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Moving the “Delibertainment” Conversation Forward

Catalyst AwardsWe were pleased as punch to see the Real Dialogues Project, one of the winners of the 2012 NCDD Catalyst Awards, reach an important milestone last week – they hosted their very first Google hangout discussion! We encourage you to check out their post and the short video about the conversation here.

We also wanted to share a related write up on an interesting article from the Journal for Public Deliberation on public engagement in news media. We are inspired to see growing amounts of discourse on this “deliberative television” or “delibertainment” model that Real Dialogues is pioneering. You can read the write up below, or you can find the original post by NCDD organizational member Tim Bonnemann on his Intellitics blog.

Deliberative Television

The latest edition of the Journal for Public Deliberation features an interesting article by Ashley Muddiman and Matthew R. Meier that discusses how using citizen panels might be applied to “refocus news outlets on their fundamentally democratic functions and foster a more engaged and deliberative citizenry”: Deliberative Television: Encouraging Substantive, Citizen-Driven News.


With Americans’ confidence in the news media dwindling, the quality of programming declining, and audiences turning elsewhere, the American news media is at a crossroads. We argue that news outlets should consider a new form of deliberation-based programming for local news coverage as a means of responding to these problems. As a basis for the programming, we build on public journalism (Rosen & Merritt, 1994) and deliberative citizen panels (Knobloch, Gastil, Reedy, & Walsh, 2013). By engaging citizens in the production of news, media outlets not only stand to gain viewers by increasing the quality of their issue coverage, but they also could secure their claim as a public institution providing a valuable public good. We urge media outlets to consider turning to citizen panels to determine which issues are salient and to engage in structured deliberations about those issues, which can be captured and built into content packages for use in news programming. In so doing, news outlets can help activate viewers by positioning them not as passive consumers but as engaged citizens prepared for public deliberation.

The authors note:

We believe that the problems facing local news can be overcome by changing the content of local news programming. In particular, we suggest news content be built on three components: emphasizing state and local issues, engaging citizens in the production process, and maintaining audiences by relying on an alternative format.

They outline the following general process:

  1. Host a so-called priority conference, whereby randomly selected citizens decide what issues to cover
  2. Host a “citizen jury” (using the 2010 Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review pilot project as a guide), whereby participants learn about the issues, deliberate with each other and form a range of opinions.
  3. “Soft news” coverage of steps 1 and 2
  4. Various options for further content implementation:
  • Develop content into a weekly stand-alone program with each episode focusing on a new issue
  • Create regularly occurring segments for broadcast in traditional news programs
  • Substantive web- or app-based interactivity

With regard to interactivity, I would specifically add the many opportunities digital engagement has to offer when it comes to turning viewers into participants. With the right setup, viewers could be brought into the deliberative process and that, in turn, could become part of the programming, thus creating a virtuous cycle of deliberative television!

In related news, a recent report by AmericaSpeaks also talks about new ways in which the news media might support citizen engagement and collaborative governance: Integrating News Media, Citizen Engagement, and Digital Platforms Towards Democratic Ends (PDF)

The article’s section titled “What can news media do?” (page 3) outlines four functions that news media might support to “bring greater citizen engagement and connection to decision-making and governance”. The authors suggest that “news media will need to find ways to heighten the entertainment value of the presentation” and bring up the idea of “a reality-TV show where popular participants work together to understand and react to current news events.” The authors further suggest that “second screen polling technologies can be used in conjunction with […] the aforementioned reality-TV show” as a way to give citizens the chance to participate in decision-making in order to help them “fully understand the complexities of policy making”.

The report concludes:

Many of us in the world of deliberative democracy and citizen engagement have sought ways to institutionalize stronger links between citizens and decision makers within government. While those efforts should continue, building infrastructure and capacity for more informed, citizen-based decision-making and action within other sectors is needed. The news media and the evolution of digital platforms and engagement tools provide a powerful opportunity for this.

News media and deliberative democracy share an understanding of the importance of strengthening the connections between citizens and government to promote a healthy democracy. Though they have viewed this connection in different ways and employed very different implementation methods, both need to learn from each other, shift their approaches, and create something new together to accomplish the shared goal of engaging ever larger numbers of people, especially from the political center, in governance and strengthening our democracy.

Both the JPD article and the AmericaSpeaks report fit in perfectly with the work we’ve been doing as part of the Real Dialogues project. We’re prototyping on a shoestring budget, of course, but if things go well we should be able to validate a first few key pieces of the bigger delibertainment puzzle.

Stay tuned!

Find Tim’s original post here: www.intellitics.com/blog/2013/11/07/deliberative-television.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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