wisdom of the whole.

    I would like to see multiple (e.g., 3) independent comparable deliberations among stakeholders (3) and citizens (3) on the same issue. I would like to see the results of all six deliberations compared to see how they produced similar and/or different results. ALL differences and similarities would be profoundly interesting. If good records were kept of the briefings, information, interactions, etc., this would provide an unprecedented body of research material.

    Then I would love to see six new independently run groups convened, each made up of 1/6 of the members of each of the original six stakeholder and citizen groups — a true mix-and-match situation (with some of the logic of a World Cafe). Those groups would be tasked with coming up with recommendations that resolve any conflicts between their various groups’ outcomes. To what extent would THOSE second-order groups come up with results similar to (or different from) each other? Again, records of both the processes and outcomes would be very interesting from a research perspective.

    I have further thoughts on this research proposal, but the above is the heart of it.

    Tom Atlee
    Co-intelligence Institute
    Eugene, OR.

  2. David Kahane says:

    @Tom Atlee: I love your research proposal! Would indeed be fascinating. Though layered over the questions you’re addressing there are further questions about how deliberative table-settings influence outcomes (e.g. framing, informational materials, etc.) So at the limit, it might be that the six groups come up with similar outcomes, but as an artifact of how the discussion was framed and run…. Lots to think about.

    I also appreciate your thoughts about citizens and stakeholders. I see the conflict resolution dimension of stakeholder-focused engagement, and that’s definitely present in much of the stakeholder work I’ve seen. The goal hasn’t been so much to identify objects of consensus so much as to (1) explore spaces of political possibility, including where consensus is absent; and (2) get a reading on the public will (that is, hoping to get the democratic reading you describe out of stakeholder work, without really picking apart why THIS sample of representatives is democratically representative).

    Lots to talk about. Here’s hoping for other voices in this virtual conversation!

  3. Tom Atlee says:

    @David Kahane: Yes, much thought would have to be put into what constitutes a “comparable” (citizen or stakeholder) deliberation, since there are so many variables. Many variables could be tested if more than 3 deliberative forums were convened. But I felt strongly that they should be convened separately, more or less organized from scratch by professionals in using whatever methodology they would all share (e.g., the citizen deliberations might be all Citizens Juries).

    The inspiration for this came from the realization that we often convene a single deliberative event – such as a Citizens Jury – and implicitly or explicitly assume that its results – which arise from a very conscientious and rigorously designed process – represent the voice of We the People (i.e., what the whole citizenry as a hole would decide if they could all learn about and discuss the issue like the participants in such a citizen deliberative council do). While I want to agree with that sentiment, it occurred to me that we’d need to demonstrate that the results of parallel Citizens Juries (for example) produce comparable results. This is more or less like the research homework done by “scientific polling” professionals, from which they claim that if you use a certain random selection methodology and certain survey questions on 1000 people from a particular population, that the results will be the same if you select a different random 1000 people from the same population and asked them the same questions – within X% margin of error.

    Of course opinion polls – especially multiple choice questions asked of isolated individuals – are much easier to get comparable data on than the results of collective deliberations, which are interactive and thus potentially more complex. (Of course, it might be easier to get comparable data if all the deliberative councils are limited to the same multiple choice policy options, but that kind of limitation significantly reduces the value of the deliberations.) Nevertheless, if the results were significantly similar in any way, that would be enormously significant from a deliberative democracy theory perspective – in that it would support the idea that you could trust a single deliberation (e.g., citizens jury) to actually represent the deliberative voice of the citizenry. AND any differences would also be significant, particularly if researchers could tease out where those differences came from – factors which MIGHT be able to be dealt with to improve the representative dependability of future (citizen or stakeholder) deliberative bodies.

    And the final mix-and-match step which I suggested for the experiment would be to test our ability to generate dependable coherence from among the (presumably different) products of the previous deliberative groups. Again, keeping them independent (i.e., the new mixed-and-matched groups don’t have any contact while they are deliberating, or before) is important if we wish to find out if this approach does, in fact, lead to a “wisdom of the whole” coherence (i.e., similar results from most or all of these second-order deliberations). If it didn’t, I would favor soliciting further experiments in search of that Gold Standard of deliberative democracy – a true (legitimate, coherent, inclusive) Voice of We the People. It seems that if we could demonstrate that such a Voice was able to be dependably accessed, it would provide the basis for wholly different and more authentic and potent forms of democracy than the ones we have now.

    (It is intriguing to note that Ancient Athenian democracy was run overwhelmingly by random selection, aka sortition. The population didn’t like elections, thinking they were too subject to elite manipulation. I stumbled upon this while researching my last book and it definitely turned my head around. I’ve been trying to envision how something like that might play out in our larger, more complex political and governance systems. Interesting exercise – of which this thought experiment above is a part…)

  4. Chad Foulkes says:

    Glad this paper is out & about & that NCDD is supporting getting it out there beyond pure publishing. I’m off to read it after sending this post through.

    Tom & David the proposal idea above makes me wonder what is out there in the literature or grey literature regarding the numerous Planning Cells run by the Danish Board of Technology for many years (& I think IAP2 international award winner?…) http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/public-dialogue-sciencewise/

    My understanding is that they run along a similar model of citizens’ juries and that multiple planning cells are run with different people and then the recomendations synthesised. This model seems similar to the initial part of your proposal Tom. Lars Kluver is the Director & i’m sure someone on the list knows how to get him invovled in this discussion.

    Again thanks for the opportunity to be part of the Canada-Australia session
    Cheers from Australia

  5. Great paper, which builds usefully on Carolyn Hendrik’s work on this important issue.

    I’d like to draw attention to the Science and Technology Engagement Pathways (STEP) program, that involved deliberations convened by the Australian federal department of innovation from 2010 – 2013 (www.industry.gov.au/step). The program began with a co-design process that involved separate deliberations with stakeholder groups and citizens. Although chronologically phased, the citizens were effectively included as one of a series of stakeholder groups that included NGOs, industry, government and researchers. Each group met separately to discuss principles and practice issues for engagement in the context of emerging technologies. Max Hardy made a significant contribution to this part of the process, assisting with design and facilitation.

    The stakeholder workshops were followed by a multistakeholder workshop (bringing together working groups from the stakeholder workshops), at which stakeholders and citizens deliberated together.
    For a description and analysis of the process, see Russell, 13.

    Following the co-design of the STEP framework, an implementation phase involving a series of engagements was conducted – STEP into the Future. Engagement involved stakeholder deliberation, stakeholder and citizens deliberating together (These events, which I called ‘diversiforums’, probably qualify as multi-actor policy forums) and in one case, a citizen deliberation involving stakeholders helping to convene and acting as expert witnesses. All involved stakeholder working groups assisting to design and conduct the engagement.
    A paper on this implementation is in preparation.

    My experience managing this program confirms much of the analysis in the paper. I agree that integrating stakeholder and citizen deliberation has potential to address the marginalisation of public engagement initiatives and build the legitimacy, reach and impact of deliberative exercises. There are considerable challenges with the approach, most stemming from the power and knowledge inequalities that exist. I certainly observed the problems of strategic rather than deliberative interaction (I describe two disparate strategies – ‘grandstanding’ vs ‘having a quiet word’ in the paper above) and of stakeholders dominating and using forums to ‘educate’ citizens.

    In the STEP program, integrating stakeholder and citizen deliberation proved particularly valuable in ‘opening up’ topics that had developed narrow and polarised narratives (Stirling, 08). As suggested in the Kahane et al paper, they did this by linking policy to underlying values and, in stepping back from narrow policy discourses, allowing participants including stakeholders to experience shifts in their thinking and positions.

    To achieve these benefits, the design of exercises was very important. We were lucky to have access to some of the key engagement practitioners in Australia to assist with design. Despite their excellent input, some of our projects worked well and some less well. Design needs to focus on procedural features, such as processes to maximise equal participation and to break down lay-expert divides, but also substantive features, such as the framing and questions for deliberation.

    The STEP framework has been published under Creative Commons, and is available at: http://www.industry.gov.au/step. I hope it may be of use to researchers and organisations working in this space.

    I really valued the open and even-handed treatment this paper gives to citizen and stakeholder deliberation, and its recognition of the importance and complexity of context. Given the disparate historical roots of stakeholder engagement and public participation, they can tend to be set up in opposition, which is not always helpful.

    Russell, A.W. (2013) Improving Legitimacy in Nanotechnology Policy Development through Stakeholder and Community Engagement: Forging New Pathways, Review of Policy Research, 30 (5):566-587.

    Stirling, A. (2008). Opening up or closing down? Power, participation and pluralism in the social appraisal of technology. Science, Technology and Human Values, 33, 262–294.

  6. David Kahane says:

    Thanks for this, Wendy. I look forward to reading up on the STEP process, and to further dialogue around this. D.

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