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The Deal With Deliberative Democracy

Deliberative Democracy & How To Implement It For Local Government


What is it?

Deliberative democracy is an area of local government that is concerned with collective decision-making and improving the decision-making process. It has, at its core, the belief that anyone who is subject to a decision should be able to participate in it. It is not a box-ticking exercise but a way to really give influence to citizens in local government.

So, it is pretty aspirational and sounds a lot like what democracy itself tries to be. So how does local government go about implementing deliberative democracy?

Firstly, let us be clear that few local authorities or representatives would argue with the need for citizen input in the decision-making process. In fact, a lot of their time is spent gathering citizen input either formally or informally and then acting upon that. The question really is whether the local government wants to put the citizen input after the decision has been made (appeals, protests, etc) or before the decision has been made (public consultation, citizen juries, etc). Up until now, the post-decision method of citizen input was the norm with a small amount of pre-decision thrown in in the form of consultation and steering groups. Now, however, the technology available to local government is making pre-decision citizen engagement possible. It is, for the first time in the modern age, a possibility to collect data from large citizen groupings and interpret this data through citizen juries before feeding this to the decision-making authority.

There are two elements to the deliberative democracy process, the Mini Public and the Canvass.

The Mini public is relatively small sub-sample of the affected population - between 20 and 200 who come together to learn about and consider ways through a particular issue. They are also referred to as Citizen Juries and they act as a nodal point that faces back out into the community and gathers data from the public. This isn’t a toga-wearing cohort who glide effortlessly to a consensus decision. Rather, as the sociologist Henri Lefebvre suggests, conflict not consensus is at the heart of the democratic process, and the mini public is the body that has to internalize that conflict to provide a recommendation. The huge advantage to the local government of committing to deliberative democracy is that it gives legitimacy to decision-making and takes some of that heavy lifting away from officials and places it back in the community where it belongs.

The canvass is the instrument by which the local authority or the mini public gathers data from the community at large. It may be done face-to-face, digitally or by any other auditable means. It is important to contain a face-to-face element in order to capture the views of citizens who are outside the digital net or who are not actively engaged with local issues. This improves the credibility of the data as a whole.

So how to implement this at a local government level:

  • Set up a citizen engagement software for managing citizen outreach.
  • Import your citizen database or begin to build your citizen database through outreach.
  • Identify people in the community who are willing to get involved in citizen juries and tag them as potential participants.
  • Set up your first mini public project and invite participants through the inbuilt email tools.
  • Begin to do public consultation using mobile canvassing technology.
  • Feed the data back to the mini public through the Chairperson who will be a team member of your software.
  • Receive mini public recommendations and reports back through the inbuilt CRM system in your software.

In this way, local government can now have a structured process by which deliberative democracy is done. The entire system is auditable and has a digital paper trail to ensure all decision making is done as per guidelines.

If you want to learn more about how Voxcitio can help you with this process, why not arrange a demo with us.

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