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What is public deliberation?

Deliberation uses dialogue and analysis to solve difficult issues, especially where these require trade-offs between competing values or interests. Governments have always used deliberation but typically this involved a committee of politicians or officials who deliberated behind closed doors. Public deliberation engages citizens and/or stakeholders in the search for mutually acceptable solutions to issues. While this approach is relatively new, it is attracting global attention.

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What is informed participation?

A variety of hands holding light bulbs signifying public deliberation.
Informed Participation gives citizens and/or stakeholders a meaningful role in deliberation but, in return, they must agree to work through the issues with other interested parties and search for a shared solution. Rules play a critical role here:  

  • Participants must listen to one another and engage in a spirit of openness and learning.
  • They must be willing to inform themselves about relevant facts, as well as the values and priorities of others involved.
  • They must be guided by the evidence and willing to make reasonable accommodations.

Ideally, the participants (citizens, stakeholders, and possibly government officials) will arrive at a shared solution that they agree is effective and fair.

Is it risky for governments?

The three most common concerns about public deliberation are:
  • Gridlock: Will people who disagree on contentious issues be willing to make the concessions needed to solve them?
  • Bad Decisions: Will asking the public to solve complex issues saddle governments with bad decisions?
  • Sidestepping Politicians: Does public deliberation undermine the role of elected officials?

Concerns like these are based on misconceptions about public deliberation and/or badly designed processes. Informed Participation creates the incentives for people to make reasonable compromises, includes safeguards against bad decision-making, and enhances rather than challenges the role of elected officials.

Does it get results?

Examples and analyses of some of our past projects can be found in the Recent Projects or Access Reports sections of this website.

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