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Deliberative democracy

To have participation of the public in large scale decision making requires more than simply providing an outlet for the public to vote. The public are often uninformed about key public issues.

Conventional polls represent the public’s surface impressions of sound bites and headlines, ie. public ‘opinion’. The public, subject to what social scientists have called “rational ignorance,” has little reason to confront trade-offs or invest time and effort in acquiring information or coming to a considered “judgment”. In order for the public to make good decisions when they vote there needs to be a process of “deliberation”.

Put simply, deliberation means that the “will of the people” is arrived at by a process in which people weigh competing reasons under good conditions. Basically this means the public should have an opportunity to learn about a topic, discuss it with others, question experts and have an equal say before exercising their vote. Deliberation must facilitate discussion among the public that is free from distortions of unequal political power, such as power one obtains through economic wealth or the support of interest groups.

The most common form of deliberation, mini-publics (commonly called “Citizen Juries” in Australia), are in-person meetings of randomly selected and demographically representative members of the public. They typically operate with the assistance of trained moderators and the input of independent "domain" experts.

It is not the cheapest method (although extremely modest by election standards) but it helps foster democratic debate that is:

  • Informed (and thus informative) - Arguments are supported by appropriate and reasonably accurate factual claims.

  • Balanced - Arguments are met by contrary arguments.

  • Conscientious - The participants should be willing to talk and listen, with civility and respect.

  • Substantive - Arguments should be considered sincerely on their merits, not on how they are made or by who is making them.

  • Comprehensive - All points of view held by significant portions of the population should receive attention.

For more information about deliberative democracy, try the following:

NewVote and Deliberative democracy

NewVote has modelled its deliberation on the US state of Oregon’s, Citizen Initiative Review. We further this model to include mass deliberation by users when discussing and deciding upon the best Goal and Solutions to progress to a vote and the then later on the merits of the Policies that are up for vote.

Specifically, NewVote proposes to use deliberation in the following ways:

  1. you will be able to discuss potential Goals and Solutions; and

  2. an in-person Citizen Jury, will consider the major issues in a safe and respectful environment with the assistance of trained moderators, independent domain experts and key stakeholders. They will then produce balanced information for all users, such as key findings (an evidence-based set of facts that the whole Citizen Jury agrees to), an argument map and key arguments for and against.