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What is deliberation?

The word "deliberation" means to consider an issue carefully, usually to make a decision or statement about it. At its best, "deliberation" means that a full range of relevant facts, factors, perspectives, options and consequences are being considered in a way that generates new understandings and possibilities.

Deliberation assumes a certain quality of conversation that supports people learning or reasonably shifting their perspectives as they proceed. Public deliberation implies, in addition, a certain amount of shared concern for the common good and usually a growing appreciation for the complexity of the situation, as people learn more about it and take more into account.

"Citizen deliberation," as the phrase is used in this site, means that people holding diverse perspectives are talking together respectfully about public concerns. All the participants' views are being heard in ways that add up to greater understanding than any of them had when they began the conversation. Usually there's a significant amount of face-to-face dialogue, although it is sometimes electronically augmented in some way. The term citizen deliberation suggests that the citizens involved will generate a statement or decision or activity that will benefit the larger community in some way.

The Varieties of Citizen Deliberation

Many forms of citizen deliberation are in use today. For example,

  • Citizen deliberative councils convene temporary groups of usually 10-50 randomly selected ordinary citizens to consider public concerns and report back to the community (or country) and/or to public officials.
  • Study circles bring together small groups of people to discuss briefing materials -- often used throughout a community to deal with a community issue, and then participants are convened at the end to form action groups
  • National Issues Forum organizes topical deliberative conversations through civic organizations around the U.S. and then shares the results with public officials.
  • America Speaks convenes hundreds or thousands of people using high-tech connections to integrate and prioritize their diverse perspectives.
  • Environmental roundtables bring together diverse stakeholders to creatively address controversial land use and other issues.
  • In deliberative polling, citizens are surveyed before and after they deliberate, to see how the deliberations have changed their opinions.
  • Future search conferences convene representative stakeholders from all parts of a community to look at their shared history, the forces currently shaping their shared lives, and visions they can all agree on and work towards.
  • Holistic Management weaves all the important people and resources relating to an issue together into the pursuit of a shared goal which covers all the relevant dimensions of the issue.
  • Our Media Voice Citizen Feedback Forums bring citizens together in live broadcasts to discuss how broadcast media serve their community.


National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

Civic Practices Network

Deliberative Democracy Consortium

Citizen Science Toolbox

See also

Principles of Public Participation - Lists of guidelines from The International Association for Public Participation, The Community Development Society and the Co-Intelligence Institute.

Fascinating references on deliberative democracy

An overview of the emerging deliberative democracy movement

John Gastil - Is Face-to-Face Citizen Deliberation a Luxury or a Necessity for Democracy?

Carmen Sirianni and Lewis Friedland - Deliberative Democracy

Tali Mendleberg - The Deliberative Citizen: Theory and Evidence

Carolyn Hendriks - Deliberative Citizens' Forums and Interest Groups: Roles, Tensions and Incentives

Maria B. Pellerano and Peter Montague - Democracy and the Precautionary Principle

OECD - Engaging Citizens in Policy-making

Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright - Experiments in Empowered Deliberative Democracy -

Richard E. Sclove - Town Meetings on Technology and Democratic Politics of Technology

Michel Pimbert and Tom Wakeford - Deliberative Democracy and Citizen Empowerment

Tim Holmes and Ian Scoones - Participatory Environmental Policy Processes: Experiences from North and South

Lyn Carson and Katharine Gelber - Ideas for Community Consultation

Alliance for Regional Stewardship - Empowering Regions: Strategies and Tools for Community Decision Making"

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