Deliberation

Heard about deliberation but not sure what it is? want to learn more and get involved? You’ve come to the right place. The Deliberation Gateway is an easy to digest, first port of call for those curious about deliberation.
The Deliberation Gateway is a thematic network of the RSA-US and it is organized by RSA fellows. Our sole activity is to host quarterly online discussions on topics related to deliberation for anyone in the U.S. ( and beyond!) who is interested, and to help people find out more about this emerging form of democracy.

We aim to introduce people from every corner of U.S. society to the idea of deliberation and to encourage people to try out this blossoming form of democracy in their own communities—from clubs to corporations, via villages and countries.

Our quarterly online discussions are a great place to meet other curious individuals and to find connections to more experienced practitioners and thinkers. We love to hear about progress and pitfalls encountered by individuals as they set up local deliberations.

What is Deliberation?

“Under good conditions wise public decisions can be made by small groups of ordinary citizens whose diversity makes them a microcosm of society.” – Tom Atlee – Empowering Public Wisdom.

Given the time, information and resource to consider a particular topic such representative groups can successfully deliver community judgements on difficult issues.

Voting and polls measure opinion or prejudice—literally pre-judgements. Sometimes this is useful, but occasionally, politicians, decision makers or organisations need something more robust. They require a community to make a judgement, and the very word judgement implies a deeper consideration of a topic, that goes beyond a mere opinion.

So, if an election or poll measures the set of opinions across a community, then a deliberation delivers a community judgement, and there are many forms that such deliberations can take.

Thus deliberation is a tool to help any community make hard decisions.

How Does it Work?

There are many kinds of deliberative and participatory styles. Deliberation, at is simplest involves creating the space for people who have different points of view to understand each other. Such deliberations go well beyond conventional town hall meetings. In a deliberation there is no “top table”. Instead a formal deliberation typically consists of parallel conversations on separate tables, with a well defined process for capturing input from every single participant and, sometimes, coming to a formal conclusion through a series of facilitated conversations.

However, taking the understanding generated by such a deliberation and communicating it around a wider community such that it causes lasting change is no easy feat.

There is no one size fits all kind of deliberation or event that works in every situation. The key to successful deliberation and participation is to recognize that humans exist in large networks, and that enough members of all the networks need to connect and learn about each others perspectives for genuinely useful global policies to emerge.

A popular form of deliberation—the Citizens Assembly—consists of picking a group of citizens randomly from a community, which is an effective way of ensuring that representatives from all parts of a community can take part, but such a gathering is never perfectly representative of an entire community. Once in a single room, given the time, information and support such a group can make difficult choices or recommendations on behalf of the wider community, and, if the cohort is sufficiently diverse the output can be fed back to each part of the community.

Whether such recommendations and output are successfully communicated and adopted by the wider networks depends on who has called the meeting and why, and the support given to disseminating the output in the wider network. Thus to create effective transformation such deliberations need to be as broad as possible and connect to as many people as possible. Ideally, many deliberations are held on the same topic, with multiple modalities to give as many people that chance to participate as possible.

Such processes are not intended to replace the conventional electoral system of democracy—although some support such a change. Deliberations can sit comfortably alongside our existing representative democracy. However, unlike formally elected representatives—who must enter into debates with a view to defeating opposing viewpoints, so that unambiguous, definite decisions can be made—the groups of citizens in deliberations are free from partisan obligations and systematic third party influences. Their principal objective is to learn and become aware of all the points of view, and provide a reaction that is typical of members of society rather than specialized leaders.

Deliberations allow participants to concentrate on learning facts and listening to those with different points of view, to find common ground and to use such common ground as the basis of wise long term judgements that are likely to be acceptable to broad ranges of wider society.

In the same way that voting can be used in many situations, deliberations can be used in all kinds of contexts. They are finding increasingly widespread use and popularity in organizations and main stream democracies around the world, and are a useful tool to sit along side the conventional elected power structures.

What is the RSA? Who are the fellows?

The mission of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is to enrich society through ideas and action.

They are supported by a network of around 29,000 Fellows, who share powerful ideas, carry out cutting-edge research and build networks and opportunities for people to collaborate, helping to create fulfilling lives and a flourishing society.

The Deliberation Gateway is a thematic network of the RSA-US that was initialized by Dr Chris Forman, FRSA on behalf of the RSA-US fellows network.