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Testing Assumptions in Deliberative Democratic Design: A Preliminary Assessment of the Efficacy of the Participedia Data Archive as an Analytic Tool

The 31-page article, Testing Assumptions in Deliberative Democratic Design: A Preliminary Assessment of the Efficacy of the Participedia Data Archive as an Analytic Tool (2017), was written by John Gastil, Robert C. Richards Jr, Matt Ryan, and Graham Smith and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 2. In the article, the authors discuss how deliberative process design affects participants and the resulting policy, they then tested their hypotheses using case studies from Participedia.net, and finally offer implications for their theory. Read an excerpt of the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the introduction…

Experiments with new and traditional modes of public engagement have proliferated in recent years (Warren, 2009). In attempting to make sense of this shift in contemporary governance, democratic theorists, political scientists and participation practitioners have drawn inspiration from deliberative democratic theory (Nabatchi et al., 2012). From this approach, the legitimacy of political decision making rests on the vitality of public deliberation amongst free and equal citizens (Bohman, 1998).

A considerable body of research attempts to analyze the design, process, and consequences of exercises in public engagement from a deliberative perspective, with particular focus on randomly selected mini-publics (e.g., Fishkin, 2009) and participatory budgeting (e.g., Baiocchi, 2005). These designs, however, represent only a small proportion of the diverse universe of democratic innovations. Design features vary considerably among such processes, including the priority given to promoting deliberation amongst participants.

No official records, census, or statistics capture the presence of democratic innovations, let alone the kind of data necessary to test the robustness of assumptions within deliberative democratic theory. Researchers tend to be limited to case studies, often of exemplary cases that skew our expectations of democratic innovations. Larger comparative studies are generally within-type, such as among Deliberative Polls (List et al., 2013), Citizens’ Initiative Reviews (Gastil et al., 2016), and participatory budgeting (Sintomer et al., 2012; Wampler, 2007) or within the same political context (Font et al., 2016). Analysis across types and context (geographic and political settings) is relatively rare, since the level of resources required to collect the necessary cases is prohibitive.

The development of Participedia opens up the possibility of such analysis. Participedia (http://participedia.net) is a research platform that exploits the power of self-directed crowdsourcing (Bigham et al., 2015) to collect data on participatory democratic institutions around the world. It is designed explicitly to enable researchers to compare data meaningfully across types and settings, recognizing that such data is held by a diverse group of actors, who organize, sponsor, evaluate, research, or participate in democratic innovations. Participedia has existed since 2009 and currently hosts systematised information on in excess of 650 cases. With the support of a CA$2.5 million, five-year Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the coverage of cases globally will continue to increase rapidly.

This paper exploits the already available data from Participedia to offer the first systematic analysis across a wide variety of political contexts and types of democratic innovations to explore the relationships among design characteristics, deliberative process quality, and impacts on policy and participants. We begin with an account of a stylized input-process-output model intended to capture the relevant core assumptions of deliberative theory. The next section describes the Participedia project and platform in more detail, highlighting how it has been designed to allow the testing of deliberative and participatory theories across a range of cases developed in very different contexts. In the methods section that follows, we explain the challenges faced in coding effectively the Participedia data to accord with our model. This has necessitated not only the use of fixed data from the platform, but also content analysis of case descriptions while overcoming challenges of low levels of inter-coder reliability and missing data. The results show that there are interesting patterns of associations that emerge from the Participedia data. Many of these findings reinforce existing assumptions about the relationship between design, process, and impact, but some may surprise readers and warrant future investigation. We conclude with reflections on the implications of our findings for deliberative theory, our understanding of the design of democratic innovations, and the efficacy of Participedia as a method of generating comparable data in this field of study.

Download the full article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public DeliberationJournal of Public Deliberation
Spearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen-friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol13/iss2/art1/

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