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Book Club Week 5: Everyday Talk in the Deliberative System by Jane Mansbridge

In week 5 of the NCDD Book Club on Democratizing Deliberation, we’re looking at Jane Mansbridge’s chapter “Everyday Talk in the Deliberative System.” This week’s chapter leader is Christoph Berendes of Netalyst, Inc. Christoph is a technologist, project manager, and editor. He’s worked with Federal participation efforts since the early days of the web and blogs at citizentools.netalyst.com.

A University engineering department debates its student recruitment policies. Past discussions have gotten ugly, so they’ve brought you in to facilitate. Larry, the department chair, has argued forcefully that fewer women enter the department simply because fewer women are qualified. It’s been civil, but now the discussion is stuck. You call for a coffee break.

During the break, Elizabeth, Larry’s junior colleague, pulls him aside and says: “I love your sense of the traditional, but it’s really time for you to get over male chauvinism.” You’d cautioned participants against labelling one another, and she had been biting her tongue all morning.

Larry is about to laugh the comment off – they are old chums, after all. But then he sees just how angry she is. He is floored: he trusts and respects Elizabeth. But she can’t be right – he prides himself on how accepting he’s been of female students and colleagues. But maybe she is: he sees a new energy and commitment in her eyes. He withdraws into a corner to think this through, and when the session reconvenes, he changes his vote.

Mansbridge argues that the formal deliberation you’re facilitating is the tip of the iceberg. Everyday talk is the rest. Together, they comprise the deliberative system. And the news – mostly good, she says – is that before your deliberation begins, during intermissions, and after it ends, the guidelines you’ve so carefully instituted for the formal process are attenuated if not suspended.

“As we ask what can motivate good deliberation within our formal and binding assemblies we should also ask what can motivate good deliberation in our interest groups, our media, and our everyday talk. All of these constitute important parts of the larger deliberative system.”

Criteria for the deliberative system

Mansbridge uses the criteria proposed by Gutmann and Thompson (G&T) and Joshua Cohen (JC) for the legitimacy of formal deliberation as a framework.

Publicity: Reasons given “to justify political action and the information necessary to justify those reasons should be public” (G&T 95).

Accountability: This justification is due from any decision-maker to anyone affected by the decision (G&T 128).

Reciprocity: The justification should be acceptable to those affected by the decision (G&T 52).

Freedom: Participants should be free, i.e. not be exposed to the threat of sanction or force (JC).

Equality: To the extent that power continues to play a role, e.g. labor negotiations embedded in a framework of economic power, participants should be equal in power and have equal voice (JC).

Reasoned outcomes: Outcomes should be settled only by reference to the “reasons” participants offer (JC).

Consensus: The deliberation should “[aim] to arrive at a rationally motivated consensus” (JC).

Competing values and the spaces of everyday talk

Mansbridge asserts that these criteria apply as well to everyday talk, but argues that the overall deliberative system is best served when they are applied more loosely to everyday talk. There are competing values that must be considered.

Authenticity: Participants should be able to speak and be heard authentically. However, the first version of a statement may not be in a form that would be broadly accepted. So, “[h]uman beings may sometimes need spaces protected from accountability as well as from publicity in order to think most freely about the problems that face them”. Everyday talk creates “spaces, such as the arms of a best friend, in which the most corrosive and externally harmful words can be uttered, understood, assimilated, and reworked for more public consumption”.

Liberty: The status quo sometimes obstructs participants’ liberty and equality. As a remedy, everyday talk provide spaces for productive, albeit rough-edged encounter. Offering arguments and reasons that others might find unacceptable, i.e. stepping back from reciprocity, may allow some participants to step up to an equal footing: “subordinates sometimes need the battering ram of rage”. Uncivil, even angry, bitter, and offensive talk “may be necessary to break down the barriers” or, through emotion revealed, deepen participants’ understanding of one another.

Everyday talk also offers a safer venue for heated talk, since its structures are looser and more forgiving. Over coffee, Elizabeth can be less measured, because her words are not “on the record”, thus less threatening to Larry’s public stature.

Unmasking conflict: A singular focus on the common good may ride roughshod over participants and process when there are, in fact, fundamental conflicts. Clarifying, indeed sharpening, underlying conflict can reveal what “has previously been masked … by hegemonic definitions of the common good”. Removing the pressure to argue in terms of the common good can make it easier for people to articulate their particular understanding of an issue, thus supporting legitimate bargaining.

Necessity of emotion: “[R]eason can proceed only rarely without emotional commitment”, so it’s too limiting to constrain justifications for deliberative outcomes to reasons only. Further, compassion and solidarity are “essential element[s] of good reasoning in matters of public concern.”

Mansbridge’s primary focus is on deliberative process in everyday talk. However she notes that everyday talk also provides a venue for working through topics that would benefit from collective discussion but aren’t appropriate for government action. Feminism’s early and productive focus on sexual politics would have proceeded very differently, if it had proceeded at all, if those discussions had been shifted from the back fence and conscious-raising groups to legislative hearings and televised debates.

Finally: Mansbridge is not dismissing the strictest form of the criteria noted above: she argues repeatedly that the deliberative system as a whole should tend towards these goals, even as the everyday talk “rest of the iceberg” operates more loosely.


G&T indicates a quote from Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson’s Democracy and Disagreement. All other quotes are from Mansbridge.

Comments, please

During the 2012 Book Club, I’ve learned most from the comments that provide details of concrete experience and practice:

  • a hint regarding “on-ramps and off-ramps” for a deliberation,
  • the story of a deliberation that was repugnant not because of its — generally agreeable — result but because of the process,
  • the suggestion to use “wicked problem” framing to explain why old approaches can’t work, and
  • the news of research on how best to structure content on complex issues

These, and many other examples, have provided rich fodder for discussion and mutual learning.

So, if you can illustrate your comments with examples from your work, so much the better.

If you’re comfortable or just intrigued by Mansbridge’s argument, consider:

  • Have you experienced situations where everyday talk – outside of the formal boundaries – created a richer discussion and better outcomes later, when you were back “in session”?
  • How do you draw on the spaces of everyday talk, intentionally, to improve formal deliberation?

Perhaps your experience offers counter-examples about the value or power of everyday talk:

  • Have your formal deliberations been undermined by loose everyday talk outside the session?
  • Can you reduce the influence of everyday talk so that it doesn’t matter what happens outside the formal session?

or about the competing values Mansbridge cites – authenticity, liberty, unmasking conflict, and emotion:

  • Have you found one or more of these to be minor values, or even counter-productive?
  • Do you have tools or processes that allow you to incorporate these values into a formal session, making the spaces of everyday talk less necessary?

I wanted this post to be provocative and useful for practitioners. If you’ve read Mansbridge’s chapter, you’ll see that I’ve focused on one portion of her argument, then simplified and streamlined further. If I’ve missed something that you found helpful, please comment and broaden the discussion.

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  1. Nancy J Hess says:

    First, I appreciate the opening example of a debate within an engineering department of a university as it immediately connected me to the Jane Mansfield material. I thought about one of the earliest conversations I had with my partner who retired partly over frustration with affirmative action in his university history department. At the time, as a feminist, I wanted to persuade him; as a practitioner, I wanted to understand the context, process and human dynamics; as a friend, I wanted to offer space for him to speak freely. What fascinates me is that six years later, although we understand one another quite well we have virtually unchanged ideas about the situation. And although it was his situation, not mine, who was better qualified to persuade him and help him put on another set of lenses, than me? But the important point, for us, is that we are effective partners in large part because we deliberate important issues. In the same way, our democracy is most effective when we practice deliberation at all levels of society.

    Deliberation, when practiced along the whole spectrum of relational discourse (with attention to shared values) does help us to get along better.

    With that said, here are a few thoughts/questions that add to the above:

    1. The values (criteria) described in this chapter all require a skill of temporary suspension of one’s pre-disposed attitudes and ways of looking at things. As practitioners, I wonder how we might help others experience and identify this skill?

    2. Inherent problems exist with rational and emotive discourse where something new is coming into focus; for example, a university department may pride itself on selecting the best candidates, but if they have not previously hired women or accepted them, their experience base is deficient. Deliberation requires them to create something new. Is there a way to frame situations so that participants see it as something new as opposed to something overlaid on the old? The framers of the constitution come to mind. No American wants to see our system as one which has been reworked, rather, we want to see it as our creation.

    3. My final thought concerns the role of identity groups in propelling deliberation toward a particular trajectory. My partner, in his angriest moments, suggests what might best be described as a hijacking of his department which insulted his intelligence. I view identity groups as important to forming a collective consciousness and influencing deliberation, but I would also like to know how to help groups discern these identity groups and learn how to effectively deliberate without feeling disenfranchised by them.

    • Jan Inglis says:

      Thanks Chris for your overview and Nancy (and others) for the points you have raised.

      In regards to #1, how to support the “skill of temporary suspension of one’s pre-disposed attitudes and ways of looking at things,” I beleive that can come from the deliberation design itself in which clearly defined diverse perspectives/ approaches (and often contentious and different from one’s own pet perspective) are each considered/deliberated. When the reasons behind each perspective is described as well as knowing that each perspective will also come with consequences and trade offs that have to be also considered, it breaks down the grip on just one view even if, as you say, it is just temporary during that deliberative process. I think if deliberation is used over time that suspension can become more integrated.

      Also #3 re identity groups…that seems to speak to the processual nature of responses to a difficult situation that often start with a rejection of some sort (antithesis) and a grouping of ‘us’ the right against ‘them’ the intruders. And although a natural first stage, it has, as facilitators well know, many consequences especially if people freeze into this as the only approach to the issue. Normalizing and framing and deliberating this ‘us against them’ approach itself then can be helpful so that participants can themselves come to recognize that if it is the only appraoch used it will come with consequences that interfere with what they are really wanting i.e. a creative work setting, streets safe for their children etc. Recognizing the consequences can bump them into considering other appraoches.

      This brings me to a question I have had lately regarding public outrage and have seen several places in this chapter and previous chapters re how it might be considerd in terms of the emotions versus reason discussion. Where in our public prcesses is it safe for the public to both have their justifiable outrage (about increasingly numerous situations) and yet also engage in productive methods of considering options for how to respond to the difficult situations? I know there are workshops on such topics but I was wondering what connections other people are understanding in this and other chapters. I am concerned if public outrage becomes framed as a problem to be managed.

      • Jan – at the end of your comment you asked a very important question:

        “Where in our public prcesses is it safe for the public to both have their justifiable outrage (about increasingly numerous situations) and yet also engage in productive methods of considering options for how to respond to the difficult situations?”

        I wanted to draw this out and see if book club members would take a moment to respond specifically to this. I’d be very curious to see the range of responses we might get from our community.

  2. Nancy – Thanks for the candid example.

    What your story brings up for me is that it’s likely that the everyday talk in your partner’s department supported the framing of “hijacking” (affirmative action imposed from above).

    JM, using feminism as an example, has a rich discussion of how everyday talk can be mobilized by advocates to support change, in part by developing and testing evocative phrases (which we might also call “memes”) to make a point. “Male chauvinist” is an example.

    Facilitators aren’t supposed to advocates, but I do wonder how a facilitator might use everyday talk – what happens when she/he is not in the room – to support flexibility.

  3. Kim Crowley says:

    Chris, thanks for your nicely organized presentation. I have a story about my own experience as a participant using everyday talk to work around a more formal deliberative process that wasn’t working.

    I was a new member of a new group that was under threat of being disqualified for eligibility to receive funding. Prior to the formal funding hearing, the two leaders of the group launched a heated informal battle with the decision-makers. The group leaders began to aggressively confront decision-makers as they walked from one place to another. That approach did not seem to be going well at all, so a colleague and I offered an alternative approach, which was rejected with no discussion. Our group leaders seemed unwilling to consider the unintended consequence of their combative frame and their use of emotion.

    I went off on my own and found proof of eligibility for funding. I shared it in our group. On the day of the formal hearing, the group leaders stood in battle mode during their air time and launched a verbal attack. There was zero chance that their voices carrying my research were going to get through. The convener cut them off quite quickly and moved on to the next group. The group received no funding in spite of being eligible.

    I had a friend on the funding committee. I shared my story with him out of sheer frustration. I didn’t think there was anything that could still be done. My friend heard me out and then asked for me to come to a private meeting of the funding committee. I met with the committee for less than 5 minutes and easily made the case. We were funded.

    I like that in this story different approaches to sharing emotion were both the cause of the group’s failure and of its eventual success in receiving funding.

    In the big picture, rather than unmasking conflict, everyday talk helped tone down the personal conflict that had taken precedence over everything else. It also gave voice in the face of conflict within our group that had kept more reasoned voices suppressed.

    Everyday talk gave me the liberty to not be tied to our leaders’ “battering ram of rage” but rather to create a new frame that was about building rather than battling.

    • Kim – If you’d been the facilitator for the overall evaluation process and you’d learned of Kim Crowley’s story after the fact, what lessons would you have drawn for the next grant cycle?

      • Kim Crowley says:

        I have more questions than answers. I don’t know how the initial disagreement on eligibility happened, so there may have been an opportunity for more clarity in definition of terms from the start.
        For the most part, the process worked, though; the leaders of our group were abusive and the overall process needed to be protected from them.

        The one thing I would add is that when a voice needs to be silenced for the sake of the rest of the group, the problem behavior should be named in third person terms followed by a standard process, (“Whenever X happens, we do Y.”) and, when possible, a warning given before that action is taken. That way it’s clear that voices that are silenced are silenced for a fair reason.

        At a higher level, two questions might be explored:

        1) If the leaders who speak for a group are not necessarily representative of the people in that group, what approaches might bring more true voices into representation?

        2) How do people come to assume that a disagreement is a call to battle? Might we reframe disagreement in the culture overall to shift some of the battle calls toward a more productive model?

      • Kim – “what approaches might bring more true voices into representation?” is intriguing and (I say with a smile) a bit presumptuous on the part of the facilitator (or could be perceived that way). Certainly worth pursuing.

        If there’s time in the larger process for informal working sessions, where, e.g., “your people” can meet with “my people” (and “their people” etc.), there’s a chance either for a broader conversation or, at least, to determine that one team or side is so “locked down”, that informal interaction is impossible (which is information in itself).

  4. Juli Fellows says:

    Chris, thanks for the clear summary! Leading off with an example made it easy to get my brain around the ideas. In reading these various examples, it seems that heated or “non-edited” conversation can lead to breakthroughts when there is a relationship between the people talking. In the case that Jane presents in her intro, it was a trusted relationship. In my own facilitation and mediation work, I’ve often found that impasses were broken through the judicious use of breaks or conversation over food. Authentic, emotional talk in the context of an existing relationship, especially a trusting one, can be a very productive tool. Conversely, when there’s no trust or little commitment to listening with an open heart, that kind of communication, in my experience, always seems to deepen the conflict.

    • Juli – what do you do to lay the groundwork for productive, ice-breaking lunch discussions?

    • Sarah Read says:

      I agree with Juli that food can be very helpful! I sometimes also offer “food for thought” as we break for food. I do this either by asking a general question for people to think about during the break, that we can touch base on when we convene (e.g., “what helps you feel heard?”, “what values underlie the positions we are hearing?”) or by posting a slide that says “Food For Thought” as we head into a break, with a quote to think about. Two of my favorite “food for thought” quotes that have generated some good discussion among different audiences are:

      “There is an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and . . . wrong.” (H.L. Mencken)

      “To accept a truth that changes our perspective requires a certain humility. Getting a new insight is not just adding something to a list. It affects the other truths we hold, just as the birth of a new child affects the whole family. That’s why we sometimes close our minds. We fear the chain reaction a new insight might have on everything else.” Bishop Ken Untener

      With the last one you can also invite participants to think about the other truths they hold that affect the perspectives they have authored, or to think about what they fear. The analogy to the addition of a new family member is something everyone understands.

  5. Lori Britt says:

    Chris, please let me add my thanks for such a great summary with an example to frame the big idea in the chapter for us. There is so much to respond to in the comments this week – what a great discussion has been generated.

    Here are a view things I will add my perspectives on in hopes of continuing this lively discourse.

    Jan talks about suspending one’s assumptions and I have, in some of the smaller scale deliberations I have facilitated, used a very visual exercise to help people do just this. I explain Bohm’s concept of suspending assumptions and ask people to spend some time writing on 2-sided large table tents some assumptions they have about the issue at hand in some simple key phrases. They then place these in front of themselves so they can see “through” their assumptions and others can “see” these assumptions as they offer their comments. I do this for a short period of time at the beginning of the session to help all of the participants understand how assumptions shape our approaches to working through issues and the message seems to hit home. Participants start to move beyond their assumptions toward what someone called new beginnings or new places of collective creativity. I think this also taps into what Mansbridge is getting at – these assumptions are often the ways we talk and the memes we hear and use on an issue that we use in everyday talk that are often not fully developed or reflected on from a broader viewpoint.

    As for outrage, I think that our job as facilitators is to help people articulate, as best they can what the outrage is about so that others can understand it. In our everyday talk, I contend we don’t always know exactly what makes us so mad about something, we simply experience it. Knowing what fuels it by asking people to move beneath the surface to identify the core injustices at the heart of the matter is difficult work, but often very illuminating for the entire group. Perhaps we need to be better equipped with questions that help people get at this essence. I often use questions that build in some reflective distance for the participant who is outraged such as, “if you wanted someone else to be as angry as you about this issue in order to bring attention to the issue, what would you tell them the problem is about, who is most affected, and why does it feel so unjust?” Sometimes just this small bit of reflective space can uncover a real core that others in a group can work with. In my experience it is hard in a group for participants to work constructively with the anger of others and this helps move to a place where inquiry and creativity can respond.

    • Lori –

      This is a wonderful facilitative question:

      “if you wanted someone else to be as angry as you about this issue in order to bring attention to the issue, what would you tell them the problem is about, who is most affected, and why does it feel so unjust?”

      It helps someone to “unpack” their reaction and make it comprehensible and approachable for others. It’s both distancing – “this group may not understand your anger automatically” – and welcoming – “but we want to understand it”.

      In terms of the chapter, one could say that it creates a safe bubble that allows some of what is good about “everyday talk” to percolate into the formal discussion.

  6. David Plouffe says:

    An interesting question about “everyday talk” and how do we make it part the overall success of the discussion/deliberation. I know that we as practitioners in public participation /dialogue/deliberation are always looking at way and/or want to use every piece dialogue, whether informal or formal to create success in our projects. However, I think sometimes we need to do nothing in particular. As Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighbourhood guide, states “the most effective community activists are those who regularly revel in the pleasures of their neighbourhood” . I believe this is true in the dialogue/conversation, we should just revel in the pleasure of the conversation and do nothing in particular. Without talking the time to truly savour the conversation, you lose touch with why the conversation is taking place.


  7. Simon Wright says:

    Nice introductory piece, Chris. I do hope you are going to post some reflections based on your experience and not just act as a facilitator.

    I like the way this week’s discussion is focused on a bigger system and how deliberation relates to it. Surely this should be a key thing to focus on if we are really interested in social and political change.

    Read through everyone’s posts got me thinking about an online deliberative forum I organised and facilitated back in 2007. One of the things that struck me was how, in addition to topic-focused dialogue and deliberation, the participants also engaged in ‘everyday talk’.

    For example, they’d encouraged each other, tell others if they were going to be off line for a while and when they’d be back, and they shared details about their everyday lives – “sorry, you raise a great point but I have to go and get the kids … I’ll respond once they’re in bed.”

    They tended not to make these sorts of comments in the main forum, which they kept on topic, but used the ‘whisper’ function – only message recipients (and the facilitator) could see these communications.

    My sense was that this everyday, personal talk was important. It helped the group develop trusting and personal relationships – none of the participants knew each other in ‘real’ life. I think these relationships were important because they helped the participants work through some real value conflicts as they explored different perspectives on human reproductive technology and to eventually make collective recommendations.

    About 1/2 way thorugh the 3 weeks this particular group of about 12 people spent online, there was was an emotional exchange between a couple of participants and some name calling – something along the lines of “you’re a ****** Nazi” and worse.

    When I showed this to a group of ‘online experts’ they said an exchange such as this would usually kill an online forum – most New Zealanders would rather ‘walk away’ than engage in a slanging match. In this case, however, the participants kept going and were incredibly productive.

    I’ve often wondered to what extent the ‘everyday talk’ contributed to this. I don’t know the answer though I would say that the NIF delibrative methodology definitely helped – it’s a robust method which encouraged participants to explore all the major perspectives in a fair way – and we had a good public framing (which we did with the help of about 60 people in six 1-day raming workshops).

    • Simon – This is most interesting: “none of the participants knew each other in ‘real’ life”, in that it turns my own sense of the chapter inside-out.

      Before your comment: Everyday talk grinds on, whether or not there are formal deliberations. Formal delib carves out some new spaces, that draw on everyday talk. E.g. the church board of directors steps away from the church’s Sunday supper to discuss the budget.

      After your comment: Of course, one can create a formal deliberation context related more distantly to everyday talk, e.g. 12 people chosen from the population of a large city to deliberate a policy issue. Each one still goes back to multiple everyday talk settings, but they don’t share overlapping ET settings with the rest of the dozen.

      In these cases, buttressing the formal delib with a somewhat artificial (or short term) everyday talk setting may help make the formal delib more robust.

      From my own practice: I’ve participated in an academic organization that hosts international conferences from time to time. By the organization’s culture, a crucial component of each conference schedule is “afterwards, in the bar” – where we take over a space in the hotel, or designate a local establishment, for gathering and talking (and drinking) after the formal conference sessions have ended. You miss a lot if you miss these sessions, and of course they are all the more important because many of the conference participants haven’t met before.

  8. Simon Wright says:

    One more thought …

    I sometimes say to people that deliberation isn’t some complicated theory but a normal form of communication that normal people use often in their everyday talk. For example, many families probably deliberate to make decisions – e.g. various family members might value different aspects of say cars differently, yet families often work through their differences and buy a car that everyone is okay with, without resorting to violence. So I say deliberation is a communication form used in everyday talk … it’s just not used so often in public decision making where debate seems more normal and where the game is often a politics of expertise rather than of expert (deliberative) politics.

    • “yet families often work through their differences and buy a car that everyone is okay with, without resorting to violence…”

      Simon — you obviously haven’t met my family! 🙂

    • That was a joke of course, but not too far from the truth. I live in a pretty conservative community in Central Pennsylvania, and I just don’t see much deliberation in everyday talk here. When controversial issues do come up in public (where they rarely do come up) or private (like social gatherings), I don’t see much deliberation. People generally aren’t examining different options, openly exploring values, or listening respectfully to others’ opinions. You’re more likely to hear a couple of louder voices trying to one-up each other or out-gotcha each other, and to notice most people looking away and backing away from the discussion altogether until we move into safer terrain.

      This is my experience anyway — I’d be curious if people in different regions have vastly different experiences with deliberative principles/qualities being displayed in everyday talk. This is one of the reasons I am so passionate about dialogue and deliberation; I see them as being truly absent from most of my everyday experiences with others.

      • Sandy – This goes to one next step from this chapter. JM writes: “a group of friends in everyday talk … will take a good idea from any source but will reject attempts to exercise power, particularly unequal power, in the sense of the threat of sanction and the use of force”. That’s been true of some of the best discussions I’ve participated in, but certainly not of *every* discussion.

        JM argues that some form of the criteria for deliberation apply to “everyday talk”, and certainly there are settings where shouting, blaming, or cursing are socially sanctioned, but, in my experience, it’s seldom the case that people begin by discussing the ground rules for conversation or spend much time ensuring that everyone is heard. I.e. these criteria are seldom openly applied to everyday talk by participants.

      • Sarah Read says:

        Sandy -there was a brief article in the September 2010 Harvard Business Review titled “How Anger Poisons Decision Making” which summarized some research on how companies could mitigate the effects of anger in the workplace by introducing accountability. The research indicated that anger, even residual anger, tended to make individuals judge behavior even in unrelated instances more harshly, dismiss mitigating circumstances, blame others, and fail to analyze the merit of their own positions. However, even with the same types of anger, if individuals knew in advance they would have to explain their decisions to an expert whose views they didn’t know, these effects were mitigated. The research indicated that if they knew they would be “accountable” for explaining their decisions, they were more evenhanded in subsequent decisions, more likely to base their decisions on facts, less likely to blame others, and more likely to engage in critical thought. This has some interesting implications for our political dialogue. I note that both this chapter and chapter 3 have isolated accountability as an important factor in effective dialogue. In a lot of private and public comment I think we primarily hear the anger, and without more venues for feedback, review and reconsideration, will continue to hear that.

      • Nancy J Hess says:

        I appreciate Sarah bringing up accountability (the article she mentions can be found by Googling the title or here: http://hbr.org/2010/09/how-anger-poisons-decision-making/ar/1
        If everyday talk is viewed as an extension of the deliberative process then building trust while at the same time working through the deeper divisive issues is probably going to involve some accountability. So, what does that look like within the context of informal, outside the structure deliberation? More to the point, how is that possible?

        I can think of an extreme (but very common) situation: An elected board sits in the middle of a public debate about concerns brought to light by a small group of citizens who then elect a member to the board. Now this group coalesces with various others to form a strong citizen alliance. Due to sunshine laws, the debate must remain public, but behind the scenes, everyday talk has disintegrated into behavior which falls far outside the boundaries of civility.

        This is very “real” politics. This gets to the heart of the matter and is where the rubber meets the road everyday across the country. Where accountability is absent within the informal everyday talk, the leaders and facilitators often do not have enough traction to build those on-ramps and off-ramps. This messiness and quite frankly, the risk to ones personal well being, has a chiling effect to say the least.

        I have not offered much in the way of moving forward, but I think the way forward has something to do with addressing
        1. the ever presence of social media, i.e., everyday talk is now everywhere talk, and
        2. the impact of the exposure of public debates within all media outlets which subjects it to soundbites and crafting of stories, e.g. everyday talk is now the news!

        In short, everyday talk has evolved to a heightened level of engagement that has eclipsed more formal structures. We do not yet have clear cultural expectations regarding accountability for our everyday talk. So this is the good, the bad and the ugly of everyday talk.

  9. Derek W. Barker says:

    As I understand them, most of the comments here are focusing on the role of “everyday” (ie non-deliberative) talk within efforts to have facilitated dialogue and deliberation. This is interesting but not my intention in bringing this chapter into the volume, I am more interested in what Mansbridge calls the “deliberative system”. As Simon’s comment suggests, this is the larger public sphere that we all presumably hope to influence. (The difference also came up in response to Dryzek’s chapter, when John clarified that he is articulating a theory of “macro” deliberation as distinct from micro forums).

    One problem I think we are confronting at Kettering is that we are interested in deliberative forums precisely because they present a type of talk that runs counter to the dominant discourse. At the same time, by producing this discourse within very bounded facilitated settings, we run the risk of making deliberation seem to be overly technical and inapplicable to citizens in their everyday lives. Does this problem resonate with anyone in the practical community, and how do you deal with it in your work?

    • Sarah Read says:

      Derek – I address this somewhat in my comment below. Often in developing deliberative processes we don’t allow enough time or linkages for an understanding of the full issue to evolve and new ideas to take root. That erodes trust. We also often don’t take enough account of intersecting issues and processes. That also erodes trust and undercuts the validity and sustainability of recommendations that must be made. Change and decisions on complex issues is often more organic than linear and we need to account for that in evaluating systems.

    • Derek – I think you raise two related but different concerns here and at https://ncdd.org/8816#comment-8125

      1. Is formal deliberation “over-professionalized”? E.g. my town decides that they can only afford one “town meeting” annually rather than the usual four, because a proper “town meeting” now requires weeks of preparation, outside consultants, and keypads rented for every participant. And then they decide they can’t afford them at all.

      2. Do formal deliberation practices undermine everyday talk, and thus the deliberative system as a whole? I’m fuzzier on this.

      Which is your core concern?

      • Derek W. Barker says:

        I think the core of the concern is your #1, that the more deliberation become a stylized technique, the less relevance it can have to “real” politics. I am not sure if #2 is a problem – it is unlikely that forums have negative impacts – but it is certainly worth raising this possibility as well.

  10. Sarah Read says:

    I was struck by some of the interrelationships between this chapter and chapter 3 on Aristotelian discourse. Both highlight the need for authentic human interaction – which includes emotions, values, and a focus on relationships – in making wise decisions on difficult issues. As the chapter points out, getting the full wisdom out of a group requires some integration of “everyday talk” and formal deliberations. Chris asked for further comments on my earlier reference to “on-ramps” and “off-ramps” which are ways of linking different levels of deliberation, including “everyday talk.” These kinds of links are needed to strengthen or create deliberative systems (see chapter n. 1) that are capable of resolving complex issues. I agree with the chapter author that in a democratic society, this system includes all of the ways citizens reach and contribute to decision-making on policy issues, including everyday talk, voting, protesting, structured dialogues, citizen focused deliberative processes like visioning exercises, and formal political processes like legislative, rulemakings, and executive decision-making by elected officials. When citizens complain that the results of a citizen focused process “sat on the shelf” or was ignored, or that they “can’t trust the facts”, or that “don’t know what to think”, or that a decision was controlled or manipulated by a small group, these are indications that links in our system are not working well. You can read some further thoughts on this at:

    “On-ramps” that help keep those most comfortable with “everyday talk” integrated into a more formal deliberative process include interim drafts or status reports put out for public comment, surveys, charrettes, and more casual structures like conversation or world cafes, and “living room conversation packets.” These less formal processes can be used to reinforce a longer term, more formal deliberative process because they help to introduce information, teach skills, build relationships and link the “everyday talk” level with more structured processes and levels.

    Just as a business creates materials for “on-boarding” new managers into key projects, it is possible to harvest things like purpose for the process, timeline of key events and decisions, forms and evaluations, and key relationships, as the process unfolds, and create useful materials that allow participants and facilitators who may be departing to contribute their wisdom (“off-ramp”) and provide an “orientation package” that more easily integrates the new ones into the process (“on-ramp”). When a decision is announced, the reporting and documenting of that decision is an “off-ramp” from a specialized process to the broader process of “everyday talk”. If there is a mechanism for tracking and reporting on the effects of that decision(and even a date for review such as a sunset provision), that is an “on-ramp” for future deliberation, informed by new facts.

    Another “on-ramp” – “off-ramp” loop I have used successfully in deliberations on various technical issues is to create a committee composed of the technical support staff of various interests to create a single spreadsheet program that various facts and assumptions can be plugged into and then bring that back for use in the deliberations. That allows us to focus on actual facts and assumptions, rather than on the “results” produced by dueling spreadsheets. While this is being created, other small groups can be discussing issues like “where do we want to be and why”? or what information do we have and what don’t we have? and all of these pieces can come back to the table for integration into the more structured deliberations.

    • My neural circuits are sizzling….. Thanks, Sarah.

      On the last paragraph: Would this be a reasonable example?

      My neighborhood, along with city planners, and a local real estate developer, are discussing the redevelopment of a local subway stop, to include a new hotel complex. The residents want to preserve the livability of the neighborhood, the developer needs to make a profit, the city wants a boost to the tax base and zoning code compliance.

      The spreadsheet you envision tracks the differing assumptions various parties make about foot traffic, revenue per patron, rush hour traffic volume, etc. This allows us, for instance, to ask – what if we get the car and foot traffic the developer envisions, but with the rush hour assumptions provided by the neighborhood.

      Is that what you had in mind?

      • Sarah Read says:

        Yes in part – you can vary and play with different combinations of assumptions which in part helps you evaluate how robust various policy options are (or aren’t) to changes in key assumptions. Other assumptions you might want to play with are what if tenants materialize more slowly than assumed? What if costs rise? It is often useful to put in some outlier assumptions (worse/best case extremes) just to identify the interactions. If one option appears great for the future only under one set of assumptions and others have reasonably consistent cost benefit ratios under most variants, then you can better evaluate the risk as well as the potential return.

  11. Sarah Read says:

    I would like to invite thoughts on another part of the chapter as well. The chapter author states on p. 86 that “the existing criteria for judging democratic talk are inadequate and need revision.” I agree with this. Also, the criteria for “judging” our deliberative processes are too often ignored in the initial design phase, when discussing them would most help identify the opportunities or potential for integrating “every day talk” with more structured processes. We discussed thinking about evaluation from the outset on our blog a while ago and you can read more starting at at: http://buildingdialogue.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/setting-yourself-up-for-evaluation/

    The chapter suggests one core standard for review on p. 96, — what processes produce wise decisions over time? We can’t answer that by focusing on procedures and not look at how deliberative systems are linked or points where further integration is needed. Said another way, we need to look at how the different processes are interconnected and consider what could improve the linkages and information flow between the different forms of deliberation within the network. We also need to look at how different decisions play out over time and have some criteria to track. That would then help us think more about how to improve the ways in which we gather and share information, frame issues, challenge assumptions, and ultimately improve our collective capacity to solve problems and move forward.

  12. David Kahane says:

    I’m interested in the features of everyday talk that are less prominent or absent from formal deliberative spaces. Identifying these lets us think about how to link formal deliberations to broader ecosystems of talk and deliberation; it also helps us to think about particular methods and orientations that can bring features of everyday talk into formal deliberative spaces. An example:

    One feature of everyday talk that looms large for me is the space it opens for me to meander, to reflectively notice the complexities and contradictions of my own desires, interests, and beliefs. This opens up a psychological space for repositioning myself, for understanding rival positions, and for building innovative solutions. (Think of working through a conflict with a close friend, where there’s space to venture different interpretations, recognize the different parts of you that have different stakes in the conflict, etc.) Many formal deliberative processes emphasize reason-giving, evidence, and assembling a coherent view in ways that may stand in the way of my noticing, for example, that I can find in myself parts of all of the positions in the room. There are group process tools that encourage this kind of exploration of internal complexity and contradiction — I think of Myrna Lewis’ ‘Deep Democracy’ tools like the ‘soft shoe shuffle’, where participants stand up together on a stretch of floor, speak beliefs and arguments on a tough issue, and others move closer or farther to indicate agreement or disagreement — which usually brings out how our own beliefs and arguments are not a neat package but that there are seeds of truth for us in a lot of different views.

    Anyhow, I’d be interested in others’ thoughts on elements of everyday talk that are productive and important, and moments or methods in formal deliberative spaces that are more closed and open to these elements of the everyday.

    • David:

      Mansbridge’s take would be that everyday talk provides spaces for (1) authenticity, (2) clarifying conflict, and (3) expressing and hearing strong emotion. It’s worth reading the chapter from that perspective.

      There’s some great material on this page on bringing the benefit of everyday talk spaces into formal deliberation

      (a) how to express outrage (search for “outrage” on this page)

      (b) creating “ad hoc” everyday talk spaces to make anger in the group easier to handle (search for “Nazi”)

      (c) using breaks judiciously (“judicious”)

      (d) on- and off-ramps (“ramps”)

      Can you highlight useful aspects of everyday talk or connections with formal deliberation that we’ve missed so far? That would be most interesting.

    • Sarah Read says:

      One feature of everyday talk often missing in more formal processes is humor. When people can laugh together it relieves a lot of tension. Also missing is time or opportunities to make a personal connection that promotes trust. When you trust someone, its easier to share your thoughts and emotions knowing that they will listen without rejecting or judging your worth as a person, and might even help you sort through your conflicting thoughts to what might be a different conclusion, or at least try to understand those thoughts. One reason the talks at breaks are often useful, is people talk with those they trust and feel they can be more open. Its hard to adopt a vulnerable position in a formal process, although there are again some procedures like listening circles, study circles, or even conversation cafes that help with that.

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